M.o. kng on Speech Therapy: draft two and Healing In a Time of Revision

What’s the name of your new book?

Speech Therapy: draft two.


Click here to order Speech Therapy: draft two.


How long have you been writing?

I guess that I started writing poetry my last year of high school and it was really on a whim. It was just the opportunity to do some writing that was not necessarily structured or evaluated. I think it helps with the stuff that’s going on at home and at school. I started performing later. Three years ago I joined a spoken word club with the person who lived across the hall from me. I found a lot of people who I think cared about lifting up people’s voices, cared about helping people find their voice, and did so in a space that was affirming of all experiences and identities. And that’s kind of how I’ve kept writing and performing.


How did you come up with the idea for the book?

So, I actually stopped writing spoken word for a couple of months in between. I think it was kind of on and off. I think in between I had some struggles with depression and what I now realize was PTSD. Spoken word can be incredibly powerful, but often it’s writing in response to things or events. There’s something reactive about it. And I think I needed to take a break from that. I needed to take inventory of myself and how I was healing and how I was learning to be okay with myself, my past. And also how I was learning to be okay with what had happened to me and and where I was now, dealing with it, and learning to heal. And so, the book kind of came out of - I kind of realized back in high school I ran a blog called One Poem A Day. And that was exactly what it was, I wrote one thing every day. Whether it was short, or silly, or rough, I just put it up there. And I realized, something about social media really helps me. It’s weird. I think it’s, and maybe this isn’t the most healthy thing, but the sense of immediate, real time validation and the way it makes it a lot easier to respond to what you're saying. Some of my most vulnerable and beautiful friendships have been built primarily on social media, which I’m very grateful for. So I made a social media page for my poetry in April of this year. Then in May I went through a lot of my old poetry, realizing how much of it centered on similar themes of trauma, and how do you write about it, how do you name it. And language itself, and what language can do for people when they take control of it and when they find ways using it and feeling true to who they are. So, Speech Therapy is kind of about that. I wrote a little bit over the summer, but honestly, most of the book are poems from when I was eighteen. I hadn’t looked at them for years because I thought I would be too embarrassed to look at them. And when I looked at them, it’s kind of surprising, but you realize that you when you were younger, and young people in general, pick up on a lot more than we give them credit for. Part of the healing for me was not being ashamed of what I had made, or what I had written when I was a teenager.


When did you start looking back and compiling this writing?

In May, right after the end of last year. It was actually really funny. I was looking at this folder of poems that I had written and something in my brain just clicked and said this is Speech Therapy. This is Speech Therapy. And so I think I made a cover for the book. I put it up and I said, “Hi guys, I’m writing a book. It’s going to be out in August of 2017, in three months.” And I closed my laptop and immediately went, “What the hell have I just done?”


That’s amazing, that you just set that deadline for yourself.

It’s funny, if you don’t, it’s easy to just get in editing mode. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. What I realized was, when I set the deadline and was like, I’m going to write a book everyone, those people and their excitement and their enthusiasm and support, that held me accountable. That was the community that formed around me, holding me accountable to my writing and my work. And I knew that no matter what happened in between, something was going to happen, some book was going to come together. I have been very grateful to people.


What do you think makes poetry different from prose or other mediums?

People have very different definitions of poetry, even in the poetry community. I think mine has always kind of been linked to language questioning itself. I think poetry, for me, is helpful in being aware of how I write and how I put together associations and connections between images and words and ideas. Because, it’s a medium in which playfulness and experimentation is rewarded, which makes it a little less intimidating for me to let myself loose. Beyond that, spoken word poetry is different in that it is to be addressed out loud. The entirety is that it is meant to be spoken at people. I had anxiety, I still do have anxiety, about public speaking. I was actually in speech therapy as a kid for a couple of years, because English wasn't my first language. That was something that came with ELT and just a lot of reading. Something about spoken word in particular feels sacred to me, the way people hold tension with whoever is speaking. The way that people respond in real time to what you are saying, too, is really valuable. And that isn’t to say that it isn’t performative, because it is performative, but in a way that I think allows for more kinds of expression.


