The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see--it is, rather, a light by which we may see--and what we see is life.

Robert Penn Warren

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Four Questions for W. Todd Kaneko

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Bellingham ReviewLos Angeles ReviewSoutheast Review, Barrelhouse, NANO Fiction, The Collagist and many other journals and anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, he co-edits Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

TK: I write poetry because I want to write poetry. To me, poetry is the closest thing to rock and roll a person can do without strapping on a guitar and windmilling their arms for dear life. The poet sits down and creates this beautiful, irreverent creature out of words and language, a creature that can make an audience feel anything the poet wants them to feel. It’s so thrilling to see a poem come to life on the page, and doubly so to see it come to life for a reader. I’m one of the lucky ones—there is this thing I want to do, and I’m privileged enough to be able to do it. Really though, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to write poetry.

But I also write poems because I have to, as corny as that sounds. If I go for any extended period of time without writing, I become short tempered and feel like my insides are made of sandpaper. I can be a real jerk when I’m not writing, and I don’t like being a jerk. It’s not good for my marriage or my job or keeping me out of car accidents.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

TK: When I read poems by other people, I hope to experience the world in a way I haven’t experienced it before. I hope to find a poem that lodges in my stomach or slithers beneath my breastbone, a poem that makes me want to throw up my fists and bang my head. I hope a poem will surprise me, not in that guy with a knife hiding behind the door kind of way, but in that Aristotelian surprising yet inevitable kind of way. I hope for poems that turn into a robot or an airplane or a cemetery plot. Maybe it seduces me or maybe it smooth talks its way into my boudoir. I hope a poem will grab me by the ears and make me believe that what it has to tell me is so urgent, I have to drop everything to hear it sing. A poem has to matter to someone, and I hope it makes me understand that it matters to me on a physical, emotional, or even spiritual level. And I also hope for standard punctuation.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

TK: I’m the kind of writer who is always working on too many projects at any one time. I am currently working on a chapbook of flash fictions I’m calling Bang Your Head, a series of 300-word stories about this teenage loser named Metalhead and his best friend Rockgod who are growing up together in the 1980s. Some of these pieces are also part of a larger work-in-process, a book length manuscript of poems that play with Heavy Metal songs and tropes.

I’m also being drawn back into a project I put back in the drawer a few years ago. It’s a book of poems about my family’s incarceration in Idaho during World War II along with many other Japanese-American families. My family, like many, has never wanted to talk about that experience, so the book is about the silence, how that silence is handed down from generation to generation, and how we fill those silences with other stuff. It’s kind of a painful book and quite exhausting to work on.

And on the back burner, outside of poetry, I have this series of lyric essays about professional wrestling, staged masculinity, and race that I hope I will figure out how to make it into a book one day.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

TK: When I look at poetry, I see a lot of lines being drawn, territories being carved out by groups on the basis of race, gender, sexuality—of course, they must be carved out and claimed lest they be overtaken by other more dominant territories, nations who have long since dominated the world. I think my main hope for the future of poetry is a healing of the map so that poets don’t feel like they have to compete with other groups, so that poets don’t unconsciously (or consciously) shut down voices that they don’t recognize as their own, so that poets can look at publishing markets and not feel unsafe when submitting to them. I know this is like wishing for world peace, and I don’t think I’m likely to ever see this come about.

Also, I think that for so long, people have looked at poetry as this arcane, obscure thing that is too brainy or highbrow or too chock full of feelings for most audiences. I hope for more poems that connect with the everyday culture that surrounds us in our modern world. This is a fancy way of calling for more poems about the ordinary things like popular culture, which is something that I think a lot of writers consider to be beneath their notice. But popular culture is a reflection of its audience, isn’t it? When we are horrified at Miley Cyrus wagging her tongue on a television awards show, or watching the Avengers battle a cosmic menace on a movie screen, or cheering on our favorite pro wrestlers (Brock Lesnar) as they clash with our less favorite sports figures (anyone not named Brock Lesnar), we are reacting to reflections of ourselves as a culture and how we orient ourselves to that reflection. To me, this is something worth writing about.

So, I think I just said that I hope for world peace via poems about pro wrestling. I’m good with that.

Todd's Book:

Some of Todd's Poems Online:

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