This Mmm World with Ken Yoshikawa

Editor Sam Preminger, Interview, April 23rd, 2019

"The moment the poem ends, things change"


On 4/6/19, Ken Yoshikawa and I sat down at AFRU Gallery in SE Portland to discuss poetry, acting, bummers, sonnets, and his recently released spoken word album, Quiver.


To purchase the album, go here.

To read Ken’s Poetry Feature, go here.

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 I’m Sam Preminger, the Poetry Editor of Nailed Magazine, and I’m currently being joined by Ken Yoshikawa.




Hi. So for those who don’t know, Ken Yoshikawa is a shin-issee




Shin-issei/first generation half-Japanese American poet-actor from Portland, OR. He has been active in the Portland Poetry Slam community since 2014. He loves blue chicken taco trees and resents punctuation and grammar at his convenience.


Haha. Sometimes you just need a bio, right?


Yeah. I think my first question, because I’ve read that bio before and been curious, is what is a blue chicken taco tree?


It’s a reason to take grammar and punctuation not seriously. I mean, I love the color blue, I love chicken tacos, and I like trees.


That’s a shame, I was really hoping it was something that grew around here that I just didn’t know about.


What?! I think that’s the name of a restaurant waiting to happen.


So, you’ve just released your spoken word album – Quiver – any of our listeners can go hear you perform a chapbook’s worth of poetry if they want.


I’d love that. I’m so excited about it.


The first thing I was curious about is when listening to these poems and listening to you read especially it feels very close to your body and yourself. So is there ever a point where Ken Yoshikawa who’s reading the poems is separate from Ken Yoshikawa who’s sitting with me now?


Oh that’s a great question. I guess let me build into it because I don’t actually know the answer. I mean, obviously I’m still here. The guy who reads the poems on the stage into the microphone is also the guy who is talking to you now and is also the guy who needs to eat breakfast and likes chicken tacos and goes to the bathroom and this and that.


So when we hear a performance of your poetry, it is coming from you as a poet?


Yeah, I would say sometimes some things come through me, right? Like the best I can do is get out of the way. Or I hand myself over. How do I put this? Say the Ken who likes chicken tacos and uses the bathroom and wakes up in the morning is a part of me, but maybe each of us are actually way way way more limitless than the bounds that we give our daily, mundane self. I tend to believe that and when I perform I feel either A) that I am getting out of the way of something else to come through me OR I am being so potently myself that I can shine fully unabridged who I am in my immediate presence.

Or, actually, the way I feel about, the way I show up when I’m performing is that I’m making the connection to the people that I’m talking to. I think that’s the best way, the simplest way for me to feel that and the poetry helps me get over my own self in my brain so that I can actually just feel connected. That’s the best way to put that.


You brought up this idea of being potently yourself and acting as well, I was wondering about that. I often think of acting as deception almost, you’re trying to convince the audience you’re another person with another life, another mind whereas performing poetry feels somewhat opposed to that idea, you’re trying to convey a very authentic version of yourself, I believe. Do you find those two arts that you practice to be in tension with each other at any point? How do they inform one another?


First let me address acting. There’s so many schools of acting and I think there are many kinds of actors, people like Joaquin Phoenix or Natalie Portman, who just dive really into it, Glenn Close, they go go go go go, but at the end of the day you look at that person and you still see Joaquin Phoenix is right there. I mean, as an actor maybe I have that, which is to say you called it an act of deception, but there’s no way you can approach acting without being intimately connected to yourself, with the person that you are. I remember even Alan Rickman said “have opinions, have a strong personality, so you have something to show when you’re actually in front of a camera or on a stage.” You can’t be an empty person and just convince everyone otherwise; there has to be something real, believable. Every actor gives of themselves potently and honestly whether or not…I think the good ones do, they draw upon themselves.

As a poet, it’s interesting then, I am bearing things that are true to me as an individual that are written by me for me to share with the world, but often a lot of my poetry goes beyond who I am, you know? It’s big big concepts, things where I’m like what the hell is this I have to put this into a poem. Which eventually the only way I can do that is often to ground it through who I am and my experiences, so to share that is ultimately very vulnerable and very real to me. But it’s funny, I’ve been doing it so much that I am watching myself share the parts that are true about myself watching the audience catch an image of who I am on stage, right? This might be all a really roundabout way of saying that of course I’m probably creating a kind of persona of myself at the same time, but the key is to really just feel my body, you know what I mean? What is true to me in the moment? And when it’s simple it’s best, I think: I’m going to read a poem because I want to connect to you. Me. You. Connection. Poem facilitates it.


