Lark Omura on Using Art as a Tool

Lark Omura on Using Art as a Tool

An interview with Lark Omura, from The Write Stuff series:

Lark Omura was born and raised on the island of Maui and currently resides in Oakland, CA. Her writing seeks to explore and connect the psyches of both locales, and the vast ocean between them, contemplating the beauty of being human within the context of a capitalist society. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Milvia Street Journal, Bamboo Ridge, and The Hawaii Review. She can be reached at larkomura AT gmail DOT com.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I tell them I work in a restaurant, and I write. Maybe one day I’ll be bold enough to lead with the writing; owning the title is something I’m working on. I feel like many artists, especially who are working class or from communities of color, can probably relate to that. At the same time, activism has taught me to claim my working class roots as something to take pride in. Art is for everyone. The dichotomy between the waitress and the poet is a false one. My mother is a server, and I’ve been waiting tables since I was 17. It’s as much a part of me as the writing is. It’s not my passion, but it informs my worldview and creative work.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

The questions that occupy the most mental space for me now are questions of my role as an individual in the global struggle for liberation, and a constant navigation of the relationship art has to political change. My background is in community organizing from an anti-capitalist framework, and I’m convinced of the critical role people and organizations play in building a counter-force capable of challenging the machine of the capitalist state. In a society that attempts to mold people into products, making art and speaking your truth are rebellious and inspiring acts we must continue. When we study social movements we see that art plays a central role in allowing us to celebrate and trumpet our shared humanity and values. And yet, I get wary when we start naming the act of creating art as revolutionary in and of itself. In times like these, we as artists must become active beyond our own work, building links and organizing our communities to mobilize against fascism. Right now my biggest struggle is figuring out what this looks like for me.

If someone said I want to do what do you do, what advice would you have for them?

Take a class! Learning is so fun and rewarding. I’ve explored the community colleges and art centers around me, and taken affordable creative writing classes, elementary piano, even weaving. Watching myself learn to play the piano (slowly) as an adult is a total blast. And the poetry class I took was what made me realize writing could be more than just a hobby when I found how much I enjoyed a serious engagement with it. Anyone can learn anything, and most of us have the time.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

When I decide to start my morning by watching Democracy Now I can sometimes get into a bit of a dark place. If this happens I watch fuzzy animal videos, things like “This baby otter wont get out of her warm bath!” Or “Watch this mother elephant be reunited with her son!” Those make me feel better and restore a bit of my faith in humanity. I also love memes. @gothshakira @scariest_bug_ever and @yung_nihilist are all producing some really cool content right now.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

I recently found out that my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Japan to live and work in Hawaii’s plantation camps, was a contraception activist. The plantation owners wanted workers to have lots of kids to fuel their supply of cheap labor for the sugarcane industry. She educated women about how to obtain and use contraception and encouraged them to take control of their bodies. Especially in the context of that historical period, and her community, I see this as a brave and inspiring act. I’m grateful to come from a lineage of strong women.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Sure. I attended a few burlesque shows recently and some of the women did this thing where they stuck one leg in the air and pulled on the toe of their stocking so it slid, very slowly, inch-by-inch down their leg. I might go for that. One girl performed to Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” and it was dope. Another woman did the most amazing pole routine and blew me away. I would definitely love to learn some tricks on the pole. It is serious athleticism.

The room is dark, and I have an ice-cold glass of white wine in my hand. There is a joint lit but it has been put aside, and the room is filled with fragrant smoke, which filters the faint light coming from down the hall. “Motivation” by Kelly Clarkson comes on…

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Over and over.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I would like to see a stronger left develop in this country, one that can unify and fight for a completely different framework of what the world can be like. And I would like to see myself, and those around me, building that force, using art as a tool in organization. I would like to see my generation fight for the gains we desperately need, and redistribute our global wealth to serve humanity.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Oh goodness. I once heard someone describe art, or maybe it was poetry, as “capture the essence of what it means to be human.” I think that sums it up pretty well. We have a level of consciousness that allows us to think theoretically, creatively about a subject. We are able to capture life in moving ways through language and materials. It’s a privilege in many ways. And it’s necessary because it’s a process of intellectual inquiry and sharing our perspectives with one another. We are a social species. We yearn for connection. Art allows for that connection, and in these kinds of dire times, sometimes it feels like it can keep us from going crazy.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

I love the freedom of sex. I like to see that secret side of a person that comes out. So rarely are we distracted from our minds and thoughts. I’m definitely an over-thinker, and sex allows me to transcend into the purely physical for a moment. I like to go into that space and just completely let go.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

Brave writing. Writing that can’t be boxed in, doesn’t subscribe to genre, subverts your ideas about what high art and literature can be. Writing that shows us how to speak unabashed truth, that being human is nothing to be ashamed of. Writing that makes you feel.

I also aspire to create more work that blends and pushes boundaries of form. A teacher once said to me, roughly, “Sometimes you see a piece of writing that is just different, and you think ‘who thought to do that?’ Why don’t you be that person?”

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Mezcal! Music! Starline Social Club! I have a favorite dance party for every night of the week in Oakland. The revolution will not be televised but it will involve dancing, I’m sure of it.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Ocean, the pheromones of someone you are attracted to, the wet earth of upcountry Maui, weed. Rain on asphalt. Growing up, when rain was coming, my father would take a big deep breath and say “Mmm. You smell that? Ua.” Ua, pronounced ooh-uh, is the Hawaiian word for rain. Every time I smell the rain he comes to mind, his deep inhale pulling in the moist air, cloud darkening the sky above the field next to the house I grew up in.

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