Interview with Debra Kang Dean • Poet

SM: Please describe an impressionable moment involving a body of water, be it lake, river or ocean.

DKD: I almost drowned in the Pacific when I was very young. I’d pressed my face to the water and was so intent on what I was seeing that I forgot about breathing. My father had to grab my arm and jerk me up out of the water. I still don’t know if this was a dream or not, but if it’s true, it would explain why my parents thought I was a peculiar child.

SM: If you were to wake up in a large field with no discernable landmarks, what would be your first course of action?

DKD: Recite Mark Strand’s “Keeping Things Whole”:

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing. . . .

SM: If you were heard to say, “I’m sorry, but that isn’t what I was looking for.”, what would you likely be referring to?

DKD: A place called “home.”

SM: People once believed that it was a bad idea to wake someone suddenly, because their dreaming selves wouldn’t have time to get back to their bodies. If we were to wake you suddenly tomorrow morning, where would your dreaming self find itself in a hurry to get away from?

DKD: I sometimes feel as if my dreaming self hasn’t yet returned to my body but is hovering a few feet above or behind it! What was the name of Caliban’s home, a place someone like me is always moving toward or away from? It’s like that, the dreaming self seeking return to and release from both worlds.

SM: Please regale us with an anecdote.

DKD: Very funny! If I could do that, I’d be writing fiction as well as poetry. (You don’t want to ask me to tell jokes either.)

SM: If, for every minute you spent in the ocean, you forgot an hour of your life, how hard would you try to get back to shore if you fell off a boat?

DKD: Would I be able to see the shore? It would make a big difference. But to try to answer the question I think you’re asking: Would I want to be immersed in the waters of forgetting to lose my life and gain access to the eternal present? Of course. That’s what poetry is for-and wine! Seriously, what keeps me resisting the sometimes overwhelming urge to stay there is the knowledge that one of the names of the waters of forgetting is Lethe; if you actually make it there, you are, unfortunately, dead.

SM: What was your most recent act of rebellion?

DKD: Every day is an occasion for a little act of rebellion when you live by Hawaiian time.

SM: When was the last time you danced like you meant it?

DKD: You know, this interview feels a little like a dance. I mean it.

SM: What do you think would be a good opening line for a book about how you spent the last five years?

DKD: It was a dark and stormy time.

SM: Please compose a brief poem or haiku on the subject of your choosing.

spectacle blur’s warped
corneas or snowblindness–
o(h) say can you see