Q&A interview with madeleine lee – regarding the writing process and poetic inspiration

These poems are so wonderfully written, and they contain surprising and refreshing insights. I’m wondering, as a reader, how long does it take as a poet to create or discover these new insights in the beginning – do they appear spontaneously, or after much rumination? What is the sequence of thought in creating your poems?

A lot depends on one’s philosophy in life, one’s world view. One’s philosophical foundation tethers one’s creative thought. It is not a restriction, just an anchor.

For me, the thoughts are constantly at the back of my mind. Things like fairness, compassion, love, interconnectedness, impermanence (or the lack of), are always the key trigger points. I use nature as a backdrop as it provides many sights and sounds which trigger meta thoughts. These thoughts eventually become poems. It may be spontaneous or may take a while.

There is a sense of closeness or intimacy of your poems, as if you were casually conversing with the reader about your daily observations of the world around you. Do you feel your poems are perhaps more so streams of consciousness, or do they go through several rounds of refinement from your initial ideas? Do the words come naturally?

My poems are more so streams of consciousness, developed into the poetic art form.

As poetry is your second job, what motivates you to spend time writing and thinking about your poems? Do you have an overarching purpose for them?

Poetry is actually more like a purposeful hobby than a second job. It keeps me balanced, and sane.

As a student who has studied poetry through a lens of analysis rather than leisure, I have come to appreciate the various poetic techniques that appear in your poems. I am curious, do you consciously include poetic techniques in your poems, or is their presence more organic? Also, how can both analytical readers and leisurely readers appreciate your poetry better? Is there anything specific about your poems you’d like to bring to attention for both?

To be honest, I am an untaught, or some prefer to say “self-taught”, poet.  I have a keen ear for sound and rhythm, and an eye for visuals and colours. So I am a “seeing-and-hearing” poet, if you like. To appreciate my poems, one sometimes has to close one’s eyes and visualise.

The content of your poetry has a very whimsical, temporal beauty to it: you capture snippets of beauty from everyday life; the process of transforming observations into a piece of art is a special skill. However, most people witness these snippets, but continue on with their lives without documenting or appreciating it. From your perspective, how can people learn to recognise and appreciate these moments, and how do we cultivate these kinds of thinking or reading habits?

That is the problem – no one stops to think. Sometimes they do not even see the whimsical and temporal. We get so caught up in daily busy-ness. All we need do is to take a moment. To see, hear. To appreciate. Without any ill intent, just open the mind up to appreciate the moment. A meditation almost.

Do you think someone can be a poet if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Actually there is little gross emotions in the writing. There is plenty of thought.

Some of your works focus on the theme of seeing the beauty in math and logic, such as the title of one of your works, one point six one eight, and the book square root of time. As you work in both finance and literature, do you feel you have a unique perspective when writing poems? Are there any specific messages you hope to convey to the reader about this topic? How do you find the connections between the seemingly cold, hard world of mathematics and the more illogical world of nature?

Nature is quite logical. Perhaps it is not yet understood by human beings, that’s all. 1.618 is the golden ratio which occurs naturally in nature and is the ratio of ‘beauty’ in the context of geometry and proportions. Maths is man’s attempt to make sense of the natural world, not the other way around. We just haven’t found equations for everything, that’s all. And we should probably not. Nature is nature. We are just a very small part of it.

As for finance or financial maths/logic, it is even smaller and definitely non-essential.

I noticed none of your poems have lower case or punctuation – why is this?

Lower case – I feel I do not need to shout my poems. They are quiet pieces.

Punctuation – word play! It is more fun if it is left to the reader’s imagination to self-punctuate. In my poems, many lines wrap around/enjambe – it is even more fun without punctuation. Usually, they can be read in more than one way.

How do you feel your poems, and perhaps your approach to writing, have evolved over the years?

I think I have become more confident after about the 6th volume!

Do you have many unfinished or scrapped poems?

Plenty! I set myself a discipline to write fifty poems a year; or about one a week minus two weeks’ holiday. I find that in fact poems come in batches, due to something we see or a theme which continues. Still, it is a good target, as it keeps one on their toes. For every good poem, there should be nine bad ones at least!

This is a written version of an online interview with Madeleine Lee on 29 July, 2020.

%d bloggers like this: