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Guest Artist Highlight Interview

Kim Young

When did you first identify yourself as a poet/artist? 


I’ve been carrying around these little notebooks, writing things down in them since I was very small. I remember transcribing favorite passages of books I read in grade school —just wanting to select, rewrite in my own handwriting, and elevate the language that made the world make more sense to me. I always felt a sense of alienation, of being outside of things and looking in (which I’m coming to believe is something most artists share). There’s a loss in that sort of existence, but there’s a way the act of observation is not only recovering a more awake kind of perception but is connecting me to the part of myself that is watching. 


I think I’ve always seen myself as a writer, and I think I’ve always known how impractical it is to be a writer, a poet. And I’ve longed to do something in the world that’s more useful, more concrete. My friend works as a geneticist, identifying genetic variants, and I have such respect for her form of knowledge —comprehensive, detailed, and with this life-saving application. Lately, though, I’m finding that diminishing the role of art isn’t a useful way to think about who I am and what I do. And even though there’s no real way to quantify the value of artmaking, I’m becoming more resolved in my experience that the creative act is a reclamation, and what I might call a form of divinity. When we face death, loss, and uncertainty, it’s art we turn to. 


What do you do when you lose inspiration to create? 


I read the dictionary. I take an old poem and write it backwards. I xerox copies of texts, like plant identification manuals and Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, and cut the text up into poems. I do research. I collaborate with other artists. I listen to music. I look at abandoned work and try to revive it. I read, read, read. Take a walk. Give up. And then start again. I show up. So much of the time it’s slow, and I want to quit, and I hate what I’ve made. But I come back. I want to give space and time to the part of me that needs to experiment and play—that wants to dip into the mystery. 

Many say that, in order to be a good artist, an artist must suffer. What would you say to that comment? 


I would say that all humans suffer. Whether or not you’re a good artist, well, that has to do with so many other things. Suffering, I think we can all agree on, is something we all share. 


If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? Why? 


I’d want to do something like build cabinets or grow squash. Language is abstract. Reception is slippery. There’s a practical side to me that wishes there was a well-made physical object at the end of all this. Maybe the book is that thing. But I envy the way you can look at the bathroom drywall you just hung, and say, “I did that. Look at how smooth and flawless it is."


Can you share with us something that not many people know about you? 


I’m struggling to think of something. I don’t have many secrets. I think most people who know me know that it took me ten years to earn my undergraduate degree. That I’ve lived in my car and used to drink vodka before speech class. Let’s just say I’ve had some setbacks. 


If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? 


Flying. Because perspective. Even getting on an airplane helps me see my life from a different vantage point. Plus, flying would be amazing. Like some sort of shapeshifting. Like becoming an animal. 


Your town is being evacuated for an emergency, all your living loved ones/things are safe, you only have time to grab three things from your house, what do you grab? Why? 


Advil, hiking shoes, and my favorite blanket. 


What snacks or food or beverages do you keep around during your creative process? 


I drink coffee. I eat black licorice. 


Is there a question you wish someone would ask you? How would you answer that question? 

I’d love to talk about the new project I’m working on, something that feels completely out of my comfort zone, but so exciting and necessary. I’m drawing upon letters, research, and documentary sources to tell the story of my late mentor —poet Lee McCarthy—who was married to the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Cormac McCarthy. Lee left Cormac with their infant son when she was twenty-three years old after he asked her to get a day job to support his writing while she was caring for their home and their child. This story begins in a little shack near Knoxville where Lee and Cormac first lived with their infant son. In this project, I hope to elevate the work of a woman who has been largely omitted from the public record. I am exploring poetry, failure, ambition, and the transactions a woman artist is forced to make if she becomes a parent. I am telling my own story alongside of Lee’s, rendering the wisdom that one poet, one woman, hands down to another.


For the full interview and to get to know Kim Young better, checkout our Spring/Fall 2020 Kind Writers Literary Magazine 

Kim Young  is the author of Tigers (forthcoming from PANK Books), Night Radio, winner of the 2011 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize (The University of Utah Press, 2012) and finalist for the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and the chapbook Divided Highway (Dancing Girl Press, 2008).  She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

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