Addie Tsai Interviews Kama La Mackerel

Addie Tsai: I am talking with Kama La Mackerel. This is their book, ZOM-FAM. I thought, for just the first question, especially for the readers and the people [watching] who live in the United States, if you could just introduce yourself, because what you do goes so far beyond the written text. 

Kama La Mackerel: I’m Kama La Mackerel, multidisciplinary artist from Mauritius. For those who don’t know, Mauritius is an island off the African coast in the Indian Ocean. I’m a multidisciplinary artist. I work in performance and poetry, in literary performance, installation, and visual arts. I work in and across different artistic practices. For all this work, I explore different questions around decoloniality and what it means to articulate a decolonial poetics through different forms of cultural production. I explore questions of the intersections of history, gender histories, colonial histories, and ZOM-FAM is my debut poetry collection, which came out from Metonymy Press in September, 2020. ZOM-FAM is part of a bigger body of work, a multidisciplinary performance. There’s also a series of video installations that I’m working on that are grounded in this work.

AT: Actually, since we’re talking about this – one question I did have is in the acknowledgements of the book in the back you mention that “this book has been (re)written over several years through different inter-disciplinary creative processes, before it landed on the page in its current form.” So I was wondering if you could speak about the process and history of birthing ZOM-FAM, on the page as well as performance. What came first? How did you enter into this really important, beautiful work? I loved it so much.

KLM: Basically the way it started . . . so I didn’t know I was writing a book. I didn’t realize I was writing a book in the beginning. Each of the pieces that are in it – maybe half of them – were originally written as spoken word pieces. The first piece was actually the very first spoken word piece that I had written which was back in 2013. Each of the pieces were first written as separate spoken word pieces that stood on their own as their own pieces. Then, in 2016, I put up a spoken word, one woman show together, and I toured Europe with it. I was working on a show at the time, From Thick Skin to Femme Armor. I was really exploring the notions of resilience and resistance of femmes of color in multiple ways. And what I did with it really is I put up a bunch of my poems together and I went on a tour and I loved it and I got to meet audiences. It was a one-hour spoken word show and it was great. It wasn’t until I got back from this show that I realized there was actually a storyline. It almost felt like my body of work was speaking back to me and saying: Hey, can you see what’s happening here? That’s really how it felt. And then I realized: Oh, there’s actually a story here that’s emerging from Mauritius and the plantation life and my experience of it as a kid. So there’s really earlier versions of half of those pieces that I kept. I rewrote . . . a couple, some of the pieces, ZOM-FAM, gran-dimounn, which is the story of me going to university, the birth piece, were all part of the earlier version. Then I started developing a couple of other pieces around it. At the time for me, even then I didn’t think of it as a book at all. Okay, now there’s this storyline I’m trying to articulate in this work and the other part of this for me was I love doing spoken word but typically . . . I do enjoy it a lot. [But] when I do spoken word it’s just me, one mic stand and my voice really holds everything and carries everything and there’s a way in which I really felt that each time I would perform, my entire body would expand into the space of the venue and hold the space. But the more I was doing it the more I realized, I think my body wants to move. Because otherwise I’m still just at a mic stand. So when I started putting this manuscript together as a show, I was really interested in this question of how poetry moves through the body. So I’m not actually just at a mic stand. If I actually allow the poetry to move through the body across space, how would the poetry move? So then I started working on ZOM-FAM, the performance, as an interdisciplinary show many years ago. 

I hadn’t danced for more than a decade. I was trained in Indian classical dance. Throughout my twenties for five years, I danced. When I say danced, I was dancing six times a week. Dance used to be what I used to do and it’s something that I stopped doing when I moved to Canada. Part of it was just also timing for me. Oh it’s been a decade now. I had been in Canada for ten years, and I had stopped dancing for a decade. So I thought maybe this moment is a return to the body. So I started developing ZOM-FAM as a show and refining the manuscript for the stage but also starting to explore with different collaborators. How does this body resound in my own body? How can it move across the stage? How can it move across the space? 

