Interview with Poet, Luke Young


A couple of years ago, I had decided to take on a year long poetry challenge based on the work of twelve artists.  One of those creatives was Rebecca Belmore who is NOT only and Interdisciplinary Anishinaabekwe Artist but, also a strong advocate for First Nation Rights and awareness movement.  I mention this because when I read the work of Luke Young, I’m reminded of the work Rebecca does to spread awareness of issues that affect our First Nations.  Which include: the tragic rape and murder of indigenous women, lack of running water & electricity in most reservations, appreciation of locally grown food and living with nature symbiotically not with the intent to abuse the land and resources.  These are indeed very real issues that sincerely require a lot of attention, my heart genuinely bleeds! For more information on Luke, check him out on Instagram @ragealien.

RMMW:  Have you ever been creatively blocked?  If yes, how did you overcome it?

LY: I have never really been creatively blocked, at least not in the way other writers I've known have been. I can credit Jack Kerouac and his suggestions to always carry a notebook and to write as frequently as possible for that. Now that's not to say those notebooks are filled with quality writings or well constructed pieces but at least they have been an outlet to keep the words flowing.

RMMW: We all have an inner critic; how do you contend with yours?

LY: This is hard because I definitely feel that the majority of my writings don't meet my own invisible standards. I rewrite and rewrite, scratch out, delete, burn, throw into rivers and generally dispose of pieces I am either not happy with or have morphed into something I feel better expresses my intent. Maybe the act of destruction is how I face my inner critic.

RMMW: Do you have any artist rituals before starting a new piece?

LY: I have no rituals, but if I am sitting down to write something longer or do a large amount of research I will often brew green tea and smoke a pipe or cigar (I have formally given up cigarette smoking and all forms of habitual tobacco use).

RMMW: Do your Native American roots bleed into your poetry with regards to the various subjects you write about? 

LY: My Native American heritage and ancestry definitely come through my writings and my thought processes. It has not been an easy process to reconnect to some of the Old Ways and to come to a full realization of where different elements of my family came from or what they went through. I grew up with only a passing nod from many in my family about our heritage and yet I knew there was something there. It took one particular person in my family, who had retied the strands of our past to who we had become, to sow the seeds of reconnection. It is up to us, the survivors and the great grandchildren of the silent to rebuild and reconnect. We are the new ancestors. However, and here's an odd personal twist, I grew up among Southeast Asian war refugees in the United States and in Southeast Asia, specifically Cambodia. This has also massively influenced the subjects I write about and the lenses through which I have come to view the world.

RMMW: I had to research Slow Food Advocate as I've never heard that term before.  Why was it important for you to be part of this movement?

LY: I love the idea of the Slow Food movement as it is an attempt to reconnect us to an idea of place. The very moment we are living in. It seems as though we spend a lot of our time getting distracted and in our modern world this often expresses itself through food. For example, dragon fruit has recently become a new fashionable fruit here in the United States and there are many products made with its "flavor", but what connection does someone from, let's say, Minnesota, have with an actual dragon fruit? Do they know that it is a tropical succulent vine that chokes and kills trees in order to produce the juicy prehistoric like fruit? Also, if it is farmed it often loses much of its earthy flavors and even it's brightly colored flesh. Or what about the fact that the skin is used in traditional Asian medicine? No dragon fruit could ever naturally grow on midwestern trees, so they must be imported which then leaves an environmental footprint for a simple fruit that no one in Minnesota actually needs to consume, or has any kind of connection to, unless, by chance, they were raised outside of Minnesota in a tropical area. These might seem like frivolous or even trivial things to be aware of, and in many ways they are, and I don't condemn anyone for their curiosity for new things or the desire for new experiences, but I do question the incessant desire for consumption which often has a massive environmental and cultural footprint. So basically, I see the Slow Food movement as an attempt to slow down rampant consumerism and focus more on what our local communities and local farmers can produce and grow. I'll leave this question with a personal example of paradox, life is about paradoxes and rigid inflexibility creates stagnation so... if I saw a Khaev Chen mango at a local store I wouldn't be able to stop myself, I miss them. I'd buy one or two, get my mango fix and then purposefully and thoughtfully not purchase them again unless I was back in Cambodia.

