Interview: Kristy Bowen
by Ryo Yamaguchi
All the poets and I here at dislocate are huge huge fans of Kristy Bowen's latest chapbook, feign, out from New Michigan Press last year, 2006. Okay, I have been trying to find a deft, definitive reason for why I am so enamored of this book, and short of solving any of my own life problems (inability to sleep, lack of rhythm, that reoccurring smell of copper), I have come upon a conclusion: I love these poems for the way they bring an otherwise associative sensibility into a strong sense of scene: how Bowen discovers within and at the corners of her stagings these shadow worlds: or a jar lifted to open the air over the curio: so everything has a pitch toward a silent figure: even has her mind leaps, it finds an accumulating logic.
Or maybe, just have a look at a few of these lines, from one of my favorites, "Girls Reading Novels:"
Violet is named for lavender equations, the glitter at the end of your spine. Avenues grow contradictory, the length of the chain-link divided by the water's murky circle. Kitchen floors tilt at a seventy degree angle while intricate societies are discovered among the broken dishes. My limbs are symmetrical, polite.
Oh, oh that exquisite tone, the abeyance, until we get the ending:
Some terrible violence in the way I say open.
These are careful poems, even as wild as they are. A measured mental conflagration, hoorah! So, so, the real bit here: this has prompted us to invite Kristy Bowen to kick off our series of:
Awesome Interviews with Awesome Writers
Okay, but first, the links:
What are you working on these days? Any work coming out in the near or semi-near future?
I'm in the midst of a couple of projects, one a collection of love and anti-love poems called the kissing disease, as well as a novel-in-verse type thing about two sisters in 1970's Wisconsin . I'm also plotting another book arts project with Lauren Levato, who I collaborated with on at the hotel andromeda. My second full-length collection, in the bird museum, should be out from Dusie Press in December or January, and another, girl show, is due out in 2009 from Ghost Road
What sorts of things have you been reading?
Lately, I've mostly been indulging my perennial craving for local ghost stories. I spend a lot of time commuting, so it's perfect for reading . Weirdly, I can only read poems in the privacy of my own home, however, since I occasionally like to read them aloud. I just finished Laurel Snyder's Myth of Simple Machines last night. Before that, Larissa Szporluk's Embryos and Idiots. I also tend to read a lot of stuff online. I work in a library, so I'm constantly picking things up, then getting distracted by the next thing, so I start far many more books than I actually finish.
Regarding your own work, do you have a favorite and/or most-representative piece?
I'm still much enamored of at the hotel andromeda, the homage to Joseph Cornell, not just for the poems inside, but the project as a whole. It was very hands on in conception and execution, and probably the thing I'm most proud of as both a poet and a visual artist.
Which writer would you say has had the biggest influence on your writing style?
As perhaps untrendy as it is to say, I'm all about Plath and Sexton. I also tend to read a lot of younger, contemporary female poets, and I'd have to say what I read definitely has a cumulative effect on my writing. Some of them are poets I know (either in real life or internet life) like Simone Muench, Arielle Greenberg, Rebecca Loudon, as well as other poets like Christine Hume, Larissa Szporluk, Mary Ann Samyn, Sabrina Orah Mark, Daphne Gottlieb, and Olena Kalytiak Davis. Also, I'm a big CD Wright fan . Years ago, I think I was reading TS Eliot when I finally "got it" as a poet about eight years ago (I'd been flailing before that). I'm also influenced by a lot of fiction writers--historically the Brontes, Henry James, William Faulkner, and a lot of contemporary writers--Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Marilynne Robinson.
How important is the specificity of place in your work?
