Pirene’s Fountain interviews
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming
With Lark Vernon Timmons
Your website reflects an impressive array of interrelated scholastic and literary pursuits you are involved in (as poet, fiction writer, photographer, doctoral student, editor, etc). Is there one area you are most passionate about, or do the various roles simply work together to make up the whole?
At the moment, I devote most of my time to my work at the Hong Kong Baptist University. I teach poetry, fiction and drama and I am very impressed by the intelligence and enthusiasm of my students. As a faculty member, I am also grateful to have the opportunity to explore new research areas. I work on Cha: An Asian Literary Journal mostly in the evenings and with the usual help of my co-editor (Jeff Zroback) and reviews editor (Eddie Tay) as well as that of our guest editors. Our next issue, themed ‘Ancient Asia’, is due out in late October. I am afraid that doesn't leave me with much time to write poetry or take pictures these days but that does not mean I am not constantly noting things down or capturing images that catch my attention. Those are three areas I am probably the most passionate about (teaching/researching, the journal and writing poetry), and, yes, there is some overlap between them. However, it is also a balancing act to find time for them all, so that I can do them well. I am more content trying to do one or three things well rather than doing a lot of things half-heartedly.
London seems the ideal environment (on many levels) for work on your thesis. Tell us about your current stint in the UK! How and when did your area of study (Neo-Victorian fiction) become an interest? Fascinating…
I finished my PhD studies at King’s College London in 2012 and have since returned to work in my home city, Hong Kong. It was in my undergraduate days that I became interested in Victorian literature (the novel that started me off was Dickens’s Great Expectations). This interest in Victorian literature intensified when I wrote my MPhil thesis, which looked at the Victorian social and cultural practice of reading aloud and its impact on Dickens’s distinctively aural writing style – a style which was meant to be heard, not only read. While I was writing that thesis, a number of contemporary novels that revisit aspects of the nineteenth century (such as A.S. Byatt's Possession and John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, to name two well-known examples) came to my attention. Through such works, I discovered that the nineteenth century is very much alive today – alive in new forms of expression, alive in new cross-cultural, cross-temporal translations. I wanted to study this phenomenon more closely, hence my PhD work on neo-Victorian fiction. The fact that the study allowed me to be immersed in both Victorian literature and contemporary fiction made it a dream field for me. Obviously, London also provided the perfect location for studying this material, and I am very happy I had the chance to work at King’s College London.
Your online Asian literary journal Cha, is the first of its kind. Can you elaborate on the name choice? What was your vision when it began in 2007, and how has the publication evolved over time?
As said elsewhere, we chose Cha as the journal title because of its linguistic and cultural ubiquity in Asia and its more philosophical associations. Cha (and its cognates like chai) means tea in many Asian languages, and considering the popularity of the drink in the region, we felt it would be an apt name for a journal devoted to primarily Asian literature. We also thought it could sufficiently encapsulate many different eastern societies at once, since the drink plays such a central role in so many Asian cultures. Finally, drinking tea is associated with a kind of contemplation, a sense of savouring something that is both simple and complex, which is equally true of good literature.
When we first started Cha in 2007, we simply wished to provide a platform for Asian literature, to give established and emerging writers somewhere to have their work read. Although the journal has developed in scope since then by adding new features like the A Cup of Fine Tea critique column and the Hong Kong Lucida photo blog, I think that providing a platform for Asian writing has remained our central goal in the publication of Cha.
// Cha: An Asian Literary Journal http://www.asiancha.com
// A Cup of Fine Tea http://www.finecha.wordpress.com
// Hong Kong Lucida http://hongkonglucida.wordpress.com/
Share with readers the extent of your (own) anthologized works, and your editing role in anthologizing others’ works.
I have had several poems collected in anthologies and they have often been, in one way or other, attached to a ‘label’: for example, ‘women's poetry’, ‘Hong Kong poetry’, ‘Asian poetry’. In terms of my own editing, I have tried to go a slightly different way. I see every issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal as a mini anthology, showcasing the best works that we’ve received in a given time. While we occasionally have themed issues at Cha (and obviously work under the banner of ‘Asian writing’), most of our editions are unthemed. Although some might argue that the term ‘Asian writing’ is vague and overly expansive, keeping the journal as open as possible has been a deliberate decision – we want to be able to choose the best works we get without having to be too constrained by categories. This looseness also allows readers to make their own connections between the works or pick up on the mini themes that often emerge naturally within an issue.
How do you envision your post-doctoral writing life?
Write whenever I can. There is never any end to it.
Thanks so much, Tammy!
Tammy Ho is a Hong Kong-born writer and editor. She is a co-founder of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the marketing director of Fleeting Books, and an editor of the academic journal, Victorian Network. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and the Forward Prize. She currently teaches literature at Hong Kong Baptist University.