Try Poetry: Slows: Twice + T. Liem

Our final Try Poetry feature is award-winning poet T. Liem and their upcoming collection, Slows: Twice (Coach House Books). Get a sneak-peek of the collection with poem “On the Last Days of the Year of the Ox” and learn about the “careless choices” that led them to poetry in our interview.


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An Interview with Poet T. Liem

All Lit Up: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? T. Liem: There is no one moment I decided to write poetry. There are many small moments and a few careless choices, honestly. Now it’s something that allows me to connect to others in a way I couldn’t otherwise. It is a way of speaking to the world that is unlike anything else for me. Ultimately, writing poetry, for me, comes from a lot of encouragement & kindness from peers and mentors to keep going.ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? TL: Do you ever find yourself approaching the anniversary of something and not realizing that’s why you’ve been feeling weird in your body, or extra sad, or something unexplainable? Then suddenly you remember on this day [x] number of years ago whatever it was happened. This poem follows that kind of sensation. It is a moment of reflection sparked by lunar new year, something I celebrated with my uncle, who has since passed away. The day I spent with him is described in this poem’s other half, “$1 per word for travel writing,” which you can find online or in my new book! ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?TL: I’m not sure. Everyone goes to poetry for different things. Take yourself to a bookstore or a library and go to the poetry section. Pick up books, let yourself judge by the cover, flip through, and read something from them. How do the words sound in your head? Do they spark a thought or a feeling? Don’t look for what you’re supposed to like. Don’t think about poetry as difficult. Just keep picking up books and looking at them until some line or word or image moves you. There’s so much out there, I really think anyone who claims not to like, or “get” poetry just hasn’t found the right poem yet.

“On the Last Days of the Year of the Ox”

From T. Liem’s collection Slows: Twice
We remembered. How the automatic doors
of the mall in Jogjakarta opened like a mouth
and said parting is such sweet sorrow.
The joke is cheap but every word
gets me closer to debtless
and I have not been back since
and I have been sorrowful.
More glass, more metal rises
every minute.
If you take anything
from this remember identity isn’t sweat
evaporating off your skin.
Though it can dissolve sweet as salt
against the tongue. I’m here as I was there
to be recognized as something,
to link arms with some future
in which I am more than half myself.
In order for a person to be one thing
they can be nothing else
and sometimes it sounds like
a painful song has slept under every tongue.
No amount of time could swallow
such fact. Six o’clock in Jogja felt like
wearing the sky. Like silk. Even
words beautiful enough
to win a pageant couldn’t
describe it, no matter their worth.
I couldn’t tell you what I tried to say
as a tourist. Stuff another
year in my mouth. Last night
when the sun set in Montreal
it wasn’t as harsh as it was
the summer during the fires
not as harsh as it might be again
but the orange of it was so pink
I lost what year it was
what animal was about to depart
which one would return.
“On the Last Days of the Year of the Ox” is excerpted from Slows: Twice by T. Liem, copyright © 2023 by T. Liem. Reprinted with the permission of Coach House Books.

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T. Liem
is the author of Slows: Twice (Coach House 2023), and Obits. (Coach House, 2018), which was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award, and won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award as well as the A.M. Klein Prize. Their writing has been published in Apogee, Plenitude, The Boston Review, Grain, Maisonneuve, Catapult, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. They are from Alberta and live in Montreal, Tio’Tia:ke, unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territories.Photo of T. Liem by Surah Field Green.

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Thanks to T. Liem for answering our questionnaire and sharing “On the Last Days of the Year of the Ox” with us for Try Poetry (Why Not?).Remember, if you purchase a copy of Slows: Twice or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)