Minnesota has a rich literary scene. Smack dab in the middle of it are some incredibly talented adoptees. One of these individuals – the well published Sun Yung Shin – took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions. Check it.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Why are you so camera/live interview shy?
Sun Yung Shin: I’m not, I just don’t like Skype and I don’t like talking on the phone. Skype is alienating because you have a little picture of your own face moving in the corner. Holding the iPhone up to my ear actually makes my hand cramp, wearing earbuds and talking into the microphone seems unnatural, and the sound on the phone irritates me because it’s hard to hear clearly. I also would rather see people’s face and expressions. It’s easier to accept pauses, which I like, in the conversation. I don’t really prefer typing for interviews because it takes longer and is less spontaneous, but, then it’s easier for the interviewer because she or he doesn’t have to transcribe or worry about being misquoted.
LGA: Makes sense. So, when did you realize that you were a writer and wanted to take it as a career path?
Sun Yung: In my late 20s.
LGA: What influences your writing?
Sun Yung: Language that is dense with meaning, allusion, connotation, secrets, lies, power, absences, confusion, pain, grief, time.
LGA: Is there a particular poem from your last book that you would consider your favorite?
Sun Yung: I really am fond of BLACK LADDER BLOOD BOX because it / they came very quickly, as if in a trance, and the topic is one that is extremely personal, visceral, and important to me on a variety of axes. A trance-type state is actually how most of my poems get composed, but I remember a particularly heated state of conjuration for those pieces. Some dark magic was bubbling up – like the evil spirit in Ringu! A close second as far as a favorite poem is the Satan series, KINGDOM OF THE LIGHT, KINGDOM OF THE DARK. I tend to like poems that are very rhythmic because they’re more fun to read and I think possibly more engaging to hear. I hope.
LGA: Sweet! Any advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Sun Yung: The same as always: read the best and most challenging work you can find – from around the world. I don’t tend to read much contemporary American work. I tend to like high concept work and/or work by exiles, postcolonial writers, Eastern European writers, and experimental writers in general. Reading interviews with writers was an important thing for me before I began writing and as I was beginning and they’re still important.
Writers’ biographies have also been very helpful, not in terms of craft but in terms of the artistic life, and the kinds of sacrifices, mindsets, sustenance, and perseverance one needs. The rhythms of the ups and downs of a writing season, a cycle of a project, feeling communion across space and time with other writers, many of whom were rebels, misfits, neurotic, depressive, alienated, insane, suicidal – but also had the deepest feelings, the most incandescent visions of human possibility – the banality of evil and our sublimity. I’m thinking of Kafka, one of the writers most important to me.
I also think most writers, or certainly poets, are naturally obsessed with language. I’m not sure if you can really learn that but you can definitely cultivate it, and I do try to cultivate it in my students to the best of my ability. Music has been important for me – classical music that I grew up with in the ballet studio and through piano and choirs.
Reading music, learning other languages, having some physical discipline whether dance or yoga or running or martial arts I think is very helpful because writing is a full-body endeavor even though not a lot is moving when you’re writing. I grew up playing team sports and I was very competitive. When I played tennis on my high school team I would think to myself about my competitor/s, “I am going to kill you.” I also committed a lot of fouls as a basketball player. Kind of aggressive.
A predatorial, primal focus is important for art that is going to matter. I like art that takes risks, and I think it’s important to embrace being wild and entering the wilderness, of the imagination, the world. The world is just another body. There are worlds and worlds in, through, and beyond the one we think we live in. Everything is impermanent and everything is an illusion.
There’s this martial arts idea you’re probably familiar with – ”Hit through the target” – and I think of art that way. You have to go beyond, without stopping, what you think the wall is. As if it isn’t there. Because it really isn’t. And art isn’t really art. “We” as “a person” don’t really exist. We, in terms of energy, just “rent” or borrow our bodies, this collection of cells and electricity and water and microbes, until “we” die and the energy transforms. There is no “I” or “me.” But I’m digressing away from your questions.
I have 9 thousand other things I could say about writing, much of which I could credit to others, but I’ll stop there!
LGA: Well said! And to members of LGA Nation, go visit Sun Yung’s website to see a full list of her publications, events, interviews, reviews, and more. As the kids or wannabe hipsters like to say, Sun Yung is the shizzle!
Book’s by Sun Yung Shin