The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

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JUL-AUG 2022 Issue
Critics Page In Conversation

Anne Ishii with Cynthia Arrieu-King

Anne Ishii: The first thing I notice is the timbre of your voice as you tell me about alternative practices of reading, though I mean to begin with a more visual cue per the instructions of this prompt. Beginning with the sonic register of paperless notifications, audiobook mimesis, conversations over gluten-free snacks, I think, is not the alternative but the normative practice because it keeps us closer to vernacular praise, where we all need to be as people of the future. Anyone who has had a great teacher will recall a literal voice, and that is still what I hear when we converse silently: the teacher is a work of art because she travels in her own timbre.

The most important thing you repeated to me from a course you were teaching, was to write like I was already dead. You utter death but we are talking about poetry and how both imply layers (outside of time) and linearity (ordered, causal). You want a means to highlight the importance of poetry and the source of its heart beat. I am white knuckling through my racing heart every day, feeling either like I am about to have a heart attack or coming back to life, thanks to poetry. Thanks to timbre.

Cynthia Arrieu-King: When I think of your voice, I see you holding your heart in your hand surrounded by the vibrations of drums and cymbals. I picture your tweets of the sentence: "I want you to hold my heart in your hands,” your repeated mantra, signaling to yourself that the bright energy of existence abides and how hard it is to house. I think of your voice—especially in your writing—as rounding up the most piercing moments and images of life and what may at first seem without pattern or theme, always comes to a stunning landing on its feet, a way to see the way life is unbreakable from sense if the sense is wild enough.

Ishii: We texted each other in the last minutes of the night before going to work in new ways as poets and lovers in our respective lives. We tended to our well being as writers and humans. I feel inspired to write again. Hold my heart in your hands. And the most important part of a mantra, it seems, is to utter it out loud. You tell me to utter it out loud. Have even encouraged me to send my hand-held heart out into larger parts of the world. I hope I do that one day. I hope it reaches people I want it to reach. Have I told you that of late I have been in an existential crisis or is it all an existence and the crisis is redundant. I don’t know. It seems love and art can be a volatile collaboration. Would that one knew how much they were held; your breath-like words give form, everything from cat videos and sewing patterns to Jacky Wang’s newest book or Patrick Shiroishi’s latest album. “I’m going to think about writing tonight,” you would text me. It was enough to know I could hold your heart in my hands, too.

Arrieu-King: When you’re writing to a public, it still feels like you’re writing to me, and sitting me down at your table, giving me some nourishing food. You wrote today: If there were a way I could show my viscera without hurting anybody I would. Last night I watched a movie about Jesus Christ’s conflicted soul before he accepted that he was going to die. And I’d forgotten in this version, he goes to see his friends while they’re hanging out shooting down all his ideas, and to get them to show them he means business, he reaches into his shirt and pulls out his actual heart. I guess showing your viscera without hurting anyone—in fact, changing people’s hearts too— is absolutely possible. I was thinking about how beginning again must be a trope in all of the stories of human kind. And I feel like it takes youth of spirit, and a vision, to want to show people your guts, blood dripping all over your sandals. I was watching a long lesson about giving acupressure massage to a family member who might be recovering from surgery or something—completely randomly. And there was this beautiful way that the nurse showed how to stand over a person and hold the energy from the head to the bottom of the trunk, that it helps with healing, grounding, and is not that different from standing there with your hands out, as if you’re about to say something big.

Ishii: I’d mentioned and nearly forgotten, a massage therapist who does not read my social media accounts or blog told me about her training in body work included a unique opportunity to visit a morgue and engage with corpses. She was not repulsed but compelled, and at one point the attendant at the morgue asked her to fold out her hands and he placed a heart in them. The therapist then looked at me as she told the story and said, “I’m holding your heart in my hands!” as if in conversation with the deceased woman in question. I was breathless.

Skin is viscera, I believe. You show me skin in hues and textures. Textiles are so important to you, and that is the first environment of our skin. A viscera of shifts. A viscera of interventions. You see yourself and the world and the way that it sees you, in a way that is seeing itself; in a way that seems impossible–like tasting your own tongue. If we are holding energy for each other, I delight in our friendship being the container of a resting heart.


Anne Ishii

Anne Ishii is a writer, editor, and translator.

Cynthia Arrieu-King

Cynthia Arrieu-King is a poet.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues