An Interview with Kimberly Quiogue Andrews


An Interview with Kimberly Quiogue Andrews


Kimberly Quiogue Andrews is a poet and literary critic. She is also the author of A Brief History of Fruit, winner of the Akron Prize for Poetry from the University of Akron Press, and BETWEEN, winner of the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Prize from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Maryland and teaches at Washington College, and you can find her on Twitter at @kqandrews.


cover image of "A Brief History of Fruit" and photo of Kimberly Quiogue Andrews


Jon Riccio: Kim, congratulations on winning the 2018 Akron Poetry Prize! I love A Brief History of Fruit’s language and imagery—


                                                                        my family

            as a lattice crawling with bougainvillea


            meanwhile the fig tree balanced       on its tiny trunk

            in a pot in every Brooklyn apartment  (“The More Interesting Story”)


The abovementioned poem’s title flows into the first quatrain whose third and fourth lines read as one of several windows into the book—


            might ostensibly be my white father

            in the Philippines        a type of ghost

            in that ghosts are scary       and often white

            and often representative of past wrongs


            it’s not any fun         to think of my father this way

            he is kind        he is so good to my mother

            he brought a sun hat         and swim shorts

            and he is frightened really      as opposed

            to frightening        the light off the water


            the sun with its vengeance


Those closing lines are a gathering of elements that accompany the text through its five sections. Set in prose, your titular poem tells us “Writing about seeds means also to write about permission, which could be pretty revolutionary if you think about it.” Something we associate with citric and sweet paving the way for a paradigm shift is excellent, as what’s seeded must bloom. What questions/scholarly arguments guided you while A Brief History of Fruit took shape?   


Kimberly Quiogue Andrews: I feel as though poets often try to come up with quite complex answers to questions like this, and as someone who actually trained for more years as a critic than as a poet, I’m certainly not immune to this tendency! But the honest answer is this: when I started writing this book, what was guiding me was a fundamental confusion about what it meant to be me, culturally speaking. Racially speaking. In a world formed and destroyed by white supremacy, what does it mean to contain and embody whiteness alongside a racial identity that it has traditionally othered and exoticized? What does it mean to contain both of those things? One can see the difficulty inherent in this question just in the debates over terminology: identifiers like “mixed-race” and “half x” and all of the bi- and multi- prefixes reinforce a kind of blood-quantum reification of race, while terms like mestizx, for example, refer to very specific subsets of people. But what else are we to call ourselves? I am, and am not, Filipinx American. I am of two races, and yet I myself am one person. So this notion of how to name oneself is at the heart of the project. And even now in this answer, you can see the ways in which I am turning that fundamentally solipsistic argument (“what the hell am I anyway”) into one with obvious scholarly implications and roots. Part of this is because, as I’ve said elsewhere, the book went through two very distinct phases: an initial drafting phase, done a long time ago, in which my only real concern was portraying my family, capturing certain moments, certain places, certain relations between those things. The second phase was a rewrite of almost the entire book, undertaken much later and on the other side of a doctorate, in which I went back through the portraits and the stories and tried to force them outward, a bit, beyond my personal situation and into more conscious contact with extant discussions about the nature of whiteness and American colonialism. I learned, in that later phase, that (at least for me) successful poetry is more interpretation than expression, more analysis than anecdote. It’s what still guides me.


JR: Gunsmithing features in the opening poem, “Still Life with Metalworking Shop”—


            Particularly evocative in this instance—not often found in the still life, artists preferring   the fruits of the hunt, or as is well known, literal fruit—are the boxes and boxes of relatively

            small-caliber bullets slotted into a custom-built storage unit, indicating that this shop was

            used almost exclusively for the fashioning of rifles. Suggestive of the card catalogues that

            once lined library walls, the array of ammunition invites the viewer to think about the       organizational qualities of violence.