I would consider myself a much more rural-based writer than I would ever consider myself an urban one. While I grew up not too far outside of Rockford, the second biggest city in Illinois, there was a certain element of isolation out where we were. I'm intrigued by that idea of Midwestern gothic, particularly, inspired by all those lonely dark roads, open spaces, that silence that I never get here in the city, that lonely dark-windowed farmhouse that seems to emerge almost from the flat land around it. It's probably why my work is so filled with floods and fires, and car accidents. I've lived in Chicago for the last ten years, and it took awhile for the city really to creep into my work, but it does on occasion. Of course, what I would consider my only Chicago-focused work was a series of poems , Archer Avenue, which was about the city's famous, vanishing hitchhiker legend, which isn't exactly urban in its nature...
If you were a character from Shakespeare, which one would you be?
My favorite Shakespeare play is Titus Andronicus (bloody and violent and wonderful), so I'm not sure I would want to be any of those characters. Seriously.
Are there any "words of wisdom" that linger in your head when you're writing? Any advice that has stayed with you?
I have this great rebelliousness when it comes to people telling me I can't do this or can't do that. Don't use too many adjectives. Don't use the word "dark" in a poem. Of course my reaction is to do exactly that. I once had a fiction workshop leader as an undergrad who said breaking the rules was fine as long as you knew what the rules were.
How would you describe your time/experiences as an MFA/Phd. student?
I enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia College, largely because 1.) I was already working for the school, 2. ) I got to take classes for half price, and 3.) it was a brand spanking new program that seemed promising. I also always worry that I'll regret at some point NOT doing things, so I decided to go for it, figuring it could only make me a stronger writer. I'd already been publishing work for awhile, doing readings, making inroads into some sort of publishing career, so I felt a little conspicuous amongst writers more at the start of their writing "careers" as someone who was, I guess, already in the midst of it. I think I was also a little suspicious of it all. In the end though, I'm certain it made me a tighter poet and fostered a lot of reading and projects I might not have done otherwise.
You meet someone for the first time and they ask you the proverbial, "So, Chief, what is it that you do?" What do you tell them?
I've only recently gotten comfortable with telling them I'm a poet. I feel a little more comfortable with my MFA and a published book backing me up (though obviously those are silly and arbitrary markers of success.) I'm actually more comfortable with "poet' than I am with terming myself an "artist," even though I do a lot of visual art, especially since I'm mostly self-taught in the latter. I also usually mumble something about working in a library and editing when they ask about how I actually make a living.
Favorite poetic form?
I like litanies, and litany-like constructions in the midst of non-litany poems. I also just like the word "litany."
You would think it would be that flat, Midwestern view, but actually I'm an ocean girl. I initially went to college to study Marine Biology in Wilmington, North Carolina, but I'm a poor scientist and bad at math, and ultimately decided I could be an English Major anywhere. If I had my way, I'd be living in a beach front cottage somewhere on a coastline. I guess I'm willing to settle for living a block away from Lake Michigan, which sometimes looks like an ocean.
Bananas or Mittens?
I hate mittens. Especiallly wet wool mittens. So bananas, I guess.
If you were stuck in a room forever, would you rather have limitless writing utensils or a window?
Definitely a window.
Marsupials or Clairvoyance?
Clairvoyance..also a favorite word.
Do you prefer the word "bubbly" or "chipper"?
Yech ... neither.
Do you write by time or by page? Or some other order?
I tend to, over a couple of days, collect notes, thoughts, random bits of things, then sit down to forge them into poem. It usually takes a couple hours, then I'm tweaking it for about a week...
What time of day do you find yourself writing?
Since I work evenings most of the time, until 10pm, I get most things done after that, the middle of the night.
What is the best way to run a writing workshop?
My ideal workshop would be where the participants look at the work in question not as other writers, but as readers. Not so much "If this were my poem, I would x,y, or z." But more like "I'm not getting this as an audience, how can the writer make the piece work toward that end?"
What do you strive for most in your work? Image, meaning, logic, sound, etc? Why?
I'd say image first. Then sound. Meaning maybe. Logic...not so much. I think image and sound are what distinguishes poetry from prose. Not that prose can't be both image and sound driven, but to me, poetry HAS to be.
Kristy Bowen maintains a blog. Her first collection is called the fever almanac.