Kina Viola is a poet currently living in Oxford, Mississippi. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish, GlitterMOB, DREGINALD, and other journals. She is the managing editor for chapbooks at Big Lucks Books.
Her essay, "Skin Cells," appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of The Collagist.
Here, Kina Viola talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about how she turned a poem into a tiny essay.
What can you tell us about the origins of your essay “Skin Cells”? What sparked the initial idea and led you to start writing the first draft?
There was no single spark that prompted it—the essay was originally a poem within a collection centered around family & home in transition, the pieces we keep and take with us. Thinking of skin as something that grows and changes with us, it just seemed to fit well. The transformation from poem to essay came from a desire to make the piece a little more centered around my Dad and his storytelling.
This brief essay contains some big, rich, sensitive topics: disease, family, and death, to name a few. So how did you manage to cover such a broad range of ideas in a relatively small space? How do you select what material to include in an essay and what to leave out?
As a poet, I think we are somewhat trained to cover a lot of emotional ground with very few words. In poems, I love making huge thematic leaps from one image / story / sound to the next, and I think this impulse might have helped in this tiny essay.
Can you take us through your revision process? In what ways did “Skin Cells” change from the first draft to the final?
It was a poem, then a slightly longer essay, then slowly shrank and shrank. I think in prose I tend to be very wordy so this essay just became my own personal challenge to shave something down to its barest bones.
Looking at a list of your publications, I see that you write poetry as well as prose. What have you learned from poetry that informs the way that you write nonfiction, or vice versa?
I mentioned this briefly before, but being a poet interested in prose has definitely informed my work in many ways--I am drawn to hybrid genre authors like Maggie Nelson, Joyelle McSweeney, Claudia Rankine, Caren Beilin, and Ander Monson, who break down barriers of form and content and push readers to change their conception of what makes a poem or story. Poetry makes me more open to the many opportunities one has to be weird in prose; it allows me to feel comfortable breaking rules.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Not too much, but I have a little chapbook I am slowly and steadily submitting!
What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?
I just recently finished On Immunity by Eula Biss, and just before that, A Book So Red by Rachel Levy. Both were fantastic reads I totally recommend!