It’s much more direct.


It’s much more direct. And I like that a lot. I love making a connection to the audience. Does that answer your question?


Yes, absolutely. I think that comes across very clearly in the album. Now, I know you were in a studio, you weren’t with an audience recording this, but we can hear all that joy and anger and these very powerful emotions that comes through in your voice. I, personally, find it delightful – I love listening to it and feeling the sincerity of those emotions when hearing the tracks.


Thank you. I guess then as an actor, in order to do acting well, you’ve got to know how to be honest as best as you can so that you can be vulnerable – show the feeling, feel the feeling – which I think has helped me almost oil the gears, right? So that when I’m actually like what is it Ken is feeling as a person? Sometimes it’s simpler. It’s simpler than…if it feels right, feels good, feels right, then that’s me. That seems truly honest to myself.


So, speaking of honest with yourself, one thing I noticed listening to the tracks is that you do a lot of code-switching, you move back and forth between English and Japanese and in ‘Quiver’ I believe you said “my heart speaks Japanese”. Are those moments of switching speaking more sincerely, more authentically from the heart when you’re writing in Japanese?


Oh my, okay. My Japanese is not as good as my English and it’s the Japanese of a child. I learned Japanese as a kid and I was raised, but then away from Japan and my dad and retained it because my subconscious, my inner self, my child self, those pure places are coded in Japanese. For me, it’s really easy to tap into the little boy inside myself, to connect to that, the child, in Japanese. It comes through so clearly and also because of that, because my Japanese isn’t as good, it’s simpler than my English is. My English is really complicated an all over the place. I can dance and contort and do whatever with English which I’m still learning to work the language, but it’s interested…so code-switching? Yeah, I have to work harder to arrive at emotion in English than with Japanese where I can be like ‘gahhhh kuso’. It hits a spot that English can’t necessarily.


So if the Japanese is coming from a younger perspective is it then in dialogue with a more adult self when you’re writing back and forth?


I would say yea. I would say that I can destroy things with English. I can use English to wreck my emotions and thoughts. It’s very destructive what English can do in my brain. Japanese doesn’t necessarily do that; it’s a very pure, simple thing because it hasn’t be acculturated into any community long enough to be disillusioned except of course with the break-up of my parents. I also have an interesting relationship with Japanese because my dad always wanted me to study Japanese and I never felt it was necessary. I wrote about this recently in a poem. I think I had to find a way to reclaim that part of me and the English-speaking part of me had to learn to become more compassionate otherwise it would’ve become ashamed. I think that the shame around being different in this country is a big thing for a lot of people and re-claiming language and personal power and identity is a big wave, a big revelation I think is a better word than wave right now, a transformation that’s happening in a variety of people and that dialogue within myself is a true relationship, an intra-relationship. I just want to feel okay and loved really at the end of the day. Does that make sense?


Yeah, very much so. And you bring up that idea of re-claiming things, re-claiming power. I’ve heard you speak about this in interviews before actually, so I was thinking about it a lot while listening to the album and preparing for this. A lot of your poems center around the idea of reclaiming power from a culture around you that’s trying to whitewash the things that you grew up with an idolize and yourself and your identity and reclaiming power from this relationship with a mentor-abuser. Do you feel that you can reclaim power through poetry or is it a performance of what that would look like?


