Becoming Realer: “Growing Sideways”

Becoming Realer: Identity, Craft and the MFA is a column that explores issues of poetry, theory and writing craft in relation to the personal experiences of Saint Mary’s College of California Creative Writing MFA candidate and LR staff writer, Kelsay Myers.

Kelsay at Grandma Rothert's house in 1988

After reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic last semester in Contemporary Nonfiction, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of artifice in my life. Bechdel’s father spent years creating a fiction of himself as the straight, happy family man and small town English teacher, and he arranged his Gothic revivalist home into a solid, real world representation of his artifice. It’s not merely artifice in the sense of having a duplicitous nature, but also the construction and presentation of a certain image, or identity, to the world.

It’s that kind of self-construction that I relate to not only in my own identity formation, but in my writing as well. We learn early on in our writing careers that whatever “self” we put on the page is not our actual, real world self. It is a fabrication , written with specific intentions for an audience. It is, in a word, performed. But in all honesty, when I look at my actual self, I still see the artifice. In any given situation, I find myself carefully constructing my self to look or act a certain way. It’s not just vanity that causes me to never leave the house without make-up, or to sleep in pajamas that are basically clothes so I could more quickly run out in the middle of the night if I happened to get an emergency phone call saying that someone is in the hospital. Although I am vain, it goes deeper than that. It’s about actualizing the idea of myself that I have in my head (heavily influenced by pop-culture and television) every hour of every day in order to make it true.

Performance eventually becomes reality? The symbol eventually becomes truth? I readily admit that my version of symbolism comes from a conflation of the literal with the symbolic. Continue reading “Becoming Realer: “Growing Sideways””

Becoming Realer: Looking at the Real

Becoming Realer: Identity, Craft and the MFA is a column that explores issues of poetry, theory and writing craft in relation to the personal experiences of Saint Mary’s College of California Creative Writing MFA candidate and LR staff writer, Kelsay Myers.

Rainbow shoes

I can’t remember if I imagined Korea as a child. I must have. I put the rainbow-striped shoes that were sent with me from Busan when I was three-months old high on a shelf in my bedroom, in a place where I could look at them but not touch them. Sometimes, I would ask my mother to take down the shoes, wondering if that would be the day they’d finally fit on my feet. That day never came. They were too big each time. I’d fall down trying to walk in them. Eventually I forgot about wanting to wear them, and when I did remember they were up on that shelf again, they were so small that they pinched my feet. I used to think the moral of this story was that the shoes never fit just right. That, in the same way, Korea would never fit just right, but now I see even greater meaning in the fact that I was the one who put the shoes in a place where I could look at them, but not feel them.

That is the true moral of the story. I’m still afraid to feel Korea. It’s more comfortable in the abstract, or as a rainbow-colored shoe that will never fit, than as an actual thing that I can put my arms around or stick my feet in. It’s more comfortable as a symbol than a country, as a metaphor than a reality.

Continue reading “Becoming Realer: Looking at the Real”

Intro to Minh

To this day, I still remember reading Seattle poet Koon Woon’s first official book of poetry, The Truth In Rented Rooms (Kaya Press, 1998) back in Rochester, NY. As I read more of his writing it was like watching the smudgy white walls of my studio apartment turn into a kaleidoscope of possibilities. I could tell Woon’s writing came from a place of strength and hurt, truthfulness and sorrow. These were human qualities I had taken for granted all my life before I started writing poetry myself.

Woon’s writing had the wonderful ability of convincing me to peer deeper into the well of mystery and to search for my own meaning in life.  He writes in the poem “In Water Buffalo Time,”

When my little friends mocked me for my seriousness,
Our teacher, under the shade of the yung tree bursting with berries,
Told us Meng-Tse had dreamed he was a butterfly
Dreaming it was a man.
Without even knowing what a “yung tree” or who “Meng-Tse” was, I intuitively knew that as a poet of Asian descent I was on the threshold of a long literary tradition in this country I called home. I knew I had already missed much, but I soon realized that the curling waves of Asian American literature(s) populate a very large and deep body of experience, innovation and experimentation that only keeps on getting stronger.

The editors of the Lantern Review blog have asked me to review books of poetry, and I intend to employ my trusty reading skills and quirky powers of interpretation to the task of properly introducing poetic works by Asian American authors to You, the general reading audience. The kind of poetry that reels me in and makes me want to take another bite is one where the author simplifies the complex only to open me back up and engage my mind with the never-ending complexity of human experience and imagination.

Continue reading “Intro to Minh”