Molly Higgins (MH): Please introduce yourself and briefly describe your literary work and career path to date. What attracted you to writing?
Krysada Panusith Phounsiri (KPP): My name is Krysada Panusith Phounsiri. I also go by Binly. I am a poet and a former student under the June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. My book of Poetry, “Dance Among Elephants,” is a collection of poems dating back from 2007 to now. I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12, but never truly felt confident in my poetic voice until 2007. There was always a feeling, a sense of weight that pulled me into the idea of writing my feelings down on paper. It was a lonely journey; a search for self. My mind lighted my path and my pen did the walking. I wrote this book in hopes that it represents the themes that hit me the hardest. It’s about my experiences with love, dancing, growing up as a Lao American kid in Southeast San Diego, and the challenge of living through internal struggles. I am currently a Systems Engineer working at a BioTech company. I help develop instruments for life science research, to keep it brief.
MH: You’re not a full-time writer. What else keeps you busy, and why do you make time for writing?
KPP: I dedicate huge chunks of my time dancing because I love it. I am a professional dancer who travels to various cities to compete or judge dance competitions and teach workshops. I also perform shows on a gig-to-gig basis for different projects. A group of friends and I recently opened a studio in San Diego. I spend a lot of my time there training, teaching, and managing the daily activities and task that the studio demands. I also focus my efforts on photography. Currently, I am running a Photography/Cinema project called Snap Pilots alongside a partner and close friend. We aim to Snap our lives, the places we travel, and people in hopes that the photo captures a portrayal of honesty. That honesty is in the expression, the setting, and the feeling that was meant to be captured.
Besides all of that, I make time for writing because it fulfills things that those two art mediums can’t. Think of it as a triangle of passions that all need to balance each other out. Sure, all of the arts I practice can help me grab certain feelings, but some art forms do it better than the others. For writing, it becomes a true challenge to be honest. I am the most vulnerable when it comes to writing because I dig deep into my memories and emotions. Writing is coupled with reading; it sounds obvious but compared to dancing and photography, people are literally reading what I write. Dancing and Photographs leave a lot more to interpretations. I choose not to hide my feelings and my experiences. It gives me a sense of strength in the end. Different energies that I desire. Writing is that powerful to me, so I have to explore that world and make time for it.
MH: Your first book, “Dance with Elephants,” is about to be released from Sahtu Press. How did that collaboration come about? Did you consciously choose to publish with an independent, Lao American publisher?
KPP: Yes, I consciously chose to publish my work with them. The story goes as this: From 2010 I attempted to publish my manuscript. As the years went by, I was published in an anthology, a few magazines, and educational journals. Every press I applied to and sent my manuscript to, I received rejection letters from. I met with the editor of Sahtu Press around the middle 2011. It was then that he reached out and tried to motivate me to continue writing. He also sent me links from time to time for publishers that might be interested in my work. I kept trying, but with no success. I continued to write more poems as he continued to check in with me. It was late 2013 when we went through the last few rounds of publishers. He hinted to me that he had something I might be interested in, but he wanted me to keep trying to reach out to publishers. Three publishers later, still no success. It was then that he approached me with an offer. He mentioned Sahtu Press was a venture he and a partner was working together on. He gave me an offer, after 4 years of trying. I was warned that the press was small, and that if I was hoping to make big profits from this, that I should continue trying elsewhere. I already knew that Poetry just doesn’t sell. I knew that I wasn’t going to be making the next Harry Potter books anytime soon. It wasn’t a pessimistic view in my opinion. All that did was motivate me to focus on what was important. It is important that I get my voice out there and that I write my story. I did not want anyone else doing that. It’s a dream to publish a book because it is a way for me to leave something for the world. I wanted to express something about my life, and if it inspired at least one person to do something honest and positive for the world, then my words mattered. I don’t care about the money or the awards. I took that inspiration from my career as a dancer. The fame does not matter, the prestige of being an author is nothing to me if it doesn’t serve a meaningful purpose to the people I love and to the communities I represent. With those thoughts in mind, I proceeded to accept the offer to publish under Sahtu Press. Bryan Thao Worra and Nor Sanavongsay are the two gentlemen who run that. I have no regrets moving forward.
MH: Make us excited to read your book! How would you describe your writing?
KPP: I’d say it’s a waltz with my wild mind; multifaceted in story, theme, and cadence. There are moments where I want to slow the readers down and there are plenty times where I want the reading experience to flow with the words. It all depends on the purpose. You’ll take in fragments of who I am and what I love to do. It’s a different side that I am hesitant to share, but one that I feel needs to roam free. I leave it out there for people to read but still keep some mystery. I don’t know. Just read it and see for yourself. I put my all into the writing. I want to be clear that I want the reader to lie in their bed, sit at a coffee shop, or chill somewhere outside and read my poems. I want the words to marinate. Although I do read my poetry, I can’t define it as spoken word; I don’t perform my pieces. I aimed at making this book less of a performance and more of a pondering of sorts. The poetry is something I want readers to walk away from with an impression that channels emotion to the rawest extent.
