A decade in the making, My Proud Sacrifice marks the first full-length collection by Seattle poet Kevin Minh Allen. Spanning themes of transnational adoption, adolescence, and family, the title of Kevin’s book comes from “There Is An Outside,” a poem that juxtaposes the hardship of “a tireless wilting winter” in upstate New York with the emotional isolation of standing apart as an outsider.
Born Nguyễn Ðức Minh in Saigon in 1973, Kevin Minh Allen was adopted at nine months of age and flown to the United States, where he grew up in Webster, New York. The poet assimilated into his American family, despite the difference in their racial backgrounds. But as Kevin matured, his physical characteristics set him apart, unnerving both he and his family members. Neither had “the time, experience, nor the resources to investigate what was happening and how to deal with situations,” says Kevin. “It was perplexing and difficult to cope and carry on sometimes.”
Kevin started writing when he was 18, after regularly attending open mics in Rochester. “Poetry seemed to be the best and most useful medium for expressing what I needed to say at the time,” he says. In his early poems, Kevin wrote about his memories of childhood and his experiences as a person of color in a predominantly white community.
“I wanted to convey how history has affected my story and that although I have virtually no ties to the place of my birth, I cannot escape or look away from its influence on me and the country I was adopted into,” Kevin says.
The strongest poems in My Proud Sacrifice interrogate the turbulent history of Vietnam by delving into human worth through the lens of abandonment and adoption. The book’s opening poem, “Untitled #1,” positions the speaker in relationship to his own displacement, which arises not as a result of fleeing a war-torn land, but rather, as a result of being born and given away. “Con Lai” imagines the life of a mixed-race child growing up in Vietnam who is “fathered by an inferior and raised by a whore.” Taunted by classmates that he should “go back to America,” the poem’s speaker is ill at ease in his skin. “White porcelain, red vomit” narrates the story of an orphaned newborn, who’s mother dies as a result of birth complications, but not before giving her child a name that rolls off her tongue “into the gossip of nurses.”
Though Kevin has contemplated visiting the country where he was born, he hasn’t taken that step.
“Many personal things have dissuaded me from going forward with such a visit,” Kevin says.
Kevin’s adoptive mother shared with him the story about the circumstances behind his becoming an orphan, but the poet has never verified its truth. “I have documents about the process and disposition of my adoption, but none specifically address the circumstances behind my biological parents’ identities or whereabouts,” he says.
Drawn to Seattle’s grunge and literary scene, Kevin left the East Coast 14 years ago to move to the Pacific Northwest. He says that the multiracial and multiethnic populations of Seattle inspire and inform his own identity, as he navigates between diverse communities.
Kevin counts publisher and writer Koon Woon—author of Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013)—among his favorite local poets and has benefitted from Koon Woon’s mentorship in both the practice and philosophy of poetry. The elder poet provided encouragement and feedback to Kevin and worked with him to refine his manuscript over a nearly two-year period. Earlier this summer, Koon Woon’s publishing imprint Goldfish Press released My Proud Sacrifice.
“Kevin is an adventurous soul focused on beauty and justice, and always the truth, wherever that inquiry may lead,” says Koon Woon. “He has honed his poetry with vigor so that it has the vitality of the pistons in a locomotive.”
In addition to editing and assembling his first book, Kevin also provided the artwork for the cover of his new collection.
“Many of my family members and their friends worked for decades at Eastman Kodak,” Kevin says. “Photography was a common activity.”
When Kevin moved to Seattle, photography became a newfound passion with the accessibility and ease of use that digital photography offered. He composes his pictures in-camera and refrains from digitally altering his images.
“I take into account lighting, angles, and intuition when producing my photographs,” Kevin says. A few years ago, he exhibited his photographs at Seattle Mobile Espresso, a coffee shop in Bitter Lake.
For more information on Kevin Minh Allen or to purchase a copy of My Proud Sacrifice, visit http://myproudsacrifice.tumblr.com. The book is also available at the UW Bookstore.