KR Conversations

Timothy Liu

liu-carouselTimothy Liu’s new book of poems, Don’t Go Back To Sleep, is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in fall 2014. He lives in Manhattan with his husband. His poems “The Gift” and “Sine Qua Non” appear in the Winter 2014 issue of The Kenyon Review.

Is there a story behind your KR poems “The Gift” and “Sine Qua Non”? What was the hardest part about writing them?

Both poems examine what one gets to keep after a romance is over. A piece of pottery. A viola. Or rather, metaphors, memories. In the heat of the romance while it’s still going on, it’s best just to be present for it. Once it’s over, you can reminisce all you want. Commemorate. The hardest part about writing them was to let enough time pass, in this case, about two decades.

Your poems in KR engage with two non-literary modes of creation, throwing pots and playing music. Could you tell us a little about how you see the influence of other art forms on your poetry?

I collect modest pieces of porcelain. Export Chinese china from the Nineteenth Century. Limoges. I listen to pieces of music written for the viola. Hindemith’s Sonatas for Viola & Piano and for Viola alone. Kim Kashkashian on the ECM New Series label. Having played piano off and on for the past forty years, I feel a connection between the keyboards on a piano as well as on a computer. I am interested in what can be made by hand. Alone or in collaboration. The poem. The love affair.

What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?

For the past five years, I’ve held back most of my poems from publication, carving out a little garden where I could privately cultivate the most unruly tender shoots.

Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?

Body, mind, soul, and spirit are not separate. Ars Longa, Vita Brevis! Whether at home, at school, abroad or hidden away, I am interested in being awake (even when I’m sleeping!), whether in this world of the senses or in the world(s) beyond.

Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?

At its best, poetry is a calling, a practice, a guide. It helps me get where I want to be going.

In the 1950s, John Crowe Ransom invited a coterie of critics (William Empson, Northrop Frye, etc.) to write a “credo” for The Kenyon Review. The results became an essay series by 10 leading critics on their core beliefs regarding literature and the critical practice, entitled “My Credo.” What would you include in your own credo? What core beliefs do you have about literature and books?

I believe that we are here for a relatively short time. We are here “that we might have joy” as the Mormons are fond of saying. That said, one man’s Heaven might be another woman’s Hell. I believe poetry is a way to come to know (even to invent!) what lives we might want to pursue, what loves.

Could you tell us a little about one of your current or upcoming writing projects?

I have two books of poetry forthcoming: Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books, 2014) and Let It Ride (Station Hill, 2015) from which the poems in this issue of The Kenyon Review have been taken. How wonderful it feels to publish again! Thank you so much.