I absolutely think I can reclaim that through poetry. I believe that poetry allows me to re-code myself. I think if I look back on that relationship in particular, one of the reasons I was in that relationship in the first place was because I didn’t know how hold power at all, I just gave it away, it was too uncomfortable, it burned in my hands, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like responsibility. I just wanted other people to make decisions for me, that kind of thing. I think by writing in the first place, I give myself power to begin with, to reclaim myself, the parts of myself that I gave away, that I rejected. Then…how to say? It is the performance of it to because fake it ‘til you make it, right? But at the same time, you can’t go anywhere you can’t see in some ways. That’s probably an imperfect phrase, but like – Vision: I’ve got to see myself as being that centered, powerful human being who is able to create and do and make choices and love and care and fail too, right? Give myself the space to be weak and to fail and to be afraid because I think that when it comes to power, being a cis-man in this culture – I mean, any human of course – but there’s the demon, the ghost that cis-gendered people carry in their blind spots and I think that’s what I’ve seen reflected form the nonbinary individuals that I know. It’s like Yo, there’s something going on! Take a look at that! Stop neglecting or abusing that privilege. Which is to say…I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But when it comes to power and being a man, I guess, which in and of it those were two of the things that got me bound up with that guy: power, personal power, magnetism, sexuality absolutely. All of the deep-root things that drive you forward and make you feel good about yourself. Intimacy. All of that stuff. Fear. He mocked me for being afraid. He goaded me into it and he took advantage of me, it’s true, because I was so insecure and at one point I must have let him, but it’s not my fault. I guess that’s the key. That kind of person is going to take advantage of the people around them and then, of course, it’s their fault, but the thing that they can do is take responsibility for the pain that they now have after it and then just learn I guess. Or have power so that when that happens again, and it did, in a different person, and I was like This is not okay. I’m leaving right now. This is awful. I can’t. Very soon after that relationship ended, too. That keeps showing up until you can say Fuck off or Go away, I don’t want anything to do with that. I need to create a space for myself where I can be safe and I think after all these years – it hasn’t been too long – but I feel like I’m now able to really just feel myself. It’s hard to put a finger on. Eventually, one day I’ll cry and that will be nice. I don’t know when that will be though, it’s hard to say.


This conversation almost mimics what the progression of Quiver is where you seem to be working through this relationship and growing across these poems. On repeated listening to it, I’ve really noticed the shift in the speaker between each poem, this gradual building, and it really stands out when you look at say ‘In the Eye of the Devil’ where we have the metaphor of the fly which becomes  a practice of how you lure someone into abuse, and then you revives this later on in ‘Heaven’ where the fly once again appears and there’s this moment of vulnerability and instead of taking advantage of it the speaker, who is you we’ve established, decides to take that vulnerability as muse in a way. Are you aware of the growth that occurred while recording this album? Do you feel different now than when you went into it?


I do, I do. I would say to start out, I have been and remain very insecure about publishing and publicly displaying my work or turning it into paper, turning it into this and that and showing it to the world. Of course I’m afraid of rejection, I’m afraid of this and that and really distraught by the prospect of people not caring. It’s the thing that gets me – that they just don’t care. In order for me to of course do it in the first place I’ve got to get over that, I’ve absolutely get the hell over that and I think I heard that the people that care won’t mind and the people that mind won’t care or something like that; it’s a phrase like that. You do you and people will find you that love you and enjoy you and then the people that don’t really or can only go so far will be there. That’s the vulnerability for me that affects me emotionally the most in some ways and the process of recording this album has been to get over the sense that I am a nuisance to the world like a fly. The fly to me is a nuisance. It bothers me, it’s in my face, I don’t like it, what does it want from me, it’s going to eat after me and it’s not taking care of itself, it’s scavenging, or who knows what and as an artist maybe that’s how I feel about myself sometimes.

I didn’t write ‘Heaven’ thinking about the fly from the other poem which is interesting. A couple of years down the road it clicked in my head: What’s this fly doing over here? Oh my god, did I do that? I notice that in some of my writing. Down the road, years down the road, I’ll look back at something I wrote and it’s like “This wasn’t for me then, this is for me now” or “It helps me now”. I don’t like to think there’s too much purpose, but it serves a function. I guess looking at those two poems I realized they had to be connected because the first one is the fly that got swatted or flicked or something. I remember the day he showed it to me too. In the second one I remember that fly buzzing around and honestly what I ended up doing was I did turn out the light, but then I also put a headlamp on the veranda porch and I turned all the other lights out and I opened the doors and it just flew out by itself, but it didn’t want to leave otherwise because it really was wanting the light that day, it was really fascinating. You know, I didn’t want to sleep with the fly in the room honestly, but I ended the poem that way. Behind the Scenes! But yeah…That moment was somehow precious to me and I’m glad I got to bring it into words.