It was only later on, [when] I was already working towards the show when I signed the contract with Metonymy. That was another part of the process, thinking about this performance that I had that now had to go back to the page. That was really interesting, fascinating and beautiful for me as a process because then I really started thinking about bringing the poetry back to the page. I was really interested in the question of thinking of the text as a body. How does the body of the text move on the page? How could I bring my performance practice into the actual object of the page? It is why everything is laid out the way it is in the book because that’s very intentional. How every line is placed, how every word is placed, the multiple ways in which I get to play with rhythm, which is not with the voice this time around. So that was also a fascinating, beautiful part of the process, which came later, rethinking the material as being on the page, as being laid out on the page. Beyond just the story that the words were telling, I wanted also the layout of the poetry to also tell its own story. And also that allowed me to bring my visual arts practice and my performative arts practice into the literary practice. That’s been the story of how the piece and pieces got written and rewritten over years. This came about in this form on the page.

AT: When you started to work with Metonymy, how did Ashley and Oliver…did they work with you on the way it was lineated? How did they help you?

KLM: I didn’t know in the beginning. I had a sense of the stories and the pieces that were going into it. I knew what were the pieces. I had been playing my own idea of form for a while. I sent it to them in terms of my ideal form of how this would play out on the page. It was actually only in January that I started working with the edits. Because Amber Dawn edited with me first, with Metonymy. Amber Dawn was the guest poetry editor who worked on the book. And it was interesting. It was also my first book, so I hadn’t been part of that process, and before Amber Dawn even looked at the manuscript, one of the first questions she asked me within the process of editing was: How do you picture it? What is the size of your book? What is going to be the trim of the book? I didn’t realize because it was my first time working on edits. It was my first book. For her, when you’re editing poetry, the first question was, particularly with this, if it’s short poems, then it’s typically one poem on each page. How do you want it to appear on the page? Because then you need to edit based on the limitations that you have. When I sent it, it was just a regular Word document, which was laid out on the Word document. So the first step was when Amber Dawn said, you need to think about it as what do you want on each page. Because at first, I was like: Here’s the full manuscript! Oh, now I need to figure out this manuscript within which text lands on which page. 

Metonymy – Ashley and Oliver – left me all the freedom. I sent them the first manuscript. I started working with Amber Dawn first. I finished the edits with Amber Dawn, then we sent them the second manuscript. I think part of it was already on the page, but when we got to the point where Amber said, you need to decide what is going to be the trim size of the book and then edit based on that. It’s just that amount of lines that can fit as opposed to my word document, okay. That was also interesting because that part of the editing process became more intentional, seeing the page as the trim size, if only this amount of words can fit in it, how does it relate to the next page? I wasn’t only editing for content. I was very much editing for form on top of editing the text of the poetry. I would say Amber Dawn really encouraged me to lean into it, to lean into that side of my practice. She understood it from the very beginning. I remember during the process there were moments she was like, you know, by this poem you have already established what you’re doing. You don’t have to be shy anymore. There were a couple of moments, I think by now, which is so interesting in the editing process, it’s my first book again so I wouldn’t have thought about it. Amber Dawn was like, here you can be more ambitious, challenge your readers more. You think I can push this formal poetry thing I’m doing more. So that was the process, yeah.

AT: It’s really interesting because as you’re talking about this I’m also thinking about how similar that is in the stage performance. You have the dimensions of the stage, you have the dancers, the way you’re marking movement on the stage depending on counts of music. Definitely the way that you’re using stanza is very nontraditional. It feels like rhythmically these containers of rhythm and these imagistic moments that are happening within the mythology that you’re telling. I like the idea that the words are also these sorts of bodies that are placed within the white space. That was a question I had, too. I’m really interested in how you’re using white space and how there’s this push and pull between the words that are on the page and the white space, especially when so much of the book is really dealing with the relationship between the self and the island, and the environment and the landscape and how that is kind of laid out in the formatting of the book.

