Interview with Robert Okaji

Photo: © Robert Okaji 2020

Please, introduce yourself and your writing.

Hello! I’m Robert Okaji, a half-Japanese, Texan poet who finds himself, after a major life-upheaval, living in Indiana during the pandemic. Having left my home of thirty-seven years, I find that although circumstances have changed drastically — locale, climate, economics, culture, opportunities, relationships — the writing still emerges from the same curious place it’s always come from. I seldom know what I’m going to write about when I sit at the desk. A word or phrase or simple image will pop out, perhaps influenced by mood or life’s odd occurrences mixed with etymology, landscape and observation, and the spark ignites. I ride the flame and smoke where it takes me, and at some point, perhaps after only a few words, but sometimes after many lines, the poem starts taking shape. That’s when it becomes interesting, and the real work (and joy) begins.

Your latest writing project(s)?

I’m not much of a project person; I write individual poems, with an occasional essay thrown in for good measure. Having said that, I admit to being influenced by life — politics, the pandemic, this great unrest in my country, food, language, people. These color everything I produce, but not always overtly.

How would you describe your poetry?

Over the decades some traits and patterns have certainly become staples of my writing: vivid imagery, an economy of language, attention to sound, rhythm and pace, and allowing sufficient space for readers to draw their own conclusions. The poems are much more likely to pose questions than provide answers. I like to think that they are approachable (except when they’re not). All I hope is that readers will find something worth hanging onto, a phrase or emotional note that resonates with them.

Why do you write?

I’ve not been able to not write. It is who I am, what I do. It is how I learn about things, including myself, and is also a source of great pleasure and satisfaction.

Who are your favourite authors?

The list could change daily, but Arthur Sze and Jane Hirshfield would always be near the top. I also admire Christina Davis, whose two books, Forth a Raven and An Ethic are marvelous. Tyehimba Jess blows my mind, and other favorites, though sadly lesser known, include Anna Marie Sewell, Daniel Paul Marshall, Jeff Schwaner, Lynne Burnett, Clare Martin, James Walton and Stephanie L. Harper, whose poetry I fell in love with way before we were married.

Do you have a homepage?

I have a blog, O at the Edges, at https://robertokaji.com. 

Thank you very much for the interview!