Lisa Poh hails from her home in Montreal, but is also from Singapore and uses a bit of both cultures in her story in Tesseracts 17.
CA: “Graffiti Borealis” deals with the urban landscape, but touches on a very Canadian aspect of landscape, the aurora borealis. Was this your intention?
I didn’t really set out to write a Canadian story. It just struck me that living in Montreal, I should write a story set here, so that was what I deliberately set out to do. When I started thinking about the landscape of Montreal and Quebec, Graffiti and the aurora borealis, two things that fascinate me, suddenly connected. Graffiti surrounds you in this city everywhere you go, and with the bright colors, it can be the most vibrant thing standing out amidst the aging concrete and brick. When I thought about it, it struck me that it was a like an aurora borealis in the city—neon, alive, always shifting, disappearing and reappearing.
CA: Landscape plays quite an important role in this story, especially in feeling a part of or alienated from one’s surroundings. Daniel feels this in several ways. What cultural/societal motifs did you want to highlight?
I think that the immigrant experience always involves feelings of alienation, and simultaneously, of confrontation. There is a lot of push-pull attraction happening on different fronts. You want to integrate, and yet you want to remain yourself. Diversity is a huge part of the Canadian identity in my view. But as an element of society, it is not always something natural or easy. After all, what is assimilation, and what is it we are supposed to assimilate into? I thought it was interesting to have Daniel, who comes from the straight-laced, law-abiding Anglophone Asian track, thrown into partnership with La Guéparde, his opposite in so many ways. But yet, they are the same on some levels and have the ability to relate.
CA: Graffiti is a unique form of rebellion, art, political commentary and cultural nomenclature. Can you speak to those aspects in context to this story?
Oh yes. I come from Singapore, a country where painting graffiti on public property is punishable by caning and avenues for political commentary are restrictive. So the proliferation of graffiti here, along with the freedom of political protest, are some of the things I notice the most. My reaction is complex—sometimes repulsed, sometimes admiring. When I guide visitors through the city, I point it out with a mixture of disapproval and pride. Yes, this is Montreal. I tried to express these feelings through Daniel.
CA: Will we be seeing this world or the characters in other tales?
I haven’t any plans but if the inspiration strikes, why not?
CA: What else are you working on right now?
Right now I’m taking a writing break as my typing hands are full with a very vocal four-month-old baby. Once he learns to sleep on his own though, I hope to work on some new stories and a novel!
Lisa Poh is a writer, teacher and communicator who grew up in the tiny tropical metropolis of Singapore, but now lives in Montreal, Canada, with her game designer husband. Together, they consume too much caffeine and own too many books, video games and manga for a small apartment. A graduate of the 2009 Odyssey Writing Workshop, Lisa’s fiction can also be found in Expanded Horizons and Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories. She is also the author of two high school English textbooks used by schools in Singapore. She blogs at http://lishwrite.wordpress.com/.