Bullets are an American seed cluster; librarianship ties data to caretaking, this drawer for Transgression I, that drawer for Transgression II, et cetera. The prose allows for a seamless pivot to race, “How do you think the owner of this chair might react if his son married someone who was not white?” Lines two through six of your next poem, “Ars Persona,” combine sci-fi weaponry and ancestry—


            No one ever uses a ray gun to make things bigger,

            so here I am, digesting thistle seed, each a tome,

            a vessel overfloweth, a familial tumult of windows.

            The peace we make with the panes of the past,

            their glass.


How would you expound on the concept of lineage as canvas, gun as poembrush in A Brief History of Fruit and beyond?


KQA: How am I supposed to give a better answer than “bullets are an American seed cluster”? Jon you have done my work for me here. At the heart of America is a gun trained on a nonwhite person. At the heart of my white father’s family is his father, who made and collected guns, around whose cases and cases of guns I played in total ignorance/innocence as a kid. But of course, at the heart of my Filipino family are weapons trained on indigenous Filipinos; my Chinese and Spanish ancestors were colonizers as well. You could just paint guilt and complicity on the canvas, is what I’m trying to say here. But I’m not sure if that’s the most useful way of going about things. Lineage, deeply suspect as it is, as profitable as it has become with scams like 23 and Me, still compels because it is in fact a ray gun that makes things bigger: in a world where capital wants nothing more than to atomize us to the point where we are utterly alone, the idea of belonging to a larger community that isn’t based on, like, mutual purchasing power will be appealing. Part of this is a failure of imagination; the genetic family is historically actually a really crap basis for community formation! But you work with what you have to try and imagine something to which you can belong, and you (ideally) bring with you into that relation a critical sense of the violence contained within any history of heritage. Again, I can’t really put it better than you already have, in essence, in drawing our attention to the card catalogue: a family is a repository of information according to one set of organizational criteria. Making art out of that repository requires interpreting that information as well as that criteria, training your eye on it such that you de-naturalize it a little bit in order to draw our attention to the constructed beauty and ugliness of it.


JR: Compression balanced by the gradual lengthening of lines in “In which I climb a tree, as a child, and find my father’s initials about 16 feet off the ground” creates the perfect sentence—“Individual fault is a terrible entrée into any discussion about nostalgia.” This prompted me to reexamine Hanif Abdurraqib’s “nostalgia is a gift for the living.” (“The Crown Ain’t Worth Much”) On one hand you have culpability, something talented or celebratory on the other. Is nostalgia capable of sustaining a happy medium between both outlooks?


KQA: I actually don’t think that our ideas are opposed, really, although the premises are based on opposing experiences. When I was writing that poem, I was trying to grapple with what it means to feel a longing for a past that you know is problematic (both the past and the longing). Abdurraqib’s poem reminds us that for Black folks, living long enough to have generational nostalgia is in itself a type of triumph, but also that nostalgia for people who have always been on the receiving end of white supremacist violence will necessarily be curtailed by the constant presence of that type of death. I’m referring to a similar type of problem—the idea that nostalgia is primarily felt and cultivated by white folks—by acknowledging that “our joy is rigged.” But it’s hard, I also admit in the poem, not to want to know more fully a loved one’s experience of the past, and to feel any gain in knowledge in that regard as a type of discovery. Change is often difficult, and it’s also true that the march of time has not done any favors for any number of social or environmental conditions, even as we make local progress here and there. But an individual’s affective resistance to change isn’t a good reason not to change things, nor is it an excuse to accept uncritically one’s own feelings about what might have come before them, or how things might have once been.


JR: As excerpted from “How to Get Into a Poem” (Standing Stone Creek, Pennsylvania), one may put forth their “[Backstory, alluding to an individuating experience] / or [Personal background, like “I have a weird relationship / to rural America”]”


as well as


…[Tropical fruits if part of you is tropical]

[Some intellectual discourse on the word “part”]

or [Agonized associative thinking about the nature

of something politically urgent, like colorism]


The trio of Pennsylvania boroughs and census-designated places in “H.O. Andrews & Sons” is matched by the poem’s male offspring, “Andrews is our Andrews Andrews is your Andrews Andrews and sons and sons / and sons—”. To what degree does the contrast of smaller American

towns and larger Philippines cities map A Brief History of Fruit’s trajectory?


