Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Mary Jean Chan
By Yong Shu Hoong
When Mary Jean Chan was approached by QLRS to do this Proust Questionnaire, she acknowledged in her email reply, "Incidentally, QLRS was where I first published my poetry (ever!), so I have fond memories of reading and submitting to QLRS back in 2013/14."
The Hong Kong-born poet has leapt ahead in the international poetry scene since those early days. Her debut collection Flèche (Faber & Faber, 2019) won the 2019 Costa Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize.
Pronounced as "flesh" (a wordplay that is apt for the many poems of longing and vulnerability contained herein), the book title is the French word for "arrow" – also an offensive technique in fencing, a sport in which she has competed in Hong Kong and internationally. Asian Review of Books praised Flèche as a "significant and original contribution to Hong Kong poetry as well as to the current scene of British Asian diasporic voices" that interrogates "the complexities of love, history and the power of naming through refreshing experimentation in language and form."
Currently based in London, Chan is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Oxford Brookes University. In Spring 2020, she served as guest co-editor alongside Will Harris at The Poetry Review.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: glaze, silent, hand.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. With Flèche lauded for how it approaches multilingualism and queerness, do you see your next collection of poems as a continuation or deviation in concept?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?