Thursday, November 09, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Christine Kitano

Christine Kitano is the author of the poetry collections Sky Country and Birds of Paradise. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and a PhD in English and Creative Writing from Texas Tech University. She is an assistant professor at Ithaca College where she teaches creative writing, poetry, and Asian American literature.

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 changed my life in the sense that it didn’t. Publishing my first book soon after completing my MFA took the pressure and mystique out of publication: a book doesn’t suddenly change your life (at least it didn’t for me). It’s just part of the process of writing and sharing your work.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I began, as I suspect many writers do, as a fiction person, an avid reader of novels and short stories. Luckily, as an undergraduate, I took an introductory poetry workshop with the poet Chris Buckley who, halfway through the quarter, called me into office hours and told me to quit with the fiction and to focus on poetry. He’s been a mentor ever since.

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?
Writing is a slow process for me. I have to work consistently—if I’m lucky, an hour every other day—and I put myself through drills to get my brain started. It’s from these exercises and drills (free-writes, writing from prompts, etc.) that I begin to shape a poem. I’m not a person who finds sudden inspiration after walking through the woods, instead, it’s through consistent reading and practice that I find what I want to say.

4 - Where does a work of poetry 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?
My first book was simply all the poems I had written up to that point in my life. My second book was more intentionally shaped, but still mostly composed of poems written in isolated bursts. Some poets say they only write “books,” that they’re always working toward a larger collection. I might try this with my next project.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Reading my poems used to make me nervous, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m not much of a performer, but every time I read, I practice reading with expression, with trying to communicate with my voice. I still get self-conscious, but I’m working on it.

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?
Not when I’m actively writing. Of course, when I look at my work, I’m aware of issues of representation, of what it means to write and publish as an Asian American poet. And, since I grew up in a bilingual household, questions of language and translation are always on my mind.

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 thankful that many people are writing. This leaves room for different writers to fill different roles. For myself, I hope that someone feels something when they read my poems, that my work does for someone else what other poems have done for me.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t worked much with outside editors, but I’m grateful to Peter Conners at BOA for offering key edits on Sky Country.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Sometimes it’s easier to apologize than to ask permission.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I was fortunate to attend the School for Criticism and Theory (affectionately nicknamed “theory camp”) this past summer at Cornell, where I realized that theory and poetry both aim to say the unsayable, to gesture toward a truth that is always out of reach. While the methods and techniques are different, the impulse is the same. For this reason, I enjoy moving between creative and scholarly and/or critical writing.

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?
I teach 9 months out of the year, so schoolwork consumes most of my time. But when I do have time for a writing session, I always begin by reading. I’ll read for 20-30 minutes, just to settle in and remember why I write.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other poems! I don’t have any fun advice. For me, reading is the only path to writing. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The beach, eucalyptus, garlic, and woodsmoke.

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?
Books are my primary influence, though music plays a small role. In my early life, I thought I might be a musician. So sometimes I’ll hear a riff or chord progression that surprises me or stays with me, and I’ll think, I want to do that in a poem. But that’s the extent of it. I see poetry and music as fundamentally different forms. There’s no one-to-one translation between the two.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The poems in Sky Country owe their debt to a countless number of poets. Off the top of my head:
Peter Everwine, Robert Wrigley, Wislawa Szymborska, Gary Young, Mark Jarman, Eavan Boland, Diane Wakoski, Li-Young Lee, Tomas Transtromer, Anna Swir, Brooks Haxton, Bruce Smith, Paisley Rekdal, Chris Kennedy, Dorianne Laux, Rita Dove…I could go on and on.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a good sonnet.

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?
If I could instantly do something else, I’d want to be a chef. If I weren’t a poet, I suspect I would have still wound up in academia, perhaps in history or anthropology.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Support from my family and mentors. My mother never questioned my choice to study creative writing in college; in fact, she encouraged it. My professors were also fully supportive and enthusiastic about my work. I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to have had such positive experiences as a young writer.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
For fiction, Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup. For nonfiction, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. For poetry, I’m currently enjoying Tula by Chris Santiago and Imaginary Vessels by Paisley Rekdal. As for film, Spa Night, directed by Andrew Ahn, is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m increasingly drawn to creative nonfiction, so am working toward a collection of short essays.

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