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A Conversation with Suri Chan

Hannah Teoh Outreach Manager

Meet Suri Chan—poet, illustrator, lover, and human. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Suri in conjunction with the month of love. Suri discusses her work, inspirations, and love in this interview.

Introduce Yourself!

I’m Suri! That’s Hebrew for ‘’princess,’’ Sanskrit for ‘’sun,’’ Japanese for ‘’pickpocket,’’ and Italian for ‘’horse mackerel’’.

My name is truly international – like my heritage – but let’s be honest, I stole it from Tom Cruise.

How did you start getting into writing poetry?

I’m a romantic and this bleeds into my everyday life (I even romanticize trips to the grocery store, for god’s sake). BUT funnily enough, my poetic journey was not romantic at all! I’ve always needed to express myself creatively. I wanted to go into fashion design or some kind of all rounded creative profession – but I love my alone time.

Writing is one of the only – or perhaps the ONLY creative job you can do alone in your bedroom!

What are your inspirations when you write or illustrate? What is the creative process like?

I’m inspired by nature, like every artist/writer ever. I think some of the words I use the most are ‘’mountains’’ and ‘’hands’’. I need a word counter to confirm this, haha. I think everyone should use one, even if it’s just to analyze text messages.

Most of my ideas hit me out of nowhere – often when I’m in the shower or on a walk. I have a soggy notebook and a full notes app to show for it. I’m a poet first and an illustrator second, so the words always guide the drawings.

One of my personal favorites of your work is the one on with the bull, praying mantis, and gay girl walk into an Asian restaurant. How has identity and culture shaped the way you create?

Thank you! That’s a personal favorite too!

Asian diasporic cultures are extremely layered and complex—especially to outsiders peeking in.

I tend to use visual symbols in my poems to explain those nuances. The above poem features two creatures representing conflicting identities – the ‘’Mantis’’, symbolizes my Asian heritage and the ‘’Bull’’, embodies my Western influences.

Turning non-tangible concepts into characters helps others understand my background – it also helps me understand myself.

How does art, creation, and activism intersect for you?

It breaks my heart how so many people never get to live their truth, because by sheer chance, they’re born in a country where same-sex partnerships are illegal or taboo. I would love to create an underground community/space for LGBTQ+ South East Asians one day. But for now, I write poems.

Some people have told me that poetry is a kind of activism, but I don’t start with that intention. I just write about my feelings, and that indirectly shines a light on POC/queer/women’s issues.

A theme that appears often in your work is love. As someone who is of Asian descent and part of the LGBTQ+ community, what were your views on love like growing up? Did it change? If so, how?

I think most people believe that love is this all powerful entity – that love conquers all. There’s this idea that if you love someone enough, you will accept all the parts of them unconditionally – and if you don’t, that means you don’t truly love them. Growing up in a traditional Asian family has made me question this idea. My experiences have shown me that love—no matter how great—doesn’t always drown out prejudices.

Love sometimes coexists with fear and ignorance. This can sound like:

“I love you, but I am also terrified of you.”

“I love you, but I cannot accept you.”

Humans are messy and complicated, and sometimes we love people whose world views appall us.

Sometimes we float in the confused waters between love and hate because sometimes that’s exactly how love works.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not hating on love (it’s pretty great)! I just think we should cut it some slack.

How have you celebrated love this past year?

I’m the sort of person who lives in their head – Thoughts! Concepts! Analysis! Yes! So, in the past year, I’ve been trying to live more in my body – and by that, I mean, really pay attention to the way my emotions feel.

I think it’s such a celebration of (self-)love to force yourself to trust what you feel in your bones.

Anything planned for Valentine’s Day?

I just got this Poster Girl dress in the mail! It’s red with sequins and insane cut outs all the way up the hips. It’s very thot-ty in the best way. I think everyone should get a thot dress, if you’re into thot dresses. Mine came in the mail on Valentine’s Day and I couldn’t be happier.

Any exciting future plans?

I’m currently writing my first book of poetry! Hopefully it’ll be out by the end of this year. There’ll be plenty of brand new, “never been shared before” stuff, along with old audience favorites.

And finally, write a love note to the people reading this 🙂

I heard Ashley C. Ford touch on an idea that really spoke to me in a podcast. Here’s the idea rephrased in my own words as a love note to all of you:

You will always have you. Even when you have no one, there will always be you. You are never going to leave you. Even if everyone you knew in the world disappeared tomorrow, you will still have you.

I hope this brings you a quiet kind of comfort.

 

Rapid fire questions! 

Favorite romance movie/book?

Books by Murakami!

Best gift you’ve ever given?

I was traveling in Europe for a few months and I wrote a bunch of letters on vintage postcards. I handed everything to them when I got home, along with souvenirs and stuff from their wishlist.

Favorite date idea

Probably somewhere outdoors at night – maybe a park of even just a backyard. There’d be candles, floor cushions and a little IKEA tent


Suri Chan is a queer poet and writer (@poemsbysuri on Instagram). She’s inspired by the Chinese/Indian migrants she descended from – the ones who created recipes that tasted like home with the herbs of their new land. Their ingredients were generic: nuts, shredded veggies, sweet sauce. But the result was an earthy meal grand enough to honor the New Year with. Suri likes to think she does something similar by creating art from everyday words.  

Her work has appeared in Vocal Spotlight and Going Down Swinging. In 2021, she was chosen as a winner of the Moleskine ‘’True Colors’’ Poetry Challenge. 

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