The relationship I have with myself is one that I think shows up a lot in my work and as I’ve grown as a poet and visually considered from piece to piece through time, absolutely I think my poetry is a way I come to terms with my own reality, loving myself, taking care of myself, helping myself accept myself. It’s very selfish, very self-centered work I think that I write, but if anyone else can relate to it then…well, yeah.


We’re talking about this process of revisiting work and finding that it has what you needed there and using it to explore these difficult experiences. So I was listening to an interview recently with Paul Tran, they were on VS. and they were speaking about the distinction between writing about pain and relieving yourself of that pain through the writing as opposed to re-living the pain through the writing. That very much brought your work to mind as soon as I heard it as you spend quite a bit of this album looking at very painful experiences. And while often the conclusion will move towards a place of gratitude, I think, and elevate yourself, you almost reach back and help yourself though the poems, I was wondering what the experience is like for you of both writing and frequently performing these pieces. Do you find that you’re relieved of that burden by sharing it or do you force yourself back into the experience?


I don’t force myself back into the experience, to answer the question. I think that’s important. Even in acting, you never actually – I mean some people do – but the best thing to do is to be honest in the moment, but not stay there and make it too vivid because then it actually takes away from the story when you’re on stage if you’re truly actually triggering yourself into some trauma. It’s very dangerous, don’t ever do that as an actor.


What about as a poet?


As a poet, I think that I don’t relive them. I think the poems… I’ve built them to be able to carry them along. Nor am I either – to answer your question – relieved. In some ways yes, but I think the key word is transmuted. All of this somehow is transmuted through the creation of art that is shared with others and seen as it is. It’s transmuted in the connection in the connection and relationship I build with the audience, that kind of almost absolution because even when you forgive great emotion, it’s still there it’s just different now. There’s less tension. Vocalizing something is amazing.

I remember I showed up to Velo Cult Bike Shop when we had the slam a few years ago, four years ago maybe, and I read ‘In the Eyes of the Devil’ and the crowd just embraced me and was really loving and I was thrilled and it was good and wholesome. I needed that. I needed that very much so. Yea…I don’t relive it. I let the words carry me through it and I think that’s what I mean because I’m someone who gets stuck on something and will just hold onto it for years obsessively and in some psycho-physical way I feel it in my body and I find myself always returning to it like it has so much gravity. I want to be relieved of it, but I think I have to return to the process of turning it to words, sharing it with the world, letting it transmute, and keep up with the process. I think this just going to be my life now.


So you’ve been performing this poem for at least four years then. Do you find that it changes over time as you perform it?


It refines. It’s become a structure that I can share of myself and I think that it does in its work accurately portray, and earnestly, the love and the fear and the hate and the frustration of that whole relationship. As easy as it is to despise that man, to be afraid of him or to want to have vengeance or to feel he deserves whatever ill might come to him for the things that he has done – not just to me, but other people as well – I am befuddled by the fact that I still love that person. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand. There is a deep fear and resentment, yes. There is the I am afraid of this person. This person may one day do more ill and I don’t know. But there is also the way I can’t help, but care and I can’t wrap my head around that. It haunts me in some ways and I don’t like that.

I don’t want to redeem him because he is a dangerous terrible human being who… I also see how broken he is in the ways I know him and what has happened in his life, but that does not excuse or condone anything. He deserves to be punished, I believe, but…I care. That relationship and the depths of the way that person was able to navigate my mind so intimately means that, well he told me this “Ken, you’re always going to remember me.” He was very self-aware of what he was doing and its effect of me and there are layers. I can’t even get into the layers of that in a poem as short as five minutes, but he knows that every day I think about him. He knows that. Maybe there’s a part of him that delights in that. Maybe not. And every time I share that relationship with the world it’s another way that I’m…I don’t know, maybe I’m not relieving myself of the burden, but transmuting that and returning the power to myself and taking away…the voice, his mouth is so very close to my mind and ear that it’s like…I’m putting another millimeter of space there, another centimeter of space between him and I, that the way that he talks about me, what he has to say about me, doesn’t define who I am. Anyway, so reading that poem every time is powerful for me and if people embrace it, I’m grateful. And also, it costs energy like a spell, but it also generates energy like a spell.