KQA: That’s a really good question—I hadn’t really thought about the problem of geographic or demographic scale in the book, which is odd, because half of my Filipino family comes from Manila, while the other half comes from around Bato, a small town on the island of Leyte. So in a sense, it doesn’t make sense to map my experience of the places in the book in terms of something like “Manila vs. Centre Hall.” But that’s kind of how it wound up, and I think that’s the case because even in Bato, the population is a bit denser than it is in rural Pennsylvania, and of course because I feel my racial difference more acutely in the Philippines, which makes one feel observed. But of course, even flying under the radar in white America feels bad and wrong, hence the “weird relationship” of belonging-and-yet that characterizes the whole book. As “How to Get Into a Poem” notes, I really grew up fully in the Pennsylvania suburbs, which are non-places, places where you go to get out of somewhere else. That middle space convergence is a constant aggravation to me when it comes to trying to say something about where I’m “from,” so I spent a fair amount of time in this book trying to see if I could be “from” anywhere else. Of course the answer is “no,” but that very sense of deep dislocation is the generative force behind the book, in many ways.


JR: “The Bath” brings us to (“The Promised Land,” a populated waste disposal site north of Quezon City), its anaphora


            And here is the literal trash-fire

            And here is the air thick with the smoke of money burned downtown


            The name of this place would seem to suggest

            that Fukuyama wasn’t entirely off-base


is a prelude to rallying


            But fuck Fukuyama

            Refuse refuse being the only imaginable structure


The anaphoric return, however, deposits us back where we began—


            O world where the scales are so tipped they become a catapult

            O the clink of a pail and the metallic clap of water


The poem’s boy-scavenger is given a “swift and terrible” rinse, for all the good it does him in the cycle of poverty. I reread the poem with an awareness that asks how writing and the individual can propel a groundwork of parity so that, in the words of an epigraphed Joshua Clover, “There will be a revolution or there will not.” Who were the writers that engendered your ability to foment empathy through words?


KQA: It’s important to note that the second line of Clover’s poem is “if not, these poems were nothing but entertainments.” I don’t think that all poetry is political (sorry, everyone). But I do think that if it is going to make a choice to recognize its subject matter as political, it should be clear-eyed about what political poetry can and cannot do. But that wasn’t your question! In terms of other writers who helped get me to this place regarding poetry and parity, as it were—I’d say that I don’t look for sources of empathy so much as I look for poetry that knows that the world is unjust and that is eager to theorize new worlds. Clover’s poetry does this, hence the epigraph, but I think too of work by Anne Boyer, Jennifer S. Cheng, Hanif Abdurraqib, Muriel Rukeyser, C.D. Wright, and Monica Ong. A lot of their work served as my touchstone reading as I was revising A Brief History of Fruit. My newer work benefits from a stronger immersion in specifically leftist poetics. Where was I before I’d read Sean Bonney, for instance? Who knows.


JR: Curly brackets, as opposed to square ones, appear in “Some Mirages of the Heat-Addled.” Thanks to I learned that “[] is declaring an array” and “{} is declaring an object.” Object-ness, then, is how I navigate “{the beginning of Manila on a map is an ache in the shoulder of the Pacific}” and “{i’ve always wanted to shine but perhaps not this much, i am a wrong beacon}”. Is the difference between personhood and beaconhood illusory? What teaching takeaway would you give poets on when to use {} as opposed to []?


KQA: Oh wow, you did more research into the punctuation I used than I did! I used curly brackets for a very silly reason: they remind me of those shimmering heat-mirages you see on hot pavement. That wobbliness is something that characterizes both that poem and, I suppose, the book as a whole. One might contrast this to the groups of square brackets that I used in “Pastoral” and which speak a bit to the language of “bullets as seed cluster” that you so beautifully described earlier. What’s internal to me wavers. What’s external seems more solid, blocky: an array (as it were) of possibilities, none of which contain me. So there’s actually no real pedagogical lesson in it, other than perhaps the fact that what something looks like can be just as important as, indeed can comprise, what it means. I often teach this to my students by starting introductory poetry writing units with homophonic translation: sound over sense, first, and then we can talk about the sense that emerges from sound. Which is to say that anything can be a beacon for personhood, I suppose, for good or, in the case of this poem, for ill.


