The Halo-Halo Review is pleased to interview authors in the aftermath of their books' releases. This issue's featured authors include Kay Ulanday Barrett:
What is your most recent book?
My most recent book is a poetry collection titled, More Than Organs published by Sibling Rivalry Press.
When was it released?
My book was released at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Publication Date: March 12, 2020.
What has been the response/what has surprised you most about the response?
It was hard, 2020. For so many obvious reasons and to publish a book right at the start of a pandemic, a book that’s explicitly Disabled and Sick in content and spirit made so much peculiar and wild sense. For this time, I feel as though my book has been well received because it centers such pressing and relevant urgency. The poems were written in loneliness spurred from state systems, medical complex, and community’s (artistic and political) internal alienation. At the same time, I feel the book is an immersion in joy and the thrilling love of community. To expect people to buy books right now and previously in 2020, is such a big ask. Yet the Stonewall Honor Book Award and Lambda Literary Award Finalist nominations this book has received tells me there’s a circle of readers and audience that might not primarily be poetry centered, but that read these poems in particular since it resonates with heart break AND collective care. Somehow this book still had support from Publisher’s Weekly, Boston Book Festival, Lambda Literary.
My actual tour in 2020 was sliced down. Chopped. Gone. What was eleven events became just three to four. It was devastating. I think I am still processing what it took to make this book and how the world buoyed me as best as it could given grotesque circumstances.
Surprise? This book started with rejections. Some of the poems weren’t received in literary journals until the book was actually published. Some of the poems were put on pause for being deemed too political from previous editors. This includes the book’s namesake "More Than Organs." Those same poems served me to get on waitlists, semi-final spots, on unexpected platforms like The United Nations, and to then eventually, land residencies. It is a long game and in-flux book. It’s a book that was an underdog from the start, much like myself and my peoples. We pave our own way.
Once I had the book in my hand, not busting my ass in spasms for a public tour, I was relieved (read: semi-surprised) that I knew how to pivot with accessibility and remote work. This book as Sick as it actually is, of course landed in a taxing time! I’m grateful to every librarian and young queer and trans brown reader who carry this book at all. That’s the biggest honor. I’ve heard from young trans people’s moms, people newly Disabled, partner’s supporting their sick beloveds, and titas at Filipino cultural centers who are tremendously so kind and have so many questions.
Tell me something not obvious or known about the book.
Insider note: the cover art was originally something else entirely! We had medical and medicine cabinet vibes punched up with a gothic weirdo and animal motifs. What I thought could work, didn’t work with the pulse of the book. It didn’t fit. The designer at SRP, Seth worked with me on the current rendition of constellations and an anatomical heart instead, a soft glow and a glint of hope in vastness. This is to say, sometimes you think your book and poems will be toured or perceived in one way, however the truest spirit of the book has a hella different tactical purpose and vision altogether! I ended up adoring this cover. I couldn’t imagine it any other way at all.
What are you working on right now.
I am currently working on my next wave of touring for Fall/Winter 2021 for More Than Organs. Schools, universities, organizations, and collectives are exciting to connect with and together we have bigger discussions. I am working on having water and protein. I’m working on petting my dog and crying when my ancestors inform me I need to. I think like thousands of people, I am working on that question, yes during this obliteration that happens with the world what do we even do? For so much of 2020 it was just about keeping alive while being in a series of volatile state impacts as somebody immune-compromised, Filipinx, and Trans.
Last fall I was in residency in NH (so stunning, the leaves!) where I wrote prose poems and creative non-fiction. I’m on this long form with apprehension as poems will perpetually be there I think as that is my initial medium and mode of thought. Currently, I’m wrapping up in final phases of a third poetry book and writing essays that are dense in food nostalgia. There’s something about the balance of humility and revelation that food offer as subject. I say this as a child of migrant and a Midwestern Filipinx family many of whom are no longer here in the living realm. This upcoming work is my passageway, a conduit to connect to them and to anyone who has cried at a table eating all the things without their favorite people to share them with.
An example of this is my latest contribution on Entropy, a series called Poets On Death published by Janice Lee and edited by CAConrad. My essay Eat Good for Me: An Essay on Your Late Mother’s Birthday really delves into grief as a tangible memory in the ghosts of how we cope and remember via our taste buds. I think my writing is taking grief and joy in kinetic relationship with food adoration as the vehicle.
Kay Ulanday Barrett (@brownroundboi) is a poet, performer, and cultural strategist; their collection More Than Organs received a 2021 Stonewall Book Honor Award by the American Library Association and is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Barrett has featured at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Symphony Space, the Poetry Foundation, Princeton University, the Hemispheric Institute, and the Brooklyn Museum. They’ve received fellowships from MacDowell, Lambda Literary Review, Macondo, and VONA. Their contributions are found in The New York Times, Asian American Literary Review, them., NYLON, Vogue, Buzzfeed, The Advocate, Frontier Poetry, The Rumpus, RaceForward, and more. Currently, they remix their mama's recipes in Jersey City with their jowly dog.