Thank you for sharing all that.


Oh sure, absolutely. I’m happy to talk.


To re-focus us on the poems for a second, I noticed that all throughout you seem to be inventing forms except for sonnets. You seem to have a certain love for the sonnet that keeps coming up. What is it about that form that is tempting you where others don’t?


Okay, that’s a good point, that’s a good question. I’m asking myself that question too. For one, I like…I’m in love with Shakespeare! I tell you what, I love Shakespeare. I think I always have as an actor and as a writer admired the work, the meter. I guess I have assigned myself the Shakespeare Challenge of writing as many sonnets as Shakespeare did. Which is just to do it, right? To give myself a moon-shot. Go for it. Be big. To just accept the caliber of my work as it is. I’m not trying to write Shakespeare sonnets, but write Ken Sonnets, right? And I’m always going to be in his shadow, I think that’s true. I very much feel a kind of wanting to live up to that, but a good friend of mine once told me that there’s no shame in being defeated by a master and so it’s like I’m letting Shakespeare be the big, like in a dojo the teacher who just throws you every time, throws you on your ass and you get back up and you practice. I see sonnets as an exercise, as a construction of, to go with the metaphor of Quiver, a bunch of arrows, ammunition, and as a Sagittarius – I’m an astrologer –that imagery is big for me I guess. Each one I make has a trajectory, has an aim. I’m still trying to understand the form itself and what it’s for. I think it’s supposed to be meant for love and such, but it has done so many other things for my brain, I wonder…I wonder. And having something consistent to return to that I’ve committed to like This thing, this thing. I’m just going to keep doing it, I don’t know why, but I’m just going to keep doing it, maybe that simplifies things for me.


Are there other forms that you’re interested in exploring going forward?


Haha not really. I guess I’m pretty stubbornly sticking to sonnets. I don’t think they’re very popular to be honest, but they’re one-minute performances – the good ones – and people like them. Other forms? I like iambic pentameter a lot. I’ve been playing around with haikus a little bit, or senryūs, even though they’re not about nature, they’re about people. I usually just write mostly from intuition I guess. The more I think about a poem the more structure it needs to have, I think. When I used to write I’d just write and write and write and I’d have these big winding things that were monstrous and not very good. I wanted to put more conciseness on my work and try to fit it and I think the sonnet it doing good to give me structure, something to follow me. Maybe it limits me. Maybe I do need to be limited sometimes so I can make creative choices without thinking too much. If I really just focus on this one thing ad nauseum almost who knows what might come up through that blow dart tube? It’s a specific projectile. I don’t know how to put it. Maybe underneath it all there’s a kind of self-worth thing to do with trying to be the best that’s ever been and I think that’s really destructive honestly. I’ve thought about this yesterday, there’s an old high school poem I wrote: To try to be the best above the rest expect the test from this lame duck life. My dad always said you’ve got to be number one, at least recently, especially as an actor, as a performer, you’ve got to work harder than everyone, you’ve got to be better than everyone and you’ve got to rise to the top, but I don’t think that actually works the way American entertainment is these days. You necessarily integrate into a community. All of that to say this is still back to my dad, I think. My obsession with structure, Shakespeare, all of this. I think it’s still connected. I haven’t escaped him.


Even though your father is largely absent from this album?


Oh yeah, he’s still there. He isn’t in this album. That’s why I have the second album which I’m just implying right now hopefully. No, he…I write way more poetry about my dad than I do, for instance, about my mother because my mother doesn’t present a problem in my life. You know, she’s very loving and stable and all this and I don’t know why I have a hard time writing about her. That’s a good question. My dad…he isn’t in this album because I decided to make this one more about my own personal journey in America and the disconnection from my father. Maybe the fact that my dad isn’t in there is actually a more honest description of myself because he isn’t around, he isn’t here. We chat once in a while, very briefly. There must be something to that. I’m thinking about that actually. He isn’t in this album, that represents me more.


For those familiar with your work, that absence is very distinctly felt when listening to this.


