Interview by Ketaki Datta
Hi Kristina, Kate (Ketaki) here! I am really awestruck to see you straddling very interesting careers like that of a creative writer, literary critic, publicist, literary agent, quite successfully! And you are managing all with perfect elan! How do you accomplish that? Any particular experience you would like to share with the audience?
Thanks so much for the kind words about my work! I think that one of the most common misconceptions among poets is that participating in a community takes away from one’s time, creative work, and writerly craft. I find that the opposite is true. Championing the work of other writers inspires and challenges me. After all, poetry is a conversation, and it is impossible to write without another voice with which to enter into dialogue.
You have a vibrant career as a creative writer, as I already pointed out. Very interestingly, you have won quite a few prestigious residencies! How do you conceive new ideas, while in a residency, and at the same time, teach the tricks of writing to the young aspirants? Don’t you find dovetailing the two, a bit tricky?
I find that teaching pushes me to refine my own thinking, and strengthens my work. In order to walk someone else through a literary text or theoretical argument, I have to first master it myself. With that in mind, the responsibility that I have to students has encouraged me to deepen my own knowledge of texts that I care about, as well as pushing me to expand my horizons in terms of reading and research, so as to fully do justice to my students’ interests.
Your collection of poems, Dark Horse, is a superb one. And the stylistic device is also novel. A few pages are left in the middle, they are painted black, and you label them as pages of ‘mourning’. Very strikingly new idea! I was scrolling down and was wondering, ‘Oh Gosh, some pages might have been left blank. Or they are not being downloaded.’ Anyway, why such stylistic innovation?
I was inspired by Jeffrey Pethybridge’s work in Striven, or, The Bright Treatise. In this innovative collection, Pethybridges also makes use of black pages, and in fact, he was the one who coined the term “mourning pages” to describe them. I was compelled by this idea, since poetry is often visual, even when we fail to realize it. I wanted to call the reader’s attention to the page as a visual field, and even more importantly, a space for performance
Dark Horse poems are quite unique. In them, I find the blending of emotions and practical choices, marriage of poetry and prose. Can you tell us about the lyrical prose style employed in poetry? T.S. Eliot was very much against ‘emotional effusion’ in poems. He said, in fact, “ poetry is not turning loose of emotions”. And you know, Romantic poet , Wordsworth, opined otherwise. But you have done a tightrope walking like an adroit acrobat. In each prose-poem, you have brilliantly achieved a finesse, which is rather very difficult. Tell me about your own take on the poems here.
That’s a great question! I find that prose forms offer a unique opportunity for the writer, since readers often don’t expect to find poetic language there. In fact, readers bring many very different expectations to prose: a linear narrative, a clear purpose or argument, and transparent language. For me, the preconceived ideas that a reader brings a given form are opportunities, as they offer the chance to surprise the reader, and give them a moment of beauty where they didn’t expect to find it.
I have really been moved by the way you have brought Jane into the matrix of the poems, while she feels being ditched by her husband and ‘another wife’ looms large behind. Tagore, our own Rabindranath Tagore, the only Nobel Laureate in literature from India, way back in the early twentieth century, talked of such parallel love affairs, in Nashta Neer[ The Broken Nest]. Your Jane is smarter enough to think of avenging her humiliation, which Tagore’s heroine could not. Rather, she was a victim of neglect herself. I found your Jane to add voice to the jilted women all over the world, adding a direction to New Feminism, if any. Your opinion?
I created Jane because I found myself disconcerted by the competition I see among women, even within the most progressive circles, and even within the #metoo movement. In many ways, DARK HORSE is a parody or dystopic take on this animosity that we see among women, even those who foreground feminism as part of their identity and intellectual profile. I wanted to construct a world where this was taken to the extreme, as a kind of warning or harbinger for readers. After all, in order to change culture, we must first hold a mirror to it.
’Sad Film’, Jane with the Jury, these sections are intellectually gravid. I do not know how you bring emotions and practicality together. But somehow you have done that. Any secret? Any real life association?
Thanks so much for the insightful reading of my poems! There is definitely no real life association, since the great freedom of being a poet is that you can craft fictional narratives, and say things that you never could as yourself. I think of writing as an exercise in empathy or compassion, where you inhabit the psychic world of someone much different from yourself, and in doing so, learn to see their beauty, courage, and humanity.
The images of your poems are quite powerful, reminding us of E.E. Cummings sometimes. For example, “ You must understand, even the chill in this room is a decision” or “ The clock in every house stutters like a bird striking its head against the glass”…simply awesome. In one, you are pointing to the chillness of the relationship, influencing their future and in the other, the inevitability of the time-piece, registering TIME, hinting at the desperate knocking on the door of death, the ultimate finale! Am I right?
Yes, absolutely! What I love most about poetry is the ability to look both backwards and forward in time simultaneously, to challenge the prevailing belief that time is always linear in nature. Really, poetry offers a space where we treat time as recursive, doubling back on itself, allowing us to see the confluences, repetitions, and patterns as it unfolds before us.
Let me now veer my attention to your work of literary criticism, Real Je Suis L’Autr, I am really impressed by your explanation of ‘uncertainty’ in literature, as the poet/author leaves room for the reader to be a part of his creation. In the subsequent essays , you critique others’ writings and prove how language can be a determinant in a write-up as well as a tool. My question is, are you influenced by Bakhtin’s ‘heteroglossia’ and Roland Barthes’s Death of the Author, when you, through lyrical language, make the reader to be a privy to the author’s world of thinking and creation?
Most definitely! I love Bahktin’s writings on the dialogic imagination as well, particularly his idea that all of thought is a conversation, and all of writing is in essence a collaborative endeavor.
Congratulations for being the Chief Editor of Tupelo Press. What kind of stuff do you get each day and while editing which opinion do you form of the writers of modern times?
There is more great writing now than ever. We’re living in a kind of literary renaissance, particularly when it comes to poetry. Every contest that we hold yields 800-1100 submissions, and choosing one winner is a nearly impossible task. Though editing presents some difficult decisions, my favorite part of the job is creating community around a book, whether through reviews, interviews, or helping educators adopt books into their curriculum.
Any message to the writers , budding and established alike, regarding your unending energy for chipping in each assiduous endeavor, so successfully? We are waiting for your subsequent books of poems and criticism in bated breath. Tell us about your future projects please.
The best advice I can give to emerging writers is never give up. I received 80 rejections before I got my first publication. Now, I have books forthcoming with Clemson University Press, Black Ocean, and the Akron Poetry Series. I look forward to sharing these essay collections with you when they’re published!
About the interviewer: Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She has interviewed American novelist, Prof. Sybil Baker, recently for Compulsive Reader. She interviewed poet Lucha Corpi of San Francisco, in 2018.She is the Regional Editor, India, of thetheatertimes.com, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A.