Classy talk with Arlene Kim

Posted Fri, 6/21/2013 - 8:43pm by  |  Category:

What is the title of your class?
Revision Bomb!

People should take this class because?

Sometimes I forget that writing is also playing. I suspect I’m not the only one.

I think we all wedge ourselves into places where we start to take ourselves and our writing too seriously—by that I mean we put on the Beethoven frown (see below) because we know we must CREATE and REVISE and STRUGGLE and PERFECT. But when we get serious, we’re frequently just getting “serious”—that is, instead of really doing it, we sort of act at it which puts a distance between us and the writing. That distance can make for a sense of contrivance and insincerity in our revisions; it can make our revisions more limited, more boring than the messy initial drafts. I’ve found that often the best way to take your writing seriously—to take a draft to a new and better place—is to be willing to blow up your ego and the ego you’ve sewn to your draft, to be OK with digging it open, letting it loose, mucking around in it, shaping wonderfully odd piles here and there the way we used to when we got dirty playing in sandboxes.

In other words, you should join me in this class because it’s about time we made revising fun.

And yes—that is possible. Here’re some student comments from the last time I did a version of this class at Hugo House:

“Very fun, innovative ways to interrogate my poems and let them speak back to me and lead me in the direction they want to go.”

“Kinesthetic, unconventional, like a creativity lab.”

“Great sequenced exercises to open things up and add new dimension to existing work.”

“I now know how to start thinking about revising poetry.”

“I came to appreciate some of my poems more and to not be so affected by others’ concerns!”

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?

Yes! You can find me on Facebook and Twitter and Google+.

I’m in the middle of moving and updating my website, but if you want to get a sense of who/how I am online, please feel free to wander around the old posts at I also post now and then to Neptune 5 — a site started up by my longstanding writing group (search for posts tagged with “AK”).  

And you can always email me at

Are any of your works online and available to the public?

Yes—there’re quite a few different pieces online—poetry, prose, interviews, videos. Here’s a smattering:


§  Blackbird

§  diode

§  Cha



§  The International Examiner

§  The Magazine of Yoga

§  Metre Maids

§  Miel

Videos: I can’t stand to watch myself in videos, so I’ll have to leave looking for those links up to you. 

What are you reading right now?

For a long time I’ve had a habit of being in the middle of several books at once. Yes, it can be a disruptive and very slow way to read, but mostly I find surprising, fun and funny, thought-provoking “conversations” going on among all the books I’m reading. These book-to-book dialogues do so much to expand my perception of each work.

So, right now, here’s who I’ve got at my book party:

§  Incarnadine, poems by Mary Szybist and The Song Cave, poems by Alfred Starr Hamilton—both terrific recommendations that came by way of Christine Deavel and John Marshall at Open Books Poem Emporium.

§  As Long as Trees Last, poems by Hoa Nguyen.

§  With Deer, poems by Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Gorannson

§  Rough, and Savage, poems by Sun Yung Shin

§  Big Questions, graphic novel by Anders Nilsen

§  Uncreative Writing, essays by poet Kenneth Goldsmith

§  On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, a study/survey by Stephen Asma

§  re-reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (actually, I’m listening to an audiobook version of it this time)

§  and Redshirts, a sci-fi novel by John Scalzi (I know very little about sci-fi books, but my husband loves them, so I thought I might be able to discover different little corners inside his head by reading what he reads—plus, it’s fun to get outside my own head/writing with a genre that’s new to me.)

What excites you about the material you’re teaching?

The most exciting thing for me about the “Revision Bomb” class is how the unconventional (maybe even mischievous?) revising techniques we’ll be trying can give back a sense of fun & games to writing—getting back to that playful place creates the most lovely, unexpected spaces and connections in your work.

I did a one-day version of this class last winter and had requests to make it a multi-week class, so I’m also excited to have more days to spread the revising love!

What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?

Connecting with other writers in the community—it’s so great when writing involves real people and not just names on a page.

What books made you want to write?

It would be impossible to answer this question with anything less than a tediously long list, so instead I offer this: Years ago I heard poet and novelist Lois-Ann Yamanaka give a reading from her collection of poems Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre and she said that she wrote to see her own face in the world because she couldn’t find her face in the writing and writers out there when she was younger. That made me want to keep writing.

If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Just one? Wow. OK. I’m going to assume that they’ve already heard from others or know themselves to read and write as much as they can. They should. But also, they should do/see/learn/explore things that are very different from reading and writing, like butoh movement, motorcycle racing classes, video gaming, pie baking, experimental performance theater, braving the snowboard terrain park, improv, how circuits are built, lessons at a shooting range, music lectures, cartooning—the stranger and more different from your regular routine the better. When I open myself to new experiences like these (everything I just mentioned is something I’ve tried), I can feel things in my brain firing in different, out-of-the-ordinary ways. Though I can’t say exactly how it works to develop my writing—there isn’t a 1:1 link most of the time—I’m very sure it does.

Is there a book, poem, essay, etc. by another author that you wish you had written yourself? Why?

Again—I could write a book-length list of all the books, poems, essays, and et ceteras that I wish I’d written. I’ll spare you that and tell you this instead: A short while after I’d finished the manuscript for my first book of poems, I read The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster. In the second half of that book, the section titled “The Book of Memory,” I found myself dog-earing every other page. And when I finished reading it, I thought, “Yes, that’s what I was trying to say—that’s what I meant.”  I love those books but I sort of hate those moments because they make me feel like everything I want to say in writing has been said already by a much better writer. But still, here we are in the world and so we must try to make it our own in whatever ways we have.

If you could have coffee with any author living or dead, who would it be?

See answer to the next question.

What’s your favorite book?

See answer to the next question.

If you could pair your favorite book with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, what would you choose?

I’m terrible with the “who/what’s your favorite” questions because I don’t operate that way—hell, I can’t even read one book at a time! Every day, every week, it’s something different that catches my fancy, not because I’m fickle but because there is so much that’s wondrous. However, I can, with some measure of confidence based on long-term behavior, say: I choose whiskey.