Tag Archives: Alicia Ostriker

A Virtual Interview with Katrinka Moore

Katrinka Moore will be the featured reader Thursday, March 8, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Katrinka Moore comes from a long line of Texans. She grew up in Brazoria County and now lives in New York.  A former choreographer and dancer, she is a lyric and visual poet.

Her poems appear in Dos Gatos Press’ Weaving the Terrain: 100-Word Southwestern PoemsBig Land, Big Sky, Big Hair: Best of the Texas Poetry Calendar; and Milkweed Editions’ Stories from Where We Live: The Gulf Coast.

She is the author of Numa, Thief, and This is Not a Story, winner of Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices prize. Her latest book, Wayfarers, is a collection of poems that are tales told by multiple narrators.

 

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you start to become interested in writing?

KM: I first heard poetry in the Episcopal church when I was five years old—the beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer. Although I drifted away from church as a teenager, I still like to dip into the BCP and feel the musical rhythm of the words. The first poetry I read was in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I was especially fond of “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” maybe because I loved to eat oysters.

As a child I was more interested in playing outside and riding horses than in the idea of writing, though I did love to read.

My parents were print journalists and they raised my sister and me to consider writing as necessary a life skill as cooking or learning to drive (for which I thank them!). I thought writing was prose that explained something or told a story. Secretly I felt writing couldn’t describe— something, a feeling I had about the mystery in the world—but it took a long time for me to realize that what I wanted was poetry.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a poet? How would you describe your identity as a poet?

KM: I began to think of myself as a poet once I could purposely work on a poem, either start one or revise one, in whatever time I had available, even if I didn’t know where I was going. And being a poet meant being serious about reading others’ poetry, to delve into a poem without thinking of my own work but to find out what that poem was about.

I think of poetry as a bridge to the unseen, to mystery, something we feel but find hard to know what it is. So as a poet I want to cross back and forth on that bridge, try to discover something on the far side and bring it back over here, where we live. I set many poems in the natural world, which I sense is a way—the way for me, anyway—to try to understand how everything is connected in a non-hierarchical manner. Everything includes people, animals, plants, boulders, earth, stars, galaxies, the universe, and all that is invisible.

CH: Some might say a career in dance and choreography seems at odds with the stillness suggested by the life of a writer. What relationship do you see between dance and choreography and writing poetry? With poetry itself?

KM: The dance I studied, performed, and created was based in stillness. My mentor was Mariko Sanjo, a choreographer and dancer who incorporated traditional Japanese sensibility into her work. She taught her students to wait, to move only when absolutely necessary. We practiced being still, moving slowly, and making honest movements, not trying to look a certain way. It wasn’t that we held still or that we didn’t leap and run and fall, but that we were quiet inside.

I use that same idea of stillness, of quietness, to write, though I may have to go through a lot of words to get down to the honesty, the deep quiet, where I try to go. I do write a lot about movement, use a lot of active verbs, and I suppose that comes from my dance experience as well.

That said, I move when I write, walk around, pour over the OED, sit at one desk, stand at another. (I brought a drafting table into my little writing room just for that purpose.) I can’t sit still for hours and write but I can write for quite some time if I’m able to be active.

I think dance and poetry are very similar. Both are ways of saying what can’t be said directly, of exploring the world in a nonlinear fashion. While I mean for my poems to be clear and accessible, I do sometimes feel they are closer to dance or visual art than to prose.

CH: In your bio, you describe yourself as a lyric and visual poet. Please tell us about how your visual poetry manifests.

KM: Several years ago I took a visual poetry workshop with Jill Magi.  I learned from Jill but also from fellow participants, especially Christine Hamm and Sue Macklin. In that workshop I learned the process of erasure and developed ways of combining text with images such as maps or collages. I use these techniques in Thief.

Later I began making assemblages right on the scanner screen using three dimensional objects like nests and stones. I use this technique for images in both Numa and Wayfarers. I think of placing art next to poems in a book as similar to Japanese haiga, in which the visual work complements, rather than illustrates, the writing.

CH: How does place figure in your work? How had moving from Brazoria County to New York shifted your perspective?

KM: I grew up in a tumble-down house on 15 acres of pasture and woods, located in a bend of Cowarts Creek. I loved roaming the property, riding horses, just being outside.

