For Juneau spoken word artist Christy NaMee Eriksen, there is an immediacy in her words. She takes them out of the nest, folds them up, and then releases them.
“All of my work for the last 10 years exists in three minute moments on a stage somewhere,” Eriksen said. “I say it, and then I never visit it again.”
Some of her words return to roost this week with the release of her debut album, “How To Tell If A Korean Woman Loves You,” an audio collection of new and signature works by Eriksen. An album release party will be held this week following Juneau’s First Friday Art Walk on Friday.
Eriksen received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award to help back her in the creation of the album. This extra support allowed her to hire other artists, cover the costs of her launch party and CDs, and get a babysitter to watch her son so she could get some time to actually work on the album.
“I’m not sure if it would have gotten done without that support,” she said.
Eriksen sifted through more than 200 rough drafts of her work, picking out her best pieces. The central themes that bind together the chosen pieces revolve around cultural identity and love. Although the title — named after one of the album’s tracks — sounds like it might be the spoken word equivalent of a dating manual, Eriksen said that for her, the concept of “love” goes leagues beyond romance.
“All my poems are love poems,” she said. “I say that to reflect not just on the poems that are outwardly a love letter to somebody, but … love for my people, love for my community, love for the world, love for myself, that shows up in everything that I write.”
As a Korean Adoptee, Eriksen’s work is also inseparable from her cultural identity. Hers is the first-known spoken word album by a Korean Adoptee in the U.S. Listening to her poetry, one hears very personal statements about the artist’s sense of self, but Eriksen said that it’s part of a larger growing conversation about ethnic identity.
“I think about putting my hat by the door of this movement of Korean Adoptee artists, who are just creating tons and tons of work about the Korean Adoptee experience now, that we didn’t see maybe a decade ago, “she said.
Eriksen’s album will serve as the foundation of a larger project set to span across the U.S. She was recently awarded a Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship, one of three in the nation. Within the next year, she will travel to five cities with high Korean Adoptee populations — Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis — and work with Korean Adoptee organizations to create poetry workshops, salons and showcases of artists’ work. Eriksen has reached out to some groups, and has already received an enthusiastic response.
“It’s great to see people excited about it that are in other cities that don’t even know anything about me, but see the opportunity to bring
people together through art,” she said.
As if that wasn’t a lofty enough project, her next goal is to possibly do a finale of the culmination of the work in South Korea. In her research of where Korean Adoptees are located, one of the top cities turned out to be Seoul.
“A significant number of our community in America has returned to Korea, and is residing there now,” she said.
Between planning for these and other community projects, working a day job at Sealaska Heritage Institute, and being a fulltime mother, Eriksen said she doesn’t always feel that she has the luxury of excess time to work on writing — or speaking. At the same time, this period of transition for her has modified her spoken word.
“The voice is changing from … a louder, fierce, faster paced rhythm to a quieter and more thoughtful one,” she said. “The work that I’m writing now is more reflective. It feels slower to me when it comes out, and I feel like it should be read slower, and then I’m trying to connect dots that are further and further away.”
Back in Juneau, Eriksen’s successful Woosh Kinaadeiyí Poetry Slams have continued to pick up steam since the launch back in 2010. A galaxy of poetic planetoids, the slams and open mics attract a wide range of participants.
“Woosh Kinaadeiyí could not be as successful as it is without all of the community partners that have helped it grow, so that it doesn’t exist in one place, in one spot, with one type of people,” Eriksen said.
In honor of National Poetry Month, celebrated throughout the month of April, Woosh Kinaadeiyí will be holding an event at the Rookery in downtown Juneau on April 18 featuring five poets and the music of J.R. Rosales, who also provided music on Eriksen’s album.
Rosales, joined by Alex Marvel and Guy Unzicker — also featured on the album — will also be performing at Eriksen’s launch party this Friday, along with special guests DeeJay DeRego, Jacque Boucher and Grace Lumba. Eriksen herself will also be appearing later in April at the launch of the University of Alaska Southeast’s literary journal, “Tidal Echoes,” as the featured author.
“It would be really hard, I think, for a Juneauite … to get through April without attending a single poetry event,” Eriksen said. “There’s a lot to offer.”
The launch party for “How To Tell If A Korean Woman Loves You” will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at the Hangar Ballroom following the First Friday Art Walk. The event will include an “Anti Writer’s Block” photo booth, filled with props to inspire writing. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and donations are welcome.
“How To Tell If A Korean Woman Loves You”
By Christy NaMee Eriksen
If a Korean woman cleans her mind out in the spring
and you are still in it,
she loves you.
If you walk out of a Korean woman’s kitchen
and there is rice on your sock
she loves you.
If you buy a Korean woman thirteen ordinary flowers
and she lets them die slow painful deaths in a vase on her table,
stems limp, crispy petals weak to the most passive of breaths
and she has yet to see them lose their luster,
she smells them in her sleep,
she loves you.
If you’ve never seen a Korean woman sing in the rain,
only recite poems from the
purple cursive of her veins,
nerve after crooked nerve,
If you are a bomb
with a kindled tick
and she has not walked away,
If you find a boat in your bedroom
that she carried home in abandoned pieces
from a sun-rummaged shore
and refuses to call broken,
If her heart is the shape of the border
and when you are watching
she can’t step across it,
If there is only one comet
and only one telescope
and only one her
and only one you
and she passes the view,
she loves you,
and she can see the stars from here.