An Interview with The Foundry’s Kiik A.K.

The Foundry is our literary reading series, now in its second year. We love this opportunity to bring both new and established writers into your lives. Our next reading is this Saturday, March 18th, at 7 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill, with readings from Jami Attenberg, Karolina Waclawiak, Wendy C. Ortiz, Alex Zaragoza, and today’s feature, Kiik A.K, a San Diego poet.

We love Kiik A.K.’s invigorating approach to poetry and art. So Say We All’s program director and Foundry host Julia Dixon Evans had a chance to ask Kiik a few questions about his work and his writing life.

JULIA DIXON EVANS: Matt Lewis (So Say We All’s Radvocate editor) described your manuscript as “a beautiful magical realism story about the Japanese internment camps.” Can you tell me a little bit about it

KIIK A.K: Almost every piece of fiction I’ve written in the last five years is somehow connected to my grandparents. I’m working on a manuscript called THE BOOK OF KANE AND MARGARET, and all its stories take place between the years of 1942-1945 in a Japanese internment camp in Gila River, Arizona. This was where my grandparents fell in love, married and had the first of their three daughters.

I’m not a historian or a scholar or a very good researcher. So I actually thought it would be an uphill battle and a disservice to my grandparents if I tried to write their stories as nonfiction or historical fiction. That is why a lot of my stories are about things like supernatural cicadas, people who sprout wings, aircraft carried by desert birds, girls who can trade human teeth for divine wishes. But there is usually some kernel of my grandparents stories embedded in that magic.

JULIA: Your poetry, to me, either feels incredibly narrative or incredibly unusual. It all seems very boundary-smashing to this here non-poet. What drives this? 

KIIK: I think it’s really an inability to write poetry. I want to think of myself as a poet. But for the amount of training I’ve had, I’m probably the most incapable poet I know. I sit down and I say, “This is going to be a sonnet.” And then some weird free-verse thing about dying naked in the woods emerges. I sit down and say, “This is going to be a love poem.” And then a thing about grandmas who rescue babies from car accidents emerges.

So now what I call poetry is this journey of trying to write a poem, failing, and then being critical about the failure. I think maybe that is where the narrative and strangeness comes from. A lot of my poems also contain apologies. A moment when I say, “Sorry for what you just read, I’ll do better next time.”

JULIA: And do you approach a piece with structure in mind first, or with narrative? Or a word or a line? 

KIIK: Almost always a scrap of language that has just been repeating in my head. Do you know the song “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj? I had this line stuck in my head for like a week, “He toss my salad like his name Romaine . . . ”

I went back and forth trying to unpack the meaning of the line. Romaine lettuce is in salad. So does the salad toss itself? But the speaker’s salad is being tossed. So is the speaker watching Romaine toss his own salad? It seems like her salad is the one being tossed though.

And then I think to myself – why is this the line I’ve chosen to think about for two weeks now? Why am I mining this particular salad in Nicki Minaj’s work?

JULIA: I anxiously await this salad poem. 

In your work, most notably in “A Pupa Wraps Its Mitten Of Fur Around The World,” published by Electric Literature, the reader is taken on something of a journey of revelation and understanding about the form, and that revelation exists separate from, or at least prior to, any revelations about this character. It reminded me of those moments when you realize the extra is the primary. I’m thinking of a commercial in the middle of SNL that’s actually a skit. Or “Too Many Cooks.” The prologue to Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Where do you see the intersection of audience awareness to form and the breaking of this literary 4th wall vs. what an individual work means? Do those things sort of work together? I’d love to hear about your process and thoughts with this.

KIIK: That question is more beautiful than my work! And I think gets at something deeper than those “about the author” pieces.

I think as an audience member I’m attracted to those moments where the speaker says, “I get that our relationship is an agreement to put you under the spell of this aesthetic form. But maybe another agreement is to break the form and work through its peculiarities together. And then we have this entirely new relationship.”

I think I like those moments because it makes me feel like an insider. I can be under a spell and floating above the spell – watching myself be under the spell simultaneously. I am both patient under the anesthesia and doctor looking at the unconscious patient. I am Snow White passed out on the ground, the Queen and the Witch.

I got a little lost. Did I even answer this question?!!

JULIA: Yes. That was so perfect. And I’m curious to know if you originally wrote those pieces when tasked with writing your actual “about the author” bio. Because I think anyone who has had to write any sort of profile can understand the need to screw with the system a little.

KIIK: I can’t remember exactly – but I think for me the pieces come out of an anxiety of failure, amateur-ness. Maybe also a lack of professionalism. I like reading writers’ “about the author” sections. It’s one of the first things I read when I buy a new book. I always think, “They sound so accomplished! So confident!” They’re also often written in the third-person, which is part of the spell of the form. “The writer was so important they didn’t even have time to write their own bio! Some servant did it for them!”

When I sit down to work on a bio, something inappropriate to the form always emerges. Alright, I know I should talk about how many books I’ve published and how many awards I’ve won. Okay I haven’t published any books. Can I talk about how many books I fantasize about publishing? Hmm, that seems wrong. Can I lie and say I’ve published books in another country that doesn’t exist? Hmm, seems unethical. What if I say I’ve published several Yelp posts rating the local cookie establishments? Well that third option sounds slightly better than the first two . . .

JULIA: So Say We All was lucky to publish some of your work in The Radvocate, and I consider those pieces the funniest poetry I’ve ever read [http://www.sosayweallonline.com/kiik-ak-poems-in-the-radvocate/]. There’s humor in your work, but also elements of insecurity and sadness. Do you tend to balance out those things on purpose? Or is it more inherent/unavoidable?

KIIK: Gosh, thank you! If the work makes you laugh a little, then it’s doing its job. I want to say the humor is part of that apology thing I mentioned earlier. A lot of my poems apologize for not getting the form right. Or for not doing poetry in a decent way. Or for having an amoral speaker. Not that there is a right or decent way to poetry or that people should look for it. I guess I just mean I feel guilty sometimes when I look at the work and I think, “Wow, you don’t look right. Poems are not supposed to have so many cannibals in them! Poems should not have a person wearing a stinging jellyfish for a hat! Jeez, I blew it.” So then I start to think – but can this failure be entertaining? How exaggerated or strange does this failure have to look to make someone laugh?

The insecurity and sadness question is another really good one. I want to say part of that must be because my writing practice is such a lonely endeavor. I think it was Toni Cade Bambara who said something like, “It is a dismally lonely business, writing.” I’m not sure if that’s how it feels to most other writers. But when I’m sitting by myself, looking at this strange poem in front of me, all the insecurities do seem to come out . . .

JULIA: What are you working on at the moment?

KIIK: I wanted to write a few pieces specifically for The Foundry event. The readers at the So Say We All shows are so fucking good – it’s a little out of my league. So I want to write a couple of new things that will just be offerings to that show.

I’m working on something about Burger King and something about The Smurfs – we’ll see if I finish in time . . .

JULIA: What is the most recent book you’ve read?

KIIK: Right now I’m reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It’s so good! For poetry I’m reading salt. by nayyirah waheed. She’s a genius!

JULIA: Thank you so much for answering my questions and we are so excited to hear you read at The Foundry on Saturday! Thanks!

KIIK: Thank you Julia!

Kiik A.K. earned a MA from UC Davis where his poetics thesis was titled THE JOY OF HUMAN SACRIFICE and a MFA from UC San Diego where his collection of counter-internment narratives was titled EVERYDAY COLONIALISM. He is currently at work on a collection of poems titled HOGG BOOK. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Okey-Panky, iO, Washington Square, Action Yes and Alice Blue Review.


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