photo credit: Charissa Uemura
Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991 and has won numerous awards. His first full-length collection, Sông I Sing, is out from Coffee House Press. He runs the popular Equilibrium: Spoken Word at the Loft series. More can be found on his website.
Tell us about your relationship to your art.
I'm a poet, and I work on both sides of the desk. Meaning, I both manage my own poetry career, and also work as a community organizer and arts administrator.
What's a project that has been exciting you lately?
I've been working on a Vietnamese American post-apocalyptic revolutionary zombie novel. It's really difficult, but it's also cathartic and a great deal of fun.
Tell us a little of your fatherhood journey.
My partner and I decided to try and have a child together about three years ago, and we were immediately successful! She being a grad student and me being a nonprofit worker, we had a lot of discussions and processing. We're both older, so we had no illusions: we knew it would be really difficult.
What are some crucial elements of your process? How has that changed since having children?
Well, there's just no time. I used to be open to a lot more experimentation. Now that I'm a father, I barely have time and energy to write poetry, let alone branch out into theater and multimedia, etc. I have to sacrifice more, or focus more, I guess.
What are some of the ways your family and your art interact?
My partner is also a spoken word artist and performance artist. We try to go and support by seeing other shows, reading a lot, and exposing our daughter to a lot of different art forms at an early age. I sometimes find myself cartooning for my daughter, which is an art form I gave up a long time ago.
Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?
It has, but I don't know if it's because of my daughter. My first collection of poems was published last year, and in a way, that's like giving birth and watching the old poems grow. It allows me to work on new poems, with new voices and a new tone - I think having a book out may have influenced that, more.
Are your children ever subjects in your art?
I'm not the type of person who is writing a ton of poems for my kid - at least not publicly. I have nothing against it, but it has to be right. Part of it is intuition. Like I feel like it'd be too easy for me to write overly sentimental poems about my kid, and I wouldn't be honest with myself about the quality of the poems because, well, they're about my kid. So I need some distance, and some confidence, before that happens.
How does travel figure into your art? Do/did your children come along? How has that worked out?
I've cut down on traveling. We've traveled before as a family - it's definitely a challenge. I've done shows where she's run out from the audience and clung to my knees, or shouted out "daddy, daddy!" when I get introduced. Luckily I think this is very cute, and anyone else with a heart thinks it is, too.
What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share?
We're not the type to push anything onto her, besides maybe vegetables and a consistent sleep schedule. She seems to enjoy dance, books, and music a great deal - and though we try to expose her to all of those things, we don't push. She seems to gravitate towards that stuff on her own.
How do you escape?
I try to find at least a few minutes to myself every day, here and there. Sometimes its writing, sometimes it's Facebook, sometimes it's reading.
What advice do you have for expectant fathers in your field?
Get ready to honestly access what is important and necessary to you and your art, and be prepared for a great deal of sacrifice. But also be prepared for a lot of joy.