POET INTERVIEW – KIMIKO MARTINEZ
I always, always write a short introduction for our featured poet. However, “always” doesn’t necessarily mean “forever.” With that in mind, I hand this interview to Kimiko Martinez, and allow her to introduce herself.
KIMIKO: Like so many in my generation, I hate labels. Perhaps it’s because I was asked to check the ethnicity box on so many standardized tests as a child (before they modified to accommodate those of us who are multiracial), and was forced to check “other.” There were no alternatives for kids like me.
I suppose that defined me some. “Other.” Not white, not Japanese, not Native American … something that the forces-that-be hadn’t yet quite come to terms with; something that didn’t fit in some nice little box.
Now in my mid-30s, I’m proud to be an “other.” When you never fit into the box, it’s easier to break out of. And so, I’m just trotting along this adventure called life with a little Kerouac, a little Rumi, and a little Neruda as my guides, and wondering where the road will take me.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Kimiko, and welcome! I’m thankful you have come into your own, proudly pronouncing yourself an “other,” and seeing the benefit thereof. I see strength and a fun gleam in your eyes and your words. Now, let’s see how that translates to poetry. Please share one or two of your favorite writes.
KIMIKO: It’s not that I’m really attached to my poems (they’re just words, not children), but I find it hard to pick a favorite. But then again, I have a hard time picking favorites of anything. I just don’t see the world as good/bad, black/white, favorite/least favorite. There’s something to be learned from every situation – as tragic as it may seem – and so, it’s hard to define what’s great and what’s not.
I suppose the poems of mine that I like most are those that others like as well, like “End of the Line,” a tribute to author Dorothy Allison, who I’d been reading at the time, and “After burn,” which was a reflection on the fire that destroyed the home I shared with an ex-boyfriend, it’s pretty typical of what I hope to accomplish when I write – short, some play on form (I love a lune or haiku), a little imagery and emotional get.
If you’re going to walk down golden roads
you should definitely do it in style.
Thank god you found me.
That gingham smock did nothing
for you, honey. You need some pizzazz
if you’re going to walk down golden roads.
But you’ve got the right idea with
the little lapdog. When accessorizing with canines,
you should definitely do it in style.
Still, a pair of dazzling heels is what
you really need to turn heads in the Emerald City.
Thank god you found me.
(Note: Due to space limits, only one poem was chosen to place in this interview. However, the poem titles above are links. Please do follow them to read the poems. Each one is worth the cyber jaunt.)
MARIE ELENA: There are three ways in which you describe yourself. Let’s explore each.
Self-description #1: “I am first and foremost, a storyteller.” When and how did you discover yourself to be a storyteller, and what does that mean to you?
KIMIKO: I’ve been a writer since I was young. English was always one of my best subjects, and I minored in creative writing in college. But it wasn’t until I began my career in journalism that I truly felt like a storyteller.
Storytelling was the part of journalism that I loved most. Everyone has a story, and taking the time to uncover that story and share it with others was really what it was all about to me.
But maybe that’s just because I’m a lazy creative. As a single working mom, I found it easier to be handed all the details – the people and the places, etc. – and create something fun or quirky or moving from it, as opposed to digging into the depths of my own creativity and piecing together characters and plot and theme from scratch.
Even as I’ve matured and moved from “survivor mode” to an era in my life where I feel a little less scattered, I still don’t have the time to simply sit and let the stories emerge from someplace within … except with poetry. Because of its brevity and precision, I can find 5 or 10 minutes here or there (but still not often enough) to respond to a prompt or an emotion that wells up within me and stay true to that calling of the storyteller within me.
MARIE ELENA: Self-description #2: “a lazy creative.” That sounds like an oxymoron. Add to that “award-winning journalist,” and I cannot fathom that there is a lazy bone in your body. Tell me about these awards, Kimiko.
KIMIKO: Oh. That’s just to hype myself up and put my best foot forward for job prospects and freelance work. It’s nothing big.
I went back to finish my degree when my son was about 2, and started studying journalism my first semester back. (Every time I opened a parenting magazine during the time I stayed home with him I thought, “I can do that. And I can probably do that better than they’re doing it.”)
I got recruited to the college newspaper my first semester and won two third place awards at a state student-journalism competition that year. I continued to win awards pretty much every year of my college journalism career. Early in my career, I won a state award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Indiana (back in 2006, I think) for a piece I did on depression. Then, in 2008, I was part of the editorial team that produced an investigative series of articles that won a Maggie Award (a publishing industry award).
Outside of journalism, I won third place at Masterpiece in a Day – a yearly arts/writing event in Indianapolis – for a little vignette about a local greasy spoon called “Always Peppy.”
But that’s it. No big deal.
MARIE ELENA: Oh my. Award-winning AND modest? You make me smile.
Self-description #3: “a visual thinker.” What do you mean by that, and how does it affect your writing? How does that mesh with being a storyteller?
