David Ly is the author of the poetry collection Mythical Man (Anstruther Books, 2020) and the chapbook Stubble Burn (Anstruther Press, 2018). His poetry has appeared in PRISM international, Arc Poetry Magazine, The /temz/ Review and elsewhere. He is the Poetry Editor of This Magazine and sits on the Editorial Collective of Anstruther Press.
Hannah Macready: Thank you and hello! What a joy it is to get to have a bit of dialogue with you on the heels of your latest poetry release, Mythical Man. Your poems are heartache, belonging, sex, and deceit; a beautiful romantic warning that reminds me how absolutely fucking shit the dating sphere can be. Can you tell me a bit about how this collection came to be and what your hopes for its existence are?
David Ly: Mythical Man, I think, definitely is influenced by my experiences dating as a gay Asian man, so I think that was a starting point, for sure. But I didn’t want the collection to solely be about that, because it actually opens the door to more nuanced experiences of belonging, self-perception, and how identity can be created. So I think this collection came to be as a means for me to explore that: what do I want to become after experiencing racism, sexual racism, intolerance, etc. Sure, it could’ve been a book full of angry poems about this, but I didn’t want that since it’s so exhausting being angry (lol). I hope Mythical Man shows people that our horrible experiences don’t define us and that we can build on them to create a future and identity that is hopeful. Also, I just want the book to not be scary for readers who are weary about poetry, scared of it, or who are just getting into it for the first time.
HM: I had the pleasure of hearing you read, “No rice, no spice kind of guy” at Growing Room festival in 2019. I remember you stepping towards the mic, giving the audience a coy, under-the-brow smirk, and then delivering those few punchy lines. The poem is comedic which perhaps softens the blow of the overt racism described in the lines. There is an irony there, as the no rice, no spice guy might need that kind of soft, subtle delivery to soothe his weak ego. Do you find catharsis in your writing? Escape? Truth? What about this kind of creation draws you to it?
DL: Thanks! That was definitely an experience, lol. My first and only slam poetry reading! I’m glad that the poem can come off as comedic but gut-punchy. It was my intent to convey this really horrible experience with a bit of humour because at the end of the day I can only cope through things by laughing at them, so the comedic effect of that poem was definitely intentional. I wanted to show how stupid and ridiculous that phrase is (no rice no spice kind of guy). So, I guess it was kind of cathartic writing this one! It is definitely one of the worst things that have been said to me, but also one of the most hilarious. I have no intention of delivering things soft and subtle to soothe men’s weak egos. I think they can take it pretty overtly as they’ve been pretty overt towards me. *hair flick
HM: So, the topic of the project is Amateurs. You are, I would say, on the higher end of the amateur spectrum. You have two books of poetry now completed and published through Anstruther Press. Beyond that, you have multiple publications in well-known Canadian literary magazines. Do you consider yourself an amateur? Emerging? In what ways do those words apply and not apply to you?
DL: I think they’ll always apply to me lol. I feel like I’m always an amateur, and will always be emerging because I am consistently pushing myself to write beyond what I’ve already done.
HM: As your literary career has grown, there have surely been obstacles in the way of your publishing. Can you outline what some of those obstacles have been and how you have pushed through them?
Definitely that people will always read into my work more than I can ever expect, and I feel like because I can write such personal stuff, people can have a perception of me that isn’t what I intend. I try not to dwell on this by reminding myself I have no control over how people read my work, basically. Once it’s out, it’s out there lol.
HM: One thing I know about the publishing scene, that I feel is not discussed enough, is how much responsibility is placed on authors to do their own marketing. This is not unusual, as many businesses where the individual is the main/sole proprietor follow this same structure (real estate agents, tattoo artists, painters, etc). How does that responsibility impact your book release and what kind of accompanying skills do you think aspiring authors need to nurture in order to pursue publishing?
DL: I love doing my own marketing. I think it’s one of the most fun things to do after your book is published, but I know that’s just how I am: I’m a busy body and like to have things to work on, projects to complete, so I really love getting out there and doing what needs to be done to sell my book lol. I don’t see it a “responsibility” really, because I enjoy it. I know that publishers can become overwhelmed as well with handling so many books and authors, so I also like to take off some work from their plate by doing my part. They published my books, so the least I can do is what I enjoy (marketing) and selling my book for them!
HM: Tell me one thing that you wish you had known when you began publishing your first collection, Stubble Burn, and one new thing that you learned after publishing Mythical Man.
DL: I wish I had known to push myself more in my writing Stubble Burn (but this is me being hard on myself, I think). After publishing Mythical Man, I’ve learned that you can only push so much until you burnout so taking breaks and being gentler on yourself is just as important.
HM: Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. For my final questions I would like to know, where will you go from here?
DL: I have no idea. Maybe take some more stabs at writing more poems? Maybe a second collection is coming, but it’s too early to feel good about it lol.