R: What made you decide to submit to our magazine?
JN: I was looking for spiritual-based communities where I thought some of my poems might resonate, might fit well. I submitted to Rock and Sling a couple years ago and felt like I sent the wrong poems; it was unfortunate because I liked that journal a lot and now it's no more. When I was about to resend some poems last year, I came across Ruminate and a beautifully designed webpage with some good writing samples. I liked the mission the editors were after. (Editor's Note: We are excited to share that Rock and Sling actually started up again this year, and it is now under Whitworth University and will receive university support.)
R: "Doors Among Trees" is the first poem in Issue 16: Mapping This Place. In it, you speak of losing the idea of being lost--how important is that to discovering where you are?
JN: I think that anyone who knows anything about anything realizes that things that are important to us or difficult never work themselves out in a linear sense. I mean that--to borrow from a Beatle--"life is what happens when you're making other plans." And the same is true in one's creative life. You may have a focus and a project you seek to fulfill; I did. Learning to work with the will of my God rather than trying to create against the grain has been the single greatest revelation in my writing life. I know God's capable of creating much more beautiful things than I could come up with alone. So, losing one's self is the key, I suppose, to finding the permission to rest and wait in solitude. And when you hear God speak while in this deep silence, then you leap into action and make the words count! That's the beauty of being lost to me. You live your normal, everyday life feeling kind of tossed about and as if you're missing that spark. And then it arrives. That's always surprising to some degree. It's an unexpected event. In this particular poem, "Doors among Trees," I was walking with my wife on her childhood trail at her grandmother's house. We were in the country, near Olean, New York. We followed markers until there were none. I have no directional sense and so we just kind of kept going, seeing where we could go and knew that if we headed east we'd eventually find a main road. We came across a couple hundred doors, most with the glass shattered out, in a little clearing. We were close to stepping back into "reality" and that's why this was so surprising. The doors were different colors: blue, green, and white. It might have been a paint ball course. I don't know. It was like walking through a painting or someone art. And that was the euphoria of the whole thing. It was a full circle kind of moment when you realize God is speaking a poem into being as you witness a metaphor gift-wrapped right before you.
R: You're in the midst of compiling your first manuscript--where has that journey taken you?
JN: My first manuscript is entitled Postage. It's a spiritual journey that follows a Korean-American adoptee from namelessness toward the naming of his own daughter. It's personal, and, for me, that's how poetry should be. It should have an element of experience, of emotional ripple. I know most people aren't Korean-American, but like Melville was touching on at the end of Moby Dick, we're all orphans to someone or something. Is that a terrible paraphrase? Oh well. Most of us have metaphysical questions at some point. Writing my first book has been a journey back into what may have been better left unopened: an adoption file and curiosity about who my birth parents were, what my homeland is like, and how my feeling of dislocation and oddness might be a symptom of an imperfect cross-cultural adaptation. What is the cost of asking these questions? The answer is perpetually silent. And that's where I see the act of writing as an epistolary endeavor to mark where one's been and how things might have changed--inside or out. The effort to get to know "myself" has largely alienated me to almost everyone I know. I'm not necessarily thrilled about this. And I'm not gloating. The cost of trying to know what can't be known is that you fictionalize things, imagine them in a way that seems logical. And there's danger in this, as I have learned.
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