Photo credit
Holly Hofmann

Biography

Vancouver's 6th Poet Laureate, Fiona Tinwei Lam has published three collections of poetry and a children’s book. Her poems have been featured in Best Canadian Poetry, in the League of Canadian Poets’ Poem in Your Pocket program, and thrice with BC’s Poetry in Transit, as well as in award-winning poetry videos made in collaboration with filmmakers that have screened worldwide. She edited The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems about Facing Cancer, and co-edited two nonfiction anthologies. Shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Prize and other awards, her work has been included in over 40 anthologies.  fionalam.net

Micro-interview

Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?

I read poetry in high school, and enjoyed Margaret Atwood, Anne Hebert, and Sylvia Plath, as well as John Donne, Keats, and some of Shakespeares sonnets. I wish I’d been introduced to more contemporary poets as a teenager, as they would have been much more relevant and more interesting to me as I went through the ups and downs of adolescence. Too much time was spent analyzing meter, and not enough time was spent just enjoying all the ways a poem could be put together. 

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

I started writing poetry in grade two or three, and wrote a lot during high school at Eric Hamber. I started considering myself a poet when my poems started to get published in literary magazines.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?

A poet’s mission is to express the inexpressible and to pay attention to what many people overlook, avoid or fail to understand. Mary Oliver noted, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” We need to explore beyond the surface details to find underlying emotional truths, find beauty in the quotidien, or find contradictions — the complex in the simple, and the simple in the complex.   

As we try to craft a poem, we are ultimately trying to put “the best words in the best order” as Coleridge put it. 

If you have a poem in our anthology what inspired you to write it?

I was inspired to write "Weed Killer" because it had lingered in my mind as a very disturbing memory.  My mother was a physician, but seemed blithely unaware of the toxicity and dangers of handling a poison like this. I was quite concerned about what we were doing at the time, and remained that way for months (years....) afterward. I am very environmentally conscious now as an adult, but there is so much harm being done heedlessly, obliviously to our ecosystems that I seem powerless to stop, just as I felt powerless being ordered by my mom to spread the herbicide all over our lawn. 

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?

It’s a tie between Ocean Vuong’s “Deto(nation)” and Tomasz Rozycki’s “11. Headwinds.

Poems

Publications

Title
Odes & Laments
Publisher
Caitlin Press
Date
2019
Publication type
Book
Title
Enter the Chrysanthemum
Publisher
Caitlin Press
Date
2009
Publication type
Book
Poem title(s)
Aquarium
Title
The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English: Tenth Anniversary Edition
Publisher
Tightrope Books
Editors
Molly Peacock and Anita Lahey
Date
2017
Publication type
Anthology
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