KLM: As you were talking about this, I hadn’t realized this at all until right now. One of the things that happened with the show, because the show was supposed to premiere in April, and then the pandemic hit and it got cancelled. And it was reprogrammed for October but unfortunately it got cancelled again. But going back to the theater in October was so interesting because then we were going back into the theater – from end August onwards, I went back into studio getting ready for the performance, and really finishing up that part of the creative project. Because the production got stalled midway through with the beginning the pandemic. We were going back into the theater under COVID rules. Previously the performance was planned so there were moments I could walk up right into the face of the audience, but now there was this line which was the COVID line so basically I had lost a third of the stage, and then there was a work of readapting the entire work just based on having lost a third of the stage because that’s the distance you need to leave between you and the audience. I hadn’t thought about this at all but now that we’re talking about it, there was this part of working and reworking the performance just as much as working with the page, like, here are the limitations and so going back to the performance also had that. Here are the limitations because your stage is smaller now. How are you gonna make the poetry live through the body and create a performance, but here’s your canvas. But I would say just to add to this as well, one of the things that I actively tried to do, I would say, both with the book and the performance is that for me there is a relationship between island, body, and ocean. A lot of the ways in which I thought of the presence of the body or the body of the text – I do write the queer femme body onto the island and the island onto the queer femme body in that sense. There’s that ongoing relationship. Even laid onto the page where I wanted to create those islands, or the ocean. 

AT: There’s this expansiveness – it’s so interesting. I can really see how that works in the book. And then there are these interesting moments where you have this long line, and then this list.

There are these different shapes that are being made. I was also thinking about, when we’re talking about limitations of body and shape, so much of the book is really dealing with that. I’m thinking specifically about the father and the building the house and just the sociopolitical and socioeconomic landscape that you come from, these are always these limitations being placed on body, on land, on time, and then COVID pandemic that this book is coming into its own is continuing to deal with adaptations based on whatever is being dictated by the environment, which I think is really interesting. 

You don’t have to answer this question but I’m wondering how you are feeling about birthing a book during this time. You’re having the opposite experience I had which is that I started my tour and then couldn’t finish the tour because the pandemic came in the middle. I’m just wondering – I know you’re about to embark on your virtual book tour. Luckily we’ve been at this a while so I feel like people are getting more and more sophisticated at how they’re doing these virtual events. When the pandemic first hit, all of mine just got canceled. No one really knew what to do yet. So I’m excited that people are coming up with solutions for how to get this work out there. How are you feeling about all of this? Especially with your first book. I was so sad. You know, I had been waiting for eighteen years – since I was a teenager to have this debut book, so I was devastated at how this was happening. So, how are you feeling?

KLM: I’m feeling pretty excited about it. Recently, now that the year is drawing to a close, and there’s a way I’m looking back over 2020. This is a year I’m putting out my first book, and it’s not just any book. It’s a poetry book, so it’s already hard for poetry to come out. It’s not a fiction book, it’s a poetry collection, it’s a debut collection, and it’s from an indie press so, you know, good luck. While there’s an election and a pandemic happening. Good luck having anyone pay attention to it. Initially. Because I laugh about it now. On the whole I am happy and extremely grateful that I could birth the book and it’s out there, into the world. It’s not what we had imagined when I signed the contract. I was supposed to go on tour for six weeks. Metonymy was also excited because it was the first time they were working with a full time artist. And I was like, yeah, I have six weeks, I’ll go on tour for six weeks because I am a full time artist. That’s what I do. I have everything to dedicate to just my artwork which is a very privileged and beautiful place to be in if that’s what you want. For most people, when you’re writing a book, and a book is coming out, you still have your 9-to-5, but in my case, I was like, nope, that’s my job right now. 

On the whole I am very happy the book is out into the world. The book is doing well so far and the reason why is because, that’s the thing. This is my debut poetry collection but I have been performing for years. I have toured from East to West. I have performed in all the major cities in Canada for sure, different literary events, spoken word events. For years, more than anything, within the Montréal context, I have been hosting and organizing cabarets including Gender Blender, the queer open mic in Montréal and a lot of those pieces, the first time I tried them out, was at Gender Blender. And there’s an entire community of generations, of QTBIPOC and queer and trans people who came to those spaces from month to month. So I think more than anything it’s fantastic to have this book out. It’s a way of giving back to that community. That’s why it was so important for it to be published by an indie press in Montréal. I needed it to be grounded within the community where this work emerged, even if it’s about Mauritius; it all got written here. So every queer and trans person I’ve seen on the stage for years inspired me in a different way and I wanted the world to see me giving back to the community to say, you’re all part of this. So, independent of the pandemic, I’m extremely happy that the book is out and it can exist and circulate in that sense. 