How does the work translate from spoken word to the page?

The book’s a mixture of forms. Some of them are old Facebook statuses that have been adapted and revised, some of them are poem that were written to be spoken word poems, and some of them were actually poems that weren’t. I think there’s one in the middle of the book that’s sort of an experiment. It’s a poem about the NFL and domestic violence in that setting. I think of that one as more of a collage poem, because I was drawing from these headlines and from the news coverage of the issue. This was back when Ray Rice, who at the time was playing football for the Baltimore Ravens, assaulted his fiancé in an elevator. For that poem, it was interesting, the arrangement of the words on the page was really important to get right. I think in some places I wanted letters to be scattered in disarray and in other places there was more of a news print feel. I guess that’s also something that’s fun about the book: not all of it is actually spoken word. And I think that it’s okay, that it holds together that way. I guess that for the poems that are meant to be spoken out loud, I do hope that they do translate just as well when they’re read silently.


Who do you hope reads this book and what do you hope they can take away?

I think anyone who’s invested in the question of healing would take a look at the book and I hope that it would help them. I think the best compliment that I get from people is when they tell me that my book, or my writing, made them want to write again. That is kind of how I think of writing and empowerment. I think the authors and the performers who we respond to show us ways of being and seeing, that we can then learn from and draw on with our own strength and empowerment. So that’s one audience I hope finds the book. I also would say that it touches, through some very personal stories, on colonialism and on domestic violence for sure, racial violence. In a sense, I think a lot of the book is me trying to connect personal trauma back to  structural trauma and political trauma. Sometimes I think there’s a myopie of learning that you have been exposed to, that you have been a survivor of violence. For me, my healing has always been tied to tying my history back to the history of the world around me and trying to piece those thing together and pull them closer. If there are people who are struggling through that, or thinking through that, I hope the books helps them too.


Who are some of your favorite and most influential poets?

Oh god, favorite poets. This is one I wish I had a better answer for, because I feel like I read a lot of poetry, but I’m not the most focused reader. I have to say, there’s a wonderful southern poet named C. D. Wright who works the intersection of poetry and history, but writes beautifully and touches on themes that are both specific to the south and reminiscent of anyone who’s looking at the state of the U.S. right now. So I love her work. I’d recommend the book that has a really long title. I’m not joking, it's two hundred words long. I’m not going to name it, but that book’s really good. My friend gave me Ross Gay’s latest book, which is fantastic. Ross Gay also writes a lot about structures of life cycles, nurturing and tending to nature. The way Ross Gay likens that to survival for black Americans, but also for a lot of people who have endured oppression but still found beauty in their lives and in their communities. I also really like, and these two aren’t poets, but Roxane Gay is hilarious in the most dry, pointed way, but also has a lot of nuisance, and Stephen King has been a favorite since I was in middle school.


What does your pen name mean?

Mo is kind of a play on my birth name. It stands, I found out afterwards, for mode of operations. I do write under that name because I think it makes me feel like I’m in a different head space when I’m writing. Then my last name, Kng, is just “King” without the “i.” Something that an author that I really respect, and have loved for a long time, says is if you take out one letter it becomes foreign, which is interesting to me.


Is there anything else you would like to include?

The other motivation for finishing the book this summer was that over the summer I had the opportunity to work at an amazing organization called the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. It was deeply personal for me because I am Asian-American and I am a survivor of domestic violence. It was also incredibly rewarding and meaningful to be able to work with survivors and support them as they rebuild their lives. My original plan had been to just sell the book, but I realized that the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence relies on funding to do the they do and I was writing a lot about the ideas and themes that my coworkers and I were addressing on a daily basis, so it didn’t feel right to profit off the book that way. So, instead I made it a fundraiser. All proceeds from the book, and performances of the book, which are coming in November, will go to supporting the work that the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence does. My goal is to raise $2000 by the end of the year. People can preorder the book right now.


Click here to preorder Speech Therapy: draft two.

Click here to donate to the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

Click here to follow M.o. kng’s writing.