Chiwan Choi is a poet, editor and raconteur who skillfully glides between the world of words and ghosts. A serious writer and editor, Chiwan also playfully taunts people to think inside out and upside down, embodying one of the great traditions of “Puck” — an otherworldly muse for mayhem. Meanwhile, he is the author of the novel, Ghostmaker, and is also the editor of Cultural Daily and Writ Large Press.
I spoke with Chiwan to explore how ghosts help us in times of corruption, how ghosts engage his practice in writing, and where exactly Taylor Swift (his culture crush) will live in the American canon.
Before we get to the smart stuff, where are you now and what are you drinking and are you wearing glitter?
I’m currently in Pittsburgh, PA where it hasn’t been that cold yet. And drinking my trusty Paddy’s Irish whiskey. It’s cheaper than my beloved Tullamore DEW and it’s really good for any price. And no, unfortunately, I am not wearing glitter. My glitter person (the poet Rocío Carlos) is in LA. So, I’ll get myself glittered next time I’m there. I miss it. Glitter I mean. Also LA.
When did you first make a connection between ghosts being important for you in making art?
Hm. I don’t know when there was a connection made. Ghosts were a matter-of-fact part of my life so I don’t think it was ever NOT connected to my art. Ultimately, I do write about it (and UFOs and abductions etc) and it is an essential part of the narratives I tell.
Which contemporary artists (of any ilk) do you think explore ghosts in a particularly exciting way?
I don’t know, actually. Musicians like Sigur Ros? Maybe filmmakers the most. PARASITE can be watched as a story of ghosts, of generations lost, made invisible, killed and erased by capitalism and empire. Yeah. Filmmakers. Korean filmmakers specifically because of colonization, of capitalism, of having a nation forced into two pieces.
Who haunts you these days? Anyone we know?
Well, if you’re asking literally, our current apartment is haunted. A little girl. Sometimes she pops up wanting to play. She also threw ramen at me because I forgot to eat all day. As far as on an emotional level haunting, it’s the daughter we lost. If you’re talking about some poet or artist or anything, nah, nobody haunts me like that.
You say “What are writers if not ghostmakers?” Can you tell me more about your insight, and how we create ghosts with words?
I think it’s common that we think of writing as creating, but for me it has always been about conjuring something that appeared, briefly or otherwise, back into our line of sight, to make it visceral enough that we can feel its presence again. Or to hang on to people and things long enough so we can have a bit more time to figure out what it was all supposed to mean. Or to edit our experiences and memories to fit a narrative that lets us breathe. So in this way, we are making ghosts, meaning bringing back something that already was, whether in our head or in our house or a surface that we once made contact with, instead of creating something new out of thin air that didn’t exist before.
So, are poems haunted in a different manner than a novel? When you write poetry does the haunting of words feel different for you than when you write prose?
Not as a rule, but experientially speaking, for me poems often appear with scant narrative, able to move and live and exist in unexpected ways. Whereas I find a novel is trapped in the narrative forced on it by the author. But–one of my all-time favorite novelists is Claude Simon. Two of his books, THE GRASS and TRIPTYCH are the closest any novels have come to a haunting for me.
Do you think we can learn how to be better citizens by being in conversation with ghosts? Do they have something to teach us about not being assholes?
I don’t think so. I think the ghost of an asshole will just be an asshole in ghost form. So if we weren’t learning anything from people when they were alive, I don’t see how we would learn from them after they die.
Then what can we learn from engaging with our ghosts? What do you hope we can hear from them?
I don’t think I’m supposed to hear anything in particular. I don’t think ghosts are homogeneous in any way. Like in the previous answer, different lives leave different things behind. Those remnants impact lives (and different lives) in different ways. Not all of them is about me. I don’t know. Engaging with ghosts can simply mean that you’ve learned to engage with something that is not physical.
Is the publishing world haunted? If so, what scares you?
Oh definitely. On multiple levels. Mostly haunted by the ghosts of old dead white men who want things to remain exactly as they always were. But also like the stories on the pages themselves, whatever mythology that has been created, authored if you will, around the benevolence and importance of books and publishing just continues to feed on every generation that comes, scaring everyone enough that we don’t want to mess with anything lest we want to be destroyed by angry ghosts.
If there is one seminal person in history (who is a ghost) whom you could interview on your show, who would it be? And, what do you imagine he/she would tell you?
You know, this is a question that I’ve never been able to answer. Therearen’t any historical figures that I want to talk to. If I know them, it’s through their work. And their work was already the ghost that was speaking to me, to everyone.
Do you think ghosts help us be better at feeling our feelings?
I hope so. I know it has allowed me to look at things beyond the physical, but that hasn’t always meant it was beneficial. Sometimes it makes me chase connections and answers that just aren’t there.
When we look back, and Taylor Swift is a ghost, what will her contribution to language have been?
First of all, how dare you. Taylor Swift is immortal. Anyway, I think she taught her generation of fans to not be afraid to tell stories, to share your side of the heartbreaks, that words are there for you to use to create your own narrative.
Chiwan Choi (@chiwanchoi) is the author of The Flood, Abductions, The Yellow House and Ghostmaker. He is also editor/publisher at Writ Large Press (@writlarge) and a partner at The Accomplices (@the5accomplices).
Sarah Kornfeld (@SaraheKornfeld) is an American author, playwright and producer. Her work has been produced at The Theater for the New City, her debut novel What Stella Sees was published in the US in 2018, her recent narrative non-fiction book “The True: A Trilogy of Ghosts” was published in 2021 by Editura Integral, Bucharest, Romania.