In a deeper way I’ve been thinking a lot of the moment of the pandemic but also my own life journey, and I’ve been thinking about the notion of journeys and pilgrimages. The figure of the pilgrim is so present in this book as it is, and I’ve been thinking when the pandemic hit I really thought about what that means for us as artists, what that means for us as a community, and also a global transistance. You go through dark journeys. We all have periods of grief in our life and that’s what’s happening. Normally when you’re going on your journey you’re on your own but I felt like with a pandemic hitting us that’s quite unprecedented in history in that sense. Wherever you are it did not matter. It wasn’t respective to borders or nations. We were all in it together, globally. That’s what dark roads are about; that’s what those nights are about. Those moments that are asking you to transform and to grieve and to come out as a new person, to shed whatever you need to shed. I thought about it globally that in terms of our collective conscience, that’s what the earth is asking of us right now. The earth is asking of us to slow down, to question the ways in which we relate to each other. With this pandemic it is very much about how we relate to the other human bodies but it’s also asking us to question our culture of consumption in multiple ways and so putting out a book within that context for me was also then, there’s a way in which I felt and with the show in particular getting canceled not once but twice, I really, for me, I was like, but oh, this is the journey of the work and I need to honor it and trust it and grieve, like any other journey, any other sickness, or heartbreak, or any moments of crisis that I had in my life, if only in a collective sense. There’s no part of me that’s just oh if only the book had come out in 2019. No. This is what it is, I’m just gonna honor the journey, honor this moment, and trust that the reason why this story comes out into the world now, it relates and it has something to bring to this moment in terms of where we are. On the whole, I’m actually pretty fine. 

AT: When lockdown first happened, all of these amazing things, these healing things, were first happening to the earth. Literally. From a lack of consumption, the lack of congestion. You know, the smog completely lifted from Los Angeles. And I was thinking, you know, Earth is telling us that we need a break. If we don’t take a break – we cannot just keep going as we’ve been going. This world needs a reset. So it’s interesting to think about in the context of this work because there’s so much about the relationship of colonization and all of these things to island cultures that aren’t being read as much in at least a North American context. I’m excited to see how this book gets responded to, you know, once it’s really out there, and you’re performing and reading it. 

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the calling in of your femme self in the book, but also about ZOM-FAM as part of a legacy of trans femme literature and if there were certain books that you read that informed or inspired it, or if there was a particular intersection or intervention you wanted to make to the legacy of the literature that’s already happened.

