mama, they asked for an artist’s statement
By Jasmine Kapadia
After Ocean Vuong.
Why do I write? / Why do I do this to myself? How do I stop? / How can I stop?
i guess i am afraid that to be a poet is to suffer.
mama, after we talked about qiu miaojin’s suicide in paris at 26, after i told you about how sylvia plath stuck her head in the oven at 30, i know you said you tried to steer me away from this path. tried to make me less sensitive.
i think about how ocean vuong writes about violence. the way he doesn’t defend it, but also treats it, almost, like a gift. how he recalls his mother’s hand against his cheek, white-hot, a storm, and then writes, “i looked at you hard, the way i had learned, by then, to look into the eyes of my bullies.” how i scribbled in the margin afterwards. the way ocean teeters between calling it a lesson and something else. violence as an heirloom, to calcify & harden, to ensure survival. violence as the lifeblood of a culture.
mama, are you afraid that i am too sensitive to survive? do you wish you had helped me harden a little more? a few pages later, ocean writes “perhaps to lay hands on your child is to prepare him for war.” do you wish you had prepared me for war?
sometimes i wonder if i am writing myself into trauma. if every word i put down to revisit the past is getting me closer and closer, a dizzying cyclone. if one day i’ll wake up and i’ll be stuck there. like how with time travel, they always say, don’t touch anything. leave before you get trapped. don’t ever let yourself see yourself.
maybe to be a poet is to forever see yourself. is to look yourself in the eyes for a million lives, a million times over. is that a blessing or a curse?
ocean writes, “only the future revisits the past.” where do the lines blur?
only the future revisits the past. but what if to be a poet is to be the past? is to resin your body, to become something for others to study?
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mama, i’m afraid that to be a poet is to forever circle my own tail. to be half-headed like a june-rot peach. you know that some people blame poetry for sylvia’s suicide? they say her poems, her words, drove her to death. is that why you think to be a poet is to self-destruct into an early grave?
i told you that for some reason i can never stop looking back. my brain keeps retracing; i can’t seem to move on the way that everyone else can.
i guess i’m scared i might believe that to be a poet is to teach others what it means to be human. does this mean that i am never fully human, then? or am i more? i worry that my urge to transcend myself is something deeper. sticky. i worry that that my urge to transcend myself will only hurt those around me. that when i say to be a poet is to suffer, i mean i am worried that i will cause those around me to suffer.
i mean i am terrified of my hands, and my body. i mean i don’t know what to do with all of it. i’m worried i won’t live past 30. not because i’m suicidal but because sometimes it seems like a prophecy. i worry to be a poet is to write oneself into a never-ending cycle of turmoil, is to write oneself into a legacy of death, is to write oneself into knowing too much and living too little. i guess i’m scared of waking up one day and realizing that i have been trapped within myself all this time. to wake up gasping for air that never comes.
mama, i know you’re scared that my grandparents fished themselves out of death only for me to wade into it again with every touch of a pen to paper.
there’s that tumblr post that goes, every poet writes from a central emotion. what is mine? dread? restlessness? look, i know you said you’ve realized it’s no use. that it’s just the way i am. i was born with my brain working like this.
and i read the other day about this poet who used to be a painter. said all he wanted to do was paint, but those damn poems just kept coming. so mama, i hope you understand. i don’t think anyone becomes a poet. i think a poet is a state of being, and these damn poems just keep coming. i’m scared that they’re a finite resource. i’m so scared that i’ll write poem number eight thousand eighty-eight or something, and then i’ll have no need to be here anymore.
ocean writes, “how so much of the word passes through the pupil and yet it holds nothing.” calls it god’s loneliest creation. what is a poet but a pupil?
mama, i’m scared too. i am, you know?
This piece was written as a stream of consciousness after I read Ocean Vuong’s books, “Night Sky With Exit Wounds” and “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” Vuong’s words prompted me to reflect on what it meant to me to be a poet: where did my words come from? What was their impact? What does it mean to be a poet, and by extension, a poet of my heritage?
Jasmine Kapadia is obsessed with lip gloss, Beyoncé and Rupaul’s Drag Race. She is a 17-year-old Asian American poet. Her work has appeared in Good Morning America, Kissing Dynamite and elsewhere. She’s a poetry editor for Indigo Literary Journal. Jasmine hopes to produce a chapbook of work and eventually a full-length book of poetry.