Shirley Geok-lin Lim

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Shirley Lim in 2014

Shirley Geok-lin Lim (born 1944) is an American writer of poetry, fiction, and criticism. She was both the first woman and the first Asian person to be awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for her first poetry collection, Crossing The Peninsula (1980). In 1997, she received the American Book Award for her memoir, Among the White Moon Faces.





In Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers (1999)

  • I think that's what most writers do. They sit down and concentrate. It's as if you tap into your alpha waves. Otherwise, your mind is constantly wandering a the world calls out to it. That's ordinary, everyday consciousness. But I believe that the consciousness from which creativity comes is this intensity of focus that is the result of practice. Sylvia Plath wrote exercise poems. Writing poetry is itself a form of exercise, a discipline as much as it is a calling and an art. And a discipline always asks for exercise. I tell my students that you can't read about playing tennis in a book and then go out and be a good tennis player. You have to be out there hitting that ball and hitting it again and again to become the best tennis player possible. So if you want to be a good poet, you have to be working and working and working on the craft. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  • "Lament" is in some ways a praise song, a love poem to the English language, which, together with other languages like Spanish and Chinese, I continue to view as a wonderful achievement of the human species. The English language is capable of overcoming the separate identities that divide us even as it sometimes is deployed in erecting those separations.
  • Familial relationships are never simple, are they? I think if you had a simple family life, you would have been very lucky. Love is so complicated. My father loved us, but he beat us! How do you come to terms with this very loving man who also was an abusive man?
  • There's so much of this mixing occurring all over the world, and the political stability and openness to the transformations that are happening here are not in place yet. America allows it to happen, although not without pain.
  • The sooner you learn that you have to be independent, that you are alone, and if there are people to help you it's a blessing, but it's not a given-I think this is the beginning of strength and wisdom.
  • Poetry is what has saved me through the years. I started writing when I was about nine. I discovered that I could go into a space where there is language-language that is mine, which is completely private and where I can do anything with it. I can curse at someone I cannot curse otherwise. I can create a space of beauty when all around me is poverty and deprivation. I can experience an uplifting of the spirit when all around me things are trying to pull me down. That act of writing the poem is the act that has centered me all my life.
  • The political and social struggle for civil rights itself can transform the outsider into a citizen.
  • Home and place are where we humans are grounded.
  • (What does that say about the creative process of poetry?) I suppose it is an example of the inexplicability of the creative process. It works through ordinary feelings, familiar relationships, even when it sets itself a grand or historical challenge. But it seizes on what is hidden from everyday view, the strangeness in our dailiness that we need to make meaning of or for. The creative process is uncanny. It remains unknowable because it works with the not yet known. As for the conditions that support creativity, I know what I need as a poet. I need time-quiet time-and pen and paper.

Quotes about Shirley Geok-lin Lim

  • It is poetry, she says, that helped the rebellious and restless nomad find herself and her place. "Listening and telling my own stories," she says, "I am moving home."
    • Bill Moyers Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft (1999)
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