Visiting Writer’s Series: Monica Sok

Visiting Writer’s Series: Monica Sok

By: Pam Gibson

The Visiting Writers Series is thrilled to welcome award winning poet Monica Sok on Wednesday, October 21st at 7:00pm via Zoom.  Monica Sok’s debut Poetry collection, Nail the Evening Hangs On, delivers an eloquent homage to both the enchantment and trauma of her beloved homeland, Cambodia.  The child of former refugees, Sok infuses these lush poems with the sights, the sounds, the very breath of the Cambodian diaspora in America and abroad.  History influences much of her poetry, shown in this collection as she reflects on cultural and generational traumas with beautifully crafted verses shrouded in cloud of grief about to burst.  A proud Khmer with a love of language, Sok puts a laser focus on family, Cambodian mythology, and her relationship to both.  This sentiment is on display here in “ABC for Refugees,” a tender memory of Sok’s father’s English lessons to her as a child.

Birds? What are Birds?
Thanks to my father, reading with me, I have more feathers.
T-H-E. First word he ever taught me to pluck …
It is a word used all the time. Cherub-cherub-bee-dum!

Having studied abroad in Vietnam, the reader travels with Sok on a soulful voyage of discovery through the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the War Museum Cambodia, and the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. The visit through Sok’s senses is hauntingly poignant. She skillfully acknowledges atrocities of war, without perpetuating horror, by juxtaposing them with sentiments of family and home.  In this way her work resists the trauma gaze, instead centering on a tender focus of people, and through this Sok comes to see her own self reflected. In “Tuol Sleng,” the speaker recalls a visit with her young nephew to Tuol Sleng, a genocide museum that was formally a secondary school, throughout the section the line between atrocity and innocence, then and now, are wittingly skewed.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard,
a boy plays
as if on a playground. Rope
Bangs from a high wooden frame.
Below he fills an urn with water,
Takes someone prisoner,
and bobs his head with rope.
He plunges the head
and the legs struggle upside down.
He is just a boy.

As an activist fighting against unjust deportations, and poetry teacher at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants and Banteay Srei in Oakland, California, Sok successfully uses her platform to elucidate the polarizing hardships all around her. Woven into poems as elegant as the Cambodian silk adorning her book cover, which was spun by grandmother Bun Em, a celebrated master weaver, are observations of American nonchalance toward human suffering.  In, Americans Dancing In The Heart Of Darkness, Sok reflects on the 2010 tragic human stampede in Phenom Penh during the Water Festival, Bon Om Touk.

The Americans hate me and I hate them,
but they’re the only students with me and maybe I’m American too.

Monica Sok’s virtual reading and Q+A will be held for American University MFA community members on Wednesday, October 21st at 7:00pm. The Zoom link will be sent to members of the community.

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