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Green Leaves

Unpacking ‘Flow’ with Luoyang Chen

In this interview, we learn more about Luoyang Chen and the intentions behind his debut collection, Flow.

Centre for Stories first met Luoyang Chen when he applied for our Writing Change, Writing Inclusion hot desk fellowship in 2021 after moving to Perth from Melbourne. Luoyang’s poetry has been published in Cordite, Farrago, Portside Review, Rabbit, Overland and more. His work also appears in Centre for Stories’ anthology Under the Paving Stones, the Beach published in 2022. Luoyang is a social worker and now resides in the country town of Kalgoorlie.

Centre for Stories (CFS): Can you tell us how this collection, beautifully named Flow, came together?

Luoyang Chen (LC): I knew I was going to put a collection of poems together based on positionality— the position of a poet-speaker as a Chinese student in “Australia”. I started pondering this idea in 2019 when I took an English literature subject called Poetry, Love, and Death, which was coordinated and taught by the Dr Lucy Van at the University of Melbourne, where I got hooked by Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s fragments as well as the heroine, ‘elder’/’ancestor’ of my book, Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue. I knew I had to draft a suite of poems for a third-year Creative Writing subject called Poetry and Poetics which was coordinated by Dr Amanda Frances Johnson a year after. I knew that suite of poems would be the archetype of Flow.

Photo: Sophie Minissale

It is not wrong to say that Flow is a poetry collection that speaks of the experience and input of a person who carries a precarious identity both in the country he emigrates from and the country he immigrates to. However, it would be boring and limiting and repetitive if it was only about that. I am aware of the looming critique of “autofictionality”, so I am running away from that— that concept of narcissistic incorruptibility. Flow investigates Language. Flow plays with Language, and subsequently, narratives, narratives, narratives. But this circles back to the importance of positionality which I want to emphasise and address in my book, which implies self-awareness, which implies reflexivity, which implies authenticity, which, of course, then, implies pain.

I knew there were certain poems that I had to write in order to develop or expand Flow. Most of those poems are collected in Act I of the book. There are many poems that have been written and re-written during the making of Flow as a book. These poems are not included in Flow primarily because of the difference in voice despite the similarity in the interaction with Language, narratives, positionality or the (lyric) “I”, and “O”. I am looking for a home for the “sea-queal” of Flow as I type this words down, though now I feel embarrassed, though now I feel self-conscious, though now I feel bad.

CFS: There’s always lots of waiting involved when publishing a book. First, waiting for the words to come, then waiting for the words to be edited, then printed. Who did you call/text when you finally received the physical copies of Flow?

LC: I shared the news with my friend who is not just a friend, my dearest D. My feelings of Flow fluctuated and contradicted over time: I hated it then I loved it and I hated it again… This love-hate, bitter-sweet feeling ceased after I received the physical copies of Flow which were handed to me in a Woolies bag by one of the legends who mesmerised me through theatre performance, then poetry, then company. Anyway, the bag is green. And the legend is Andrew Sutherland. I shared the news with my Mum, my Grandma, my kin. I shared the news with Dr Felicity Plunkett and Dr A. Frances Johnson. I was content. I was proud. I was happy.

CFS: What was it like working with your editor?

LC: My editor— Marise Phillips was professional, fantastic, self-aware, attentive, and supportive.

Photo: Sophie Minissale

CFS: This book sits within a series of poetry collections within the Green Leaves/Red River project in collaboration with Red River Press in Delhi. What is something cool/fun/challenging that has come up due to the physical distance of the publisher being in India?

LC: I know I am not an award-winning poet. I find it difficult to take compliments and praises, none of which is the reason why I wanted to write poetry. I knew being published by a small publisher outside “Australia” would not necessarily gather the publicity and engagement that Flow wants in and with the “Australian Literary Scene” that it speaks to and about. Or maybe I am just a crappy poet. I long, though, for critical engagement, attention, time, and care for Flow. Or destruction. I want to know how and why I am wrong.

CFS: This is your debut collection of poems (the first of many, we hope!). What has met your expectations and what has been awkward or unexpected?

LC: My expectation does not matter. Flow is out there, it is not mine (or it never belongs to me) anymore. That’s not entirely true. I want criticism. I want to point out the incorruptibility of so-called social warriors. I want to re-direct narcissistic narratives. I want to tear apart your entitlement. I want to say: kindness.

CFS: Please pick one poem that we can share with our readers.

LC: I would like to choose “Flow Following Errors” because it is a poem that investigates and questions “Flow”, the poet-speaker. He is not innocent!! However, he is the wrong word.

About Luoyang

Born and raised in a small town in Fujian, China, Luoyang Chen has been residing on the unceded Noongar land since 2021. Luoyang is interested in 自然 (the unconcealing/it-self), love and dying, lyric I, and ‘O’. He writes poetry.

Praise for Flow

“Flow is a brilliant, cohesive work of vision and revision. Flow might be disembodied, but the Flow of Chen’s vision is provisionally bodied, a metapoetic spectre who flicks and refracts: mirror, memory and capacious mind. Flow is a truth-teller and a teller of lies with some truth to them. Flow navigates trip-wires and sunlight. Flow moves from currents of dark history, crossing and translating places and generations, holding a light to the violence of racism and exclusion, choosing instead radical openness and connection.” – Felicity Plunkett

“To flow is to love and to allow social and emotional complexity to be richly present, but flow can also destroy or deliver cataclysmic consequences when driven by ideology or violence. Chen explores this binary with a rare and beguiling combination of metapoetic wit, heart and disarming political analysis. Aggregate complexity is delivered in deceptively simple lyrics that often test the page as field, exploiting bold enjambments and lineation.” – A Frances Johnson

Purchase a copy of Flow from our online shop.

Green Leaves / Red River is an international publication project by Centre for Stories in partnership with Red River Press based in Delhi.

The project supports eight poets from CALD backgrounds to publish a full manuscript of poetry. The project also provides two editorial fellowships to emerging editors from CALD backgrounds. Editorial Fellows work with the writers to develop a manuscript of high literary standard. The collections will be published over two years and sold individually as part of a series.

This project is possible with funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

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