MH: How do you think your personal identity influences your writing and/or the diversity of your readership?
KPP: I love to do many things. Because of this, I involve myself with various groups of people and communities. Mostly from different art and cultural foundations. My personal identity is complicated and confusing at best. I try to focus on expressing myself in a simple and powerful manner. The experiences I have outside of writing allow me to jump between different voices, languages, and metaphors. All of this represents me in different ways. I never enjoyed wanting to just be standard so how I write never stays in one mode. I hope that the range of experiences in my life is something readers can connect to.
MH: We’re always looking for more to read. Who are your top five literary influences?
KPP: Bryan Thao Worra’s work is actually taking Lao American creative writing to its edges. You should check his work if you want to see one of the many possibilities where Lao American writers can go. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Young and I’ve been reading a few of his books. He can write about the personal, the political, the love stuff, and even the historical, and it’ll all somehow work. Ruth Forman influenced a lot of my work as well, especially the idea of resisting standard language. She can say anything and it’ll always be her voice. The clarity in her words is a true practice of poetry, not tied to gimmicks in grammar and/or punctuation. Francisco Alarcon, not enough can be said about his creation of images in poems. The action he creates, the poems come alive. They run and you have to chase. The finish line is an experience of reading poems worth reading. Alan Moore, I just have to recommend this man. You can start by just reading “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta.” Then you can go back to some of his crazier work. I love comic books and graphic novels; his work feels so raw. He is a mad man and his writing gives me adrenaline. Lastly, I recommend June Jordan. Without her books of poetry and her program at Berkeley, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today (and shout outs to Marcos Ramirez for being the spark of it all). June Jordan is where I credit the foundation of my poetry to. Her poetry is a testament to what honesty can do to the world. Her work is a symbol for using love to fight it all, and such potency comes equally in craft and purpose.
MH: You’re being interviewed by a librarian, for an audience of progressive Asian American librarians. What are your thoughts on libraries, and their place in building diverse communities?
KPP: I used to walk to my local Library, called Malcolm X Library, to read books. I walked there years later to use their public internet back when I didn’t have internet at home. I used the internet to look up Breaking, what mainstream society calls Breakdancing but I don’t use that term. I can safely say that my trips to this library paved the way for my fascination with the world and it introduced me to Hip Hop Culture. That library was placed right in the heart of Southeast San Diego. My neighborhood is full of beauty; full of colorful personalities and backgrounds. I believe Southeast represented multiculturalism undeniably. The fact that this library is called Malcolm X speaks for itself. I witnessed the possibilities of libraries and their potential in building diverse communities. The reality lives, it starts with youth. Libraries are still a child’s gateway to the world. I say a “child’s gateway” because once you introduce the power of learning and the magic that libraries offer in providing information/stories to children, they can fall in love with that notion for years to come. They begin to interact with other youth from different experiences, all willing to learn in the library as well. Now, extrapolate that to all ages and communities, you have a physical space where learning is a choice and a passion. Instead of joining gangs or falling to street vices, folks would use their struggles to learn about the world and themselves. That speaks volumes for libraries and their ability to unite people for the sake of building.
MH: What advice would you give young professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who are interested in a career in poetry or writing?
KPP: Never allow anyone to write your story if you absolutely know you can do it. Never fear what people might say about your work. Focus on the art AND craft of writing because the message can be powerful but the delivery can sink and come across as weak if no discipline is put behind it. We have to work harder and put in that much more into our writing because it gets scrutinized or outright ignored. Write to be un-denying in any space. Know that you must write and it can free you from all that weighs you down. Poetry and writing may be an unconventional path and one that your family is concerned you won’t make a living from, but you have to do it if you will it. Be sure to scout for progressive publishers, but do not be afraid to send your work to any publisher, magazine, journal, etc. All it takes is one to get the gears going. Do not be discouraged with rejections. The fact that you write is as powerful as it is beautiful. Your words need to be shared, so put your work out there and forget about the rejections. They won’t define you. Your strength comes from knowing that mainstream society cannot and sometimes will not understand your purpose. You must write in a way that forces them to fall in love with your purpose through solid poetry/writing technique. Conviction is key.
Keep up with Krysada:
- Book: http://sahtupress.com/books/dance-among-elephants/
- Instagram & Twitter Tag: @bboylancer
- Photography website: www.snappilots.com
Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera.