Shin Yu Pai is the author of the new book Enso. A poet, essayist, and visual artist, her other books include Aux Arcs and Adamantine, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Tricycle and The Rumpus. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Q: In the book's preface, Michael Leong calls Enso "a model book...to teach us how to extend poetry beyond the page as part of a publicly engaged, collaborative, and multimedial practice." What do you think of that description?
A: Michael has been familiar my work for a few years – we first worked together on a visual-text portfolio that he curated for The Margins, a project of the Asian American Writers Workshop. I knew that he would fundamentally understand aspects of my practice as it reaches across discipline because of his editorial interests.
I felt very honored to have him clearly see the aspirations of the book and to engage with my work as it has developed and deepened over the years. He accurately speaks to the commitments at work in my practice.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book, and over how long a period did you work on it?
A: My publisher and I started talking about this work in 2018. I had pitched a variety of hybrid visual-text projects to Entre Rios.
After some back-and-forth, it made most sense to develop a survey or retrospective project that could follow the development of my creative practice and aesthetic over a 20-year period.
So I started actively assembling the collection in 2018 and knew that it would bring together photographic work, as well as other visual projects. I knew that I also wanted to write personal essays to put the work in context and to give a deeper sense of the circumstances that gave birth to this work.
I worked on the essays for over a year. Prose is not my primary form and it took me some time and work, with more than one editor, to arrive at what I wanted to say.
The idea of Enso refers to the Zen circle – also a symbol of completion, practice, perfection, and imperfection.
Q: You write that your "go-to form has always been haiku." Why is that?
A: Haiku is a form that is an excellent mirror and expression of the mind. It can be brief, concise, image-based, and capture a fleeting observation without room for extensive commentary or interpretation of an experience.
It was the first poetic form I learned as a child, and I came back to it in my adulthood after developing a friendship with Tom Gilroy, who wrote The Haiku Year with a group of friends. The poems emerge as easily as thoughts arising out of the mind.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A: I hope that readers gain a better understanding of the depth of my practice and the ways in which poetry can circulate in the world in surprising and unexpected ways to live beyond the page, both as possibilities and strategies for poetry in general, but perhaps in their own work.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a personal essay collection as memoir that looks at my relationship to Taiwanese identity. The gender expectations of daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers in Taiwanese culture and where I do and don’t relate to that as a person of the diaspora.
The book traces a series of five trips to my parents’ homeland that I’ve taken over the past 20 years, as a grown adult, starting with my first trip to Taiwan on a Love Boat Tour, or a cultural root- searching trip organized by the Democratic Progressive Party.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Every copy of Enso will provide a code and link to online audio and video content of some of the visual and audio projects that I’ve worked on, including video poems. You can get a sneak preview at our SoundCloud account.
People interested in my visual and performance-based work can learn more about my projects at www.shinyupai.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb