The Stella Interviews: Thuy On
Congratulations on being longlisted for the 2023 Stella Prize! What does it mean to you to be included on the list?
I am absolutely delighted to have Decadence longlisted for the Stella Prize, and particularly gratified that Stella has only recently permitted poetry into its award. Poetry tends to get sidelined so it’s great to see it recognised as an important and valid artform in among all the other categories.
Your longlisted book, Decadence, has been described by Maxine Beneba Clarke as “a profound musing on literature and language, that deftly skewers the would-be gatekeepers of verse”. What would you say are some of the central ambitions or themes of your work?
Decadence is mostly about the love of and desire for words in all their shapes and sizes. It’s a playful, sometimes satirical collection that takes apart the building blocks of language, those tiny markers of punctuation and grammar, and reshapes them into poetry. It’s a book about lolling around sated: by words, by sex, by the joy of filling a blank page, by the art of reading and criticism. Passion drives the narrative of each poem.
I was very particular about wanting the cover to have the letters spelling out Decadence to be split up into parts because the book is, among other things, about breaking things down (and putting them back together again).
As a literary and arts critic/journalist of over 20 years standing I have privileged insider information about the books industry so the first third of Decadence (“Meta”) deals specifically with matters relating to book blurbs, literary grants, criticism etc, with individual titles of poems called “Word Slut”, “Ceci n’est pas une poème!”, “Get Lit” “Ex Libris” and “Errata”.
The collection also explores love and loss, the two perennials of life that I canvassed in my first book of poetry, Turbulence (2020) as well.
What draws you to poetry as a form?
I like to think I am an efficient person; I am drawn to poetry because it offers quick gratification. (I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner in turns of writing endurance style). I often feel that I can say everything I need to say about a particular matter in a single page. I like the succinctness and precision that poetry can provide. Capturing the essence of something in just a few lines takes discipline.
Can you tell us a bit about your artistic process? How do you write, where, when, and on what?
Most of my poetry is written quickly because it’s usually an emotion I am trying to pin down. So the gist of the idea is written down (on scraps of paper) and then later I will go and tinker with it. Like most creative writers, I have a day job so poetry often gets relegated to the margins of my days because I don’t have the time to focus on it on a daily basis.
What’s on your reading pile at the moment?
As it happens I am on two literary judging panels at the moment: The Age Fiction of the Year awards and UWAP’s Dorothy Hewett unpublished manuscript award, so there are a lot of novels and unbound papers demanding attention.
Find out more about Thuy On’s 2023 Stella Prize longlisted book, Decadence.