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ai Li

Creator of cherita, Gembun & Dua

The Wise Owl talks to ai li, creator of Cherita, Gembun and Dua, three unique storytelling short form genres. She is also the editor of the cherita, founding editor and publisher of still, moving into breath and dew-on-line. She is also a Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain [FRPS], and an evidential spiritualist medium who trained at The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and The College of Psychic Studies, London. ai li’s poems have been widely published in the UK, USA, and Japan

The Interview : ai li (Part II)

NS: Contemporary poetry for the most part is about articulating internal thoughts and musings. Narrative poetry like Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient mariner’ is no longer a genre of interest. Also narrative poetry is traditionally long. Stepping away from tradition and contemporary trends, you have made cherita a mouthpiece for flash fiction & tiny stories. What made you look for and find this gap in current poetry genres?


AL: I have M. Kei Editor and Publisher of Atlas Poetica to thank for calling Cherita flash fiction. Here is what Kei originally wrote :


‘This form created by ai li has proven to have a staying power that will see it entrenched alongside the cinquain as an enduring poetic form. True to its storytelling origin, many cherita read like the world’s shortest flash fiction. They combine the evocative power of tanka with the narrative of a personal story, like the vignettes we glimpse as we sit in a café and watch the world go by.’


I couldn’t have written it so beautifully. Thank you again Kei.


I didn’t go looking for a gap in the current poetry genres. That would be so calculating of me to do so. Frankly, I was too busy travelling, ticking off my bucket list, after emerging from a long union as it so happens.


Being the free spirit that I was then and still am now, it was only a matter of time before the memory of the proverbial campfire storytelling get togethers would draw me into a bout of nostalgia to initiate a 21st century revival.


And I did with Cherita and my own books.


I can’t make anyone write Cherita, Gembun or Dua. I’m no magician. If Cherita has become a mouthpiece for flash fiction and tiny stories, then there must have been a collective hunger out there for timeless minimal storytelling with Cherita and its two siblings Gembun and Dua.



NS: What is the cherita award?


AL: The Cherita Award is an exciting new project from my 1-2-3 press.


Why not become a Cherita storyteller to enthral a new generation of storytellers?


All you will need is pen, paper, imagination and an open invitation for spirit and muse to grace your page.


I selected, edited, collated and published our first Cherita book river lanterns this august by a solo poet Joanna Ashwell who’s a regular Cherita contributor. I loved the challenge and decided then and there, to offer to publish more Cherita books from solo poets.


In a nutshell, poets should submit 30 previously unpublished Cherita as a presentational portfolio.


If the 30 virgin Cherita pass muster, they will go on to the next stage which is to submit another 170 virgin Cherita for me to finally select the entire 90 poems required for their Cherita book which will be published by me.


However, if only 20 are found to pass muster, they will also go on to the next stage but they have to submit another 180 virgin Cherita, 10 more, for me to finally select the entire 90 required for their Cherita book.


The best news is that the selected poets for the cherita award will not have to pay a penny to enter or win the cherita award and it will be ongoing.


the cherita award is gratis to enter or win and open to all.


Having said this, their Cherita will have to be timeless and top notch to make the grade.


Full information can be found on the cherita website


I have prepared the last 8 one breath cherita from my book the promise of rain [published May 2022] which I would love to read and share with your readers if I may. These pieces will hopefully give them an even better idea of what I am looking for in terms of Cherita.


I will read them twice as they are so minimal.

[Click link to read ai li’s Cherita]


NS: You are an evidential spiritualist medium who trained at The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and The College of Psychic Studies. Please tell us a little about this.


AL: My mother lost two of my older sisters when they were children. I never knew them as I was the youngest in the family. The fact that they were buried separately, with no grave markers in the wilderness haunts me to this day. This was the norm then with children who died suddenly before they reached adulthood.


When I was going through a tough emotional patch in my life, a dear friend recommended a medium in South London who she felt could help me through this difficult period.


I found myself in a bright but small, rather nondescript room, sitting on an office chair and facing this total stranger of a medium.  He looked straight at me and said, and I quote ‘2 young women have come through and they tell me they are your sisters. They are not of this world and they are both hugging you and letting you know that you will be okay.’


That broke the dam and I was sitting there sobbing my heart out.


Two sisters who I did not know, and who died young, had returned grown up as young compassionate women to comfort their youngest sibling.


How could this medium, a total stranger, know anything about my family history yet his words touched and comforted me deeply, and it changed my life and helped make a difference for me at my time of crisis. I wasn’t alone.


