A conversation with Hoa Nguyen (part 2).
photo credit: Karen Thomson 2009
Below is the second part of a conversation I’m having with poet, Hoa Nguyen. This first part is here.
Reb: Interesting, I try to never think about an audience when I write. If I did that, I don’t think I’d ever write a poem that I’d want to read. Of course, my process is one of not thinking (I save that for the revision process). Who are you trying to reach and what is your process?
Hoa: I don’t consider audience when I write, but after, in between. I think of different contexts that my poems might reach or in which they may appear (to other Hapas, mothers, women, people who also dig the green world, fathers, men, bird folk, Jungians, other artists, feminists, mythologists etc). I want to reach people and not just other poets—although I wouldn’t mind a few animal, plant or insect readers.
As far as process, I deeply read another poet and invite/write in hypnogogic states while remaining available to elements like tidbits from non-fiction books or newspaper circulars, the weather, events, numerous writing strategies—states both exterior and interior.
Ultimately, in terms of production, I think the poems are informed by relations between specific conditions, inner and outer, and how these axial, vertically.
When I revise, I use my senses, not so much the brain.
Reb: Let’s talk about “political poetry.” Some critics assert there are too few poets who are politically active and that’s why most contemporary poetry “doesn’t connect” with today’s readers. The idea being that poets tend to shy away from public discourse therefore making their poems irelevent. Other critics assert that politics in poetry = shitty poems and that politics is “small” or “argument” or “not real art.” What’s your take?
Hoa: Amiri Baraka once said: “There is no art or politics, there’s only life.” I value art and poetry that has relationships to the world—the active engagement with the forms and structures all around—to reveal and assess present situations. The poetry I love includes that engagement, implicated and aware.
Reb: You and your husband, Dale Smith, used to edit a magazine called Skanky Possum. Was your process of editing similar in selecting and presenting work by other? Why did you stop doing the magazine and do you have any current projects in the works? If time, energy and money were limitless, what kind of projects would like to do?
Hoa: Skanky Possum grew out of our involvement in an earlier project, Mike & Dale’s Younger Poets (with Michael Price—we met at New College as students). When that project ended, Dale wanted to collaborate on a new journal in our new hometown of Austin, TX. We already had a number of correspondent poets, older and not, to solicit for the journal. It was a mixture of friends and heroes and random poets from the slush pile.
Success basically killed the journal. Journals are time consuming (all the correspondence, for one) and then shortly after I gave birth to our first son, Robert Creeley chose several SP poets for publication in Best American Poetry 2002. After that BAP hit the stores, we were flooded with submissions, at it’s height, we were getting more than 60 letters stuffed full of poems a week from poets who never saw our hand made journal (each one stamped and painted) in a run of 300. That’s what I meant earlier about poets that only consider career contexts and not affinities.
One dream project I have is to undertake a research project and travel to Vietnam to study the Mekong Delta in terms of environmental, cultural and familial history.
Reb: Did you notice any increase in subscription requests for Skanky Possum or was it just the increase in submissions? I find with No Tell Motel and No Tell Books, whenever either gets any notable press, it only increases readership a small bit and does almost nothing for book sales. I often point this out because I wish poets were more conscious that we get the poetry communities and opportunities that we build ourselves. In addition to being conscious of one’s poetics and audience, what else, if anything, would like to see poets, in general, be more conscious?
Hoa: No, not much increase in support for the journal/press and TONS of “publish me.” So annoying.
Of poets, I’d say maybe the awareness of patterns—patterns of knowledge, human power systems, history, nature.
Reb: Aside from poetry, what other things do you feel heavy invested in? Is there any popular culture that you feel strongly connected to?
Hoa: I feel invested and strongly connected to life, to love, to the green world, to song. I love to study the archetypes through different lenses: Tarot, myth, the I Ching,
I think my song is influenced by power pop and punk, the three minute hooky song that surprises one with turns, noise, quiet, humor, heart break, political commentary. I love quirky searing songs that lay down something that say things about human occasions. Like this dirt box song by Daniel Johnston.
Or this anthem/anti-anthem, corresponding and responding to established forms, slightly incoherent and screaming.