Six Poets, Six Questions: Cathy Park Hong in Conversation
Poets.org: How do you begin a poem?
Cathy Park Hong:
- I read a lot, procrastinating from actually writing with "research."
- I go to the New York Public Library, fill out requests for books, retrieve books, read, and take copious notes in the Rose Room.
- Sometimes, I force myself to write a sonnet a day, where I just empty my head.
- Go to museums, films, galleries, where I steal images.
- I unload most of this raw material into my unlined black notebook that I always buy at a tiny stationery store on 12th Street. The notebook may consist of information, data, "free writing," stabs at stanzas, to do lists, directions to places (I don't have an iPhone).
- Transfer mess to computer and twiddle with it.
Poets.org: What poets do you continually go back to?
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Harryette Mullen
- John Berryman
- Wallace Stevens
- Inger Christensen
- Lyn Hejinian
- Fernando Pessoa
- John Ashbery
(and to add some nonpoets who I like to return to: Hernandez Brothers, Roberto Bolaño, Susan Sontag, Mike Davis, David Mitchell, Paul Chan, Bong Joon-Ho)
Poets.org: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
Hong: I always believed that poetry is capable of being anything and prefer to keep that question open-ended. It's more that my ideas have changed about what poetry should do. When I was younger, I used to be more idealistic about poetry's function in society—that political action and intervention were possible via restructuring of language. But now, I think maybe it's enough that poetry can nourish individual consciousness or, to put it another way, maybe it's enough that poetry's primary purpose is to make people feel things. Then I change my mind.
Hong: It certainly eats up my writing life! I am on Facebook but once I log on, my precious few hours that I've devoted to writing is sucked up. I have applications like "Self-Control" to block it. I have not signed on to Twitter since its more logorrheic speed I don't need. I'd love to hear from other writers how these networking sites benefit their poetry since when I'm logged on, it's like I'm trying to write while there's a party going on. But I guess the site is valued for what comes after the writing when poets self-promote their works.
Poets.org: Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they?
Hong: I was in an experimental/political writing group in grad school but overall, I'm bad at being in groups since I'm a bit of a contrarian. I do have friends, who are poets, whose poetry I adore like Evie Shockley or Danielle Pafunda or Christian Hawkey to name some. But I also tend to share my writing with nonpoets like my husband Mores McWreath, who's a video artist, or friend Ghita Schwarz, who's a novelist. I like my community to be as multi-disciplinary as possible. For instance, I am part of a group, 2up, that's an amazing confederation of artists and poets. Every month, two people from the group collaborate and create a poster. If you want to hear more about it and see names, you can go to this link.
Poets.org: What are you reading right now?
Hong: I'm reading a monograph on Kara Walker, Juliana Spahr's Well Then There Now and Peter Richards's Helsinki. I'm reading Min Song's Strange Futures, Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight, rereading Jennifer Tamayo's debut Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes (I chose it for the Switchback Books Gatewood Prize. It's such a gutsy debut!), Chester Himes's If He Hollers, Let Him Go, and Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust. As you can see, I've been on an L.A. kick.