KIMIKO: When I was in college, I almost changed my major to graphic design because I fell in love with designing newspaper pages. I’m in marketing now and utilize those graphic design skills pretty much every day since I run an in-house creative department.
So thinking visually helps me as a journalist and in marketing, because I realize that words can be made more impactful if you work with the aesthetics of type and images and layout. (No one has the attention span to read a big, solid block of text anymore.) It helps me as a poet in that I’m often more concerned about the feel of something than the actual plot.
This seems contradictory to me being a storyteller, but I find that the best stories resonate on an emotional level. The books and poems I love most are a snippet – an emotion, a scene, a slice of life that I can taste, touch, feel, see in my mind’s eye … hence my love for Kerouac’s “On the Road” and pretty much anything that Rumi or Neruda has written.
MARIE ELENA: Those three little phrases describe you richly, and give us a rather full mental sense of who you are. Thank you!
Several poets I’ve interviewed have shared captivating descriptions of poetry. Your “… a snippet – an emotion, a scene, a slice of life that I can taste, touch, feel, see…” – this is one of the best I’ve seen. What got your poetry engine running?
KIMIKO: Gosh. I probably started writing poems around second grade. “Roses are red, violets are blue” type stuff. I dabbled a bit in high school, but only because it was required in class and teachers encouraged me to explore it more.
I really started getting into it in earnest, though, in college (as required for my creative writing minor), and quickly learned that I was not as good as I thought I was. I learned a lot from my teacher (a published poet), but, above all, that the type of writing I do is simply never going to be literary prose. It’s going to be a 30-second slice of alliteration and whimsy (hopefully). And I’m OK with that.
MARIE ELENA: I can relate to that, Kimiko. It is something I am OK with as well. Not only am I OK with it, but I find many of my favorite poets could be described exactly that way.
You are a journalist. That goes without question. You consider yourself a storyteller. But do you also consider yourself a poet?
KIMIKO: I consider myself a part-time poet … and it’s taken me years to even acknowledge that much. But I have to credit much of that to the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from the Poetic Asides and Poetic Bloomings communities.
Before I started participating in PAD or any of the poetry prompts, I would have never dared call myself a poet. “Poet” just seems so serious and official. It seems so literary and maybe even a bit antiquated. Plus, my style is so short and immature, that I guess I didn’t really feel that I deserved to call myself a poet.
Even now, I waffle at that question. Am I a poet? Sometimes. But not often enough.
MARIE ELENA: Before we delve a bit into your life outside of writing, I must say that I do not find your writing immature in the least.
Now, switching gears here, I know you have several “loves” in your life. Go ahead and gush.
KIMIKO: My son Ricky turns 16 in November. It’s been just the two of us for the bulk of his life, so I like to think we’re closer than most teens and their mothers. He drives me crazy and tests my patience, as most high school juniors do, but I really love the man he’s becoming and the little boy I still get glimpses of now and then.
He’s an artist –mostly drawing and painting, currently exploring water color and fashion design – but not really sure which way he’ll go with it. He’s young, though, so he has plenty of time to figure it out. We just try to encourage him to venture out and try new things and find out what sticks.
My boyfriend Corey and I have been together about a year and a half and plan on getting married next year … and possibly starting all over with the kid thing. (He has a son also, Antonio, who is 6 months younger than Ricky). That’s both exciting and scary (two more years and our kids are off to college, and we want to start all over?!). So there may be a mom blog being borne out of that soon. We’ll see.
I didn’t date a ton while Ricky was growing up, but I had my fair share of decent and not-so-decent relationships, and finally started to find my stride in my 30s. I did a lot of emotional and spiritual work and Corey just showed up and fit into my life like he’d always been there. It is the easiest, most natural relationship I’ve ever experienced, and one in which I always feel safe and loved and deeply cared for. And, perhaps most importantly, I feel like the woman in this relationship.
The feminist in me wants to scream to see a statement like that, because it immediately makes me think of the stereotypical 1950s housewife who’s “taken care of.” But it’s really more that he supports me in everything, every day. I’m allowed to be the intelligent, ambitious, independent woman I am (and have been, by default, as a single mom for so long – playing mom and dad, breadwinner and bread baker …) and I’m adored for being those things. But I’m also allowed to be … cared for. I don’t have to do it all myself. I can take a breath and just be. It’s the greatest blessing I’ve ever been given and one that I’m so so grateful for. We laugh every day and are just enjoying sharing the adventure together.
Boba is the newest addition to our family. She’s a 4-year-old English Bulldog that we adopted in January. And she definitely provides my daily dose of goofiness. If you’re not familiar with bulldogs, they’re farting, drooling, smelly excuses for dogs who are so, SO needy. Boba wants to be touching her people all the time. She whines when someone walks out the door, even if three people are still in the room. But she’s such a lover and such a happy, silly. And she has that “so ugly it’s almost cute” smile that it’s impossible not to smile when you see her. Pretty much every time we walk her, everyone who sees her ends up smiling.
