Five Questions for... Jessica J. Lee

IMG_6298.JPG

Two years ago we reviewed Turning, her memoir about swimming in the lakes around Berlin. This autumn Jessica J. Lee is back with the autobiographical Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan. She is an environmental historian, writing tutor, nature writer and editor of The Willowherb Review, an online platform for nature writing by writers of colour. Jessica writes with the precision of a botanist but without the pretence that nature writing has no singularity, discarding the old cliché haunting the genre: that we all experience the environment in the same way, that diversity doesn’t matter and doesn’t exist. 

 What does home mean to you?

Multiplicity. It’s taken me a really long time to realise that home didn’t have to be singular, that I didn’t need to pick one place to call home. Both my parents are immigrants, and I’ve been an immigrant myself: instead of seeing that as a kind of “dislocation”, I’ve made a conscious choice to see that as productive, as a way of saying I belong to many places. I was born in London, Ontario, which people seem to find confusing because I lived in London, England for so long. Halifax (in Nova Scotia). Toronto. Berlin. Taipei. 

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I wrote my PhD dissertation about Hampstead Heath, which I lived next to through my early twenties. There was a beautiful lime tree that I used to hang out under, reading, resting, dreaming, crying: it bore witness to a lot of my most transformative moments in young adulthood. The tree came down in a storm in 2012, but the spot where it stood still draws me in. I have its leaf tattooed on my arm. 

 So I’d say there, but also: the bay at my family’s cottage in Canada, the cafe window in Berlin where I usually sit and write, the Taiwanese breakfast shop in Taipei where I get cold soy milk and hot shaobing youtiao. 

What is beyond your front door?

My street has one of the most beautiful views in Berlin, I think: it’s abnormally long and tree-lined and lovely. To the left, you’ll find more children and ice cream shops and wine bars and pet stores than necessary, and to the right you’ll find a busy road with a tram that races back and forth over the old Berlin Wall border all day. There’s a spicy hand-pulled noodle shop not far away, which is probably the best thing within walking distance. 

 What place would you most like to visit?

This is an impossible choice! There are so many countries I’ve yet to visit—Japan, Norway, New Zealand—but if I can be really specific, I’ll say Jiaming Lake in the Central Mountains of Taiwan. It’s a teardrop of a lake at the top of the mountains, famous for being a shallow, glassy mirror of the sky. People used to say it was formed by a meteor strike, but it was actually formed by glacial movement. But it’s a nightmare to hike to because of permits, the logistics of getting to the trailhead, the three-day trek, etc. I’ve twice had journeys to the Jiaming cancelled, so it’s become something of an obsession for me to one day actually make it there. 

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I have the bad habit of reading many books at once. Currently, Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall and Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo during the day, and Ben Aaronovitch’s The October Man as bedtime reading. I watch too much television—it’s one of the only ways I can switch off at home—so I’m currently finishing with Jane the Virgin. And for music, I’ve returned to Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet on repeat. 

Jessica on Twitter
Website
The Willowherb Review


Five Questions for... Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

We are extremely pleased to welcome the poet Will Burns to Elsewhere: A Journal of Place for the next in our series of “Five Questions” interviewers with writers, artists, practitioners and indeed anyone for whom place is central to their work, whatever that may be. You might have spotted Will on these virtual pages recently as we reviewed the new album Chalk Hill Blue that he made with Hannah Peel, a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of poetry and music rooted in the landscapes of Buckinghamshire where Will lives.

Named as one of the Faber & Faber New Poets for 2014 and the poet-in-residence at the wonderful Caught by the River, Will’s poetry evokes a strong sense of place and was praised by The Guardian for its “quiet intelligence and subtle ways of seeing”, a description that we can only wholeheartedly endorse. A regular live performer, Will has read at festivals around the UK including Port Eliot, Green Man and Glastonbury and you can catch him at a number of festivals this summer as he tours Chalk Hill Blue with Hannah Peel.

On with the interview...

What does home mean to you?

Like most people I suspect, ‘home’ is a bit of a complicated word for me. It definitely applies to Wendover, the village in Bucks where I live now and lived from the age of about ten until I left home. And even after I left I’ve always come back. Sometimes only for a few months or so, and sometimes out of necessity - but I suppose the point is it’s always there, which is a function of home I think. I have to say London too. I was born there, and  I’ve lived there, in various spots, almost as many years as Wendover, all told. But London’s such a big thing isn’t it? The little areas you get to know might feel like home for the period you know them, but change is so fast there that you leave and a year or so later it feels entirely alien.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I’m going to say the Rough Trade shop on Talbot Rd. My Dad was one of the owners of the Rough Trade shops until about three years ago, and I grew up seeing him in that shop as a child. Then I ended up working there in my twenties. I was there a few days ago and I hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and I realised just how burned into my consciousness and imagination the place is. Some of the posters, the counter, the architecture, the smells of the place. What a strange contradiction a record shop is - it changes completely every week when a new batch of releases goes up on the walls, in the racks in the windows, and yet at the same time it’s not changed for thirty years.

