In 2023, the Academy of American Poets invited twelve poets to each curate a month of poems. In this short Q&A, Eunsong discusses her curatorial approach and her own creative work.
Poets.org: Welcome to the Guest Editor Q&A, hosted by the Academy of American Poets. I’m Mary Sutton, senior content editor at the Academy, and I’m here today with our Guest Editor for September, Eunsong Kim. Eunsong is the author of gospel of regicide. Eunsong, welcome and thank you so much for joining me.
Eunsong Kim: Thank you so much for having me, Mary. I’m so excited to be here.
Poets.org: We’re excited to have you, especially for September. So let’s jump right in.
Kim: I know!
Poets.org: So how did you approach curating Poem-a-Day for September?
Kim: So I approached curating… I was really influenced by the kind of archival research that I’d been doing over the years, but particularly, I had visited the archives and spent some time at the Archives for New Poetry at UCSD, the University of California, San Diego. But within the last two years, I’ve spent quite a number... I spent time with Pat Parker and June Jordan’s archives at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard. And particularly, in Pat Parker’s archives, I found a series of letters from different poets, everyone from Willyce Kim to newsletters from Merle Woo, and I just really became interested in how poets spoke to each other and the kinds of communities that they created that I just didn’t know about. Like all these sort of, what Grace Hong and Rod Ferguson call “strange affinities.” Affinities that actually make a lot of sense, but they’re not always necessarily publicly visible.
And I sort of wanted to think about the overlapping of generations and how this overlapping has a lot of interest in the kind of activism and politics that they shared. So as someone who was interested in the lives of poems, in addition to how the poem is written, I wanted to look for poets [who] were part of collectives, such as members of Unbound Feet. And then also poets who worked as translators and organizers on behalf of movements. So someone like Mona Kareem who translated Octavia Butler into Arabic and is also really kind of formative in her thinking about poetry and translation for political movements. Yeah. So it’s something that I was thinking about. I also was thinking about the ways that certain kinds of public conversations that are happening right now, like the various poets [who] are engaged in conversations around personal and institutionalized memory and thinking about the body in very material ways. So I wanted to present the public with poets and poetry that attended to these public debates.
Poets.org: Now, many of our readers and listeners will be very familiar with various poetry collectives, particularly those that are more widely well-known, such as the Greenwich Village scene, the North Beach scene that led to the Beat Generation, the Black Arts Movement that also birthed a poetry scene starting in 1965, and more recently, you know, the Dark Noise Collective, for example. But Unbound Feet is a very different kind of collective. Could you tell us a little bit more about it and about its members whom you’ve just briefly mentioned?
Kim: Yeah, so I came across, actually, Unbound Feet posters and newsletters first when I was studying Asian American literature in college, but I didn’t really read that much more into their activities until I came across a series of their reading flyers at Pat Parker’s archives. And she not only kept reading flyers of their events… And about Unbound Feet, very quickly, was a group of Asian American performance artists and poets who had a very explicit position against U.S. Empire. Most of the collective members identified as socialists and lesbians and anti-capitalist in particular, and were really thinking about how Asian American art coalesced and was integral to Asian American activism. So some of the newsletters that Pat Parker, in particular, kept were the ones sent to her by Merle Woo, who is a poet who works with figures like Audre Lorde, which many are very familiar with, against South African apartheid. They wrote a pamphlet together where Audre Lorde wrote the first part, a first essay, and then Merle Woo wrote the second essay. And other members were Nellie Wong, who’s a part of the September curation. Willyce Kim. Willyce is not a part of the collective, but she was in the vicinity of the community. Kitty Tsui, who’s also part of the September issue. There are other members of the collective, but I was able to reach out to a few of them. They were vibrant and active for a short period of time, and then they kind of went off and did different things on their own. But I think that it’s, as you mentioned, all of the ways in which the Black Arts Movement gave a way for different orientations of other collectives to form. I think, the sort of… It almost creates this ontology of various different poetic networks and communities, and I sort of wanted to think about that history because that history is really important to this present.
Poets.org: Indeed. Kitty Tsui interestingly went on to become a bodybuilder, which is not how you—
Poets.org: Normally imagine a poet, but that is a fun fact about Kitty. If you could direct readers to one poem in our collection at Poets.org that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?
Kim: Okay. I feel like it’s so clear that I’m such a Pat Parker stan, so I want to just say her name maybe one more time. But in preparation [for] this Q&A, I was looking at the poem that is on the site, Pat Parker’s poem titled “Questions.” And in the poem, she has this line, “To whom or what do I direct pain?” And this is a line that I really come back to often, that I return to this again and again while reading the news and speaking to friends, family members, colleagues. This question of where do we redirect or direct our pain to? The poem sits with me on this kind of…on this level and makes me really wonder if the pain, if not directed to those who cause the pain, but is it perhaps instead redirected elsewhere? And if so, do we know how that redirection actually happens? And so, not only do her repeated and unanswered questions… “How do I break these chains?” That’s her line from the poem. It remains a most salient question that I think is worthy of us, whatever that means, of answering. But I think it stands as a hopeful, as hopefully an opening for those who do not know her work, to read all of the other wonderful poems that she wrote throughout her life, including works like “Don’t Let The Fascist Speak” and “Brother” and so many others.
