Kg: Sorry I'm late.
Kg: I saw (John Singleton's)
Baby Boy the other day.
KM: Yeah? What'd you think of it?
Kg: Interestun'. Lots of sex.
KM: Yeah, but was it a good movie?
She gives me a blank stare. Shrugs.
Kg: Lots of sex.
Late or not, I have to smile.
The thing about Kim g. is, you will never
grow tired of seeing that calm demeanor and graceful grin
walk through a door late, long woolen locs swaying after
her like baby girl ribbons. She always carries a backpack
flung over her shoulder, yet carries herself like a satin
purse should be there instead. You will never grow old of
seeing her, because whatever happens in the next few minutes,
you will come away having learned more about life, more
about your priorities and-most importantly-more about yourself.
Kim g. on How Life Is
(6:00 pm: Veselka on 9th and Second Avenue, New York, NY)
KM: Hit me with a 'lil Macy. What
is Kim g's philosophy on life?
We are sitting at an outdoor café,
waiting for our cheap meal of toast, tea and cranberry juice.
The waitress is so sorry to know us.
Kg: My philosophy on
it's okay if things take time. I've been especially
conditioned-I guess 'cause I'm the MTV generation--[to think]
that everything is going to be really fast, and it won't take
more than a couple of months. But, everything takes time.
You're not missing out and you're not being left behind.
(the waitress drops off our food and quickly
heads for another table). I should have asked for sugar.
We selected Kim g. as our DW Featured Artist, because she
is a poet who manages to capture the experience of the black
woman in a way very few artists have. Kim g. has been an
Amherst College graduate, a sexual abuse survivor, an accomplished
writer and a transient
all before her 27th birthday.
But, unlike many black female poets who write about the
strife they've endured and the revolutions they've led,
Kim g. focuses on the mental healing black women still have
to complete. In this age of only subtle rebellions, one
has reached a point where there is nothing left to do but
stop, reevaluate, and identify themselves apart from being
"the mules of the world". Reading Kim's work reminds
us that, before black women were hips and thighs, before
we were brown limbs and lies
we were little girls.
KM: Why write poetry, as opposed to novels
Kg: I have no idea. I don't
have the patience. My first poem in high-school was about
how I hate poetry, and how I don't understand how people write
poetry. I started out trying to be a short story writer. But
with short stories, you need plot and character and "the
driving root behind such and such", and I didn't have
all that. After about ten pages I was like, I don't know.
I have limited life experience. It just seemed easier that
I captured thoughts in a page or two. Like a punch of information.
Do you have any favorite poets?
Kg: One of my favorite poets
KM: A - I? Japanese poet?
Kg: She's everything. She's
Black, she's Japanese, she's White. She looks Black and she
writes primarily from the "black experience", as
they call it. Audre Lorde. [And] Lucille Clifton
simple and powerful. It's the kind of poetry I like
kind of poetry I think I'm writing.
i am walking down the street, down onto the train
with heavy coat, heavy bags
my head explodes completely
and flys left and right like a
gone terribly wrong
- from I Am Walking Down the Street
Sometimes, if you're in a part of my
poetry that doesn't make sense, it could be A) I'm really
stuck in my head, or B) I want it to be. At that point in
the poem, you're supposed to be confused. If you read something
non-sensible, that's usually what it is.
Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, a
homeless man stops in front of the café table behind
us. He begins to berate the other customers, who refuse
to give him money.
Soon, the man ambles away.
Kg: Yeah, that's very New York.
That's kind of what I'm learning through my [sexual abuse]
recovery; how to ask for what you need. I always feel like
I'm really close to being homeless. I was homeless last year,
but I stayed with a lot of friends. I really got a sense of
what it's like to be without a home. People who have had homes
consistently take that for granted. I've had only nuts for
days, or bagels. Five dollar a day meals
which I may
have to do this week!
KM: I've definitely been there.
(laughing) It's a discipline. It's a training.
KM: Speaking of training, do you have
a writing process?
Kg: I was blessed to go to some
really good schools, and I got a lot of writing training there.
I always read aloud. I always do long hand first, on napkins
or scraps of magazines. The key is to learn how to read aloud.
It can save anyone's ass and make your poem halfway decent.
I always correct it to the way I read it, not the way I write
it. I write it the way humans would speak it.
I write what I know. What I know is
sometimes abstract, usually very painful, always complex and
filled with irony. I don't write about love.
KM: No Nikki Givovanni Kidnap Poem?
Kg: Right. [None of those] black
poems like, Mah' Boo, or whatever they're called.
