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A Q&A with spoken-word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Chinese-Taiwanese-American performance artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai shared both her work and her thoughts on the artist’s life with the Loft online recently. Kelly will be in an Equilibrium: Spoken Word performance at the Loft on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 8 pm. Also appearing will be The Poem-Cees, Brittany Delaney, and DJ Nak.

Dara Syrkin: A View from the Loft readers are interested in the writing life. How do your performance schedule and all the associated travel interact to create more pieces, relationships, stress levels, all the things that make you whole?

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai:
That’s a huge question, since performing and traveling are such a big part of my life and have been for nearly the past 10 years. Performing is integral to my writing and editing process.

I haven’t really finished a piece until I’ve experimented with its chemistry with an audience. It’s very intangible, but performing it with a live audience allows me to hear via my body, my voice — to experience a connectedness with the poem that would be impossible to perceive on my own.

It’s usually at least two or three good reads with different live audiences (after having worked the poem as much as I can on the page) until I go back to the page to make my final edits. Then the poem in performance continues to edit itself and starts to take on a life on its own. Traveling can be a bit of a scramble, but I feel extremely blessed to have been able to travel the world and meet so many amazing generous people. Definitely, new environments and the extraordinary lives of people I meet every day keep me fresh and attuned to the details and rhythms of the world around me. Good stuff for a poet!?
DS: What impact do you hope your work has — on the world, on audience members, on yourself?

I’ve usually found that my poems with the seemingly smallest ambitions (i.e., I wrote them because of a personal annoyance or personal satisfaction) are the ones that have the most far-reaching impact.

Read the rest of The Loft Literary Center’s Q&A here.

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