Tse is simply an inspiration personified. We are in love with his beautiful vulnerability and how he shares his truth in poetry from a pure and authentic space. His words as a poet are deep and most relatable in diverse ways.
Join us on this Special Anniversary ISSUE, as Tse shares on his awe-inspiring story and a truckload of inspiration on his creative journey.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired
You’re one exceptional Creative with words that hit deep, yet stay heartwarming in a quite cold big world. We in are awe of your brilliance which also reflect your beautiful personality. Can you please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as a poet and editor?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I had a “starting point” as a poet. I began writing poetry before I really knew what the word “poetry” meant, as part of class assignments while in primary school. I only began considering publishing my poetry while at university and reading the books of Singapore poets I’d found in the uni library. As for literary editing, I probably started doing that when I was working for poetry.sg, a Singaporean archive of poets and the critical essays about their work. I find editing a good way to rest from creating my own poetry.
What does Art mean to you?
This is a very big question, so I can only give a partial answer: Art is the beautiful which resists being put to use.
“One will get lost in Tse’s poetry, but also find a home in the humor, histories and happenstance he creates.” We see all the beautiful reviews which are a pointer that you made another masterpiece with your project- The International Left Hand Calligraphy Association (2023). Can you share more highlights on this work of Art and your experience creating it?
I didn’t intend to write this book at all. I had just published my previous book (Deeds of Light, which you can find online), and I felt creatively exhausted at the time. I took a break from writing poetry for awhile. At about the same time, I attended the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, which gathered writers from all around the world (coincidentally, this was how I first made friends with African writers!). The time “away” from very intentional writing led me to experiment with different modes of drafting, and I began to realise that the poetry I was writing increasingly looked and felt a certain way. I leaned into this, and continued writing “like this” for a number of years until I felt like these poems did belong together in a book.
The titles of your poems are beyond the regular. Kindly briefly share highlights of the thought process on how you choose these titles?
I think the primary reason for my titles being the way they are is to balance against the bodies of my poems, which tend to be very short lines. I also didn’t feel that the titles should declare their intent or allow the poems to be overly fixed, and hence many of the titles are incomplete sentences or phrases. Finally, I often found inspiration for my poems while reading other texts, and these titles are often quotes or modified quotes from those texts.
Your poem ‘I have heard the butcher’s works and learned to care’ is an amazing one. Kindly share the inspiration behind it.
Now I’m very curious about how you chose this poem! This one in particular is a sort of blackout of a section of the Dao De Jing, which concerns the figure of Butcher Ding. Ding is a butcher who has honed his craft so well, and knows cows so well, that he can effortlessly separate the meat from the bones. Of course, effortlessness hides years of practice and failure. This felt very much like an analogy for any creative or worthwhile human endeavour.
Your works have been published on various well read platforms and you have no doubt continued to thrive as a poet. What would you consider most fulfilling about your creative journey so far?
I think the moments I appreciate the most are when other people find resonance in my work: a quiet student telling me after a poetry workshop that she enjoyed the class, random strangers saying they’ve enjoyed my poetry, and even this opportunity to speak to you, which came out of the blue for me.
What’s your dream life as an Artist?
I sometimes think about what it would feel like to be a full-time creative writer—even when I was working freelance, I still had to take on writing jobs that had nothing to do with poetry. But I have come to believe that my poetry is enriched by me doing things unrelated to poetry. I’ve recently imagined myself working as a letterpress typesetter, but I know the work is very hard. I think my dream is just enough flexibility and space to write poetry, and not too much that I stop growing.
Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
I think a better distinction is between countries/cities with professionalised creative industries, versus those without. I can sort of imagine a developing country in the former, and a developed country with the latter. The places with professionalised industries definitely benefit from job opportunities, networks, perhaps even grant funding and big prizes. But I believe that you’ll find people who are attentive readers/audiences for creative work anywhere, regardless. You might just need to look harder, or indeed, be the person to try professionalising the industry. In a less-developed place, there could be more to be a forerunner.
We love you beautifully assembled ‘a bunch of artists from various disciplines to share new works and creative processes.’ We see this as a much needed refreshing environment where likeminded creatives can thrive effortlessly. As creatives, we understand the high tendencies of getting stressed out even while pursuing our passion. There are days when even depression may creep in or just that inexplicable feeling of overwhelmingness. Do you have any relatable experience to this? If so, how are you able to manage and thrive beyond phases like this? Any quick tips on ‘Mental Health for Creatives.’
There have been many moments where either the pressures of (non creative) work or family have made it impossible to carve out head space and time to write. And there have also been moments where, even with both space and time, I felt like I couldn’t write. I remind myself that the act of creation is only part of a cycle of output, so I try to give myself rest as well, in all of its dimensions.
We understand balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
This is a related question! I don’t particularly “balance” on a daily basis. But I find there are rhythms or seasons. My latest book took 7 years from the first poem to publication. Often family time cannot wait. Rest time needs to be scheduled. Work time sometimes feels like it cannot wait, but maybe it can!
What does success mean to you?
I think success in poetry if it has to have any meaning, has both a personal and a social aspect. Personally, I am successful when the ideas that I have in my mind get represented properly on the page/in a project. Socially, I may never know if I am really successful—when my poetry or creative work endures down generations and becomes more than just my own.
Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Tse.
The randomest fact: I worked a summer once building sandcastles.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that palette, what would that be and why?
I would have answered orange years ago, but nowadays I feel more indigo.
Massive Love Tse!
The ICONIC Team