Living in New York City, living more indoors, I’ve written a lot about my childhood home—the open spaces, the natural world, snakes, oak trees, the creek.

I’ve also had the opportunity to spend time in rural areas beyond the city and I’ve set a lot of poems in the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania and the Catskills in New York state. My writing within a framework of nature definitely comes from having spent my early life in the rural Texas coastal plains.

CH: Your chapbook, This is Not a Story, won the Finishing Line Press “New Women’s Voices” Prize in 2003. How did you put this book together? How did you move, then, into your first full-length collection, Thief?

KM: I had been working on a full-length book, which was really just a bunch of poems. I finally collected a small group of poems that complemented one another. My decisions were on a subconscious level, I’d say now, but the process later helped me think about how to compose a book. I pulled the poems together in a hurry, to meet the FLP deadline. (Sometimes deadlines are very useful!) Later I realized the chapbook is about my childhood home.

That made me think I might try to write about my early days in New York City, wandering around, lost a lot of the time, slipping into used bookstores to find my emotional bearings. I began to include bits of writing from authors I loved, like Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and those I stumbled across while browsing, which is where I found Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, a book I’ve made a lot of erasures from. So the theme of Thief developed.

Gradually I set more poems in the natural world and thefts began occurring there, as well. This time I knew I was writing poems specifically to create a book, so I consciously tried to connect different poems to make a coherent work.

CH: Tell us a little about your collection, Numa. What inspired the writing of this epic poem? How did you find a publisher for it?

KM: I wanted to write an epic from the monster’s point of view, a female monster of course. Numa is a shape-shifting numen, or local divinity, who lives in a forest.  She’s part of the environment, but from the outside someone might consider her a monster on the order of Humbaba in Gilgamesh.

Numa grows up in the forest, learns how to be a skillful shape-shifter, mates with an otter, has a cub and begins to teach her to shape-shift.  Then a young man on a quest for glory comes to the forest to defeat the monster.

So Numa is part ecological cautionary tale and part feminist retelling of epic. It’s not written in a heroic style, but in fragmented narratives, though the poems about the young man use Anglo-Saxon alliteration and caesura.

I was very lucky with publishing. My sister, Nancy Jane Moore, publishes fiction with Aqueduct Press, a feminist SF publisher in Seattle, and she suggested I send the manuscript there. The managing editor Kath Wilham designed the book and helped me a great deal with the art I submitted.

CH: What was your process in collecting and constructing your newest book, Wayfarers? Looking back, what are the things that distinguish this collection from the others?

KM: I was thinking about the ongoing refugee crisis around the world. Rather than describe real-life events, I tried to create a sense of mythic storytelling about people uprooted from their homes. From there I leapt to a family story of my grandparents traveling across the Southwest in the 1920s. And gradually I wrote a number of poems about my past and present homes, I think out of appreciation for what I have.

Wayfarers is not a single story, as Numa is, and it’s more cohesive visually than Thief. As I wrote I let the idea of wayfaring broaden to include both traveling in space and exploring familiar ground. I may have been more willing to let the poems go where they wanted than in previous books.

CH: What do you do to nourish yourself as a writer?

KM: Whenever possible I spend time in nature, walk, sit, hike, just be there. I practice tai chi. And I love to get away from poetry and read character-driven novels with great plots—things I couldn’t possible write. I just finished Ursula LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest and James McBrides’ Song Yet Sung, both wonderful.

But I also read poetry, especially contemporary women poets. And often writing itself nourishes me.

CH: Please share a few of your favorite poets. What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

KM: I especially admire Kay Ryan, Susan Stewart, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Linda Gregg, Deborah Digges. Recently I’ve been enjoying Barbara Hamby’s work and have discovered Jamaal May, Molly Bashaw, Barbara Ras. I always come back to Shakespeare and frequently return to a volume of Japanese poetry, The Country of Eight Islands.

Currently I’m reading and re-reading Alicia Ostriker’s The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog.  She manages to cover a wide range of topics in the voice of each speaker (woman, tulip, dog) and it’s both hilarious and heart-breaking, absolutely true.

A Virtual Interview with Loueva Smith

Loueva Smith will be the featured reader Thursday, October 13, 2016 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman.

