Interview with a Poet: Coki Kay

What prompted you to begin writing poetry?

Honestly, I used to hate poetry. I used to say that it was kind of boring, rhyming, fluffy….it wasn’t my preferred way of writing. I wrote all the time, but I didn’t see the value in poetry — I think because I didn’t understand it. I tended to think that poetry was very limiting, in terms of what I could say and do and describe with that style. My first poem that I took seriously was something that I thought of on my way to work one morning. I was thinking about a recent breakup that I’d had, and thinking about how I really wanted to go to the beach — because that’s where I go when I want to think about something and really try to heal from something. And I started thinking about how I could just do some kind of visualization, something with the waves — that each wave was a memory, and let it crash over me, really feel it, and then flow back out to sea and let go of it a little. And I just started putting that idea into words, and as soon as I got to work that morning I wrote it down; and that was the first time I wrote a poem.


Where do you write?

For ideas, I can be just about anywhere. Out with friends, or in my car, or listening to music, or even at work. Something will trigger an idea and I end up writing down a line or a phrase or a metaphor for something that really inspires me. I typically sit down and write the whole thing when I’m at home; I’m on my couch with my laptop for most of my writing.


What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?

In some ways I think my written voice is more honest. Although maybe honest is the wrong word — more open. I’m much more willing to discuss my feelings on something in writing than I am speaking, and I think it’s much easier to connect with feelings when you’re writing them down as opposed to trying to explain them to someone. So I think my writing voice is more open to emotion than I am in a real conversation.


Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do if it happens?

Writer’s block is so frustrating, and it happens to literally every person I’ve ever met who writes often. What’s more frustrating to me is that during those times, I really WANT to write something. You know, you get that that itch to write and you just have no inspiration. Or everything you write down, you just HATE, and you end up crossing things off and deleting things and moving things, and you get frustrated because none of it seems right. None of it clicks or sings for you. That’s the most annoying thing for me, is that I really WANT to write, but I can’t express myself the way I want to.

As for how I fix it, that’s tougher to answer. A lot of times I can’t. I just have to wait and ride it out, and hope that inspiration comes to me again. It always comes back eventually. But one thing I did find extremely helpful was at one point I had writer’s block for a couple weeks, and it was really making me crazy, because I think as a writer you have this constant compulsion to write things, and when you feel like what you’re writing isn’t good enough to share, or isn’t up to your usual level, it drives you a little nuts. But I found that deciding to write something every single day for a month was both challenging, because I’m very competitive — so I didn’t want to give it up at any point — but it also made me write SOMETHING. Even if it wasn’t good, even if it wasn’t interesting, even if it was the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life, I was at least writing something down. And I think doing one every day for an entire month successfully unblocked that for me. And some of what I wrote during that time was good, and some of it was pretty bad, but overall I got a lot of writing out of it and I got over my writer’s block. So I guess I would just say — write constantly, and don’t delete anything. Even if it’s terrible, even if you hate it, just keep writing and eventually something will click and you’ll be writing the good stuff again.


A lot of your work deals with pretty dark subjects. What inspires you?

Life! Writing is my therapy. I’ve said before that I write my darkest stuff when I’m at my happiest, and I think that explains it the best. It’s just a safe way to explore the tough stuff, I think. I’m more willing to explore how I feel about things in writing…so a lot of the problems that I write about are subjects that are tougher to talk about in my normal day-to-day life. And poems have become this amazing way of talking about certain subjects and themes, looking at how things happened and why they happened and how I feel about it. So a lot of it is events from my life; discussions on relationships, and what they should look like, and what they sometimes do look like. A couple are stories that happened to me, but viewed from someone else’s perspective. A few of them are even stories that I’ve heard from other people, that inspired emotions or ideas in me. So it’s a lot of things.


Out of all your poems, which is your favorite?

Oh boy. When I hear that question I always think about this interview I saw of JK Rowling (one of my absolute idols, by the way) when someone asked her which Harry Potter book was her favorite. And she said that it’s such a difficult choice that it’s like choosing between your children. And I think she’s really right about that — obviously I don’t think it’s on the same level as choosing a favorite kid, but that’s the FEELING. Every piece of your writing is a piece of you, and it’s a story of yours, and an experience of yours. And they’re all different. Both the story and the process of writing it are a part of you, and choosing between them is really tough. So my favorite poem changes depending on my mood.

That said, I’m quite fond of my poem Days of Stitches at the moment. I think because, as mentioned, a lot of my poems are so dark and they deal with such dark subjects, and this poem is more about healing and getting your life back together after something shakes you. It was like a breath of fresh air to have that one come out after a lot of dark and twisty stuff. But I always love hearing which ones are other people’s favorites! Poems hit everyone differently.


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