Kristin Sanders is the author of CUNTRY (Trembling Pillow Press 2017 and a finalist for the 2015 National Poetry Series), This is a map of their watching me (BOAAT 2015), and Orthorexia (Dancing Girl Press 2011). She has taught at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Loyola University, New Orleans; Belmont University; and Louisiana State University. She is currently a poetry editor for the New Orleans Review and a contributing writer at Weird Sister.
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?
My first chapbook, Orthorexia, was with Dancing Girl Press in 2011. Of course, that first published chapbook or book is very validating. My first full-length book, CUNTRY, is coming out in June 2017. I’ve been working on this project, and publishing pieces from it, since 2012, so it feels good to have it out in the world. In between was a second chapbook, This is a map of their watching me, from BOAAT Press in 2015. I don’t think these books have changed my life, but they’ve affirmed the sense that I want to write about certain themes—gender, sexuality, feminism—and are a record of how I felt in my twenties.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think my love of reading and writing poetry has to do with the English teachers I had in elementary school, high school, college, and grad school. Poetry teachers are the best, aren’t they? My high school English teacher, Mrs. May, who I adore, made a Xeroxed poetry packet for her classes. I still have it. One of the poems in the packet was Denise Levertov’s “The Secret.” The romantic ideas in that poem probably influenced me more than I knew.
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 don’t start with notes, but more of a conceptual idea. The writing usually starts loose, and then I have to pare it down.
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?
Book from the beginning, usually. If I write an individual poem I often don’t know what to do with it next, if it doesn’t fit into a specific project. I have a few of those, and they make me sad. They feel homeless.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings! I like to participate in readings at all stages of the creative process. I’ve been reading (and, okay, singing) pieces from CUNTRY since 2012.
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?
Theoretically, I’m interested in writing that makes the reader feel uncomfortable, not only in regard to content but also genre and the hybrid text. There’s a Hélène Cixous quote which I always remember from Laura Mullen’s brilliant “Hybrid Text Talk”: “If you haven’t, as a reader, burned your house down, if you are still at home, then you don’t want to go abroad. People who don’t like what I call ‘the text’ are phobic, they are people who... dislike being displaced” (Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing 81). What’s the use of art that feels easy and safe? The questions I’m interested in have to do with bodies, sexuality, desire, gender, feminism, and technology’s effects on these things. The questions are constantly changing, developing—pornography, identities, labels, trends—and yet the questions are unchanging, always the same—love, the nature of desire, communication between two people, the ways we move in the world as individuals and within our prescribed societal roles.
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?
I’m going to quote Chris Kraus on this, because I can’t really think about the role of the writer divorced from the roles of gender: “Because I’m moved in writing to be irrepressible. Writing to you seems like some holy cause, cause there’s not enough female irrepressibility written down. I’ve fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender’s silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world. I could be 20 years too late but epiphanies don’t always synchronize with style” (I Love Dick, 210).
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t had that experience yet. Most of my poetry editors and publishers have been fairly hands-off, which has benefits.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
One of my favorite quotes is from Rumi: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” That’s probably an odd choice, because by all accounts I’m a generic-looking, rule-abiding Californian woman. My risk-taking tends to live out in my writing.
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?
No writing routine! I write in bursts, most often at night. I’m a night owl. I have zero willpower in the mornings. I’ll press snooze for hours.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to other books, or I talk to any of my brilliant women friends (or my sister, or my mother) to compare stories, bounce around ideas, get advice, etc. I’m lucky to have an amazing network of intellectual, artistic friends. I’d get more writing done if I spent less time reading and socializing, but I’d be a much less happy person.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
Books influence me the most, but also music and visual art. My dad is a painter, and my uncle and cousin are country songwriters. I spend a lot of time thinking about how different forms of artistic expression are limiting in different ways. I suppose I’m influenced by the idea of boundaries, whether those are self-imposed or imposed by genre or industry. I hate feeling limited or controlled, and literary writing allows me the most freedom.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Hélène Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. Jean Rhys, Elena Ferrante, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, bell hooks, Clarice Lispector, Plath, and Sexton. Louise Glück and Margaret Atwood’s poetry. The life-outside-of-my-work writer friends who are not just important but necessary are Laura Mullen, Megan Burns, Carolyn Mikulencak, Jenn Marie Nunes, Mel Coyle, Elizabeth Hall, Ben Kopel.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Figure out a way to teach English—which I love—without grading a gazillion papers—which I absolutely hate.
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?
I did attempt to be a country songwriter in Nashville, but I’ve mostly been a writer and English teacher. I might’ve missed my calling to be a tap-dancing contortionist.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I wasn’t good enough at not saying impolite/gross/weird/sexual/darkly humorous things—in country songs or in real life.
18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been on a huge Jean Rhys kick; I’m currently reading her biography by Carole Angier. I also recently read Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex, which I think is saying a lot of the same things I’m saying in CUNTRY, but through research and journalism. I just re-read The Lover, too, to remember how gorgeous a book can be.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A novel and essays.