Chapbook Author – Interview with Kayleigh Sim

April 24, 2023

Interviewer: Carina, HYW Intern

Hey Kayleigh, how are you? Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and answer all my random questions! I am super excited to interview you—side note: you were actually one of the first young poets I came across and looked up to when I began my writing journey! So tell me, how did you get into writing? Has it always been a part of your life?

Hi Carina! I’m doing well, and thank you for inviting me to be in this interview! I am so honored to know that I was one of the first young poets that you looked up to in the early stages of your writing journey: it means so much to me.

Writing hasn’t always been a part of my life, and I remember that as a young girl, I never imagined that I would ever be a writer. It wasn’t until my early high school years that I began to try my hand at writing for a poetry contest, and I found myself in love with this manner of self-expression.

Reading through your discography, I can see that many of your poems incorporate beautiful, surrealist language. Where do you find inspiration for your poems? Do you have any poets you look up to?

I would say that I draw my inspiration from the night. As a poet who only writes during the ungodly hours of the night, I think you’ll find that most of my poems revolve around the same type of nocturnal imagery: moons, stars, moths, city lights… To me, the night is so beautiful in that it is so unexplored yet so familiar in an elegant way.

Oftentimes, I look to other talented writers for inspiration. Some poets who I strongly admire include my friends, Laura Ma, Meily Tran, Stella Lei, Jessica Kim, Daniel Liu, and Matt Hsu, among countless others. I am also an admirer of Ocean Vuong and Ada Limon!

I also noticed that your poems are often written in the first-person perspective. Regarding this, how would you say personal experiences—identity and love and all that—come into play with poetry?

With my poems on identity (my heritage and ancestry), I would definitely say that I write from the heart, drawing out my deepest unspoken feelings and watching them metamorphose into stanzas and lines. While my poems on identity are largely based on my personal experiences and candid emotions, my poems on love are quite the opposite. Interestingly, my love life at the time of writing most of my poetry was essentially nonexistent, and my ideas largely stem from my romanticizing of my uneventful life. In other words, my poems on love tend to reflect what I imagine love to be like.

Like other writers, you probably struggle with writer’s block from time to time. How do you push through that mental wall? Are there any tips you’d like to give writers regarding it?

This is a really great question, and I will admit that I am, in fact, in a period of writer’s block at this very moment! I’ve overcome several periods of writer’s block, and I would advise writers to read heavily during this frustrating period of time. I remember I would pore through the work of poets I admired, poem after poem, until I felt that spark of inspiration. Sometimes, a particular word is all you need to kindle that flame in your heart.

You published your two debut chapbooks, “moongazing, ephemerally” (Ethel Press) and “night driving” (Ghost City press) last year. I absolutely adored “night driving” and saw themes of melancholic love, desperation, and a slight tinge of girlhood and growing up. It was such a well-written, heart-tugging book. Can you tell me about your writing process for this book—and “moongazing, ephemerally”—and how they came to creation?

“Moongazing, ephemerally” was my first chapbook, and I centered it around time, girlhood, and of course, ephemeral things. This chapbook is an exploration of identity in a fleeting world, of how perception of the self can evolve with time, and how nothing lasts forever. Everything in the world of “moongazing, ephemerally”, from flowers and stars to the moon and jellyfish, are transient beings that change ever so quickly, leaving the speaker reminiscing of their beauty even when it’s long gone. This chapbook is divided into 3 phases: i. ephemeral, ii. unearthly, iii. redemption. The emotional trajectory that I strive to create follows my realizations of ephemerality, my feelings of unbelonging in a fleeting world, my musings on sin and salvation, as well as my search for true identity. Of course, the seven pieces in this book were not written in this order. Rather, they were all written separately and placed purposefully in order to create this trajectory.

“Night driving” is my personal favorite out of my two chapbooks. This book is a collection of musings written through many ungodly hours and revolves around the theme of love, or what I imagine love to be like. You may notice that the first poem “fire escape” and the last poem “night driving” share some similarities, and this structure is purposeful. In this chapbook, love is an inescapable cycle of illusion and hollowness, and even at the end of the collection, the speaker still ends up where she had begun: disillusioned by the artificiality of love, of everything. For this particular chapbook, the poems are meant to be in a chronological order, from “before you leave” to “after you leave”. I’ll leave that up to the reader’s interpretation!

The first poem I ever read of yours was “serenade with burning city” from the Aurora Journal. I fell in love with this piece and have been dying to know where this poem comes from and why you chose to intertwine such destruction with your delicate, vivid language. Do you think there is merit to combining the juxtaposing themes?

“Serenade with burning city” is actually one of my personal favorites that I hold close to my heart, and I am so honored to hear that you loved it as well! This piece is delicate and dark at the same time, exploring the idea of beauty and the volatility of love through the metaphor of butterflies and moths. In this poem, “we” are both moths, gazing at the butterflies, the epitome of beauty. And it is this very beauty of another life, another fate that is so alluring to some, and the “he” in the poem leaves the speaker in order to chase this idealistic dream, to become a butterfly himself.

I personally love weaving juxtaposition into my pieces, and oftentimes I find myself using flowery, delicate language to articulate something darker. Many of my pieces revolve around the idea of illusion, emptiness, and how nothing is as it seems, and I feel that my wield of juxtaposition really contributes to the expression of this idea.

What is a piece of yours that you love? Can you tell me why?

Looking through my discography, I would say that the piece that I absolutely love is “fire escape”, published in Paper Crane Journal. This piece was one of my first attempts at a contrapuntal, (although it was originally written as a traditional poem!) and I am rather pleased with the result.

“Fire escape” was originally inspired by a book I was reading at the time, called “The Glass Menagerie”. I remember admiring the symbolic meaning of the fire escape in the story and how it was both the entrance to and the exit from the house, which represented a feeling of emptiness. It was as if this hollowness was an inescapable abyss, where every exit would lead you straight back into the despair.

I weaved this unique idea into a poem with the idea of living in a strange land, far from a hometown.

Until becoming a part of Literary Twitter, writing always seemed so solitary. How do you think the literary community has impacted your writing?

The literary community has definitely made my writing journey such a lovely one. I have met some of the most gorgeous souls on Literary Twitter, and I’ve made some truly wholesome friendships with other young poets who share similar experiences with me!

Is there any advice you’d like to have heard when you first started writing that you can share now? And is there anything you’d like to say to the burgeoning writers reading this?

Of course! I would say that something that undoubtedly exposed me fully to the literary world and shaped me into a writer was literary editing. I edited for Polyphony Lit for three years, and by my third year with this beautiful publication, I was an Executive Editor. I would highly encourage young writers to look into editing– the craft of literary editing not only exposes you to countless different writing styles, but also challenges your mind to form a personal interpretation of various pieces.

As a final note for burgeoning writers, I would encourage you to never be afraid to write! Writing is an art, not a science– there are no limits, no boundaries. Your feelings, your emotions are beautiful, and when you shape those feelings into stanzas and lines, they truly have the potential to take flight.

Garamond or Times New Roman?

Garamond for sure! I find it looks more elegant.

Thank you for your time!

Kayleigh SimKayleigh Sim is a Southeast Asian writer living in San Diego, California, and is currently a first year student at the University of California, Irvine. Her work has been published in Interstellar Lit, Aster Lit, The Augment Review, Pollux Journal, Aurora Journal, Indigo Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She is the author of two micro chapbooks, night driving (Ghost City Press) and moongazing, ephemerally (Ethel Press). Website: Twitter: @kayleighsim_ Instagram: @kayleigh.sim_

Featured Image by Shubhangi Srinivasan on Unsplash