Kosal Khiev

Kosal Khiev

Words through the walls
Walking up to the Babylon theatre in Berlin for the ZEBRA poetry film festival awards, Kosal Khiev looks up and sees a big old poster of the Wizard of Oz and smiles to himself, “I have been on this path, this yellow brick road for such a long time … and now I am right where I am meant to be”. Kosal tells me that there are signs in life everywhere; you just need to stop and notice them.

Sitting down for a coffee with spoken word artist Kosal Khiev is an absolute pleasure. He is insightful not only about spoken word but about everything from politics and human rights, to at-risk youth and prisons.

Kosal is a Khmer-American born in a Thai refugee camp during Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge era. His family fled to the US in 1981 searching for a better future and like so many, ended up in public housing and just trying to survive. Gang life as a teenager eventually led to a 16-year sentence in a state penitentiary. It was there that he discovered his voice as an outlet for years of buried emotions.

America’s loss was certainly our gain when in 2011 Kosal was deported to Cambodia, a land he knew little about. His voice is mesmerizing and although he is telling his own story, he is also telling the story of so many that feel his pain, hurt and desire to rise up again and dream of a better future; a better world. I am fascinated by Kosal’s take on the world. He describes how consciousness is in pockets of the world but the mass still rules. With Internet we are able to connect more and more but we still need to find a greater way, to build a bridge and come together so that the pockets of consciousness connect and became the mass.

When asking Kosal about some recent highlights in his life, there seem to be many. We chat about the ZEBRA poetry film festival where he and Japanese director Masahiro Sugano’s piece “Why I write” was nominated for the ‘Best Poem Performance on Film’ category in October this year. The host began announcing ‘and the winner is…’ which led to a long pause. Kosal didn’t think he would win and was shocked when his name was called out. For him this was an emotional time and he was thrilled to be sharing it with the talented director who he had come to call his close friend.

On stage he was put on the spot and asked to do a piece. He chose ‘Moments in between the nights’, something close to his heart, which he wrote in 2003. It was dedicated in his mind, to all the at-risk youth. It is something he has performed countless times over a 3-4 year period as part of a play with at-risk youth through the old Arts and Connections program in America. Performing this on stage he says “the moment was bigger, it was for all the kids I had performed that for before”.

Most recently Kosal was involved in the ‘Prison Break-In’ arts event about bringing ‘hope and light to one of Cambodia’s darkest places’. Kosal is proud to be part of such an event that allows him to ‘give back’ and help those in prison. It was especially emotional as his mother from America was in attendance. He spoke to inmates about planning for their future, making choices and that the word can’t doesn’t exist. He thinks they at least made a ripple.

So what is the process to his writing? “Lines come to me”. Once he has the first line, the rest is easy. He likens it to a drawing “once you have the centrepiece, it is natural, it writes itself like the picture paints itself”.

By Romi Grossberg

To Hear His Work:
Check: http://spokenkosal.com

'Why I Write'
by Kosal Khiev