This was how my mediumistic journey unfolded and I went on to ‘train’ with two august spiritualist organisations to enable me to share love and messages from beyond, with the bereaved, who most needed to hear from their absent loved ones.


I won’t bore you with more tales as this is a poetry chinwag, suffice to say that it is so emotionally rewarding and uplifting when a message can be received by the intended, with the realisation that love does not simply disappear when the ferryman comes for all of us.


Thank you.


NS: You are a Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Please tell us what triggered your interest in photography?


AL: Two names - Henri Cartier Bresson and Minor White.


As you may know - Cartier Bresson was French and a consummate humanist storyteller. He was often called the father of photojournalism, and he was also one of the founding members of Magnum photos in 1947.


Here are some of his quotes that inspired me apart from his timeless black and white photographs :


First quote - “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”


Two - “Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should?”


And Three - “As time passes by and you look at portraits, the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.”


So, Photography for me Is about capturing the impermanence of what’s around me and Cartier Bresson’s quotes can be applied to Cherita and the short form poetry that I write.


I have a personal footnote about the great man which I will elaborate after my comment on Minor White.


Now we come to Minor White –

Minor White was an American photographer known for his black-and-white prints of landscapes, architecture, and men. His interest in Zen philosophy and mysticism was evident in his meticulous photographs.


I’ve chosen 3 quotes of his which have inspired me and become personal mantras :


One - ‘No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer it has chosen.’


Two - ‘...innocence of eye has a quality of its own. It means to see as a child sees, with freshness and acknowledgment of the wonder; it also means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child - with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder.’


And lastly - ‘Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts.’


I apply the same one breath method to my photography. When genius loci steps in, I click on the shutter and receive my gift. There is no dilly dallying, no prevarication.


And now, for my personal note on Cartier Bresson :


When I was a student in Paris umpteen moons ago, I met an elderly Indonesian lady who took me under her wing. Her fellow country woman friend invited her to visit one afternoon, and my friend very kindly asked me to come along.


Madame Cartier was a formidable Javanese lady who was warm, full of life, and who corrected me for calling Dutch toast French toast.


Whilst these two ladies were sipping tea and chatting in Dutch, I looked around the room we were sitting in and noticed these black & white photographs of the people of Paris hanging on the wall. The ingenue that I was, was mesmerised by how striking and special these images were when Madame Cartier came up to me and whispered that they were by Cartier Bresson. I was too young then to have fully comprehended what that name implied.


Years after my father’s death, I found a large stash of all my handwritten letters from Paris which my father had carefully tied up with ribbon now faded.


In amongst them was my letter describing that dream afternoon spent in Madame Cartier’s apartment. I had often wondered if I had imagined that afternoon visit over the years, but here was the proof in my own young handwriting.


I often ask myself if my deep interest in Photography was first kindled in that dim late afternoon light of a Parisian room when Cartier Bresson ‘spoke’ to me as a doyen of a storyteller with his humanist photographs.


Thank you


NS: Our readers would be keen to know if you are working on a book as we speak. Please share details with our readers.


AL: A number of books are in the pipeline. I am immensely possessive of my own virgin work. If it hadn’t been for my other half, these poems of mine would not have seen the light of day.


He patiently persuaded me to let them be seen and read and I am now so glad and grateful to him that I did let go.


Whenever I have a small window of opportunity, I start working on a new book to enlarge the stable of my own unpublished volumes of Cherita, Gembun, Dua, Tanka, Haiku and other new forms of mine.


I have to admit that the fear of not being able to produce any more poems one day is a constant and unwelcome companion. This fear rides tandem with my omnipresent rage against the dying of the light.


However, the combined fear and rage keep me on my toes writing deep into the mortal’s night.


So, to answer your question Neena, yes, there is always a book of mine sitting in abeyance for publication. I am not someone who rests on my laurels. I am not proud of it but I am driven.



NS: If I were to ask you to describe yourself as a poet in 3 adjectives, what would they be?


AL: This is a tricky one and I should proceed with caution here.


I have always adhered to my dear much missed late father’s advice which was that one’s voice out there has to be thrown by others and not by oneself.


With that in mind, I’ve come up with these 3 adjectives which I hope my father would have approved of :


Truthful   –   Fearless   –   Independent



NS: Thanks ai li for taking time out to speak to The Wise Owl. We are honoured and delighted to speak with you. We wish you the best in all your creative pursuits and hope that you make the world richer with new genres of poetry and storytelling.


AL: Thank you for having me.

Dhanyavaad Neena or should it be

Bahut Shukirya if we have been informal with our tete-a-tete.


I thought I would be nervous but you made me feel so at home. Bless you.


Thank you Neena.

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