Stay tuned all month for poet interviews in honor of National Poetry Month.
1) Why poetry?
Language has always been a complicated arena for me as an immigrant. I remember very clearly the first time someone tried to standardize my use of English. I was very young, and as an adult writer today, I use multilingualism to push standard US English to the point of breaking. For me, poetry is the best way to do that.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
Compared to what? To me, the occasional declaration that poetry is dead or irrelevant or has always seemed to be irrelevant clickbait. Anti-intellectual tendencies in USAmerican society are disappointing since poets have a much higher status as artists, public intellectuals, and cultural critics in other countries. I think poets and other artists have a responsibility to critique and be critical of the status quo, especially since we reside in the center of the Death Star. We are rewarded more for going along with the mainstream, for writing poetry that does not find a way to challenge. For me, this means that truly interesting poetry is usually not happening in the center, but in the margins. But that doesn’t prevent our current administration from seeing all (barely funded) art as a threat. Poetry and art represents the possibility of free and critical thought.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
Myung Mi Kim. I hold Kim’s work—for example Dura or Penury—in great awe for its fragmentary use of language that simultaneously gives presence to the destructiveness (both overt and subtle) of colonization, immigration, capitalism, and much more. I look to Kim’s writing to show me what is possible, to help me push my own work further.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I love the work of Muriel Leung, whose first poetry collection Bone Confetti was published by Noemi last year. Her recent essay, “This is to live several lives,” is haunting in its exposure of the impacts of migration and neoliberal capitalism on family, bodies, affect, and more.
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
In the second half of this article, I have a recent poem, “Drowsiness through my kiss,” which was created using a method I have labeled “frankenpo.” I am thinking through the wreckage of modernity and “progress” (to reference Walter Benjamin), and what this means for poetry. This frankenpo method, of almost violently mixing existing texts together and seeing what emerges, has been really generative for me, and forms the backbone of my next collection.
Kenji C. Liu (劉謙司) is author of Map of an Onion, national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. His poetry is in American Poetry Review, Action Yes!, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, several anthologies, and two chapbooks, Craters: A Field Guide (2017) and You Left Without Your Shoes (2009). A Kundiman fellow and an alumnus of VONA/Voices, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers, he lives and eats in Los Angeles.