MARIE ELENA: I too am an English bulldog lover! They are just so much fun, and Boba is a beauty! And such handsome men you have in your life, Kimiko. Your future looks very full and fun with them in it, and with your plans for more children. How exciting!
More often than not, I share a favorite poem toward the very beginning of my interviews.
However, I saved this one for now.
Put out (by Kimiko Martinez)
She breathes fire
The smell of singed wood
The subtle soot
Sitting on happy words
in the corner of her eyes
An insatiable heat
Burning into her thoughts
You could see
In the corner of her smile
A wet sigh
Extinguishing the fire in her soul
Carried in the flames of her laugh
MARIE ELENA: “Put Out” is an amazing little piece with an even more amazing birth. In July 2007, you experienced a devastating fire. Please tell us about it.
KIMIKO: I can’t say that the fire was a good thing – I really did lose everything I owned except my car and the change of clothes in my trunk. Yearbooks, pictures, computer … dog. It was absolutely devastating in every sense of the word.
And yet, it was also cleansing.
I’d been living in a boyfriend’s house for several months after a fairly abrupt and emotionally taxing break up. I came home from a night out with friends (karaoke at the gay bar downtown) to find my street blocked off by police and fire trucks. I rolled down my window and asked what was going on, and the police officer gave me this “what do you think is happening, stupid?” look … which abruptly changed when I told him I lived on that street. He asked me which house, I told him, and he immediately asked me to park and come with him.
The fire had been put out by the time I got there, but the street was filled with neighbors and there was an overwhelming smell like a campfire that had just been put out. I called my friend who I’d been out with and also my ex to let him know. We had to wait to talk to the police (they suspected it was random arson – our house and the house next door were both completely demolished), and the fire department. Then, on top of it all, there was some armed suspect loose in the neighborhood right after this all died down, so we crawled into a news van (me, my friend, my ex – whom I hadn’t seen in more than a month and had no idea where he was staying, and his sister!) and waited until the police helicopters were done circling.
It was an exhausting night, to say the least. I had been in Indy for two years by that point and had made some good friends. But I had no family, it was very early in the morning (3 or 4 a.m. by this point), and didn’t know where to go or what to do. I finally got in touch with my best friend by the time the sun started coming up, went to her apartment and just slept and cried. I bawled about losing my dog and how traumatic that must’ve been for her in her last moments. And I cried for all that I’d lost. I cried harder and longer than I’d cried ever before (and I’d cried a LOT after that break up, not too many months before all this).
I was broke. My son was in California with my parents and his dad for the summer. My ex had insurance, but it wasn’t going to cover any of my stuff because it was his house. (We had discussed me not needing renters insurance because we were going to get married eventually – what was mine was his, etc. so no need … until the house burned down and he got paid and I didn’t get a penny from it.)
Still, it WAS cleansing. There was finality and closure surrounding that torrid relationship. And there’s something amazingly freeing about not having anything to weigh you down. No possessions. No worldly weight.
I was about to move to a new apartment literally that coming weekend. It was the easiest move I ever made, because I had nothing to move. A local charity that served fire victims helped me get some necessities like silverware and some pots and pans. The staff at my work, the Indiana Historical Society, pulled together several hundred dollars that first day to give me some funds to get me on my feet (the immediate need for a change of clothes, new bras and underwear … the things we take for granted until we don’t have them any more), and my friends organized a fundraiser to help replace some of the items I’d lost. In all, I ended up with a couple thousand dollars and an assortment of furniture, house wares, knickknacks, and books from friends, family, coworkers, and total strangers, who all wanted to help me out.
I’d always had a hard time accepting help from others (the obstinate “I can do it myself!” child well into my 20s), so this was a huge life lesson. I had no choice but to let others help me. There was just nothing I could do for myself at that point.
MARIE ELENA: Your strength and resilience are staggering. How did poor Ricky cope?
KIMIKO: Thankfully, he was in California at the time. But he was devastated too. We lost our pet, and he lost some of his toys. Strangely, his most prized possessions – a collection of manga books – had been moved to a front room and boxed up for our upcoming move and survived the fire, as did my favorite painting.
I didn’t really realize just how deeply it had impacted him until this year, when he showed me an assignment he’d done for English class, which detailed the sadness he’d felt and the helplessness of being so far away when it happened. It was a huge loss and it definitely affected him, but hopefully not as much as if he’d been there.
MARIE ELENA: Kimiko, I can’t thank you enough for sharing yourself so freely with us. You’ve had an already startlingly full life for your young years, and you’ve come through it spectacularly.
Now we’ve come to the end of the interview, which is always (AND forever will be) accompanied by this final question: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you tell us?
KIMIKO: Ah. One of my favorite questions.
I suppose the one thing to know about me is this Kerouac quote: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved … the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars …”
Those who get it probably get me. Those who don’t, don’t.
For more of Kimiko, please visit her blog, “Never Say a Commonplace Thing” at http://neversayacommonplacething.blogspot.com/.