Q&A with Mg Roberts, press member and author of NOT SO, SEA from Durga Press

cover: not so, sea

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Last week, in our audio catalog, we posted a discussion  with four founding members of KSP.  Today, I’m pleased to post a Q&A with Mg Roberts, a current Kelsey Street Press member whose first book not so, sea was just published by Durga Press. Mg has made many contributions to KSP, most recently as production manager of our forthcoming critical anthology Nests and Strangers: on Asian American Women Poets, edited by Timothy Yu. In addition to the release of these two books in 2014, Mg and her husband are also looking forward to the birth of their third child later this year.

Congratulations on having your first full-length book of poetry published with Durga Press. To start, I have two background questions: How long have you been a KSP member? How long were you writing not so, sea

Roberts: I began writing not so, sea in 2007 after submitting a failed MFA thesis. I suppose writing this new work immediately after grad school began as an exercise in creating or trying my hand at a study in the subtleties of rhetoric concerning immigrant narratives and hybridity, which I feel/felt my MFA thesis lacked. I wanted to investigate/explore the narrative of family (specifically the immigrant, single family) within the mother-daughter dyad in a more dynamic, human, complex way. I studied Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Bhanu Kapil, Jenny Boully, Amber diPietra, Melissa Buzzeo, Myung Mi Kim, Carole Maso and many other female-identified or woman-identified writers to immerse myself in an experience of reaching towards a female rhetoric. I joined KSP in 2011.

What first drew you to KSP?

Roberts: I was drawn to poetries that played with language, identity, form. I suppose I was attracted to “thinking texts” that offered readers an experience of the page/s, work that transcended notions of backwards causation. I was most drawn to and shaped as a writer by Kelsey Street’s commitment to publishing avant-garde writing by different types of women to include different types of experiences.

The press is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and we have a lot planned. Is there a specific event that you are particularly excited about?

Roberts: So many special events are planned from AWP to KSP’s first anthology of critical essays. It’s such an exciting moment in KSP history. I’m just so honored to be a part of it. What I’m most proud of are the aspects of collaboration that KSP embodies and spending time with so many talented, smart women dedicated to bringing experimental writing into the world.

Did your involvement with KSP or small press publishing in general influence your own writing, or your approach to publishing it? 

Roberts: Being involved in small press publishing has influenced my poetry quite a bit. As a result, I feel I question the lyric and my balance of confession vs. the universal on Meta and Micro levels when it comes to my writing. I think I tend to interrogate the line and image, where does it break apart, smudge the page.

You were acting as production manager for KSP’s forthcoming critical anthology Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets while not so, sea was in production. That sounds a little crazy. What was it like to balance editorial work for KSP with the production of your own book from another press? 

Roberts: “Psychosis” comes to mind. The experience of attending to multiple deadlines generates an almost delusional optimism—I’m not sure I’ve quite recovered. I’ve been so lucky to receive multi-tiered mentorship by both Presses. What I walk away with most is a deep respect and commitment to the collaborative spirit of Kelsey Street as a Press and Collective.

With the publication of Nests and Strangers around the corner and not so, sea now out in the world, it strikes me that projects in your life are coming full circle at the same time. Do you feel that you are emerging from this process of publication with a different perspective? What’s next?

Roberts: With my book in the world and Nests and Strangers now in its final stages of production, I’m feeling a bit more at ease in my own skin. I can now focus on the birth of my third child and maybe a book launch for not so, sea that doesn’t involve a public sharing of placental fluid. But the latter has yet to be determined.

For the future: I’m working on a manuscript that frames the body through memory, defect, cells, geology and constellations. It’s tentatively titled, Anemal Uter Meck. It’s a project that chronicles birth, therapies, perceptions of beauty in relation to what gestates, is born, created, planted. Is.

I’d love to produce another anthology of critical essays for KSP with a focus on the need/necessity for experimental writing written by writers of color, using a quote recorded in my notebook by M. NourbeSe Philip, the author of Zong. I recorded the quote during a panel given at Naropa’s SWP in the summer of 2013. Philip’s words haunt me; the line appears in my dreams. I want to channel the line, share it so that others can negotiate and touch its form, “The purpose of avant-garde writing for people of color is to prove you are human.”

Thanks, Mg, for making time to chat about your work.

not so, sea is available for purchase now through SPD. Nests and Strangers: on Asian American Women Poets is forthcoming from Kelsey Street Press this spring. 

Mg Roberts photo

Mg Roberts

Born in Subic Bay, Philippines, Mg Roberts teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a Kundiman Fellow and Kelsey Street Press member. Her work has appeared in the Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies, Bombay Gin, Web Conjunctions, Shampoo, among other publications, and is forthcoming in GALATEA RESURRECTS and the anthologies Nests and Strangers: On Asian Women Poets (Kelsey Street Press) and Kuwento: Lost Things (Carayan Press). She lives in Oakland with her two daughters, four hens, one puppy, and husband. not so, sea (Durga Press, 2014) is her first book. 

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