Background

Poet and playwright Loueva Smith of Houston is the winner of the 2015 Robert Phillips Chapbook Prize, awarded by Texas Review Press, for Consequences of a Moonless Night. She is also the author of The Book Of Wool And Fur, a hand-made fur-covered collection of love poems. Her poems have been published in such journals as DoubleTake and the Louisiana Review, and anthologized in Goodbye, Mexico, Untamable City, The Weight Of Addition, and TimeSlice. Her poetry is spoken as narration in Shamed, a dance film by Frame Dance Production, choreographed by Lydia Hance, has  been painted into nude watercolors by Cookie Wells for the artist’s 2015 show, Body Language, at Archway Gallery in Houston, Texas.Her work has also been presented in a dance performance by jhon stronks called Purging Honey at Rice University. Her play Tenderina was staged at Frenetic Theater in Houston, Texas.

The Interview

CH: When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer? What inspired you to become a writer?

LS: I’ve written since I was a teenager but I don’t think I ever knew, or really understood myself as a writer until I started reading my poems out loud to people. Once I felt that connection to other poets listening to me, my understanding of myself as a writer deepened. I first read out loud when I was forty, and I’m fifty six now.

My inspiration to be a writer comes from a sense that by writing things down in an intuitive and skillful way I can become more deeply aware. I want to say I love you in a way that has my breath and my easily teary eyes in it, or the troubling dream I had last night. I need language to use as a container for the tenderness and bitterness of memory. I sense the power of knowing how to name my terror, or my astonishment, or my urgent yearning. In some ways, writing helps me to make power out of my powerlessness.

CH: Your work includes plays as well as poetry. How would you describe your identity as a writer? Do you have writing interests beyond poetry and drama?

LS: I think of poems as little performances. I often see them on a stage with lighting and props, movements and costumes. Sometimes a poem starts with notes about how it could be acted out.

I’m very drawn to the need to tell stories. And I’m variously drawn to ways of telling stories. I love to explore the various ways of not just telling a story but of ritualizing one.

Words are so constantly with us and in us. Once I got curious about that and wrote a story/poem partly in a book and partly on my body. I was trying to find out which words belonged on my body and which belonged on the page…and where on my body did they belong…and once they were on the page, did they need a picture?

CH: Tell us a little about your path as a poet and playwright. How did you go about growing and expanding your skills?

LS: Working with an actor and a director is the best experience a writer can have because they mostly only want to know one thing; what’s the motivation? An actor cannot act a symbol. It has to be real, alive, have a motivation like hunger.

A director gets under the skin of the character and can ask a writer very penetrating questions about the backstory which is a kind of hidden text that isn’t spoken but is implied in the actor’s gestures and clothing and tone of voice.

I think poetry is greatly constructed around implication, or a kind of backstory. Poets call it connotation.

So…I love processes that teach me about the nuances of language and communication…but like all writers I’ve had to earn my identity as a writer by writing which takes so much solitude and sometimes it makes me sad to spend time doing that instead of being with friends and family.

CH: What is your relationship with the world of dance? Tell us a little about your experiences with having your work danced.

LS: I saw Lydia Hance do movement to a story by Diana Weeks, and it was so magical how she made the words into almost physical objects. It felt like she was putting the story into my hands…setting it on my lap. She made the words prick, or curve, or scurry away.

I sought her out and tried to learn from her. I collaborated with her and her dancers on a few dance films which she choreographed from writing prompts and texts. She’d watch us put our words into movement and then distill phrases of our movement into choreography. Sometimes, she’d sit watching us with tears streaming down her cheeks.

It is an enthralling art form to put poetry and movement together.

Lydia danced to an art opening for Cookie Wells at Archway Gallery. Cookie had painted a series of watercolor nudes with lines from my love poems written along the lines of the figures and in the background. Lydia did a dance interpretation with the watercolor images surrounding her and me sitting off to the side saying poems. That performance is something that still gives me goose bumps.

CH: What inspired The Book of Wool and Fur, with its hand-made fur cover? How did you go about having it produced?

LS: The Book of Wool and Fur came out of a doomed and impossible love affair. I presented it at the Houston Fringe Festival, and my performance can be seen on YouTube. It’s pretty dramatic storytelling with a poetic dialogue in the middle.

