Contributor Tsering Wangmo Dhompa On Reading Poems in the Bathroom and Other Topics

Hollie Hardy, Poetry Editor of Fourteen Hills, sat down with Tsering Wangmo Dhompa in her San Francisco home to talk about a wide range of topics. Here are a few highlights from the interview:

14H: Can you talk a little bit about your poem “From Catabolism” published in Fourteen Hills, Vol. 15.2? I looked up “catabolism” in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and it is defined as: “the part of metabolism involving the break down of complex molecules.” The poem begins, “A body is not always everything we are taught to expect…”  How does this title illuminate the themes of that particular set of poems?

TSERING: It is part of a larger set of poems. Initially I was going to title the book “Catabolism” because it was sort of this break down of certain ideas. What is perception?  What is truth?  That was my intention. But then I just realized that it was too confining of a title and also it makes me think too much. And then I was getting confused about the meaning and its relation with the poems. So then I made it a title of a smaller group of poems.

The poems in this group have to do with the process of thinking. Stemming from a particular verse in a Buddhist text that talks about how we see. The epigram is: “But if the mirage is the mind itself, what then is perceived by what?” The guardian of the word himself had said that mind cannot be seen by mind.

So in Catabolism, I sort of weave around the idea of how we say things, how we come to say what we say. They are sort of definitions but then they are reiterated. So we say it many times. Also the notion that learning to say correctly is no longer necessary. The notion of perfection, does that exist? All these different thoughts. How do you instruct the mind?

14H: What is your revision process like?

TSERING: I’ve become a little better about revision. I think I’m learning to be more patient. It seems like you need to read [a poem] so many times in order to really see each word.

So I have a few pages stuck on my wall and I’ll read them when I’m just walking around. Because when I’m reading on the computer, I’m reading with the intent to find something. But when it’s on the wall I’m sort of on the way into my closet and I’m just brushing my teeth. And then I’ll take them to the bathroom. I have two in the bathroom now. When I’m in the bathroom I’m just vacantly looking at them.

So there are different levels of concentration, perhaps, different methods of reading. And when I feel that, okay fine, I don’t think I should change anymore because then the whole meaning changes, you know, if you do too much, then I don’t know what the poem is about. So then I sort of consider it done for now.

14H:  Do you ever get stuck with writer’s block? And if so, how do you unstick yourself?

TSERING: Oh I get writer’s block quite often, but I don’t think of it as writer’s block really. I just expect it. How can you just sit down and expect to just write away?

So, if I cannot write, I don’t. I don’t sit and force myself. I just read. Or I do something else. I’ll go for a walk. Or I’ll think about certain things. Very often I’ll just read. Somehow all of it influences. Every day I try to write something in the morning. Whatever it might be.

To learn more about Tsering’s life in Tibet and Nepal, and the many conflicting meanings the word “home” has for her, read the full interview here

Check out her poem From Catabolism, published in Fourteen Hills and picked up by Verse Daily, here.

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa was raised in India and Nepal. She received her MA from University of Massachusetts and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her first book of poems, “Rules of the House,” published by Apogee Press in 2002 was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003. Other publications include “In the Absent Everyday” (Apogee Press 2005), two chapbooks, “In Writing the Names” (A.bacus, Potes & Poets Press) and “Recurring Gestures” (Tangram Press). Tsering lives in San Francisco.

-Editors, Fourteen Hills


  1. Novelists can learn from poets. If we took the time to ensure each word of our 90,000 word volumes were precisely what is needed, imagine how our work would shine. Lord, I can't write when it hits me, though! I get up at 4:30am and that two hours is mine. If I don't get it done, it doesn't happen. It might be crap some days, but it gets written!

  2. Christopher H.7:26 PM

    In my Creative Non-Fiction Class at SFSU, I read a preview chapter of Tsering's unpublished non-fiction book about Tibet that was just devastatingly beautiful.

    I really hope a publisher picks up the book!

  3. Every poem demostrates the love, compassion and good will human being. In fact i read a wonderful poem few time ago. I really loved. That´s why i think this blog is very interesting, most of all for the people who enjoy the poems. I saw
    costa rica investment opportunities recently, it was a great site and i want to share it for you.