Mini-interview: Skylar Kay

Skylar Kay is an Albertan poet currently living in Windsor while she completes her MA in English. She has an interest in Japanese poetic forms–namely haiku–but has explored longer forms as of late. Her debut book is Transcribing Moonlight (Frontenac House, April 2022). She is thrilled to see what comes next.

What drew me to this poet: CBC did a profile of a book of haibun(!) and then she read at the Haiku Canada Conference reminding me that the book was out there.

About the book: Transcribing Moonlight is a collection of autobiographical haibun which outlines the life of a trans woman from December 2018 to December 2019. The form of the journal itself is traditional for haibun; while experimental at times, the haibun pay attention to the physical world and are therefore able to capture the changing seasons, moons, and phases of the narrator’s life. The traditional trope of the moon and the traditional form of haibun become more nuanced and modern, as they represent a marginalized group and some of the struggles that trans women face, both externally and internally. These phases and struggles include gender (eu/dys)phoria, coming to terms with sexuality, life after graduation, relationships, and family issues. 

Praise for the book:

As a trans haiku poet, Skylar Kay is breaking ground with her achingly beautiful and monumental collection of haibun in Transcribing (the perfect word) Moonlight. Haibun first appeared as a literary genre in Matsuo Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi, a journey through Japan’s interior. Kay’s debut, also a journey to the interior, explores identity, the process of becoming self. She writes across, through, and into the body, all the while aware of the moon’s wax and wane, the subtle changes in seasons. And Kay has done her homework. Notable haiku publications include Autumn Moon Haiku, Haiku Canada Review, Presence, Haiku Page, Ephemerae and an honourable mention in the prestigious Betty Drevniok Award. Certainly Bashō would be proud of such an extraordinary gift to the world.
~ Terry Ann Carter, past president of Haiku Canada, author of Tokaido (winner of the Touchstone Distinguished Book Award).

Sample haibun:

Fourteen years ago, Leo sun scorched itself into my skin. Sunburn-blisters shaped like bowties emerged when we cut my shirt off and I puked on the floor. Doc said the blisters were from dehydration. Characteristics of Leo bubbled up, changed me over the summer: determination, generosity, masculine energy. I saw peach fuzz, heard voice cracks. How much still remains in my skin and blood today? 

heat wave–
my stubble back

I exorcize the testosterone with little white pills, recite my prayer for surgery: remove this shit once and for all from my veins cut it off please fuck just cut it off like that shirt I couldn’t pull over my head fourteen years ago let me puke out masculine bile a decade and a half too late please Doc just take it away

for another body–
dandelion fluff

In recent years, Leo sun heralds forest fire season. British Columbia blazes beneath its fury. Oh dried out pines, how I know that pain. I promise it will get better

smoke obscures
half the valley–
but the blackbird song!

from Transcribing Moonlight (Frontenac House, April 2022).

PP: How did you get first find to haiku and haibun?: 
SK: This is actually kind of a fun story! So the university where I did my undergrad, Mount Royal University, had these events where they would take old books that nobody took out from the library anymore, or books that were being replaced, and would sell them for a dollar. During my second year I stumbled across a copy of Basho’s travelogues. Looking back, the translations were not the best, but it still got me totally hooked! I was just so enthralled with just how much could be captured by such a short and seemingly simple form. I began to view haiku almost more as a philosophy than just a poetic form, and let it take over my life completely.

PP: Wow, that is a cool encounter. How did the form help shape the manuscript?

SK: As with many collections of haibun, Transcribing Moonlight follows a chronological progression through the seasons, through shifting lunar cycles. This was a perfect opportunity to use these poetic tropes to reflect and augment my own experience as a transgender woman, allowing my own phases of transition to kind of be swept up into the changes that one sees throughout the year. Beyond that, however, I felt that I needed more than just haiku. While I love the haiku form, and think it can capture a lot, there are quite a few instances of my life that I could not totally put into a handful of words. The longer length of haibun allowed me to provide a bit more detail and express myself more fully than I could have done otherwise. It took me a while to learn to write the prose, but I think it was a great experience!

PP: What was or will be your favourite moment(s) in making this book?
SK: Oh there are a few! I shall go through them in order haha. So, firstly, getting rejected the first year I submitted this collection to Frontenac House. I knew it wasn’t ready, but a friend told me to submit it anyways. They rejected it, and rightfully so. My editor-to-be, however, Micheline Maylor, gave me a great piece of advice that day that I held onto throughout the course of writing and revising this book; she simply said ‘Work harder.” I loved that and took it to heart. Next, I gotta say that writing a poetry book that hurts to write is also super therapeutic. When I eventually really got into this collection, what it needed to be, it was liberating. The collection almost became therapy for me, as I could do a free-write session and just write out my thoughts and experiences. It made me face a lot of stuff I had been afraid to discuss before, and when I finally took that pain and made it into something beautiful, it meant the world to me. Finally, getting a call the next year to find out that Frontenac accepted the manuscript! I think I had a big grin on my face for the next two days. The whole process has been such a blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

PP: That’s awesome. Micheline Maylor has a keen eye and is a great encourager. Thank you for seeing it through. Looking forward to what’s next for you.