What is beyond your front door?

The main high street in Wendover. Although that section is actually part of the Ridgeway, so you’re on an ancient path the moment you put a boot out the door. It’s a classic market town high street with an abundance of charity shops. We’ve resisted chains for the most part though, so it retains a sense of itself. Take the road left out of the door and up the hill and you follow the Ridgeway onto the scarp. Ten minutes and you’ve got views across the whole vale. Nobody talks about the Chilterns really but they are a very beautiful place.

What place would you most like to visit?

I’d love to go to Iceland sometime. I’ve always loved the Sagas and the history of Northern Europe. But India as well. My grandfather was born there and it was him who inculcated my love of wildlife, partly through his stories of India. It has sort of remained as an unscratched itch ever since.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

A new album by my all time favourite band came out today, so I’ll be with that non-stop for the foreseeable future. That’s Union by Son Volt. My capacity for listening to them is pretty much infinite. And I’ve not really been able to stop reading One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann since it came out. I’m one of these obsessive types I think who re-reads and listens to things once I’ve fallen for them.

***
Will Burns website
Twitter

Five Questions for... Alice Maddicott

IMAGE: Alice Maddicott

IMAGE: Alice Maddicott

We return to our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal. Today we have five questions for Alice Maddicott, whose essay 'Farewell, for you are changing' about Tbilisi in Georgia appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find out more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

Home for me will always be Somerset, though I think we have many potential homes - cities and countries that just click with us, where such strong memories are formed that they become part of our construction of identity and place in the world. Home is also imagination for me - imaginary versions of real places - strong dreams cities that are recognisable yet so different... Challenging yet comforting.

Where is your favourite place?

I have a couple - one is definitely the depths of the woods on the Wiltshire Somerset border where I live - I can walk for miles without leaving the trees and you never see a soul. There's nowhere like it atmosphere wise... The other is the old side streets of Tbilisi I write about in my piece - the crumbling glazed carved wooden balconies - the whole city feels like family to me.

What is beyond your front door?

A moated castle! Village shop and square, a feral hen... Then forests, then high downs, towns scattered around. But I have always wished it could change like in Mr Benn - through the door to another land. Whimsy perhaps, but I think it's good to hold on to these ways of thinking about place.

What place would you most like to visit?

I've always had a fixation with Mongolia, but have never been. The fjordlands of New Zealand too, really appeal. In general I'm a far South or North person rather than tropical - the wilds of Norway... Lakes of Finland... Kizhi Island... Forests, mountains and water, or cold desert...

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

The poetry of Chika Sagawa - amazing Japanese modernist for the first half of the 20th century. Re reading Ann Bridge too - I love how her novels read like travel writing, based on the places she got to know as a diplomat's wife. Music wise I'm back to my long term love of Dirty Three's "Whatever you love you are" album. I also collect old found photos and recently been getting fascinated by really old portraits of people with their pets - strangely moving...

Visit Alice’s website here

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Five Questions for... Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

We return to our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal. Today we have five questions for Louise Slocombe, whose essay 'Quarantine' on the Point Nepean quarantine station in Melbourne, appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

That’s always a difficult question for an immigrant. I love living in New Zealand and it was very easy to settle when I moved here from Britain ten years ago, but I find that the feeling of having uprooted myself has grown stronger over the years. So home has to be more than one place for me – it is both where I live now, but also the places and people that I reconnect with when I visit Britain.

What is your favourite place?

Wellington in New Zealand, where I live, has an ideal balance (for me anyway) between being big enough to have a happening cultural life but small enough to escape from without having to get into a car. At the same time, it is in a completely ridiculous location for a city – on a major faultline, built over rugged hills and steep valleys, and subject to crazy winds. It’s the sort of place you only live in because you want to, but these things all give it a vibe that I really like, not to mention the great views from every hilltop.  

What is beyond your front door?

Lots of native birds – I live on the edge of the city, close to a wildlife sanctuary that has been amazingly successful in bringing native birds back to the city. Watching them gives me a huge amount of pleasure. If I venture further afield I can get down to the city and the harbour, or I can head off into the bush and wander for as long as I feel like wandering.

What place would you most like to visit?

I would really love to visit the subantarctic islands, which have amazing flora and fauna, and I also like the idea of how remote and wild they are. Needless to say, they are not easy or cheap to get to, but that all adds to the attraction.

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading about the psychology of memory. There is some really beautiful writing about memory – it seems to be a subject that invites the use of metaphors.