Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Grace Kiyonaga

Grace on the trip that inspired “June in California” (click to enlarge).

Grace Kiyonaga is a poet living in Washington, D.C. Originally from Maryland, she made her way back to the D.C. area after living in New York City and exploring Chile. Grace discovered her voice while minoring in creative writing at NYU. She finds solace in how poetry captures her passion for and constant observation of life and her adventures, big and small.

Grace’s poem, “June in California,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). She read this poem at our issue launch in January (video below). We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Congratulations on your first published work! Really though, we at LPR are the lucky ones to have published you. Is it different seeing this poem in print from when you first finished it?

Thank you! Receiving my Little Patuxent Review acceptance email was such a rush of joy and excitement. About a year ago I decided I was going to buckle down and start writing more and submitting my work to journals. It’s been an amazing feeling to be a part of this journal and to see my poem printed alongside so many talented writers. It still feels surreal and makes me smile every time I think about it. Seeing the poem in print has allowed me to have more appreciation for what might make it stand out to a reader. I hadn’t really imagined what my first published work would look or feel like because it felt so far-fetched. The experience of being accepted by LPR, reading at the Winter 2019 Launch, and flipping through the journal and seeing my poem is far more special than I could have ever imagined.

Q: I notice that in your bio, you describe “solace” in how poetry captures your passion for life. The last line of “June in California” refers to “the thrill of making everything a story.” What’s the relationship, in your words, between this solace and this thrill?

Writing and reading poetry take me to a place I would describe as calm, alive, observant, loving, and full of possibility. I think the connection is that for me, poetry can take even the most ordinary aspects of life and the simplest interactions with people, objects, ideas, and emotions, and make them beautiful. I often find that poems can vibrate into the reader and cause them to feel like there is someone out there who has taken what they also observe as worthy of celebrating and put it into an awe-inspiring combination of words that tell a story.

Q: How did minoring in creative writing help you to discover your voice?

I had a great time minoring in creative writing and being part of a creative writing club while in I was in undergrad. I say these experiences helped me to discover my voice because they introduced me to a form of expression that hadn’t seemed approachable to me before. I look back now and I cannot help feeling like I took it for granted! The chance to read numerous collections of poetry and workshop weekly with my peers was defining for me. The practice helped me take the images and emotions I wanted to express and put them onto paper.

Q: I’m interested in your day job, for Girls on the Run. Can you say a bit about this program?

Definitely! Girls on the Run – DC is a positive youth development program for girls ages 8-14 that inspires them to be joyful, healthy and confident. During the 10-week program, teams of girls work with volunteer mentor Coaches to learn life skills such as recognizing and managing emotions, positive self-esteem and self-talk, forming healthy relationships, supporting others, and activating what we call their “star power.” Each lesson creatively integrates running so that the girls are physically and emotionally capable of completing a 5K at the end of the season.

Working for Girls on the Run – DC has been an incredible experience because the mission is so close to my heart. In my personal life, I’m actively involved with an organization called Wild Wilderness Women that connects women of all backgrounds and empowers them through outdoor adventure. I’m drawn towards the reflection, community, and positivity that both Girls on the Run and Wild Wilderness Women create for girls and women. I hosted an adventure writing workshop for Wild Wilderness Women once and it was so inspiring to hear what some of the women who attended, many of whom had never tried writing creatively before, wrote about transformative experiences they had. Ultimately, I would love to fuse my passion for writing with empowering women to share their stories.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece from the current issue?

I keep re-reading “The Bungalow Chicken” by Winniebell Xinyu Zong. I love everything about it, the imagery is so tangible, and the words look lovely on the page. I find the last line “Don’t go so far that I can’t touch you anymore” absolutely gorgeous. It carries so much emotion, I could feel it in the audience when she read it.

Q: Are you working on anything now?

I’m workshopping some existing pieces and as always, try to write when I feel inspired. I’ve received great feedback on a few poems and look forward to reshaping them and putting them out there again. I have a few submissions pending and I almost feel as though, perchance I’m lucky enough to get another publication, I’ll have the desire to make that poem stronger!

A musician playing at a bar once commented that it looked like I was “editing my diary” when I was workshopping something. To be honest, that’s exactly what I do. There are so many starts to poems written in my journals. Sometimes I read something from years ago and think, “That’s good, I’m surprised I wrote that and left it there.” So right now, I’m working on editing my diary.

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