Mark Kyungsoo Bias talks to editor Emily Everett about his poem “Adoption Day,” which appears in The cities new spring issue. Mark talks about the inspiration and process behind the poem, which examines issues such as memory, immigration and racism in post-9/11 America, all through the lens of a family experience. Mark also discusses his approach to language, sound, line breaks, etc., as well as methods and techniques he has found helpful in revising poetry. He read two additional poems published in The common: “Meeting with my mother” and “Visitor”.
On the influence of hip-hop on sound in poetry:
Most of the time when I write, the sound comes subconsciously, but that doesn’t mean it’s a natural skill. When I was growing up, I was a huge hip-hop fan, and still am. I listened to Tupac, Lil’ Kim, Biggie, Nas, Gangsta Boo. These are artists that I really admire, not just as artists but as writers, as poets.
To this day, one of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard is in Tupac’s “If I Die Tonight” where he says, “I’m sick of psychotic society, someone save me “. Beyond the clear alliteration, we get the internal rhyme of this psy sound. The word psychotic is front-loaded with this sound, while the word society is rear-loaded with this sound. It makes you hyper aware of timing and how you can deliberately miss out on time, sound satisfaction and create more catharsis. And this is only one technique among many others. If you’ve been listening to lyrics like this every day for years, it’s almost a promise that these maneuvers will show up in your work, whether consciously or unconsciously.
On two techniques for revising poems:
Most of my editing goes through two techniques that I always suggest to every writer. The first is to take the first stanza(s) and delete them. I find that often these stanzas act as a lead or warm-up for the poem. Most of the time, when I delete them, it helps the poem enormously; I’m getting rid of the exercise it took to get into what I really wanted to say.
The other technique is to find your favorite lines and delete them. We get attached to our favorite lines, because they’re sonically pleasing, or because we think they’re cleverly written, or because the message is there. But because we are so reluctant to detach ourselves from these verses, we do not realize how much they weigh down the poem. They may be great lines, but they may not be great lines in this poem. If you just try it, sit on it for a few days and think about it, you see so many possibilities for the piece. For me, the poem opens after that happens.
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Mark Kyungsoo Bias is the recipient of the 2022 Joseph Langland Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the 2020 William Matthews Prize for Poetry. A semi-finalist of the 92Y Discovery Prize, he has been offered support by Bread Loaf, Kundiman and Tin House. He is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA program and has published or forthcoming work in The Adroit Journal, Best New Poets, The Common, PANK, Poets.org, and Washington Square Review, among other journals. Learn more about Mark at markkyungsoobias.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mk_bias or on Instagram at @markbias.
Emily Everett is editor-in-chief of The common magazine and host of the magazine’s podcast. His stories appear in the Kenyon Review, Electrical literature, Tin House On lineand Mississippi Review. Say hello on Twitter @Public_Emily.
The common is a print and online literary magazine that publishes stories, essays and poems that deepen our collective sense of place. Follow on Twitter @CommonMag.