JR: There is a funnel-cloud structure to “No one needs another poem about the Second World War” when it appears at Grist Online, though the physical book necessitates a page break, thereby severing the tornado. Your lola feigns TB to keep Japanese soldiers from entering a safehouse (her ancestral home) for U.S. medics. “Who, in other / words, is saving whom,” the poem asks. By and large, U.S. presence in the Philippines has been negative—


            It is a


            that history is received—

            nevertheless, the flecks left

            behind by the eraser are more

            often than not the color of sunburn.


Your likening of General MacArthur to the Terminator is spot on, and prepares us for the conceptual re-imaging of “Jesus in a Prom Gown” (at the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, Binondo, Manila)—


                                                                …So: here is

            Jesus, standing pin-straight in the antechamber

            with a cross slung over his shoulder as if it weighed

            no more than a staff of sugarcane. Outside,

            the world’s first Chinatown rings itself in scarlet


            and so does Jesus, swathed in yards and yards

            of dime-store fabric, red as luck and heavy

            with sequins.


Interpretations of salvation and history share a skewed link, ‘victors’ long having the authorial upper hand. How does A Brief History of Fruit write against this?


KQA: The structure of “Second World War” actually mirrors the long gash in the bannister at my lola’s ancestral home, to which the middle of the poem refers (it was caused by Japanese shrapnel). That the poem itself is gashed by the fact of book production is an irony. Regardless, though, I think I’m writing against received history in a relatively “standard” way, if such a thing can be said to exist. That is, the thesis of “Second World War” is contained clearly in the lines “Who, in other / words, is saving whom.” This isn’t a particularly revolutionary reversal of the traditional colonial disposition, but it’s one that can’t be made enough, in my estimation, as the idea of colonialism-as-salvation continues to be utterly prevalent. In “Jesus in a Prom Gown,” I am being more cheekily subversive, I suppose—but the subversion is and was already there! I didn’t put that statue in that dress. It’s also contained in the joyous drag-forward nature of the Filipino gay community, one that exists alongside one of the most stringently Catholic cultures in the world. That’s far from a utopic coexistence, to be clear, but the imagined world of the poem tries to extrapolate some of that joy and align it with religious potential. Jesus was a communist, after all.


JR: The final poem, “Mango Mouth,” has one of the most effective conclusions I’ve come across in some time—


            In the story where my hands push the fruit

            from its peel, where there’s no water at the tap and the stickiness

            sings like the blown-down reeds of the authentic,

            contact dermatitis serves as a book about indulgence,

            about the taking and taking until you’re a swollen mass

            of the sun that is not yours

            of the leaf that is not yours

            of the sap


            that you insist, I, that I insist I can avoid by opening wider around the



            I count them on the bones beneath my limbs:


            things I love that cannot touch my lips.


Fructose warns of colonialism’s wake. Interestingly, Sarah Gambito’s “For My Attention” (Delivered 2009) presents fruit as perishable sanctuary—“I opened a melon last night and immigrants spilled out of it. / Careless and eager. They bit me for my attention.”


Certain fruits grow in a patch. Patch is also protective covering, similar to the skin of fruit, or a verb for putting people in touch through the help of an operator-agent, be it with one person or one thousand. You write “The Filipino / American Dream is nothing if not relentlessly diachronic.” (“Elegy for One Who Died in the Decade It Took to Write This Poem About Dying”) Which aspect of patch, when paired with relentless comes closest to your vision for the book?


