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This interview is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

In Conversation with Alex Wong
'The god-beast Irony’
Andrew Latimer
Andrew Latimer: Your first collection, Poems Without Irony, was published by Carcanet in December last year. The title is beguiling, even provocative. How does it fit with the collection as a whole?

Alex Wong: It was not intended to be ‘provocative’, in the sense in which that word is generally used when applied to books, works of art, etc. It was meant to provoke only a momentary flicker of doubt (Is this title ironic?), lapsing into a more sustained uncertainty (Supposing it is ironic, is it only a little quip, or does it advert to a real tension?). So the question of irony and the absence or avoidance of it becomes, I hope, one of the conditions governing the interpretation of the poems.

A.L. The collection appears to be riddled with doubts – not least in the fabulous poem entitled ‘Doubt’, but also in the persistent questioning, tonal ambiguities and the donning and slipping of stylistic masks.

A.W. I think doubt is salutary – self-doubt, but also honest doubt about other things. It strikes me as useful to keep reminding ourselves, for example, that we can’t really know what is in somebody else’s mind. The poem you mention is concerned, I suppose, with both self-doubt and the necessary but often depressing doubt one feels about other people’s thoughts and desires; and I suppose there are plenty of other poems in the book that connect ‘doubt’ – of various kinds – with feelings of guilt and shame, which I take to be similarly useful and healthy ...

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