Christine Kanownik is the author of KING OF PAIN (Monk Books 2016). Her poetry can be found at FENCE, Poetry Crush, Jubilat, among others. Her chapbook We Are Now Beginning to Act Wildly was published in 2012 by Diez Press.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I suppose the biggest thing that has changed is that my book is done. I can’t fiddle with it anymore. It was important for me to have that kind of end to it or else I think I would be writing those poems forever. I had long described my writing process as Penelope destroying her weaving, waiting for Odysseus to come home. So this formal finality is very helpful for me.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
We were required to take a poetry class in undergrad and my professor was the excellent poet Kristy Odelius. I most certainly would never have thought to be a poet if it weren’t for her. I was writing a novel at the time.
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?
I used to be more particular but I feel like I’ve really fallen into a sawed-off shotgun style approach to my writing. There is a more laborious arranging process, but actual composition is more akin to the Romantic notion of poetry through inspiration. Though it sounds pretty corny to say so.
4 - Where does a poem 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?
Oh I can’t even imagine writing a book from the beginning. That seems insane. You start with a big heap of poems idea and then you end up cutting and shuffling and writing more. Someone should figure out how to print a time lapse manuscript.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
My initial thought was that I dislike going to reading but I love reading, but that probably isn’t anything anyone wants to hear. Readings can be so wonderful. Like I just hear Karen Weiser and Stacy Szymaszek read at KGB here in Mnhattan. That was an exceptional reading and the two were very well-matched. And then last night my roommate Amy Lawless had a book launch/conversation with the co-author Chris Cheney at a gallery in the middle of nowhere Brooklyn. The energies were completely different. But both nights reminded me how great the poetry community can be.
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?
My poetry is concerned with what I’m concerned with. A recent tone of my poems is that of outrage and anger. I am angry at the casual racism and sexism and phobia I see every day and then in the poetry world. It’s a place that you would hope for better. But it, like everything, is a victim to the hand of patriarchy. Fuck your theories, people are dying.
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?
Ah yes. The Role of the Poet. I feel like that is for each poet to decide. I like writing. I like being happy. Writing makes me happy, well, and also quite miserable. I’m not going to aribit anything.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It was great. I love putting my work in other people’s hands. It’s a truly beautiful form of collaboration. I’m not precious about my work for the most part so when someone says to cut a whole poem or stanza, it feels great. Like throwing stuff away when spring cleaning or chopping all your hair off. Both are things I love. I love throwing things away, even things I’ve horded for years.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
There are a bunch of Kathrine Hepburn quotes in the Kathrine Hepburn garden that is right by my work. She seemed like she was imminently quotable. I like to think of her these days, wearing a fashionable pants suit after a quick game of baseball. As long as I keep imaginary Kitty happy, I know I’ll be happy.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I’m usually getting up late to go to work. I’m trying. One of my goals is to try and become a morning person. So far I’ve managed to mostly get to work only thirty minutes late, rather than 45. Writing in the morning just sounds so dreamy. But I can (and do) write anywhere. I write on the train a lot. I get a lot of stimulus listening to people and then I’ll get angry at something and write a poem. I wrote while watching Ally McBeal the other day. But writing out the window with a cup of coffee and like there’s a newspaper on the table and a dog there. It sounds great.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
There we go. Inspiration does sound cheesy. My tricks are just writing down the first thing that comes to my mind. Oh, or I’ll read someone else’s poems. A book of poems that I like very much will take me a long time to read because I will write so much while reading. That happened most notably to me while reading Women in Public by Elaine Khan. I feel like I could dedicate a whole chapbook to her.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
That’s a funny question. I moved around a bit and all my family has moved out of any place that I had ever lived in. I’m not very close to my biological family at all. I’ve lived in many different parts of America through many formative periods of my life, so I have lots of answers to the question “where are you from?” Probably my apartment now is the closest thing to having a home as I can imagine. And my apartment now smells like nag champa, Brussel sprouts, baked almonds, lavender, and pot.
13 - 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?
Movies have historically been important for my creative process. But a lot of what I’m writing now is in relation to paintings. Oh, and still movies. I wrote several poems recently while and after watching the Danish movie Haxan. I also get obsessed with really bad music. Right now I cannot stop listening to Meat Loaf. Jesus, that’s embarrassing. I plan on writing a lot about Meat Loaf.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Colette, Duras, Elliot, Woolf, Stein, Baldwin, hooks, Lorde are all on my fantasy league. Living writers are equally if not more important. Ali Power, Amy Lawless, Lauren Hunter, Paul Legault, John Beer, Bianca Stone, Ana Božičević, Jennifer Nelson, etc.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I want to make a movie. I’m working on a script now. I love movies, as I mentioned earlier, but I partially want to direct a movie because there are like 10 females directors in movie history. I also want to be an airplane pilot for the same reason.
16 - 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?
That would be pretty cool if poet was my occupation. I work in publishing. And since we are probably are at the tail end of the history of print publishing, I spend a lot of time thinking about new career paths. I want to be a screenwriter, magic store owner, or go to the 1930s and join a Vaudeville troupe.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s such a good excuse for both completely hiding away from people for days but always having a party you can go to when you get tired of your own thoughts.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m reading Silas Marner right now. I love George Eliot and would recommend Middlemarch to any thoughtful human. Her emotional intelligence is really so outstanding. Silas Marner isn’t as good as Middlemarch, but it’s still great. I wrote a horror novel after reading Middlemarch. It has so many characters.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a book of poetry about decapitation and post-mortem brain removal. A lot of people had their brains or heads removed after their death. Both Joseph Haydn and Oliver Cromwell. It seems shocking now, but the more Wikipedia pages I read, the more it seems to have been a pretty common occurrence. Even Shakespeare. So really light, fun stuff!
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