I mean, first of all, I really appreciate that you, anyone who reads…I used to be anxious of course about people reading my work. Every time I hear you say “when I’ve read your work, Ken” I’m get a little like They read my work it’s so nice! There’s a little fire in me that gets a little bit brighter. I’m a pretty solitary person these days, but audience members are the people I feel oddly enough closest to emotionally in some ways, but only in the context, while I’m performing. The moment the poem ends, things change immediately because of the context of the moment.


This is very much putting you on the spot then, but would you be willing to perform a poem?


Oh my god, yea, sure.

I didn’t wake up at dawn…I fucked it up already. See, it’s great, it’s great. Here we go, I’ll make it work. See this is real me. This is real Ken. Real Ken right here. As Ken as it’s going to get…

I never got up at dawn

to wake the valley up with music.

I didn’t play the trumpet,

just gave up the violin

because it was uncomfortable.

If my father told me

he saw a flying castle,

things may have been different.

Instead he did say that life is suffering,

that people are weak,

don’t expect money you’ve lent out to return to you,

study Japanese.

I didn’t believe him. Any of it.

Didn’t realize by ‘study Japanese’

he meant a storm was wrapping itself

around him

he meant no one is going to understand

so you won’t realize it matters

he meant build a plane,

you’re meant to fly;

come find me,

I am a true story.

And in this way I am like you, Pazu.

I too have a half-built prototype sitting in my living room

with pictures of impossible on the drawing board.

He’d be so proud of the way you believe:

りっぱだな, he’d say. りっぱ! (Rippa da na / Rippa!)

We both know what it means to fill in the gaps

made by too much time and sky.

And while by now I can see his point,

that life is painful,

I don’t agree that

just because they don’t make it

to the sky, that people are weak.

Maybe it’s true,

but can’t you see these

giant caverns in the ground

aren’t valleys.

They’re the old mines,

where the barons of the old world

took everything

all the iron and coal and tin

and copper and platinum and gold

so they could fly and live

above the world

in their fancy castles.

I think what you meant,


is that people’s ways are hard to change.

You can’t get them to stop.

Cuz if you did

they’d be forced to admit,

that everything

has already been taken from them,

that the joke’s on them,

and who really wants to feel that?

Wouldn’t it be better to just keep digging?


Wow. Thank you. Is that going to be on the new album?


Maybe. I think I should put it on the new album. It’s very thematic.


Yea, I think you should put it on the new album and give us a release date.


Haha. Oh, sweet. Yea, I like Miyazaki and so that was a Miyazaki poem linked to Castle in the Sky. I think I’m really into bummers these days. I think there’s something really refreshing about it because they’re something real, it’s just something honest about the bummer that feels better almost. We need more tragedies. We need more tragedies in our entertainment. Maybe. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we have enough tragedies in our daily life, but I think tragedy is useful very specifically depending on the moment and the time. And the poem’s not necessarily tragedy, I don’t know why I’m talking about that. Thank you for listening.


That’s an interesting point. I’ve been thinking a lot about why we engage with tragedy. I was at a play recently and walked out miserable and was so grateful for it and since I’ve been puzzling over this idea of why do we go into that situation where we know it’s going to hurt us and we want that so badly? What do we gain from that? Why do we need to share that?


I think about this a lot as an actor at 1am. There are ways we can’t behave in life that are just not allowed because they’re destructive, they’re dangerous, they’re problematic and all of these things. As people, just because we can’t do it doesn’t mean it goes away, right? So like if you’re watching King Lear or Hamlet, I find that there must be…if we are moved by something in a way then we ourselves are capable of doing that and the play, I believe, relieves us of that choice oftentimes, I think, right? Even if it’s connected, I mean there are so many different aspects that the movement of that story could catch you at so many different angles, right? I think that’s what a good tragedy does, it brings everyone in somehow, because it’s Hamlet with all the different relationships or vengeance or personal power. You could take any way into it, right? And if it moves you, you’re given the space to feel that thing. Permission to grieve or permission to be angry or to feel this deep feeling to be in that liminal space as an invisible thing where it’s not…the attention isn’t on you, but you can be with it, you know? I think of it oftentimes like a hand that goes underwater to pick something up, you know? It’s like We don’t know what’s under here, but here it is! look at it! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. And then we can grieve and let it… because we can’t do that all the time, right? So if we’re not letting ourselves feel the way that we’re feeling ninety-nine percent of the time then that one percent or less than one percent when we’re in that theater listening to this piece of music or poetry we can actually connect to that finally where normally we would just be de-stabilized and…I don’t know though, I don’t know.