KQA: There is, of course, the idea of patchwork, of being stitched together out of disparate or mismatched parts. That would be one obvious way to respond to this question. The idea that as time marches (relentlessly) forward, more complex patchworks of heritage and global inheritance are always being woven. But that increased complexity is also the basis of what I sometimes call the “beige future” theory, and to which I refer via a New York Times article about mixed-race people in the poem “Next of Kin.” We are, in some ways, idealized and exoticized as visitors from a post-racial future, where the patchy-ness of the patchwork dissolves and we’re all one vague color. Obviously this vision is just kicking the can down the road; it wants to dissolve difference rather than dwelling in it in the here and now, with all of the reparative and restorative implications that that would entail.


JR: How has work in literary criticism influenced your poetry? Also, I’m familiar with Julia Kristeva, Helen Vendler, Diana Hume George, bell hooks, and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, but want to add more underrepresented voices to my critical reading list. Who do you recommend?


KQA: I suppose I addressed this a bit in my answer to your first question, but another concise way of answering it is that reading and writing literary criticism just made me a lot smarter. It’s easy to rag on academic writing for being deliberately obscurantist, or on grad school for somehow erasing “real” knowledge and putting jargon in its place, but I really try—as a generally cynical person!—to avoid that type of cynicism. Literary criticism and theory have taught me essentially everything I know about what it means to think carefully about something. This, in turn, has allowed me to think harder and more critically and comprehensively about the commitments and valences of my creative work. It made me more careful, more political, more invested in the abstract structures that underlie utterances and behaviors. The academy in many ways is on fire, and has been for a long time for a great many people, but I remain a staunch believer in the joy and importance of really rigorous interpretive work: work that is produced out of a love for language and a desire to see how it behaves under the pressure of questioning, work that understands that understanding often complicates things. The twists and turns of interpretive language have, I’d argue, an aesthetic of their own, one that can sometimes be aggravating, but one that I think has a real beauty to it, as it oftentimes signals a type of idealism in its belief in the inexhaustibility of texts and of the human imagination in relation thereto.


As for recommendations for reading: Dionne Brand, Lorenzo Thomas, Christina Sharpe, Anthony Reed, Natalia Cecire, Fred Moten, Evie Shockley, Sianne Ngai, Timothy Yu, Kamran Javadizadeh, Srikanth Reddy, Tyrone Williams, Phillip Brian Harper, Nan Z. Da just to start. Those are the ones that I can think of without even going to my bookshelf. There is so, so much groundbreaking work being done by scholars whose identities have been marginalized in academic spaces. It’s just constant. It could fill a lifetime of reading, and I hope it does for you and many others.


JR: Thank you for your time and insights, Kim. I enjoyed A Brief History of Fruit as a reader and interviewer, and I’m grateful to the University of Arizona Poetry Center for giving us this platform to feature your work. I’ll wrap up with an excerpt from “On Labor” (Belgrade Lakes, Maine)—


                                                                   One way to explain


            the enormous appeal of Gustav Klimt’s paintings might be

            to argue that his faces are essentially melancholic


            surrounded by the ecstatic: the real, that is, emerging

            in a certain flesh-tone out of a sea of gold and green.


Based on our discussions in a critique group, I know that melancholia is one of your areas of interest. How are you planning to incorporate it in your next collection?


KQA: Well, melancholia just is the focus of the next collection, so I suppose I’m working on how to encompass it in a reasonable amount of space while also doing justice to its incredible history and complexity. I’m trying to think through the idea that melancholy (what we now flatten out into clinical depression) is both a condition that attaches to scholars and poets, particularly if they think too much or too hard, but it also attaches to a type of idleness, acedia, a slowing down of pace and a releasing of care. There is a paradox or at least a strong tension there that I am trying to explore and articulate, particularly as I think that there is something about the history of melancholy (as slowdown, as refusal, as antithesis to production) that can help us figure out ways to respond to the hellish speedup that defines our daily working lives. This is a causal problem: life under capitalism is, for most people, extremely depressing, but depression cannot (probably) be reduced to a symptom of modern socioeconomic conditions. I’m trying to do this work, in other words, without minimizing the reality that depression is very bad and very bad for you, which is difficult. But I’m also extremely uninterested in recovery or cure narratives. So I have my work cut out for me.

Jon Riccio received his PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. He was a Poetry Center digital projects intern while an MFA student at the University of Arizona.