Khairani Barokka is a Minang-Javanese writer and artist from Jakarta, whose work centres disability justice as anticolonial praxis. Her work has been presented widely, in over 15 countries, and work from her Annah, Infinite series of performance installations has been an Artforum Must-See. Among Okka’s honours, she was a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change, an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow, and Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-in-Residence. She is currently Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing (UK), UK Art Associate at Delfina Foundation, and Research Fellow at UAL’s Decolonising Arts Institute. Barokka’s books include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis; Vietnamese translation, AJAR Press) and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (as co-editor; Nine Arches), Rope (Nine Arches), and her latest Ultimatum Orangutan (Nine Arches). @mailbykite
Pic description: Black and white photo of an Indonesian woman with short hair, earrings, and a patterned dress, lying down on her front, pen in hand, ready to write. Pic credit: Derrick Kakembo.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first sole-authored book, Indigenous Species, was a clear statement of intent, and allowed me to share a specific worldview of violence’s relationship to beauty, to environment, to salvation. It’s precise, targeted emotion. It allowed me to convey varying modes of expression: as book designer, illustrator, poet, prose writer. Ultimatum Orangutan, my most recent, feels like an older sibling to Indigenous, though it’s the other way around. It delves into more terrain, is more autobiographical rather than rooted in fiction. Perhaps gets into the weeds more, straddles more time-space.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I recited my first poem as a toddler, which makes sense, as children especially are so surrounded by rhyme and verse.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Some pieces take many years to finish, some come out in a few minutes. It's infuriating sometimes, but also I'm clearly addicted, and deadlines do help.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Part of. I love readings, in moderation, of course.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Crisis caused by ongoing colonial capitalism. Communion in the face of it. Pivoting towards salvation of self and community.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Each writer dictates their role in their communities. Toni Morrison said it best: ‘We don’t need any more writers as solitary heroes. We need a heroic writer’s movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.’
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think this entirely depends on who the editor is, for each writer. I've been very fortunate to have had fantastic editors for my books.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My grandfather would say 'Health comes first, second, and third', and I take that in the broadest sense. I want to do so many things, and always need to remember to take care of myself.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays to visual art to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?
My confidence in each genre has slowly increased. It's been a gradual process to come to sitting firm in the notion that I'm a writer and artist. The appeal of being multi-genre is that your voice has so many different ways in which to express itself, and I don't always see the difference between those genres--categories are meant to be stretched in meaning.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I follow how my body feels, so no set routine. Somehow afternoons leave me bereft of the ability to write, but early morn and late at night, I can really get going.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Tuning into something that makes me feel strongly: music, film, other books. And rest.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The scent of my favourite dish in the world, my family’s recipe for ayam kalio panggang, with steamed rice wafting close by.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I'm a member of the Shadow Heroes, Malika's Poetry Kitchen, and Jaringan Seni Perempuan (Women's Art Network) collectives, and collectivity, community, are so important for writerly life. In terms of influences, so, so many. My loved ones are a big influence. My mentors, my mentees. And every new book I read changes me a little. Arahmaiani, Dolorosa Sinaga, Debra Yatim, Melani Budianta, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Grace Lee Boggs and Ruth L. Ozeki are all examples of people I look up to, whose work sparks motivation.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write and direct a feature-length film. Finish my novel. And a short story collection. Wrangle any extant demons.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I can’t imagine not wanting to be a writer and artist, but in terms of doing things alongside, different to my current work in academia: perhaps a doula or herbalist of traditional medicine. I’d want to cater to disabled and chronically ill women and children in particular.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Crises and needing to escape them.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle, blew me away. I'm a sucker for romcoms, so well done Miranda Tapsell and Wayne Blair for getting Top End Wedding made; my partner and I were in tears at the end.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Finishing a large-scale visual art and poetry commission for Wellcome Collection, promoting Ultimatum Orangutan and beginning the next artworks and books of poetry and prose.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;