Excited About Everything: David Ly

Interview by 
Isabella Wang
David Ly

A series in which Isabella is excited about everything that is happening at #GrowingRoom2019, so she sat down with some festival authors to hear about their work and what events they are most excited to take part in. Learn more about the 2019 Growing Room festival by visiting our website, festival.roommagazine.com

David Ly is the author of the chapbook Stubble Burn (Anstruther Press, 2018) and the poetry collection Mythical Man (Anstruther Books, 2020).

ROOM: Hello David, how have things been? You literally just found out today, that your chapbook, Stubble Burn, is going into its sixth printing with Anstruther Press. That’s amazing! Congratulations! I’m interested to hear about the process of this book. Were you consciously writing towards a collection, or did it all just fall into place? How did you come to name the book? I love Stubble Burn as a title—it’s playful, yet fitting.

DL: Hi Isabella! Yeah, Stubble Burn went into another printing all thanks to you guys inviting me to Growing Room. So I’m thanking you! Writing Stubble Burn was sort of an exploration of what I wanted poetry to look like for me, and to write about feelings I knew I couldn’t be alone in experiencing.

I wasn’t necessarily writing towards a collection, though. But I’ve always wanted to write something in book form, so when I had about 40 poems done, I wrote queries and pitches to about five micro-presses. Luckily, Jim Johnstone (publisher at Anstruther Press) offered publication and everything (eventually) fell into place for the chapbook. It was great working with my editor, Daniel Scott Tysdal, to nail those poems down. I like the chapbook form as a first “book” because it’s this wonderful, little, ephemeral thing that is so neat because you can condense so much emotion into 30 pages or less.

I just looked back into my files and saw that we went through three title options before “Stubble Burn” stuck. It just felt right, I think. The feeling of stubble burn is so distinct and is telling of so many things ;)

I think we felt it appropriate for the chapbook because the poems each leave a very specific kind of heartbreak, a very lump-in-the-throat sadness and, of course, like the feeling of stubble burn on your skin, you can’t ignore it…no matter how much you moisturize. This is important, though. I urge everyone to moisturize on a regular basis (especially if they’ve left some stubble burn on you, damn it).

Stubble Burn book coverROOM: This chapbook a groundbreaking collection. In terms of content, you covered everything from the reality of online dating sites, to gay clubs where men can be seen dancing to rockstar albums while downing booze, to the discrimination that so many young, Asian gay men continue to experience today from a culture that claims to promote inclusivity and indifference, but ultimately falls short. So much of this gets lost in the shadows of our present day-to-day discussions. So David, what kind of conversations do you think we need/want to have going forward?

DL: Haha! “Groundbreaking.” I owe much of what I am privileged enough to convey in my poems if it hadn’t been for queer poets (of colour) who have been writing much longer than I have to tell our underrepresented stories. Love you, Kai! xoxo.

I want conversations to move beyond what happens on online dating, in gay clubs while dancing to that Lana Del Rey remix I still have on repeat (right now as I do this interview). Yeah, it’s crappy how discrimination and racism rear their heads in those settings, but can we talk more about why that is? What are we doing wrong with each other in real life that makes people think it is acceptable to be nasty to one another? I want us to talk about why is it so hard for people to be nice. Even polite! Don’t be such an ignorant bag of dicks. Just don’t!

ROOM: Give us a glimpse into Mythical Man, your first full-length collection of poetry that is forthcoming with Anstruther Books next year. Call it a teaser, if you will. How do you feel at this point in time, knowing that you’ve got a new book on the horizon?

DL: This question scares me. As someone who also works in book publishing, I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to describing books, and it’s even magnified when it comes to my own. The only “glimpse” I want to say is that we intend it to be larger than Stubble Burn in concept and story. My chapbook was so contained and condensed in the world it build (apps, clubs, etc.) that I want Mythical Man to break out of those confines, probe bigger questions and still pull at heartstrings in delicate, precise ways.

I feel ready to finally have my editor’s insight on these poems, haha. They’ve been with me for so long that I’m feeling trapped by them because I don’t know how to refine them more on my own. I’m super excited to work again with Jim again as we already know each other through working together on the chapbook. He sees what I am trying to do in my poems and helps me magnify certain aspects that already exist in my poems, but I have difficulty in seeing. Plus I am super excited to be pushed! I want to see how far I can take my poetry in emotional poignancy, imagery, and overall storytelling.

ROOM: Okay. I’ve got to ask this. We all know that there is nothing more that David Ly loves than a good banh mi sandwich. Now is your chance to nerd out on your readers. How would your construct your ideal sandwich?

DL: The glory for me is in extra pâté. Love me a good meat spread, duh. A regular bánh mì thịt with extra pâté for me, please. Side note: I find it funny how people in Vancouver are nuts about “banh mi” when “banh mi” just means bread in Vietnamese. You gotta say the “thit” at the end! That’s what makes it a Vietnamese sub! At least, that’s how I grew up calling the sandwhich. Because there are different kinds! The word on the end tells you what kind of Vietnamese sub you’re ordering! 

ROOM: I’m so excited to hear you for our panel event, "So You Think You Can Slam?". But tell me, what are some other events that you are most keen on attending?

DL: I’m so nervous. I’m asking myself if I can slam probably harder than anyone since I definitely do not slam. But jaye simpson believes in me so that’s all I need. I’m glad the theme of the event is “tender.” I think I can work with that.

I think the top three events I want to go to are The Power of Narrative Poetry, Cut to the Feeling: A Night of Queerotica, and The Poetry En(jam)bent. Oh, and of course the opening night party so I can daaaaaaaanceee!

ROOM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, David. I’m so excited to have you for Growing Room 2019!

DL: I’m very happy you guys want me! Thank you!


Isabella Wang is a young, emerging Chinese-Canadian writer from Vancouver, B.C. Her poetry is published/forthcoming in Looseleaf magazine and Train Journal. At 17, she was the youngest writer shortlisted for The New Quarterly’s 2017 Edna Staebler Essay Contest. She is studying at SFU in the fall of 2018, working with Books on the Radio and interning at Room.

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