Q: How did you begin writing poetry?
Kim: I wrote my first poem, Little Bunnies, the summer between 4th and 5th grade. We’d just moved into a new house, one further away from sidewalks and neat city blocks, and I found a nest of wild bunnies hidden under a bush. I was moved to write a poem about them. The odd thing is I have no recollection of actually studying poetry in school, reading poems, etc. up to that point, but writing a poem about those fragile bunnies seemed as natural as anything I’d ever done. I’ve been writing poetry ever since, that was my ‘inwardizing behavior’ that helped me sort through adolescence. I was blessed to have teachers in 5th grade, 9th grade and 10th grade who saw potential and encouraged me. One has since passed away but when I had a book signing in my hometown last spring the other two were there and one of them still had the poetry notebook I did in 9th grade. Still makes me tear up knowing he’s kept it all these years.
Q: What can poetry evoke that other forms cannot (or not as successfully in your opinion)?
Kim: For me there are two things. First, it’s more about how poetry evokes emotion, not that it can when other forms of writing can’t. By the very nature of poetry most of it is shorter than most prose so there isn’t as much time or space to build up to the emotional impact. Every word really does count so because poems are so concentrated, we get hit with the emotion sooner and harder, it’s stronger. Second, there is the language and rhythm of poetry that can sometimes be found in prose, but has to be part of poetry. I love reading poetry, but I love more listening to it read aloud. It’s the turn of a phrase, the cadence not only of the poem itself but in the poet’s voice. It’s spoken music for me. I don’t always hear that same music when I read or hear prose read aloud.
Q: What inspires you to write poetry?
Kim: Everything! It’s anything that makes me stop, even momentarily, and takes me out of whatever I’m doing. I was sitting in my chair and noticed the shadow patterns the bushes made on our sheer curtains. They made me think of Japanese silk paintings and Haiku on a Curtain was born. It’s anything that makes me feel something – from strong emotions like love for my family to simple curiosity or humor found in the world around me. My published collection is about my family, but I also have several poems related to working as a maid at an amusement park one summer and the odd and interesting experiences and observations of that job. I look to other art forms. One of my poems, Diaspora, was based on a Steve McCurry photo of an aged Tibetan monk. I think inspiration is everywhere. As poets and writers we just have to keep our eyes and ears open to notice it and let it settle in.
Q: Before beginning a poem, do you have something in mind you are trying to convey? (an image, an emotion, etc?)
Kim: Yes, more so an image or idea than an emotion. I want the reader to feel something, but I can’t – or don’t want to – dictate or direct what that emotional response is. I have what former NC Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers calls an abiding image, and I describe it in the best poetic way I can. How others respond, or don’t respond, is up to the reader. A series of poems I’m working on now is about a friend descending into dementia. The abiding image(s) are how she’s changing and what I’m trying to convey are those very real physical and psychological differences that I’m observing. Through those descriptions members of my critique group get a sense of who she was, who she is, and depending on their own experiences have an emotional response.
Q: How long (or short) can writing a poem take you from start to finish? In other words, what is the shortest and longest time you’ve ever spent on a specific poem?
Kim: Oh my! Are they ever done? J I’ve gotten a poem from inspiration to really good draft in one day. Often I’ve written a poem ‘in a day’…but only after the inspiration rumbled around in my head for days or months, which makes it sound like I wrote a poem in a day! I think by letting the poem age and ferment awhile, by the time I get something on paper, parts of it are already formed so there is at least a structure to build on. And it can still take days or weeks or months to finish because every word has to count and have meaning, and it has to be just the right word. There’s a difference between road/path/lane/street and which one fits a particular poem. So I guess the short answer here is one day to months.
Q: In your opinion, what is the difference between poetry and Flash?
Kim: This is a toughie for me because the only poetry that really compares to Flash Fiction is Prose Poetry – and I’ve only written one of those. I think for me it’s still the difference between poetry and prose of any kind – poetry is about image, line breaks and language; fiction is about character and story. And having said that, I know elements of each creep into the other.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who struggles with the art of writing poetry, but feels the call of this art form within them?
- Write even if you’re struggling. Much of the process and improvement actually comes just from doing it – playing with words, getting your thoughts and ideas down. Personally, I think struggling is also part of the process. If someone says it’s easy or their poems always come out golden the first time, I’m a little suspect.
- Read poetry. Read especially contemporary poets. Some good websites are:
- http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org (one of my favorites because I love Ted Kooser)
- www.poetryfoundation.org (can listen to poets read their poems)
- While you read note what makes your ear go hmmmm, how that poet got a reaction from you – both in a good way and not so good way.
- Attend literary festivals, poetry readings and open mics. This is a biggie. Even if you don’t read at the open mic, go to listen. Hear what other poets are writing, how the rhythms fit the poems, etc. I’m always impressed by the people who attend with a notebook and jot down phrases that strike them. These events are fun, usually free, and you meet other poets. And I’ve found they are very welcoming to newbies. One of my first poetry critique groups was formed by several of us who didn’t know one another but met at a reading.
- Attend workshops and seminars, if you can afford it. The information, support and networking are invaluable.
- Join a poetry critique group. These are invaluable as well because others will see and hear things we miss in our own writing. One of the newer members of my group said that now when she’s writing, she hears us critiquing – Barbara’s going to ask about that…Julie will question that line break… – and she loves that because she knows it’s making her poetry better.
Q: Fun question – is there something you like to do when you are struggling with a poem? Any go-to foods/drinks or activities that helps you get over mental blocks?
Kim: I love the outdoors so I head to my flower beds that always need weeding, I mow the lawn, go for a walk…anything that works out the physical energy but doesn’t require much mental energy – what I call ‘monkey work’ because a trained monkey could do it. This allows the brain to keep working on the poem whether I’m aware of it or not. Another biggie for me is free writing. I will ‘talk out’ a poem on paper and it’s amazing what gets unstuck when I do.