Poets.org: The poem that you mentioned at the outset, “Questions,” is timeless. And I am going to echo you—
Poets.org: In strongly encouraging our readers and listeners to check out that poem on our website. Pat Parker is interesting to me because she is a Black poet, an African American poet particularly, who is not typically included in anthologies—
Poets.org: Of African American poetry, and that’s an oversight I don’t completely understand. Maybe you know something that I don’t. My suspicion is because she published most of her work with small feminist presses, and also because she also published most of her work a few years after the Black Arts Movement ended in 1975. So she isn’t… She doesn’t have the same currency in that period that June Jordan and Audre Lorde do. She’s someone who’s very often neglected, which is unfortunate, I think.
Kim: Yeah. I would love a Pat Parker revival, if those listening would like to continue to, you know, would like to join us in speaking about her constantly, I would love that so very much. In her archives, I found such fascinating artifacts. She gave so many political speeches that I believe are unpublished, so she’s incredibly active on behalf of organizing for transnational women’s movements. She was really sort of thinking through and working on behalf of poor women in particular in the Bay [Area], and I don’t think that that’s an explanation, but I also found things, like she appeared on a television show that wanted to interview lesbian women. And the reason that I read this part of the archive is she wrote a letter to the person who invited her and said, “The reimbursements did not come fast enough,” which I do think is actually not a small detail because it’s a reflection of the ways in which poets almost put together... Or all of the details that goes into living. And she was writing this kind of formal letter as to what she had to do to appear on the show and how this show did not treat her with the same kind of respect. So she was very present and active in all kinds of political issues. And I think she would be really timely—timeless, perhaps—for everyone.
Poets.org: Timely and timeless. I think you—
Kim: Timely and timeless. Yeah.
Poets.org: So who or what are you reading right now?
Kim: Oh, this is such an impossible question because I want to... Your expression right now, you’re like... Yeah, because, I’m reading everyone who’s going to appear in the September folio. I should say that. Everyone who is part of this folio, I return to their works, return to the work of Safiya Sinclair. Everyone who is... Sean Henry Smith. These are people that I think about, Wendy Xu, again and again. But this summer, I’ve been sitting with the work of Patricia J. Williams in particular. I returned to a series of lectures that she gave to the BBC because I was reading her latest book, Giving a Damn, which is a longer essay.
And I have been reading the short story collection by Hisaye Yamamoto called Seventeen Syllables, which, fun fact, was published by Audre Lorde’s press, Kitchen Table. So all of these networks, once again, and then, in addition to having this lifelong love for Pat Parker, I really love this Greek poet named Yiannis Ritsos. I hope I’m saying his last name right. But there’s a poem of his that I read quite some time ago that’s just titled “Because,” and I found it to be so captivating. And he was a lifelong Communist. He was so… He thought through politics and aesthetics in ways that I find to be really meaningful, and these are questions that remain unresolved, and his poetry is spectacular.
Poets.org: What are you currently working on in your writing, teaching, and publishing life?
Kim: Maybe I should say I’m reading a lot of essays because I’ve been working on an essay collection that thinks about the literary and political history of speaking positions, and this is related to the archival research I mentioned. And part of the sort of beginnings of the essays, or beginning ideas of the essays, were published in American Poets. Yay! Edited by you, wonderful Mary. The first part was on the work of Janice Mirikitani and June Jordan, their work on Poetry for the People. And then the second part, which will appear very soon, I believe, will be on the friendship and network between Willyce Kim and Pat Parker. And then, I’ve been spending the summer sort of prepping for the fall and what I will be teaching. So I’ll be teaching a grad seminar, and then I’m updating my syllabus endlessly for a class that I really like teaching called Race and Artificial Intelligence, because it’s just an ongoing conversation, and every day something new happens. So yeah, I’ve been, like, reading essays, thinking about the lives of poets, and then prepping to teach.
Poets.org: Sounds exciting. On behalf of the Academy, I just want to thank you for all that you’ve contributed in the—
Kim: Oh, no.
Poets.org: Especially this archival work. It’s so rich and there’s so much to discover and rediscover.
Kim: Yes. And if listeners are interested in starting the Pat Parker revival with me, they should reach out to me because I would like for this to happen.
Poets.org: We can have a club, the Pat Parker Revival Club.
Poets.org: Thank you so much, Eunsong.
Kim: Thank you, Mary.