Poet experiments with tradition

By Daria Kroupoderova
Northwest Asian Weekly


Shin Yu Pai (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova/NWAW)

Shin Yu Pai, author of eight poetry books, has been nominated for The Stranger’s Literature Genius Award. The Genius Awards are annual awards, consisting of $5,000 per award, given out to five different artists in five disciplines: visual arts, literature, music, performance and film.

Pai found out from The Stranger’s book editor, Paul Constant, who emailed her asking if he could call her with a question, letting her know that she wasn’t in trouble. Pai said she thought Constant just wanted a quote about the literary scene so she was very surprised to find out about being nominated. Every nominee received a cake that said “Holy Shit! You’re on the short list!” which Pai couldn’t eat since she has a gluten allergy.

“I’m not from Seattle, I consider it home and…I feel very embraced by my colleagues here,” Pai said. The themes in her poems appeal to Seattle audiences, which is one of the reasons why Pai said she thinks her work is so accepted here.

Currently, Pai is working as a freelance writer and editor along with working on a project that is “a poetic visitor’s guide to Piper’s Orchard (located in Carkeek Park) that is written in the loose form of an abecedarium,” Pai said. An abecedarium is an alphabet poem, where each letter of the alphabet begins a verse or theme in the poem.

Pai’s idea is to “install a poem using the orchard as a light-sensitive canvas and harness the rays of the sun as the light source. So it’s the idea of making a giant photogram using a physical environment where each apple will be stencilled with a different word or words and printed with the sun.”

She is testing this idea in September to see how it would work since there are a lot of variables in this project, including apples falling from the trees, and legibility issues due to the size of apples and how the text should look on them.

Pai said that if the pilot stencil tests are successful, she plans to apply for a site-specific grant through 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, to install the complete text. She pictures a cell phone app, where people can call in and listen to her read the poem set to an ambient soundtrack of the field recordings of the orchard at different times of the day and year, with a possible website component as well.

“I have some big ideas and now I just have to figure out the execution,” Pai said.

Pai’s works usually have some type of visual component to them. A dancer from Hedwig Dances in Chicago  choreographed a dance to complement her poem “Recipe for Paper.”

Gao Ping, a classical composer from Beijing, has set her poems to music.

“I’ve always been very interested in finding different ways to present the work that gives it a life off the page,” Pai said.

As an Asian American, Pai said it’s challenging to choose a life in the arts.

“I feel like many Asian Americans with creative inclinations may feel this responsibility to live up to their parents’ ideas of ‘potential’ or participate in traditional professions that are…financially stable,” Pai said. Young people that want to pursue the arts might ask themselves “What is it that is your heart’s work?” and “What does meaningful work look like? What motivates your impulse to be a maker?” according to Pai.

Pai is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and grew up in Riverside, California. She received her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and her MA in Museology from University of Washington. (end)

For more information on Pai and her work visit shinyupai.com. There will be a showcase of the Literature Genius nominees, including Pai, at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Frye Art Museum. The winners will be announced on Oct. 18 at the Moore Theater.

Daria Kroupoderova can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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