Monica Sok on Writing the Cambodian Story Beyond Trauma

Monica Sok’s debut poetry collection, A Nail the Evening Hangs Ongrew from her reflections on the Cambodian diaspora and experience as the daughter of former refugees. Sok, a 2018–2020 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, spoke with Louis Elliot.

Louis Elliott: A Nail the Evening Hangs On covers such vast physical distances and space between the living and the dead. I read you were working on it as early as 2016. The book is a beautiful accomplishment, Monica. How did the poems here begin to take shape for you? Was there an originating moment?

Monica Sok: Thank you so much for reading my book. It’s hard to say when I began to write the book. I didn’t know that it was possible for me to do such a thing. I had so many questions about my experience as a Cambodian American woman. I needed to write poems to understand my collective history. I had written some poems earlier than 2016, but that was a significant year for me because I had taken a trip to Cambodia. I started in Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and other temple sites, specifically Ta Prohm Temple. I had been there before with my family, as a child. This time felt less enchanting as I witnessed levels of tourism that disturbed me. I had put together many versions of my manuscript but felt that something was missing.

The poems I wrote during this trip focused more on my own experience as a daughter of survivors, as a person of diaspora. I wrote poems like “In a Room of One Thousand Buddhas,” “Self-Portrait as War Museum Captions,” and “Self-Portrait in Siem Reap” as I reflected on my history. I wrote early versions of “ABC for Refugees” in 2012 and it took me six years to fully realize it.

Follow the interview at

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Back to top button