every other day

30 MAY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

10.  Geraldine Kim

Povel cover

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time? 

Hm to be honest, I can't remember that day. I think I saw it as a pdf attachment first--I was with some friends--and it felt strange. Like I had nothing to do with it. I was just reading someone else's ms.

Do you remember the day when you first found out you'd won the Fence Modern Poets contest? How did you get the news and what happened then?

I was checking my email while staying at a hostel in San Francisco in the summer (I needed a place to stay while I was looking for an apartment out here).

I was by myself, sitting on a stool, staring over the lines on the computer screen--re-reading them--feeling like I should tell someone but no one was there. I think I called a bunch of people later that day.

You know how people who win things will sometimes say that they expected to win--did you enter the contest with any strong feeling or mysterious knowing? Or was winning a complete surprise?

I was shocked at the news--my poetry teacher at the time, Rob Fitterman (amazing poet if you haven't checked out his work already) recommended a few contests to me after reading my ms--Fence's being one of them.

I felt sort of ashamed (and still am, to some extent--despite the praise the book has received) of the book's um... eccentricity (e.g. when asked "what the book is about" I falter for an answer). And also unapologetic--at the same time. I think it's better to perpetually expect rejection rather than hope for the best because at least if you expect rejection--once rejected, it's not as painful.

I'm just sending my author photo & bio to my publisher. You may be weary of talking about yours, but...

It's okay--I don't mind. My parents got sent this pic of GW and his wife (probably from his campaign office or whatever) and I got so annoyed with their smiling presence on our fridge whenever I visited (they voted for him for the last election, I think) that I took a pic of me and cut out my face--and I liked that it wasn't quite to scale/was clearly un-photoshopped--and took some Scotch tape and sent it to Fence. I wanted to do something other than the "look at me, brooding and looking askance in this dramatic black-and-white film noir-ish frame."

That was the inane answer. The critical answer would be: I wanted to literalize the conceptualization of identity--how, as much as I want to break from convention, I am conventional. Because I'm using words/grammar/tools that others can understand...

What did your parents say after they'd read your book? And did either of them comment on your bio or author photo?

My mom read the entire book in one night! She just read it to read it--to communicate to me that she had "read my work." And that gesture or intention from her, I appreciate. My dad read parts of it but I don't think he read the entire thing. They both have backgrounds in science so--although they both had some sort of art in their lives when they were younger--my dad used to paint and my mom used to play guitar. I mean, I didn't write the book for them. It's great that they're proud of me but I didn't really want/expect their approval.

They were worried for me about the picture/fake bio [her back cover features a short bio of George Bush but with her name in place of his]--they thought it was disrespectful. Which made me laugh.

How has your life been different since your book came out? 

I became $1000 richer. Which helped cover my rent for a month or so... I also went on a mini-tour for the book. (I'm rather bored of Povel since I've been promoting it for a year now--ready to showcase other things. Had my last reading a week ago.)

I think I'm the same.

I got s'more hits on my blog.

Um, people invite me to do readings now. And to submit to their zines. (I tend not to submit because I'm always afraid of submitting things because it never feels "done" and also, I hate rejection and I am OK with not sharing what I write.)

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

Povel has made me not want to write like that ever again. While I do think it's important to develop a personal style--I don't want to have a signature style/don't want to repeat the same project.

So you've just read from Povel for the last time. How do you feel about reading in public?

I hate it! To be honest, it's one of my motivations for writing plays lately--you get to have other people perform your work!

When you gave readings from Povel, did you skip around in it or read a consecutive bunch of pages that you particularly like?

When I started doing readings, I would often read the intro, the title, a few sections from the body, and then take questions. But that got boring. Then I started marking passages I liked and would just flip around and read those. Then I had one of my friends read for me and told everyone that he was Jonathan Safran Foer because he looked like JSF--but then I regretted that since that's sort of mean to do when people expect "you" to read. But what difference does it make if "I" read or if "someone else" reads?

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

No. I don't think that's the point/aim of poetry--is it? I mean, the only people that read poetry are people that want to read poetry.

I don't want to change anyone--rhetoric with intention to manipulate is politics. I'm interested in art--to change ideas, not people.

I just want to change what writing can do, I guess. I'm not writing to make others happy--if that happens, good--but it's not necessary...


from Povel by Geraldine Kim:

"Waiting at the petty cash window. While she is processing the transaction, I look at the teller window on the other side with no one waiting there and wonder if it's all just a reflection. 'Dieciseis,' I think. They paperclipped the hanging electrical wires. 'Naw, less go yeet,' he says to his friend walking in front of him. I assume it's an orange jacket. What if my blue is your pink?

"Finding the right words. Repetitive ideas. My smile feels like a mushroom cloud.  'Why didn't you tell me my hair looked like that?' he asks his friend. 'He is so gay,' says the gay-sounding guy sitting near me. Reading it to see if I can finish it. A couple at another couch begin talking, facing each other. Three hours later the guy is talking from the girl's lap. My forehead is an anvil. 'What is this sticking business?' she says.

"I decide I want to memorize the dictionary. Starting with Q. Like snow, magical at first. Then foreboding. A desire to be incapacitated. Not quite what I was looking for, but it will do. 'How many boyfriends have you had?' she asks. 'Like twenty,' he says. My feet are on the floor. All the blood in my body seems to be circulating through my temples only. A feeble attempt to end my caffeine addiction.

"My cheeks feel plastic. How the kid in my Spanish class always speaks with a lisp. And remembering the last time I vomited. What I can't remember. My parents tell me about the time they lost me in Filene's. These fingertips. These moments of intense sensation that make you want to end everything. When I lost my dad in Spag's and stopped walking. 'Vagos' is the translation for 'vague.' We're not learning anything from this punishment. The words, 'traditionally speaking' like a song in my head.

"Knowing I've forgotten something. Countdown. There never was a climax. Character arcs. No need for a refrain. I write, 'He speaks with a lisp,' again. Bending my head down so that his hair hides these closed eyes. Whether this is good or not. They won't all fit into his mailbox. I say, 'Bless you' after she sneezes. Don't write that here. He also wrote that I needed a 'range of feeling.' Home, home on the range. He told me I should write about the 'real' me. 'There's something calming in menial tasks,' I say to the other girl. 'Yeah,' she says. 'The purposelessness of it,' I add. Her eyes are like birds in flight.

. . .

next interview: Laura Sims

other first-book interviews

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