On Jan. 29, Fresno State’s master of fine arts program in creative writing (MFA) and the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association (CWAA) welcomed Cambodian American poet and daughter of refugees, Monica Sok through a virtual author reading where she shared poems from her debut book titled, “A Nail the Evening Hangs On.”
Sok’s book is a form of historical analysis that examines and illuminates the generational struggle and trauma brought upon her family and her own upbringing caused by the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge was a regime that ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Prime Minister Pol Pot.
Pot’s leadership led to the deaths of more than 2 million in the Southeast Asian country in an attempt to create a “master race” amongst the Cambodian people.
Sok’s book reflects upon America’s role in the Cambodian genocide and uses persona, imagination and mythology to share her experiences and the stories of others who lived through this traumatic event.
Sok was originally scheduled to share her poems with the community last April, but due to the pandemic the event was canceled until further notice.
President of the CWAA and MFA student Mariah Bosch said towards the beginning of the event that it was important to her and past presidents to bring writers and artists to campus that the community knows.
“We know that as writers and artists, there’s nothing more affirming than seeing yourself in art,” Bosch said.
The event started at 7 p.m. and was an hour long with a total of 72 people in attendance.
Sok began the event by reading a poem written about her grandmother titled, “The Weaver,” which told the story of Sok watching her grandmother weave on a loom.
She described this project as a way for her grandmother to turn, “that grief and trauma into something that she could share with all of us.”
As the night continued Sok read a total of 11 different poems, each one a reflection of the history that she had learned about and wanted to share from a second generation standpoint.
Sok said that a majority of her work was written as persona poems to distance herself from being too close to the story.
Rather than using her own voice to share about these experiences, her book is written from different perspectives of those who had endured and lived through the Khmer Rouge with the inclusion of self-portraits to depict the trauma that she has inherited generationally from her family.
Following the reading, there was a Q&A portion of the event that allowed audience members to ask questions regarding Sok’s work.
She stated that the book took her around six years to complete and that along the way the book’s intentions weren’t clear until she had written most of her poems.
Sok said while many of her poems were written from a very somber and sad state of mind, she always hoped to empower this narrative rather than using it as a form of trauma gazing.
“I think there’s a way to be able to write about history without feeling completely depleted while engaging with it,” she said.
Bosch asked at the end of the night, where do we go from here and how can these narratives be extended into a different art avenue to share with others?
Sok responded by saying that she’s excited to lean into new beginnings that allow her to dismantle and break down past views she had about herself as a Khami woman.
During the formation of her book, Sok said that she was still learning about the history of the Khmer Rouge, but now after learning and reflecting about it in, “A Nail the Evening Hangs On,” she’s ready to start sharing these perspectives from a new point of view, one that includes her voice.