This conversation between 1913 Press authors Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang began with their latest books. Unlikely Conditions (1913 Press) is Cynthia Arrieu-King’s collaboration with the late Hillary Gravendyk. Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center.
Cynthia Arrieu-King: Where did these essays begin for you? What does essay writing allow you to do that poetry might not? Or does it matter to you at all?
Lily Hoang: Form and genre are really important to me, actually. I am insistent when I call these essays—and it all goes back to etymology, right? To essai: to trial, to experiment—even though it’s already been classified as both poetry and fiction. The essay declares itself as a challenge, to self and to form, by definition. This isn’t fiction’s concern, at all, and I’m a fiction writer, first and foremost, and so the rhetorical qualities of the essay—its ethos, pathos, and logos—were also foreign concepts to me, things that I had to learn. I think the essay demands a self-rigor that isn’t necessary in fiction, which is not to say that fiction isn’t rigorous! (I’m not really qualified to talk about poetry in the least so I’ll leave that kind of thinking to the poets and scholars.) All of which is to say: the essays in A Bestiary are essays, intentionally so, I argue they adhere to form and follow the rules of the genre. But that wasn’t in question at all, sorry.