Title: My Proud Sacrifice
Author: Kevin Minh Allen
Pick it up @ http://myproudsacrifice.tumblr.com/
Here's my Q and A with Kevin Minh Allen on his just released first collection of poetry.
1. In describing your book you say that "much of what informs this collection are my connections and disconnections to, and mutations and transformations of my multiple identities growing up as a mixed race Vietnamese adoptee in the United States". Can you talk more about the title of your collection, why you chose it, and its relation to the above?
The title of the book comes from the last line of my poem “There Is An Outside”. Growing up, I had this innate feeling that I was on the outside of some kind of family/peer/community/nation-proscribed center, due to the many socially-constructed identities I had to juggle. I felt so much on the periphery of the acceptable or the desirable because not only did I generally prefer my own company to anyone else’s, but I also became clued into what mainstream culture thought of “my kind” and how it perniciously tried to put me in my place. As my reading and studies of the Vietnam/American War have progressed, I understand that many of my interests, which are naturally tied to my personality and interactions with the world, make me an outlier from the start. So, to get to the core meaning of the book title, I’ve sacrificed many attempts at being more agreeable or more affable in establishing myself in a social group and, as a consequence, have arrived at a newer definition of pride in myself, in who I truly am.
2. Why was it important for you to take on the subject matter in "The Konerak Vignette"?
Konerak Sinthasomphone and his family were forced to leave their home in Laos and eventually were sponsored to emigrate to Milwaukee, WI, in 1980. With respect to his tragic death, Konerak actually managed to escape from Dahmer’s apartment after being assaulted there. However, after two neighborhood girls saw him walking down the street, naked and bloody, they pleaded with one of the girl’s mothers to call the police. The police arrived and tried talking to Konerak. However, because he was in shock and injured, Konerak couldn’t answer the policemen’s questions, so they assumed that he didn’t know English. Soon after, Dahmer came down the street to fetch Konerak and lied to the police that he was his lover and that they were just having a quarrel. The police believed Dahmer’s story and allowed him to take Konerak back to his apartment, where he eventually killed him. The mother who called the police, who happened to be black, protested the policemen’s decision but was told to mind her own business.
Konerak’s murder brought in stark relief for me issues of racial prejudice, refugee status, assimilation, ways in which the police interact with (or don’t get involved with) Asian Americans, and who in this country is regularly given the benefit of the doubt due to their perceived race and ethnicity, which hinges on who is allowed, or not allowed, to have agency in this society. In a quite odd and grotesque way, when I was writing this piece, I imagined myself walking in Konerak’s footsteps based upon my own self-perception and misperceptions I had encountered while living in this country.
3. In "Diversionary" you work with form more so than in your other poems. From a technical standpoint, why did you make the decision for this one in particular?
This poem has clear erotic, sexual overtones, so I think I was trying to slow the reader’s tempo a bit by not using the standard left-justified structure. It was supposed to be more playful and coquettish, I think.
4. As the writing has been a work in progress for over 10 years, did you go back and edit any of the pieces written earlier for final completion? Were you surprised at any of the writing or tone when you looked back on them?
Many of the poems were ones I had been working on for years, and I actually thought they were finished, that they couldn’t speak beyond what they had already spoken. But, I kept on tinkering with them because I found that they simply lacked a genuine voice or an epiphany that they were resonating, but which I couldn’t put down on paper at the time, probably because my subconscious was not prepared yet to connect with the conscious part of my mind.
It was really only after I left these poems alone for a few years and moved on with my life that they started calling back to me and speaking to me. When I read the poems again, with a more mature and seasoned point of view, I felt I was on to something and only then could I revise them and feel that they were worthy enough to be collected under one book.
5. Now that you've completed your first book, do you have any advice for other writers who are in the process of working on theirs?
Think deeply about what you’re trying to say to yourself with your writing. Blurt it out on the page, then cultivate it and then see if it flourishes. Breathe the world in and then let it out. Find that place where you feel you can write the most free and stay inside it for as long as necessary. That place may not always be the same one; in fact, it will change over time and could multiply into several places. But, remember, you will always remain at the center of your writing.
1. If you could transport any Asian American from back in time to current day who would it be (and we'll go on the assumption that they'd be okay with this)?
Lam Duong. He was the subject of the documentary “Enforcing The Silence” by Tony Nguyen. I got to watch the documentary in full at the San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival in April 2013. Lam was the founder of the first youth center for Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s in San Francisco. He was murdered in 1981. The police were never able to solve his murder, but much speculation pointed to members of an underground anticommunist Vietnamese group. The subject of ideological and generational tension within refugee groups from Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, has fascinated me for a long time. I think this is because even though I was technically a political refugee, I experienced a very different and unique upbringing in which I was assimilated into and shepherded by a White family and White community, and I wanted to know “how the other side” lived, so to speak.
2. Give the name of one movie you would like to see destroyed. With fire. Because you hate it. And no one can tell you different.
Karate Kid II. I picked this one because it just serves to remind me of how white-washed I was as a kid, and then as an adolescent, to deny and avoid who I truly was in my most formative years.
3. What book is on your reading list that you've been meaning to get to but just haven't started?
The Satanic Bible. At first, when I read a little bit of it as a teenager, it was purely out of shock value and its very taboo nature, especially since I was raised in the Catholic faith. But, in my 20s, when I picked it up again and read with more curiosity, I found that there was a logic to the ethos being espoused and that it was quite unique in its sensibility. Now, I’d like to open the book again and read it to the end with a more quizzical and escapist mentality. I think this is the way I’m approaching many standard religious texts and epics nowadays; in the end, they are colorful and reverent stories about human origins, human graces and human foibles that still reverberate in our psyches and in our cultures to this day.