Internationally celebrated poet Agnes Lam on turning hardship into inspiration

Internationally celebrated poet Agnes Lam on turning hardship into inspiration

Award winner Agnes Lam draws inspiration from her life, and expresses her thoughts on the world in her writing that is enjoyed by many around the world

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Writing made life easier for Agnes Lam.
Photo: HK Literary Festival
Junior Reporter
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Local poet Agnes Lam shared her personal journey at the Hong Kong Literary Festival 2017 last Sunday. Lam’s award-winning work has been read and listened to all around the world, and has been translated into many languages, including English, Chinese, German and Italian.

Young Post had the opportunity to listen to her poetry at the festival, where she read out some of her most notable work, such as Moths, Somewhere Else, and The Apple. She later discussed the meaning behind her work and some of the experiences and events that inspired her writing.

After retiring as a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s English Centre, Lam started to focus on writing more poems and travelling around the world with her husband.


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Lam had a difficult childhood – her dad died when she was just 13 years old – but writing made her life easier. “I turned to poetry and writing to let out all my emotions and inner thoughts,” said Lam.

“I carried on writing into my adulthood and eventually turned it into my work.”

A lot of her work relates to her childhood experiences. “When I was a child, I used to gaze at the stars above ...” Lam read aloud from Vanilla in the Stars, a poem that received a special mention at the Nosside International Poetry Prize in 2008.


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Lam, who was born in Hong Kong, was inspired by the starry sky in Stanley where she lived when she was a child. Through the poem, Lam hoped to explore the relationship between life on Earth and the universe, as well as the possibility of life after death.

“I usually write about the human touch, the symbolism that comes with poetry and the lives behind it,” Lam said.

“I like to zoom into small parts of life I walk past and paint a new perspective.”

In her poems, Lam has written about herself, the dead, and an unnamed street worker, among other topics.


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Lam writes about individuals as well as society as a whole. From the Sars outbreak in 2003, which killed 299 people, to the 2014 Occupy movement, Lam shared her thoughts on important events and their impact on the lives of people in Hong Kong.

“We only talked about the daily death count, when Sars broke out in Hong Kong, which led me to reflect on death,” Lam said. “It is also a pity that Occupy Central divided society.”

But while serious topics inspire her, Lam has also been often inspired to write about her travels to places like London and Saudi Arabia.

Lam particularly loves writing about sand. She has written a poem about ripples in the sand, and one about her guide in the Sahara Desert who wrote tourists’ names in the sand.


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Her husband, who travels around the world with her, has become a subject of her writing as well. “My husband always falls asleep when we’re on holiday so I wrote a poem about him sleeping,” Lam said.

If sleeping is a hobby for her husband, poetry is like breathing to Lam. “Words are everywhere and I jot down everything I find inspiring,” she said.

“Writing is my passion which motivated me to write academic papers and reports while I was an associate dean at HKU.

“It is my dream and I wouldn’t want to do anything else and I hope everyone can pursue their dream.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Behind the inner workings of a poet

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