KM: So--if love has nothing to do with
it--who or what inspires you to write the way you do?
Kg: My life and my circumstances.
KM: So, you inspire you?
Kg: The poet Reggie Gaines came
up to Amherst [College] once and he said, "have you ever
heard someone write about a good shave?" I thought that
was pretty funny. It's so true. A lot of my writing is about
pain. I absorb a lot. I've seen stuff in New York City that's
just been ripe with shit.
KM: What are you writing right now?
Kg: I did another page or two
of Medicine Bar, which is a short story, and I'm transcribing
some poetry I wrote when I was in transit and didn't have
a computer. I'm moving at my own pace.
KM: Tell me more about Medicine Bar.
Kg: It's a first hand experience
of me learning I was an incest survivor through very un-interactions
with my parents.
KM: What do you mean by "un-interactions"?
Kg: Un-interactions are interactions
that leave a bad taste in my mouth, or in my memory. My intention
in the beginning of Medicine Bar, was to write a biography
of my parents. I realized I didn't know much about them. All
the conversations and fodder [in Medicine Bar] are true; I
just changed the names and the circumstances ever so slightly.
I realized a lot of it is irony or cynicism; cynicism is often
a mask for rage that cannot be articulated properly. Part
of me can't really say what it's about. I feel like the story
is not finished.
KM: It's an ongoing piece?
KM: Medicine Bar is my favorite one of
your pieces that we have available on the website. Aside from
Medicine Bar-my favorite is I Am Walking Down the Street.
Kg: I have about four or five
other poems that start with I am walking down the street.
Something bad always happens in them. They're also really
gruesome. I'm not robbed. Never mugged. I don't even trip.
But, my eye will pop out. It's like, I may look okay, but
I'm falling apart.
I have this one poem where my eye pops
out. I pick it up and lick it like a good mother cat, and
I put it back in my head. Things fall apart all the time for
me. This is just breakfast. Wait 'til I get to lunch!
KM: You have this pattern in your work
where the last image is cruel and abrupt, without any conclusion.
Is that intentional?
Kg: A lot of it is capturing
like a fist going through a wall
it's over. It's like the last paragraph on the forty-seventh
page of a book. You [read it] and you're just like, whew!
That's it! That's all I needed.
Kim g. on cob webs
I am trying to write
my leg of the story while I'm still on the journey.
It could become the family tree - with the branches
being ones I identified and created - when I'm done.
Currently, this is a shaping. This is not a river that
this is something very different than that.
A river doesn't tell its own story because it's assumed
it represents things that defy words, that are too soulful
to be expressed, too deep, and too hot.
KM: I was thinking about how important
an artist you are. One of the reasons we wanted you to do
this-besides the fact that you're a phenomenal writer-is because
you can help a lot of people heal themselves. Having you as
someone to look up to--as a writer who has experienced abuse
in their life and is willing to explore these cob webs publicly--is
a gift. I think most artists-especially artists of color--have
survived extensive abuse, but this information is never given
as a pre-cursor to their art. The headline was always, "Basquiat
Is an Urban Genius." It was never, "Basquiat Was
Raised By a Mentally Ill Parent and Therefore, Might Be Using
His Art to Work Out Some Issues."
That said: Do you think that your work
is a product of your abuse? Do you ever think that if you
had not been abused, you would not be a poet?
Kg: It's possible. My senior
year in college-right after my last Latin exam--I ran into
another friend who was a writer. Right on the corner quad
where Merrill and Sterns meet. We were talking and I said,
"You know, I'd like to be a writer. But I don't have
anything to write about." It was true at the time. I
believed if you had nothing to say, don't write.
There's this theory that-before you
come to earth-you pick the circumstances you'll come into.
I believe I picked my profession first. I believe me wanting
to be a writer came before everything else, even before my
incest. I truly realize that if I hadn't been incested, I
really wouldn't have anything to write about.
Kim g. is dead
what is it that holds you up
and keeps you straight
when you cross
the street in the day?
is it large cartridge size
styrofoam peanuts strewn
together to make a flowery
necklace to keep you floating
if you fall through a hole i
know you did not see?
bringing you up like a beachball
pulled down in silky water,
bringing you safely across the
street without you having to look at
anything at all
KM: So, picture this: someone opens a
newspaper and comes across your obituary. What few sentences
could explain who you were?
Kg: Ahhh, let's see. She was
always true to herself. She was always honest. She worked
Kim looks left, right, indirectly and finally
Kg: And I guess that's all.