A few good words with Kam
BVS: In “YR PROFILE IS 80% CUMPLEAT! ADD A BIO!,” you write, “Language isn’t so much political but / awarded with pain…” One of the things that drew me so closely to this work was your (as I read) decolonized engagement with and use of language & diction. Can you tell us a little about the way you think about language in writing? What you think about blackness & language & writing?
KH: blackness, language, and writing! o my! I’m a Black person who grew up in Hawai’i. I benefited from the illegal occupation of Hawai’i and was harmed by the anti-black climate.
Global anti-blackness has worked to expel and keep Black bodies from land. Similarly, global settler colonialism has worked to expel and keep indigenous bodies from their self-determination, if not jus soli.
This is all to say my name is Kamden Ishmael Hilliard. I grew up on military and civilian settlements on the island of Oahu. So my English is all sideways, lol. Keeping it sideways disrupts categoric suggestions of diction (which kinds of words should be used in what kinds of places?). Calling a “city” a “settlement” reminds “city life” what it looks like, what it might be, and what it generally is.
When I let meaning go loose in my head—historic meanings, private meanings, queer meanings—they can confront one another. These histories got some shit to say. I got some shit to say.
Trying to say more than one history at once—Blackness and Settlement in Hawai’i—unaligns me with the dictions of anti-blackness and settlement. Syntax unfixed by colonial oversight is the only syntax I can commit. I am talking like I want the end of the sentence and I do.
With the end of the sentence would come the end of the story and the beginning of something we can’t talk about yet. My/Our attempts to talk like we want the end are proto-legible and accessible only through various corridors of English touched and untouched by colonizers.
BVS: Let’s talk about queering form—how does your approach the page when making poems? When do you know when something needs to get out of the margins?
KH: The energy of the poem has to be recognized and respected. We cite things in this home. If the sanctioned theater of the page presents something beyond articulation ( a violence, one obscured from meaning?) the act of articulation exits the theater.
Alternatively, some theaters become unsanctioned. Defense of the sanctioned incorporates destruction of the unsanctioned. Sometimes I turn out of the page or away from visual reasonable-ness to explore the destruction of the unsanctioned and, perhaps, find a kind of life, if not an escape.
Black Lives Matter, like, literally collect in material certainty and gather. Anti-Blackness is a kind of un-mattering (making killable, disposable), thus, to matter is a praxis of Black Love.
To cite, as Sara Ahmed observes, is a central ethical practice.
Maybe whiteness is just a mass failure of citation?
BVS: What forthcoming collection are you most anticipating & which published book do you most rely on these days?
KH: Terribly excited with Christina Sharpe’s In The Wake, these days. The thinking on climate is done with care and love. Hi-ly recommend Ben Krusling’s chapbook, Grapes.
Kamden Hilliard is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. They've published two chapbooks, Distress Tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016) and Perceived Distance from Impact (2017, Black Lawrence Press) with a third, henceforce, forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2019. Kam is a poetry editor at Jellyfish Magazine and a chapbook editor at Big Lucks. Winner of Sarah Lawrence College's 2015 Lipkin Prize for Innovation and Creativity in the Arts and Sciences, Kam has also received support from The Davidson Institute, Callaloo, The UCROSS Foundation, and The NFAA. Their reviews, essays, and poems can be found in The Black Warrior Review, Salt Hill, West Branch, Muzzle, Prairie Schooner, and other lovely locations. Find Kam on the internet at kamdenihilliard.com.