A MockingHeart Review Conversation with Robert Okaji, author of If Your Matter Could Reform (Dink Press, 2015)
MHR: Hi, Robert. I am glad we have this opportunity to talk to one another about your new chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. I have a few questions which I hope will illuminate us.
RO: Thank you, Clare. I’m thrilled that you asked.
MHR: The first poem is “Wind” which introduces us to the ethereal voice that has a calming effect but also the authority and power to speak the deepest questions that you explore in the book. I love the wind motif that blows in and out of poems, like a wind. What does the wind signify to you and what can we learn, formally, from paying attention to your use of it?
RO: We share our lives with the wind, yet are able to see it only through its effects. We can’t touch it, but we feel it. It has no voice, but we hear it through various vessels – leaves rattling in trees, wind chimes, discarded bottles, the vibration of it slamming against the house’s siding. Wind is a force, a carrier, and like poetry, like words, has the capacity to affect us in almost subliminal ways. There always seems to be an undercurrent, something pulling us towards the unsayable. There are no definitive answers. The wind is an open-ended question.
MHR: “Ashes” is breathtaking The last line made me gasp: “Scatter me in air I’ve never breathed.” I won’t make assumptions about the emotional impetus of this poem, which is written in first person, but can you recall when composing the poem, the formation of that sentence, or was it something someone actually spoke?
RO: My mother had expressed a desire to be cremated, to have her ashes scattered in the Pacific, but later changed her mind. I asked myself how I’d like my earthly remains disposed of, and decided it would be most pleasing to have my ashes released somewhere I’ve never been, perhaps in the Jetstream (again, the wind motif), to move along strange paths, dispersing and mingling and covering more ground than ever possible in life. Hence the line.
MHR: “Rain Forest Bridge” is another lovely piece. Did you personally traverse such a bridge? I’m curious. If so, where? Is there something that is not in the poem that you would like to share about it?
RO: I have not crossed such a bridge. A poster, or wall hanging, served as the impetus of the poem. That, and the memory of a novel I read when I was about ten years old, in which a scene of the difficulties of walking across such a bridge for the first time apparently made a big impression on me. Such is the power of language!
MHR: All of the poems have a spirited, imaginative, reflective tone with language that approaches mystical writings. Please answer this questionnaire: In addition, or because you are a poet, would you also say you are a mystic, a philosopher, a metaphysician, or all/none of these?
RO: None of these. I’m primarily a reader, observer and inveterate questioner, and to a lesser extent, a thinker, whose influences and interests lean ever so slightly towards Eastern philosophy.
MHR: You have a longer-sequenced poem, “Earth’s Damp Mound” in the chapbook. In part III, “The Bowl of Flowering Shadows” the exploration of the unseen is most prominent. This statement contains the question which frames the whole work and give us its title: “So which, of all those you might recall, if your matter could reform and place you back into yourself, would you choose?” Have you thought what your answer might be as a human being/poet?
RO: I’m much better at asking questions than answering them, but assuming that my matter would be reforming, and taking that experience into account, my reply would probably be framed with sensory elements – odors, sounds, colors, touch, tastes – rather than words, likely in the form of food (Asian/Southwest fusion) and music (Edgar Meyer on the bass).
MHR: Thank you for taking he time to talk with us about If Your Matter Could Reform, and best wishes from MockingHeart Review for many more words written by you.
If Your Matter Could Reform is available from Dink Press: http://www.dinkpress.com/store/robertokaji
Robert Okaji lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs and some books. He is the author of the chapbook If Your Matter Could Reform (Dink Press), and a micro-chapbook, You Break What Falls (Origami Poems Project). His work has appeared in Boston Review, Prime Number Magazine, Mockingheart Review, two Silver Birch Press anthologies, Hermeneutic Chaos, Kindle Magazine, Clade Song, Eclectica and elsewhere. Visit his blog, O at the Edges, at http://robertokaji.com/.