KLM: Great question, fantastic question, thank you. I think one of the things that I realized not just about this book but I had a visual art/photographic project I was exhibiting last year, which was, about, again, rewriting and reframing the queer femme body onto the island space. I had this realization last year – this project is called Breaking the Promise of Tropic Emptiness and it’s a photographic project where I put into question the legacy of the postcard as a colonial artifact, how postcards are framed spaces as being devoid of any local objectivity. There’s never Black or brown bodies on postcards. There’s just the empty beaches and the empty landscapes. I worked on this photographic project where I framed my body in the middle of different postcards of Mauritius. That work got exhibited in South Africa, Montréal, on the West Coast. I showed it for the first time last Spring, in Montréal in 2019. I hadn’t realized it, and it was only when it exhibited and I was doing my artist talk, oh, what I’m actually doing with this project, this was my own personal struggle to find language and write my femme self onto the island. For me there’s also this story that yes, I had to leave Mauritius to be able to come into my queer femme self and also to become an artist. Now that I look back over ZOM-FAM as a poetry collection and the body of this work that it’s become I realize how much of this work was me, alongside the writing of the work was happening, my own coming into my femme self. From multiple ways, like going to therapy every week. It was such a journey of the self to be able to assert myself as trans feminine and step into my femininity but also feel safe in it but didn’t always happen, not in public spaces. In public spaces, in terms of my work place, or in terms of the streets, it didn’t feel safe, but at the same time for me there was this particular strength and sacredness I realized I needed to find within myself and I think that’s what nurtured the writing process. It’s only now that I look back, oh, that is what was happening. That wasn’t necessarily conscious while I was doing it. To go back to this question, there were certain elements I wanted to bring in. Exploring femininity and spirituality, exploring trans not necessarily as tied to the body as a gender transition but a spiritual transition, and tapping into ancestral forces in that sense. I did quite a bit of research how in many pre-colonial societies across the globe, whether it’s two-spirit people in what we now call Canada, or hijras in India, and how the fact of not belonging to one or the other gender also meant that you were blessed in the sense that you didn’t have to belong to the words of the spirits and the living and you could travel across gender, was magic. A lot of it was for me on a very personal level tapping into that magic and finding that magic in me so that I could actually live and survive on a day-to-day basis. I wrote that into this book. I wanted to honor the spiritual. Where it differs as a trans narrative, is that it’s intentionally grounded in Mauritius, which also is unique in that sense. I feel complicated with the notion of firsts, generally speaking, but independent of that, it is the first queer Mauritian book. On that sense for me, I’m starting the lineage more than I’m writing into the lineage, which is why the character of Kumkum when she appears in this book is so important to me. With Kumkum, I also get to say I’m not starting that lineage, here she is, and recreating the trans ancestor in that sense. In terms of the literary scene or artistic scene period, I’m the first openly out queer person who’s making work about it in a Mauritian context. Then there are the inspirations that came from here. There are many names that come to mind. Clearly I was very influenced by Audre Lorde’s bioemotional and biomythography which influences a lot of queer and trans people of color, generally speaking, you’re rewriting your sense of self through history, biography, and mythology and created a mythology around it, which for me was grounded within Mauritian myths and folklore. Kai Cheng Thom’s novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars was a seminal one, which I’m actually translating in French at the moment. That was very influential. A lot of it was not influential in terms of my craft choices or the practice of writing, but reading other trans women and trans women of color which was very meaningful to me in terms just allowing in the Canadian context, I’m thinking of Trish Salah, jia qing wilson-yang, Casey Plett, within the Canadian context, just writing – giving myself permission to write myself, to write my story. In a totally different genre, a few years ago when Janet Mock published Redefining Realness that was such a seminal book for me in terms of giving myself permission to write, and write on my own terms.

AT: That’s amazing. I always have mixed feelings about this question but I think a lot of writers and readers want to know about this type of question. Certainly you address the way that the parents respond to transness and to what that life is going to be like for their child, what is your family’s relationship to this book? Do they know about it? Are they involved in any way? Everyone has a different relationship with how they negotiate their family with work that is so personal, and coming from such personal and cultural mythology. I’m wondering about how you’re feeling about that now that it’s out in the world and it’s here, and can’t be taken back.

KLM: Interestingly enough, my parents haven’t read the work yet, because the borders were closed in Mauritius, so we couldn’t send any international mail. It’s actually this week that I’m putting my copies out in the mail. They haven’t read the book yet. We had conversations about it, and that was important for me. One of the things I tried to do in this book, not just this book, but part of my life values and how I see the world, I’m someone who fundamentally believes in nuance, which is why I don’t believe in call-outs. There is only so much I can do with 180 characters. There’s something about our generation in particular, there’s that notion of good or bad, black or white, with us or against us, even within leftist, radical politics. As human beings we actually live in contradictions and for me it’s about making space to honor those contradictions. Actually conversations I had with my parents. Just as much as this work was about the journey of the self and finding myself and at the same time this was happening I was in a deep process of conflict and reconciliation with my family and my parents specifically. Take the character of the father. Yes, that was an absent father, but that was also a father who spent twenty years building a house with his own hands, because that was the only language of love that he knew, that was the only way he knew how to love and show up. I think those can coexist. That’s a conversation I had with my family. I was like, you’re going to read this book someday, it’s going to be out into the world, it’s very personal, it talks about our family history. It is a love letter. I dedicated the book to both of my grandmothers, who I have never known. I haven’t known any of my grandparents. I went into it with honoring the ancestry but at the same time talking about it – and that’s what I told them – I think those truths can coexist. Yes, you did try to love your kids, but you also hurt them badly. I believe there should be space for both of that in our narratives of who we are, for we should be able to say that in our histories, not just in who we are but also in reconciling. There should be a space for both rage and love. I had conversations with them. They hadn’t read the book yet, and I put it in the mail to them. So we’ll see what they think about it. But I had talked to them about it, because I knew it would be out, there would be reviews, and they would watch interviews and so I talked with them about it.

AT: They were open to it?

