Poets in Conversation: Elane Kim
How did “Prospect Theory” come into being? Tell us a little about the origin, inspiration, or circumstances surrounding it.
At home, we have a lemon tree. Because it was planted the year we moved in, I found myself turning to it as a landmark, some metric of home. As time passed, however, the tree failed to produce anything, looking just like it had when it arrived, its limbs pale and rickety and so still. One day, hidden behind the buds of a pale flower, I saw the fruit(s) of our labor: six years worth of rain and sweat and hose water for the tiniest lemon I’d ever seen. It was both comical and a little beautiful. “Prospect Theory” is my ode to that lemon, my family, language, and the time I have been privileged enough to spend with each of them.
What were the formal considerations that were most important in bringing this poem to life? How do you determine the form or shape for your poems generally?
For this poem in particular, I was interested in emulating the lemon tree itself: the life hidden behind its formal structure, its static limbs. As a result, I wanted to let the sound of the poem lead its structural intentions by shaping it around breath, which is something I try to do whenever I write.
What’s something you wish you knew when you first began writing?
Something that I try to keep in mind is to preserve my voice as I write. I wish I’d realized earlier the value and persistence of the idea that regardless of how you might tell it, your story is yours to sing.
If you could have a conversation with any musician, writer, or artist (past or present), who would it be and why?
One of my literary idols is Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a Korean American writer whose autobiography Dictee explores what it means to be the native speaker of disembodiment, of forced assimilation, only to reimagine the immigrant narrative through a second language: her own voice. In light of questions about how the body can be read, language is reimagined as both a weapon and a wound, with Cha establishing authenticity, multiplicity, and awareness of marginalized identity in her text—a new way of seeing. Cha’s autobiography, then, becomes a mirror: not merely a reflection of the self, but the vehicle introducing a new way of seeing, a line of sight that cannot be obtained otherwise. In this way, for a Korean American writer like myself, it is a solemn, personal, and deeply intimate revolution. As a result, I would love to share stories with her.
When the BPJ editorial board gathers for selecting poems, it has been our tradition to cook and share soups and stews. Do you have a favorite comfort food (or food tradition) that sustains you? Would you be willing to share a recipe?
I love this tradition so much! My favorite comfort food is my halmeoni’s sujebi, a kind of noodle soup. I am currently looking for a recipe true to hers—I’ll keep you updated!