Wednesday, April 1, 2020

DENISE LOW interviews KIM SHUCK, Poet Laureate of San Francisco

KIM SHUCK'S new chapbook from Mammoth Publications, Whose Water: Poem, is a chance to reflect on her writing process. This email interview took place in early March, 2020. My appreciation to this outstanding writer, poet, beader, and educator. She is Poet Laureate of San Francisco with previous books:  Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. For orders, contact, $10 plus tax and shipping OR order with PayPal Link

Denise Low: Kim I ran across your Rabbit Stories (Poetic Matrix Press) and bought it immediately. It had some influence on my own writing of Jackalope (Red Mountain Press). Tsisdu is an energy I have to reckon with in my writing life and elsewhere. How about you?
Kim Shuck: Those iconic cultural symbols are absolutely there to speak to inner truths. For many reasons I find trickster energy, and particularly the gentler, sillier trickster energy, something that has led me. Sometimes right into a bramble patch, but it has led me.
DL: What I love about your work is how there are these nuggets placed throughout each work, no matter what the genre, turns of phrase like “Thumbprints of the sacred / Human measures / Thumb, forearm, heel to toe.” How do you strategize such moments, and/or how do you edit to emphasize them?
KS: Thank you. I used to write from those notes. I'd find a phrase that rang and then I'd write around
it. Now, should I confess? I don't really edit much at all. I may change a word or two but nothing that would really qualify as editing. It happens in my head. I write like playing free jazz. There are things that come up in my thoughts and I know that they will work and then there are things that I see that might lead me somewhere else and I grab them. The notes that repeat, the knots that hold the fabric together, I don't know why I put them where I do. I find a place where they feel right and then I read them out loud a few times and if they chime there I leave them.
DL: In Whose Water I admire the rhythm of the mostly short lines and the momentum of the poem. Repeated motifs like waterways and rural sightings of silos, cornfields and churches (boxes), as well as geography, tie the work together. How did themes arise? Did you write in the car, as the movement of the words suggest?
KS: When we left San Francisco to take that trip I had just organized a reading by Pacific Island people about Mauna Loa and I was thinking about sacred space and how some people need there to be a building for something to be sacred and wondering why that was. At the same time I was thinking about the readings I was going to do and in two cases working out the land acknowledgements, which led me to prayers and going to water and what constitutes belonging to a place. I think that I came to some conclusions on the way. I write about water all of the time anyhow. Then there's the way I travel, which is in a car with a partner to whom all of this Indigenous reality is fairly new. I do write down a few words in the car sometimes. Sometimes I just remember the images and write them later it depends upon the urgency of the image. Most of that poem was written in the car.
DL: What did you leave out of the long poem Whose Water? Why?
KS: Oooh, I left a few things out. I read at Haskell on that trip, read from Murdered Missing (FootHills Publishing) and that day was a separate place for me. So what is in there of that moment is heavily redacted. There were also moments in the trip that were seriously alienating: signs, flags, comments. If I am tempted to adjust the reality of a moment I leave it out. I want to be as clean in my images as I can be.
DL: Do you see any influence of your beadwork and other textile arts on your creative writing? 
KS: Story, textiles and beads are my first languages so they are probably in there if I see them or not. I think that they all influence one another. I will notice things I like to bead and those things make it into my writing. I suppose my taste in nouns shows up one way or another.
DL: Would you share a poem and then describe what success you feel you had with it?
Then night splits the  Husk of day and emerges
Slick with the damp of
New things and
Spangled with the prickles of
Human need an
Incidental loveliness that
Burns like the
Gems my grandmother
Imagined and maybe
Thinks of still somewhere and we
Look at the dark and reference
Heat or cold depending upon our
Experiences our frames our
Lenses which
Magnify the varicolored
Lights it's difficult not to
Smile so I do because with all of the
Smudge and creak of
Person led creation with all of our
Silly and greedy and
Ill-considered there is also
Beautiful and some days that is what I
Want to say about us

I like the forgiveness in this poem. Both for myself and others. The rhythm is good. I like the way some of the lines slide from one to the next. It feels familiar and not too familiar.

DL: Thanks for that ending paradox here about how we want both repetition (the familiar) and the surprise (not too familiar) in poetry. This is your magic trick. And thank you for this discussion.

Kim Shuck is a Tsalagi (Cherokee)/Euro-American poet, author, weaver, and beadwork artist born in San Francisco, California. She belongs to the Northern California Cherokee diaspora and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In 2017, Mayor Ed Lee named Shuck as the 7th Poet Laureate of San Francisco.  Other awards include a PEN Oakland Censorship Award, National Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, KQED Local Hero Award, American Indian Heritage Month, Mentor of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Native Writers of the Americas First Book, Diane Decorah Award, and a Mary Tallmountain Award. Previous books of poetry are Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. She earned a B.A. in Art (1994), and M.F.A. in Textiles (1998) from San Francisco State University. She has taught American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and was an artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum in June 2010 with Michael Horse.  Photographs of the poet and the beadwork image by Doug Salin. Copyright 2020 by Kim Shuck, art and interview text.
Copyright 2020 by Denise Low, interview text.
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