RMMW: Where is your favourite place to write?

LY: My absolute favorite place to write is with a notebook in the mountains, otherwise I prefer a desktop computer with an analog keyboard in a room with a view of something other than a street or a building.

RMMW:  What do you enjoy most about writing poetry?

LY: Enjoyment and poetry is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes writing poetry is like pulling out your own abscessed tooth with a rusty pair of pliers in an abandoned warehouse that used to be part of a cat food factory, and other times it is almost a painting of direct thought onto a page. So do I enjoy it? At times I most certainly do. Do I enjoy it all the time? Absolutely not, and yet I persist. Call me stubborn, call me foolish, but at least I'm called something.

RMMW: Ok, following your feed. I had to ask you a question about beer.  Having been well travelled across the United States where is your favourite beer from and why?

LY: The craft beer world fascinates me. If I must pick one favorite of all the beers I've ever had, broken beer bottle to my throat, I'd have to pick Tuatara Brewing's Aotearoa Pale Ale. It's tied to some very special memories of New Zealand and it is simply a great beer with all the uniqueness of place and terroir that one must have with a true craft beer. Also, the bottles themselves are some of the coolest I've ever seen and mimic the scales of the dinosaur-like tuatara lizard indigenous only to New Zealand. Those little guys are real living descendants of an epoch long gone.

RMMW: What is your writing process, do you automatically grab a pen and paper or directly on the computer or phone?

LY: My writing process takes many forms and really depends on what I am going to write. Sometimes I get an idea right when I'm drifting off to sleep and I'll force myself to get up and write the idea out in a notebook or on a phone. At other times I have a concept in mind for something and I think and think on it for days and even weeks before sitting down at a computer and beginning to outline some of the things I've hashed out. Then there are the moments of stream of consciousness when I'll purposefully sit down to write with one starting sentence, or even just a few words and I'll build off of that like a kid with a box of Legos and no instructions. Now with short stories, articles or essays I find that I must sit down with a focus and some kind of access to writing, whether it's a phone, computer, notebook or scrap paper. Even if I only write a small amount at that particular time, or even nothing at all, the accessibility to the actual objects of expression lead towards the real writing, rewriting, editing and things of that sort later.

RMMW: Do you view your poems as a vehicle to advocate for social issues?

LY: To some extent I do view my poetry as a vehicle for an awareness of social issues, or issues with a social context, but then again aren't we all a product of our relations to labor and it's subsequent economic value which in turn creates the social conditions we chose to define our world with? Boom! Then again sometimes I just write poetry to capture a moment and have no intent at all other than to freeze frame an instant or two of ethereal time. That all feels a bit cliché to me, but I'm not sure how to rephrase any of that to make it either more or less accurate for my own writings.

RMMW: At what age did you start writing?

LY: I'm not entirely sure when I started writing. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I even found some of my notebooks from when I was five and six. I address some heavy things in there like the war in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda, amputation, bombings and the United Nations peacekeepers in Cambodia. The pages are just a few sentences or words attached to stick figure drawings, but in a way, they were still an attempt to capture a moment and record it with words. As for poetry, I can nail down the actual date. I began to write on a daily basis in August of 2008. Before then I never really took it seriously or tried too hard to use poetry as a literary medium.

RMMW:  How do you feel you've evolved as a writer?

LY: I feel like I am always evolving as a writer. There have been some definite phases of evolution though. For many years I immersed myself in the writings, lectures, talks and recordings of Beat Generation figures such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Kenneth Rexroth and so I experimented with writing forms during altered states of consciousness, streams of consciousness, sensory deprivations, sensory indulgences... At other times I practiced forms of Zen meditation, solitude and reflection as a means of creative inspiration or by product. Overall, I would have to say that I've evolved from a state of uncollected mind processes and chaotic inspirations to a state of balanced chaos, dialectic linkages and selected embracement’s of the momentarily absurd or unknown.

RMMW: If you had a superpower what would it be?

LY: A superpower... Hmm... I'd probably go for the power to make people only speak their true intent. That'd get pretty wild. Imagine a world where someone can no longer hide their schemes or selfish intent. That could potentially drive the individual entirely mad. A fascinating idea to me.

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