Kirsten Kaschock is the author of two books of poetry: Unfathoms (Slope Editions) and A Beautiful Name for a Girl (Ahsahta Press). Her debut novel, Sleight, a work of speculative fiction, was published by Coffee House Press. A chapbook WindowBoxing is out from Bloof Books. She has earned a PhD in English from the University of Georgia and a PhD in dance from Temple University. Her most recent manuscript, The Dottery, winner of the Donald Hall Prize for poetry from AWP, will be published by University of Pittsburgh Press in fall 2014. She is the Viebranz Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at St. Lawrence University for 2013-14.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book allowed me to call myself a poet. Since then I’ve accumulated a host of identities and want only to keep collecting. My most recent work is less intricately sculpted than my first book. These days I am appreciating broader strokes (in addition to the filigree and complex-braiding processes I have always been drawn to).
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I decided I wanted to be a poet when I was seven. Then, in college, the feeling went away. But as I pursued dance (ballet and modern) the structures returned. Choreography and poetry have a kinship, I think… in their fidelity to the unsayable. Poetry seems to me more accepting of the inevitable failure in search of the sublime. So—I’m all about that. Only now I’ve found a way to incorporate it into fiction too.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Every project is its own. Some come quickly into an initial form, but I am also an endless tinkerer. I can’t count the numbers of revisions I do because they are constant. I take tons of notes but rarely look back at them. Writing them down helps me to fix them in my mind. I have haphazard half-full notebooks littering my life. I am coming to peace with this as not necessarily problematic… it’s just me.
4 - Where does a poem or a story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
The page. I concentrate on the page I am working on. But pretty soon, things tell me what they are (or at least that they are part of something larger). My novels announced themselves fairly early. Two longer poetic projects identified themselves by their repetitive structure and language within a few days… but even then I didn’t know how long they’d go. One became a book – “The Dottery,” and one became a chapbook – “WindowBoxing.” While I was in the midst of writing, I had no sense of length. And the narrative of fiction and poetry (and I do have narrative)… it comes for me out of a line-by-line progression (what is encountered along the way) rather than as an outline or preconceived plot.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love to do readings but mostly read published work (rather than using it as a time to workshop pieces). I love making choices about performing the work and I try to invite my audience to encounter the dark humor they aren’t always certain is present when they see the poems or story only on the page.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
What is art? is my basic question. And—Why is art? But I think what these questions ultimately come down to is: what does it mean to be human—to be pre-occupied with the things that preoccupy humans? Is making art “fiddling while Rome burns”? And if it is, are any other activities preferable? I am married to a scientist and art is important to him. I try to balance my pessimism about current societal structures with optimism about human potential, but it isn’t easy. I have this gut feeling that art is crucial, that it could provide better ways forward, but how that might happen is what I struggle (and write) to envision.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Many writers are entertainers. Many writers are thinkers. Many writers are language-players. Many writers are story-tellers. I would love it if writers could make the world bigger rather than pandering to its smallnesses. That said, the only way I think this happens is for nothing to be verboten. Writing should be what writers need it to be—and if it is—then enough of it will be produced for some of it to change the world for the better. Dissemination of that writing is the more difficult question. I do not think that the current state of publishing and (especially) publicizing necessarily gets the books into the hands that might love to hold those books.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Neither. When I’ve worked with editors it has been pleasant and the work usually gets better (usually clearer). However, none of the editing my work has received has changed it substantively in a way I would call “essential” to its final state. I feel like I have been fortunate to have editors who believe in my work and are there to hone it rather than overhaul it. That said, I am not averse to a good overhaul… it just hasn’t happened at the editing stage (in workshopping and with early-readers—it has absolutely).
9 - What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
No appeal. I write what’s eating at me. Maybe the appeal is that the creature gnawing out my insides has an easier time emerging when offered the best material incarnation.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Coffee. Children. When they leave I get busy. Busy can look like anything for as long as I have that day. The best thing about having limited writing time (and even alone-time) is that I have learned how to drop in quickly to the work. I also don’t punish myself for irregularities of schedule. I can do only what I can do. Coming to terms with that has helped me get rid of the unproductive self-chastisement that I used to heap on myself so generously.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading. Music. Nature. I guess all those things are a way of saying beauty. I want to produce something amazing, so I subject myself to amazing things: waterfalls, good food, museums and gallery showings, yoga and ballet class. I don’t believe in the high/low art dichotomy but I do believe in the ineffable. I seek it. Wherever I find it, it never ceases to open me up.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Onions in butter.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
See above (all of the above). And especially science. I read lay science often. And the human body. I am endlessly fascinated by the untapped meaning that inheres in gesture and movement.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Patrick Lawler, Sabrina Orah Mark.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Neuroscience. Dance. Paint. Sculpt. If I had a voice—sing.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Language made me do it. It wasn’t me. I wish it was, but it wasn’t.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Embassytown by China Miéville. The Shining—this time with my 14-year-old.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Second novel: working title—The Rate at Which She Travels Backwards. It’s sci-fi. And poetry. And me.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;