KLM: Yeah, I think I really built in that notion of nuance and contradiction. So far they’ve been receptive to that.

AT: I feel it’s really beautiful that both parents are really embodied in the work. You feel this sense of conflict but it isn’t a sense of eradication. It is just more complicated and I think in terms of trans literature because there are so many narratives that come out of the world with trans bodies and how the parents negotiate those embodiments. I’m really excited about that, which actually makes me want to talk to you about the opening, the invocation. It’s my favorite part. It’s so lush and the musicality is just such a wonderful opening. I just wanted to talk a little bit about it. And I was wondering within the process of completing the book if it was the last thing you wrote or the first thing you wrote, cause I could see it also being a piece that ties the book together. Did it come out of the performance work you were doing initially? I was sort of curious about how you created that work in particular.

KLM: It’s also one of the earlier works that I created and that I actually got to try and perform. I know, for example, Kai Cheng Thom and I performed together and she would chant, and I would do the invocation. I’ve tried it in multiple ways. It’s evolved until this version of course. There used to be a shorter version and I’m sure in the process I reworked it to tie up neatly with the rest of ZOM-FAM. I knew I wanted to open the piece with a prayer because, like I said, spirituality is very important to me, and the question of what makes our lives possible but also the question of the lineage. I wanted to write all the generations of femmes into it, and write myself into it, and then offer it to the future lineages yet to come, so that was very intentional. I wanted very much that. I wanted the ending to tie up the way I see it, the invocation brings from the past, brings from the sky, and the divine goes forward. One is bringing in and then there’s the full story and the femme divine – it’s a giving as opposed to invoking. So I wanted to start with that and end with that. It’s a piece that grew with time as well as I also tapped in and discovered, tapped into my own magic, and performed it in multiple ways and you could see the entire room. Oh. Okay I invoked right now. There’s not just us there; we’re actually surrounded by spirits right now. I did rewrite it and I was more intentional of bringing the women of my family and making it more personal mythology. I always start with the question in everything I do and in every workshop I give. I do always like starting with a question of what makes our lives possible. What makes your presence possible in a particular moment? The first thing I always think about is our relationship to the land. The territory is where you live that gives you the oxygen you breathe and the food that we eat. And we should have gratitude for that because we don’t exist as just beings that exist without any context. We don’t just exist on our own. We are always in relationship to others, to other forces, and to the earth. So that was important for me in terms of writing a femme story, to also just honor the generations of femmes and those that we know about and typically those that we know about are only those that we hear about in alternative media because they were murdered. But also who are the ones that came before us? For me, it was important to honor those lineages of femmes that came before us and made our existence possible.

AT: I really love that, too, because an antithesis of a book that I was thinking about was Derek Walcott’s work, which, I don’t know if you know anything about him but he was a poet from St. Lucia, the island. He writes so much about the burden of colonialism on the language and landscape. So I just really love that this is doing something very different, showing the potency and the potentiality of the landscape from the people who were birthed of it, rather than the abuse and the wounding of colonialism without pretending it’s not there either. That it’s complicated.

KLM: That was important to me. Again, it goes back to that question of nuance I was talking about. It was important. It’s a reclamation of the narrative. I didn’t want to be stuck in a narrative that framed colonized people, queer colonized people, as just being victims. It’s a book that actively is trying to honor resilience and I think that resilience also leads into, points towards, a possibility of life, of language. I did ask myself that question – I’m trying to articulate a decolonial poetics but I am writing in an imperial language. How do I do that? I didn’t discard the English entirely, but it’s about reclaiming it and reinventing it and reimagining it and getting into the process of writing. That’s how I dealt with that part of colonial history, generally speaking. I will say one of the things so far since the book came out that I’m really happy about. I don’t think it was intentional as such, but a lot of people have been commenting on the joy and the celebration in the book. I hadn’t realized this. I love it. I don’t know if you’ve heard me laugh, but I have this huge cackle when I laugh. I have a big laugh. I think about it. I was working with my dramaturg for a bit of time on the show, and he said, you know, Kama do you remember when I first met you, we were sitting in the café, and then you laughed, and the entire café turned around to look at you. Who’s laughing? We need to bring that laugh into the performance, that thing that’s you, that spirit of you. I hadn’t thought about it because I’m not that self-conscious. But I’m so happy this is in the book and people are responding to it, because this also who I am, and yeah, I will laugh and the entire room will turn around and ask, who is that person with that big laugh, and I’m like, yeah, I want this cackle to be in the book as well, and that joy, because I think it’s important to have space for joy as well.

