Seeking Truth: An Interview with Aimee Suzara
Poet, playwright, and performer, Aimee Suzara “writes to give life to poems and language and characters and stories that may not have been illuminated before.” This is especially clear in her recent book, Souvenir, which centers on the Filipino-American war and the 1904 World's Fair display of Filipino bodies. When writing Souvenir, Suzara researched, attended conferences, read voraciously, spoke with scholars, and even attended the original site of the World Fair. It all resonated with and emphasized her belief that it is a writer’s responsibility to write about what they witness and “seek truth in its complexity.”
How does the fact that you are also a performer of your work inspire the way you create and write?
Writing is very palpable—embodied—it both emerges from and then lives beyond the page, in our bodies, in our voices. Writing was oral tradition before it became writing. And when orated, poems, like songs, create vibrations in our chests. Poetry, then, shares a lot more with music and dance than it does with thinking and logic. I draw a lot from dance and other non-verbal art forms.
Do you think of how you would perform a piece when you write it?
It depends on the piece. Some poems want to live visually on the page. Others are very sonic, and call for expression through my voice. I [also] think that anything when presented to an audience or readership is, in a way, performed.
Why do you write about what you write about? (Race, gender, body, etc.)
It's sort of like that chicken and the egg thing: which came first, the topic or the writing? I have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards these three topics (all at once, often) because they are what I live and how I see the world, and readers and audiences may notice these common threads. I think it's helpful to notice what we get obsessed about, or possessed with.
As a writer, as a witness to what is happening, I cannot conscionably ignore these topics. As a brown woman, a woman of color, a queer woman, a daughter of immigrants, there are many intersections of identity which tie me to these issues, and yet it is my heart and my eyes and my ears, my body, my gut, that necessitate a need to write about history, about systems, about humanity during a time when our humanity needs to be called upon more than ever. If we are alive and awake, we are all complicit.
There are lots of writers and poets who don’t necessarily feel the need to teach their art. You, however, have plenty of experience helping budding writers learn to express and define themselves through their words. What motivates you to assist and teach others?
I am motivated by seeing young people become empowered by their own voices, realizing that they can create the new counter-narratives, giving language to their experiences and what is important to them.
I am motivated by knowing that I am giving them the sort of guidance I wish I’d had growing up from teachers and books and art. I am motivated by the catharsis they experience in expressing.
I am motivated by seeing the tools I have passed on to them become their own and become new vocabulary and gesture and strategy for their own voicing.
In April, you’re teaching a class at the Loft about poetry for social action. What do you hope your students will walk away having learned from this workshop?
I hope my students will feel awakened to the world in a new way; that they will be inspired by some of the poems we read and inspired by what they see in their own lives and in the world. [I hope they realize that in] writing their own personal stories into poems, they are contributing to the multiplicity of narratives that have the ability to move and shake and change lives.
Aimee Suzara is a poet, playwright and performer based in Oakland, CA. Her mission is to create, and help others create, poetic and theatrical work about race, gender, and the body to provoke dialogue and social change. Aimee is teaching "Poetry for Social Action" on April 14 at the Loft.