Matching the Gut with Its Impulses: A Conversation with Sophia Dahlin & a Folio of New Poems – curated by Vi Khi Nao

Photo by Joshua Kopin.

Sophia Dahlin is in Oakland, California, where she teaches with California Poets in the Schools and conducts generative writing workshops at E.M. Wolfman Bookstore. Her work has recently appeared in Elderly, Still, Fence, and the Poetry Foundation’s PoetryNow series. With Jacob Kahn, she edits a chapbook press called Eyelet.


VI KHI NAO: What do you think is the purpose of poetry in this world?


VKN: If your mother were a food-source, what kind of vegetable, fruit, or planet would she be? I get the sense that your mother’s love for you and your siblings is wet, like an overripe banana. I think what distinguishes you from me is how tall you are and you use a handkerchief, which isn’t to say that fabric isn’t natural or how you are measured in this world can’t be computed or quantified by cloth.

SD: In fact, you wizard, my mother is certainly the banana bread planet in the very center of my system. Per, my mother, made banana bread a lot when we were growing up, and she did not overmix the batter—so there would be caves of wet banana and ruts of melted chocolate chips. You and I write a lot about food and you and I talk and talk about women and sex and romance. But you Vi you stay on a food for longer than I do, you have a terrifying habit of making food into people without shaking its foodness. Your avocado has an abortion and its seed is a baby, or your pear has a seed that’s an eye, or there is that poem where you are rinsing and peeling the baby and its seeds are sperm—what makes each of these half personified foods seed so differently? So much of the power of your writing comes to me from your insistence on the physicality of things, even simultaneously of the object and of what it suggests. No part of the metaphor ghosts w/you, it is all bodied. So Vi you described yourself a few days ago as “not sensual,” but how come you know so much about fruit, Vi?

VKN: You have such a great memory, Sophie. I am incredibly hedonistic and conservatively sultry; I want to eat ice cream every second of my existence, especially butter pecan while starting a literary journal with you called Nepotism, which you have coined so cleverly and brilliantly. In Vietnamese culture, having fruits is like having dessert. I grew up next to banana and coconut trees. I used to watch my uncles scale these woody, husk trees to pluck these 32-F mammary ovoids from their tropical heights. Yesterday, while I was preparing to be a guest instructor in Caren Beilin’s class, you played Chavela Vargas’s exquisite sensual music. Her voice was so tender and provocative. What do you love about her music? And, tell me about the art of nepotism.

SD: I love Chavela Vargas’ voice helplessly. I am trying to be honest with myself about what compels me in art, so it is useful to notice myself being helplessly compelled. Vargas is such a great Aries hero-artist, such theater, gold and red breastplated sobbing. I love Vargas’ tender salty voice that lets so much horror through–her voice in Tata Dios for instance sounds just like total reverberate earth maw, you know?

Ah Nepotism, Vi, it is so hard for things to not become family. You were being facetious when you talked about not being sensual, but later you said that for a while you did not like to eat. And I know you love, love, love tasting food. And now out loud in this anarchist café I just told you how my friend told me yesterday that his housemates leave his kitchen messy and ruin his pleasure in cooking and preparing food. So instead of cooking he bought Soylent and he just “had” it. Food you just “have” not eat is very sad. So how do you stay so attentive to the taste, Vi?

VKN: ******

SD: Vi when I showed you that yummy, dreamy black and white picture of Kahlo and Vargas you fell in love with it too. Why do you love it? I love the hands. And how does that love feed your writing?

VKN: ******

VKN: I still don’t know how to answer these questions... Sophie! Will you tell me about the history of how these three poems are born? How did you conceive of them? Where were you in your life that inspired these beauties?

SD: A lake a river and a sea! But I was in love when I wrote these poems, and I was not working. At that time I wrote a lot about the mechanics of seeing, feeling, and fucking. I was writing very short lines; there were about two years when almost everything I wrote came out thin and high-pitched like freaking piccolos. “Just You & Me & Our Third Eye” and “Shell Out” I edited to make more quick and rhythmic. But when I wrote “I’m a Natural” a year later it came out whole. I didn’t change a word. And around then was the end of those poems.

I have been trying to write “from the heart” in a way that oh, age 20 I would have been so embarrassed to do. I am trying to write love poems that are native to queer bodies, the forms of queer lust that I know. Love poems about fisting. I would like to be the poet laureate of fisting. Because desire, especially when queerly directed, is the sort of compulsion I must make way for. Must allow even though I am helpless to stop it, still I have to choose it back like relaxing into water. Perhaps poetry is good for that, Vi! Matching the gut with its impulses.


A Folio of Poems by Sophia Dahlin




I’m going to have this



moment with the moon


in listening

to skimmed off light

of lake


I’ve found surfaces

of the most depth


but I think I’m who provides it

when I seal the lake

in sight


I get wet in the heart

and my eye is filling in



and a moon in me


the piercing


glances flat


the fish’s nose

dull black


but the water holds

me in and a moon








due to a white beach you find

me here home

dug up all stark

my armpits

cling sand

sun speaks

rude remembrance out my forehead


sun fucked sun

sky fucked sky

earth all earthfucked and the sea

too skins the shore

my personable each to each

never did suffice to make it

only a fine day


a damp dying


salt and pepper in the wild meal

out of a mind

a mixture


I would like one true

oil one true

lemon or vinegar

some fingering thing

to pick the summer out the vegetable


chase the taste across the table

limp against

the uncouth radish

too radiant


colors to meet a white bed

white ceiling

red ass me between

at the sand and sea

and sun in a wet-dry



heat and my home

faltered and fell inside me

when two fins slipped out





blanching in daylight

and it swarms together

pulls apart

in buds

twitch in the overlap

where you color

and I do

so the flower shifts in place

I’d like to stream

the eye

I see

your little palm fits in me


and pulls a river down




Vi Khi Nao is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.