What have you been reading or listening to lately that’s bringing you to that place?


That’s a great question. Last night and went and saw Wolf Play at the Artist Repertory Theater and that got me pretty close. I haven’t cried in a while. Tender things make me tear up a little bit. I got really close when I watched a movie called The Boy and The Beast, it’s a Mamoru Hosoda movie, it’s an anime. It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece of film, I love it. A lot of the music that I’m listening to these days doesn’t get me there. Things I’m reading don’t necessarily get me there. The one time I really recently ugly cried I was actually hanging out with my dad. We were listening to Miyazaki songs like the songwriter songs where there are singers and all that. That was the time I ugly cried. I cherish that. Otherwise, not so much. I wish I could cry more. I wish I could feel that and go there, but something stops me. I stop myself, essentially that’s what that is, but I don’t understand it.

Haha ah jeez…what am I reading? I’m reading a lot of astrology books. I’m reading books on meditation. I’m reading Anis Mojgani. I’m reading Igor Brezhnev. All my friends’ poems too like Kate Leddy and Sage Lilac. I’ve been digging into that stuff more. I’m too slow of a reader to be keeping up with the world actually. I think that most people are, their brains are deet-deet-deet-deet-deet-deet compared to mine in some ways, so it’s…I read articles off Facebook. Haha get me off this thing! This damn phone. I wish I had a better reading list for you, but I don’t. I don’t, I really don’t. You should read, everyone should read Anis Mojgana and Igor Brezhnev. Kate Leddy’s new book is amazing by the way, that gets me feeling things.


Alright, well we’re coming up on the end of our time. I had one other question that I’ve been thinking about when reading your work. I notice that you will very frequently come around to Dungeons & Dragons on this album.


Yeah, sure.


Do you still play?


Oh, no. I don’t have the time, that’s why. I love D&D, I think it’s so much fun. My favorite character’s name is Mr. NipNap. He’s a chaotic good, black-furred catfolk who’s a rogue and he smokes nip and naps, right? He smokes nip and naps. And he nips. I like the word, it’s just stupid


Are you Mr. NipNap?


Me? Yea! I’m Mr. NipNap. I mean, for me, I don’t know. It’s just a character, but like…yea, yea, D&D…He was a [Dungeon Master] so that’s why it’s…but it’s difficult and it’s complex, complicated as everything is, you know? Do you play D&D?


I do, yeah. I love it. It does take up too much time though.


Oh, it’s so time consuming. If I had that stable job and that kind of thing – which definitely I don’t want that to be my life – but then maybe I’d be doing that. But I like my life as it is honestly. I’m happy with where I’m at, I’m struggling with the things I need to struggle with. I’m enjoying the people and the moment that I can and do and I’m making it work in such a chaotic world as this. I don’t know about chaotic world, but this mmm world. This Mmm world. It’s an MMM WORLD! I’m telling you! I don’t know what word goes there. A lot of words go there, but this place is such a mmm. Oh man, my friend, my friend, my friend. Thank you.


Yea, I’m glad that you are making it work.


Yea, thank you friend. Day by day. Day by day.


Well thank you so much for joining us and doing this interview.


Thank you, Sam. Thank you.


Of course! I really want to encourage everyone to go read your work, read Ken Yoshikawa’s work.


Please, come listen to my album!


Yes, absolutely listen to album. It’s called Quiver. Where can people get a copy?




That’s right. Perfect.


Alright, anything else that you wanted to say or sign off with?


I would say….we are enough. I guess I want to say we are enough. We are enough


I like that. We are enough


We are enough. That’s all I need to say.

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Header image courtesy of Martin Carri. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Ken Yoshikawa is a shin-issei (new-wave first-gen) half-Japanese actor and spoken word poet from Portland, OR. He graduated from Reed College with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. He is so grateful for his family and his friends for their love and support. He also has work published in Hapa Mag and floatOn’s Letters from the Void.

To purchase Quiver, go here.

To read Ken’s Poetry Feature, go here.

IG at @yoshakeawaken and @backflip.jupiter



Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.