The art that crosses oceans

Anna Yin is one of Mississauga’s legacies when it comes to literature and poetry. Born in China, Yin immigrated to Canada in 1999. The Chinese-Canadian poet first used writing as a method to improve her English shortly after her arrival in Canada. Not long after writing daily entries in her journal, Yin chose to channel her passion for writing specifically into poetry.

Since discovering her devotion for and ability to write poetry, she has composed and published five books, including her first full collection of poetry, Wings Toward Sunlight. In 2015, Yin published a new book of poetical works called Seven Nights With The Chinese Zodiac. Throughout the book, Yin writes a series of poems about art, family, love, and her experience as an immigrant.

The Medium: Why did you choose poetry as your medium as opposed to fiction or creative non-fiction?

Anna Yin: I like the lyrical rhythm poems have, even though my poems don’t rhyme. After writing in my journal to improve my English, I fell in love with poetry. I chose poetry over fiction because poetry can be short. Since I’m so busy, I don’t have time to write a fiction or non-fiction novel. I like poetry because it’s easy to write and easy to read. Poetry has more room for imagination; it gave me freedom. I don’t want to be too specific in my work. With fiction and non-fiction, I find there are too many rules. I also wanted to get my work out there. I posted my poems online and people read them. I think if I did that with a fiction or non-fiction story, no one would bother reading them.

TM: How did you feel after publishing your first poetry collection?

AY: I lacked confidence in the beginning of my writing career. I built up the courage to read my work at the Ontario Poetry Society conference. While I was there, the coordinator read a rough collection of poems I put together myself. She then granted me an award, and shortly after that, I published the book. Winning this award gave me confidence. I was so happy when I published my first poetry collection. There was a point in my life where I felt very overwhelmed. I didn’t have enough time for poetry and my IT job, so I had to make a plan to do both. Once I managed my time I put together the rough book of work, which I read at the conference. Getting the book published gave me the confidence and motivation to continue writing.

TM: Do you feel that there are certain themes that come up frequently in your work?

AY: I find I mostly write about love. In my newest book, Seven Nights With The Chinese Zodiac, there is a large focus on death. I lost my sister to cancer last year. Because of this, I think about death a lot. I also incorporate a lot of Chinese Zodiac imagery and symbols from my Chinese heritage. These are mostly symbolic animals. I use both the Chinese and biblical symbol of a snake a lot. In my first book, there are a lot of images of fish, which symbolize loneliness, longing, and desire. I found that in my second book, Inhaling the Silence, I steered away from my inner self and focused on themes of outer self. These also come up in Seven Nights With The Chinese Zodiac.

TM: Are your poems personal? Do you have to be feeling an emotion in order to express it in words?

AY: I am very lucky. When it comes to writing, I am easily inspired by my feelings. I do a good job of taking my feelings and turning them into poetry. I think it’s very important to write about my inner thoughts because if I don’t, I fear I will lose them. But I don’t always need an emotion to stir me. Even when my life is uneventful and I don’t feel anything, I can quickly pick up inspiration from other poets. But the times where I do feel emotion, I can express them very deeply in my work.

TM: Did you have a mentor or teacher who influenced your work?

AY: Not exactly. I always want to achieve more and learn more, so sometimes I search for teachers and professionals that can help me improve my craft. Since I don’t have a specific teacher, I learn from other authors and poets. I learn from writers like P.K. Page, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Li-Young Lee, and Billy Collins. These writers teach me that I can write poems with such beauty. Margaret Atwood teaches me about mystery and suspense. Sylvia Plath teaches me that poetry can be both dark and beautiful, and how to be brave in my writing. Emily Dickinson teaches me about light and darkness. When I read Li-Young Lee’s poems, they touch my soul, whereas Billy Collin’s poems make me laugh and think. These writers are my teachers.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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