AT: I definitely remember your laugh in Montréal by the way. I’m picturing it because I hadn’t thought about it until you said that, and I see you in the bookstore laughing, so that’s funny. I also think that the world is in such a trying moment that I think a lot of people are needing to return to joy and celebration and feelings that lift up the body more than ever before but like you were saying in this global sense. Somehow we’re all experiencing different versions of similar feelings all together. Now that I’m thinking about it, this is going to be an interesting moment for this book to be in the world at a time where joy is so needed for so many reasons. The last question I have: what role does love and softness have in the book and was it intentional? Softness in particular, because I feel so much of that throughout the poems and was wondering if you wanted to talk about that a little bit.

KLM: I love this. I think love, definitely. It is, as I said earlier, a love letter, very much so. When I was doing my technical residency, I got to do one show for five people and I invited my five besties. That’s how they reacted. They said this was such a love letter. It’s a love letter to your family and to your parents, and I love that they saw that, because these are my closest people that know me the most and know me the most intimately. Yeah, it is a book that is about loving and losing and then finding the languages of love. What are the multiple ways in which that love can be passed on from generation to generation, and passed on differently from one generation to the next? I think the softness is again tied to the reclamation of femmeness and femininity and creating and finding. Both of those are absolutely connected. Since the pandemic started, one of the questions I am asking is, what is then my role as an artist and what does it mean to be a poet when times are so dark like they are at the moment? I’ve been going back to the notion of the poet as prophet. We artists get to reimagine the world and offer the new way of being and relating to the world, to the future generations as we reinvent. We get to be the first ones who dream. I do want that imagination to be grounded in softness, and in love, both of those, and a return to the spiritual, a return to the earth, and to ways in which we’re really with each other, and I think, more than ever at the moment, we need to relate with each other in ways that are kind and soft and forgiving and gentle. Yes, there is a space for rage, but again, nuance and coexistence. That’s one of the things I try to do with my own work and I think with this book there’s that line in the invocation that goes, “I invoke femmes of all genders, bloods, ages, lineages,/generations of witches & fighters/who infuse the universe with love, rage & magic.” I think that’s it, love, rage, & magic.

AT: That is such a beautiful ending. That’s perfect. Thank you so much. Not just for this book, but for your engagement. I’m so glad we got to talk. I’m so thrilled to be in the [Metonymy Press] family with you in this book. 

About Kama La Mackerel

Kama La Mackerel is a Montréal-based Mauritian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist, educator, writer, community-arts facilitator and literary translator who works within and across performance, photography, installations, textiles, digital art and literature. 

Kama’s work is grounded in the exploration of justice, love, healing, decoloniality, hybridity, cosmopolitanism and self- and collective-empowerment. They believe that aesthetic practices have the power to build resilience and act as resistance to the status quo, thereby enacting an anticolonial praxis through cultural production.

Kama has exhibited and performed their work internationally and their writing in English, French and Kreol has appeared in publications both online and in print. ZOM-FAM, their debut poetry collection from Metonymy Press was named a CBC Best Book of Poetry and a Globe and Mail Four Best Debuts of 2020, and was shortlisted for the Concordia University First Book Award of the Quebec Writers Federation. 

lamackerel.net // @KamaLaMackerel

About Addie Tsai

Addie Tsai is a queer, nonbinary writer and artist of color. She teaches Creative Writing, Dance, Humanities, and Literature at Houston Community College. She received her Master of Fine Arts from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and her PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. The author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin, Addie is a staff writer at Spectrum South, Nonfiction Editor at The Grief Diaries, Associate Editor at Raising Mothers, and Assistant Fiction Editor at Anomaly. She collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Her work has been published in Foglifter, VIDA Lit, Banango Street, The Offing, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. Addie is the Founding Editor and Editor in Chief of just femme & dandy, a magazine on fashion for and by the LGBTQIA+ community. She can be found at http://www.addietsai.com, @addiebrook on Twitter, and @bluejuniper on Instagram.