Nicole W. Lee

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Nicole W. Lee performing selections of her poetry at HERE: A Concert, supported by Inner West Council and Create NSW. Photography by Matthew McGuigan.

Nicole W. Lee is an emerging Chinese (Teochew and Hakka) Malaysian Australian poet. Nicole's work has been published in Meanjin and Crazyhorse (US) and has received scholarships and fellowships from Create NSW in Australia and the US Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (Rona Jaffe Foundation scholar), amongst others.  

Supported by a Cultural Trust grant, Nicole is undertaking a low-residency Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry at Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, USA.

How would you describe your current arts practice?

My poetic practice explores my identity as an Asian Australian woman, and how this perspective pushes up against the inherited and the invented. Some of these approaches include using the personae of historical or mythological figures such as Yé Xiàn (a precursor to Cinderella), or Ching Shih, a 19th female-century pirate; others press up against inherited forms such as the sonnet and ghazal, exploring what it means to conform/transform them. 

I also have an occasional theatre practice, which has received residencies and fellowships from Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (CAAP), Varuna, WestWords, and the Victorian and Chamber Made Operas. In 2021 I was the writer-in-residence for Marian St Theatre for Young People, where I was commissioned to write 'The Red Dust', a multidisciplinary theatre piece about a Chinese Australian teen and her relationship to climate change and ancestry.

 What does the 'low-residency' Masters of Fine Arts entail?

Warren Wilson College, located in Swannanoa, North Carolina, is the oldest and most prestigious low-residency program in the United States and is widely known for its highly rigorous creative and analytical program.

The creative writing MFA, a model that is almost entirely practical/studio-related work, does not exist in Australia. A low-residency program is one where the student is only required to be present for two in-person residencies per year; the remainder of the year sees the student return to their usual place of residence, where they engage online in one-on-one mentorships. During my time at Warren Wilson, I intend to attend five in-person ten-day residencies at the Warren Wilson campus in Swannanoa and four five-month periods of individualised study with a mentor while working and living in my home in Sydney. The opportunity for these poets to not only be leading international and US poets, but for them to be all poets of colour (a very rare experience in Australia), is also unique to the US, and to Warren Wilson in particular. While at Warren Wilson, I hope to learn from some of the US’s most distinguished poets and make life-long connections with them.

The degree also includes a 30–50-page critical paper in the third term, and while not specifically designed to prepare me to teach, I hope it will lead me toward opportunities to do so. The MFA is considered a terminal degree in the US, and I hope that my time at Warren Wilson will allow me to bring back some of the most current and vital thinking and poetic practices to Australia and potentially prepare me for PhD study.

How do you hope to advance your artistic practice?

I believe two years of deep study with some of the best poets in the world will put me in good stead to develop into a polished Asian Australian female poet of international standard. Over the past couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend US conferences and workshops online due the coronavirus pandemic making organisations pivot to the virtual space, and this professional development has been vital to developing my poetic practice extremely quickly.

However, returning to normal life after the pandemic has seen many online opportunities disappear. Additionally, while I have thoroughly enjoyed the conferences and workshops, I have found their stop-start nature to be disruptive to my development. Studying for two years with Warren Wilson’s famously critical approach will allow me to grow quickly and deeply as a poet. The individualised study/poem exchanges with my mentor, which will take place every three weeks, in addition to a considerable reading list and critical papers, will also train me to be disciplined with my practice as I write around my day job and responsibilities.

I also look forward to trying new approaches and aesthetics outside of my comfort zone. Additionally, I believe that studying in the US would be advantageous to my career at an international level, as I will be able to make important connections over the two years with classmates, my mentors and other visiting professionals to the program, bringing back the latest conversations around poetry to my colleagues in Australia.

To find more information on Nicole’s work, you can follow her online on Twitter (@nicolewlee), Instagram (@nicole.w.lee) and Facebook



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