My fourth book Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing, is out today; I can’t tell you what a sharp & generous-tongued joy it is to share this thing with you! Portrait is an award-winning, omnivorous collection of poetry residing in the space between confessional & manifesto. It is interested in the immediacy of language; in girlhood as wolfhood; in the cartography of illness; in fractures through the dark; in bodies, human & water alike. Luminous, tender, & unflinching, Portrait cuts straight to the marrow. To all those whose bodies have been more bruise than human—who feel so loudly the sky turns black in fear—this book is for you.
I thought it might be rather fun to play a little game to celebrate release day, & so I collected various questions on social media from readers about Portrait’s content, inspiration, creation, publishing process & so many gorgeous et cetras. Here are ten of my answers to how this collection came to life…
From Kendrick: what has been your journey with this book? Where has it originated from? How does it differ from your previous work?
Portrait is a deeply vulnerable creation; it plays with new poetic form & explores topics I’ve really never articulated in my work publicly before, like the body as corporeal fact rather than abstract idea, like food as fire & as beacon & as act of violence, like the way we contort our limbs, break our bones to reach the promise of light. Much of my past work has been characterised by softness & while it certainly remains in this book, it is couched in a new kind of lightning dance, borne of teeth & wolves & recklessness. Reviewers have called it “desperate”, & maybe that’s the case, but more than anything I tried to express these ideas of hurt & of wanting & the singular humanness of it all in a package that sang craft-wise as much as it seared emotionally. There’s a familiar mythology here but I like to think it’s told in a new dialect.
From Jessica: tips for getting published as a young writer?
Stop waiting for perfection—the perfect age to begin, the perfect time to submit, the perfect inspiration to strike, the perfect theme to write around. It’s okay to not be sure where you’re going. The most beautiful flowers bloom only for a short time but even when they’re gone they’re not gone forever. All you have are your hands & the road in front of you. It’s enough to be here. It’s enough to look at the world precisely as it is & love people precisely as they are. Stop thinking & just make. The words form the shapes of darkness & dreams, twist like a rhythm, a past life. Your voice is worth listening to. Believe it. Believe it.
From Camille: describe your writing process for Portrait in five words.
Ravenous. Hopeful. Wounded. Searching. Warm.
From Isabella: how long did Portrait take to write?
Four years, if you count the spaces between moonlight & nasturtiums, the presence with other works that came out before this book! The idea for & several poems in Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing emerged around 2015, before I had any books out yet, but I only started writing & editing in earnest in late 2016 to 2017. It feels like breaths & lifetimes ago now. I have survived so much since that tender beginning. I have buried so many ghosts.
From Hugo: will Portrait be available to purchase at any brick-&-mortar bookstores, or only online?
Yes! Portrait is for sale now in Singapore in the main branch of Kinokuniya (on Orchard) & BooksActually (in Tiong Bahru). If your local bookstore, school, university, or library is interested in stocking the book, please do encourage them to email me to enquire about wholesale prices. I know international shipping can be tough for readers who aren’t based in Singapore, so I want to make it as easy as possible for this book to reach your shelves & your hands!
From Mariam: what are five songs that will always remind you of Portrait?
Florence + the Machine’s “Hunger”. Halsey’s “Devil In Me”. Glass Animals’ “Agnes”. Troye Sivan’s “BITE”. Young the Giant’s “My Body”. Also, every song in this playlist.
From Peter: what kind of weather inspires you most to write?
The rain inspires me like nothing else could—rain wished for & rain willed away, rain like cleansing & rain like destruction. Water on the windows fills me up, roots me, gives my art & my heart both a space to rest. I am at my most powerful in a storm.
From Mandy: which poem in the book was the hardest to write?
A tie between “Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing”, “Event Horizon”, “Flood Season”, or “Panic Attack as Airplane Departure Time”! Mostly that difficulty originated in the deep, faltering torrent of emotion welling up from the subject matter explored in these pieces. Excavating that kind of hurt & wonder, that stunning miracle of feeling, sometimes felt like an apology, other times like a revolution.
From A: share with us some of the writers who influence your work!
In no particular order, & across all kinds of styles & genres: Richard Siken, Donna Tartt, Margaret Atwood, Agatha Christie, Ocean Vuong, Caitlyn Siehl, e.e. cummings, Patrick Ness, Alvin Pang, Cyril Wong, Gillian Flynn, Darshana Suresh, Mary Oliver, Paul Éluard, Chen Chen, Lyd Havens, Mary Szybist, Kaveh Akbar, Clare Vernon, Reyna N.A., George Orwell, Adrienne Novy, Melissa Atkinson Mercer, Yves Olade, Roald Dahl, Logan February, Blythe Baird.
From Hanna: to whom is the book dedicated? Why?
For the girl I was before. Because I have spent so long envying & running from & raging at & tearing down that girl. I think she deserves my forgiveness.
Early reviewers have called Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing “breathtaking … and riveting”, “nothing short of rapturous”, “not a book you read and forget about”, “a bleeding heart of desire, power, and prayer”, “laid bare, naked to the world … drastically human”, & “a book everyone should try to read at least once”. It’s available to purchase now ($7 for a PDF version or $15 for a paperback) & I’ll be sending out copies to readers throughout this week.
If you happen to be in Singapore, please come celebrate the release with me at the book’s launch party tomorrow! It’s at the Merry Lion on Circular Road, from 8 to 10 PM—the event is free & open to the public, & I would be so thrilled to see, hug, & sign copies for you. Thank you infinitely, dear friends, for cradling Portrait close. I’m just so, so happy it is finally in the world, & I’m so grateful to be given this platform to share my art with you. It feels like the delicacy of a long-awaited first kiss, you know? I hope this book sparks on the tongue; I hope it writes a new love language; I hope it offers permission to rise from the ashes. xx