My friends and I cut out fake-fur and glued it to three hundred hand-made copies of stapled text. I gave them away for free and billed it as a book of Lesbian love poetry. I also made an audio recording of the book and will give away those CDs  at BookWoman on Thursday the 13th.

CH: Some of the publicity for “Tenderina” describes it as “the surreal story of a stripper/ballerina and her journey to self-revelation.” What role does surrealism play in your work as a whole? How was this protagonist developed?

LS: I love surrealism because it surprises me. It feels like a surrealist moment has the power to jog my memory all the way down to its roots.

“Tenderina” is a dance/play about the trial of Tenderina. She is on trial for having a dead kitten for a heart. She is carrying around a huge pink egg which is the focus of the interrogation  because she can’t set it down, doesn’t know where it came from, or if it is saying something. It seems to be haunted somehow.

She can’t give an accurate account of this huge egg except she knows it can be easily broken. The prosecutor gets so angry he jerks it away from her and a dead kitten falls out. (Not a real one. No animals were harmed in the production.)

I play a one-eyed voyeur. I live under the stage platform at the strip club. I watch Tenderina and when she discovers me our hair becomes entangled. We walk around tied together by our hair. I’ve seen her practicing ballet moves. She has so perfected her ballet that does a fire-walking act on stilettos with military-grade bullets for heels. When the bullets get almost hot enough to explode she does spectacular high kicks out into audience. Thus, she is empowered, and as her mentor my character counsels her to give up stripping for ballet.

CH: I understand that “Tenderina” was a collaboration involving film and dance, in addition to the script. What role does collaboration play for you as an author? How has your own work evolved in response to working in collaboration?

LS: I love collaboration because it stretches me. I’m endlessly curious about the intersections between artists. Of course, all such intersections are on the outskirts of town, but it is there that magic is made. I mean, both “Tenderina” and Lydia’s dance performance at Archway gallery were so unique, and had within them a fleeting incandescence…or…a shimmering that lasted for a moment signaling possibilities. Collaborations have at times filled me with a rush of joy. Collaborations can be difficult. They are made of listening and responding from your real self.

CH: How were the poems of Consequences of a Moonless Night selected? How did you decide on sending the manuscript to the Robert Phillips Chapbook Contest at Texas Review Press?

LS: Of course, Robert Phillips is an incredible poet and scholar of confessional poetry. Who isn’t captured by Sylvia Plath? Who doesn’t remember the first time they met up with her book Ariel? But confessional poetry doesn’t have much to do with why I chose the contest.

I selected the poems with the intention of telling the story of my family and of showing at the end who I grew up to be. There is a falling off a cliff moment in the book where things turn from memory to more urgent matters. I wrote it while I was grieving the death of my brother. I was very aware of my family because of his passing.

I sent the book to the Robert Phillips Chapbook Contest because I graduated from Sam Houston State University. I wanted to give part of myself back to the university, and I have great respect for the Texas Review Press.

CH: What are you working on now?

LS: I’m working on a book called “What The Music Wants.” It is set in Houston. The speaker’s name is Zoe. She works at the Jung Center. She is fifty years old and is giving an account of her life’s journey by recalling all of her lovers and recipes.

CH: Whose poetry inspires and delights you? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

LS: I most recently read Vanessa Zimmer-Powell’s manuscript called “Girl Eating Bird.” It is a series of poems based on responses to paintings which she hopes to find a publisher for. She came over for a swim in my above-ground pool and we talked about the poems in it.

I love poetry so much. I love to go to readings. I love that there are a lot of readings going on in Houston. I will buy books of poetry whether I know the poet or not. Poets are just such interesting people with gorgeous souls.

The poet who first bewitched me was Emily Dickinson. The one who helped me find the voice for Consequences of a Moonless Night was Charles Simic. He is so incredibly imaginative.

The one who taught me how to write poetry was Paul Ruffin. There is always something dark hidden under the layers, or the waters of his poems.

The one who made me go temporarily insane was Coleman Barks with those recording he did of his translations of Rumi.

The one who most changed my understanding of poetry was Alicia Ostriker and her book of scholarship on women’s poetry called Stealing the Language.

The one I always come back to is Elizabeth Bishop.