Kerry Gilbert grew up in the Okanagan. She has lived on Vancouver Island, in South Korea, and in Australia. She now lives back in the valley, where she teaches at Okanagan College and raises her three children with her partner. Her first book of poetry, (kerplnk): a verse novel of development, was published in 2005 with Kalamalka Press. Her second book of poetry, Tight Wire, was published in 2016 with Mother Tongue Publishing. Most recently she won the Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Award for Best Suite by an Emerging Writer 2016/2017. The winning suite is the spine of her next book, Little Red, due to come out with Mother Tongue Publishing in 2019.
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 was beautiful validation that I had a poetic audience. I started calling myself a poet after it was published. It also gave me a lot of confidence to push my poetic boundaries in my newer work. I feel like my voice is stronger in my more recent work because I take more chances and risks in it.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry is instinct for me and even when I’ve attempted other genres, it always comes out poetry. It has always been that way. Even when I was writing awful, badly rhymed anti-war sentiments in grade eight, they were always poems never “stories”.
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 want to say a year for me to comfortably call collected poems a “project,” but that seems a bit arbitrary. There are moments of quickness and moments of complete stagnation, but about three quarters into threads of ideas, they start to resemble something whole. They come out in individual poems that don’t always seem to relate at first, but then do connect in bizarre and wonderful ways. For me, that moment is pure joy.
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?
I have two kinds of ways that poems begin for me. Sometimes I have “lightning bolt” poems that flash such vivid imagery that I have to capture it immediately. Sometimes it’s more nagging—like a complete line that keeps running through my head (not necessarily the first line) until I work with it. I always like the poems to connect into something larger than the individual poem.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Some days counter to, some days part of. I like doing readings, but they do take a lot of thought and a lot of energy for me, so I have to be in the right space. I also need to not have anything important to do the next day, because I never sleep after a reading. Never. Not. One. Wink.
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?
For me, writing is always a social and political act. I love what Yvonne Blomer says in Refugium: “Though the consequences of becoming political in art are considerable, the consequences of remaining silent out of fear are far more grievous. We must write poems and enter the deep sadness in which we are living. We must sit close to the things that are dying and bear witness. We must continue to have conversations and to make those conversations public.”
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?
Wowzers! That’s a big question! I’m going to answer the other questions and then come back to this one…
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve always had really positive experiences with editors. I do think it’s essential. I have an intended image/set of images/meaning and it’s important to know when that isn’t reaching an audience the way I’ve intended. There is no conversation in poetry unless you’ve “met the reader half way” with your ideas. An editor can be a fantastic mediator to get there.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
It actually wasn’t about writing, but it was related to writing. Someone told me to parent with the same passion and creativity that I use to write poetry. It was beautiful advice and I think about it often.
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 have three small children. I teach full time. I would love a writing routine (I would love a lot of different personal routines, actually), but not at this point in my life. I write when I can write. I write when I can’t write, but I am moved to write anyways.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Two places. Books. Always books. And, my phenomenal writing group—Spoke—full of amazing, talented, inspirational writers.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
pflaumkuchen (German plum cake)
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?
Silence—often in nature—influences my work. It probably just allows space for the images/words to get through the noise. Also water—often in nature—but more often than not, I see/hear poems in the shower.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m not a super fan of this question (sorry rob). I’m afraid to start naming any names, for fear of writing an exhausting list and/or forgetting someone important in my list. Let’s say this: anyone who is brave with their writing is an important reminder to me to also be brave with mine. Those writers who are authentic and who push the boundaries become important in my ‘canon’.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In writing? I don’t want to name it, but I want to keep pushing myself and pushing genre. I don’t really know what that is going to look like, but I’m going to have a lot of joy in the discovery.
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 would have loved to be a singer (I can’t sing) or a cirque du soleil acrobat (and unfortunately, I’m not so flexible).
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Instinct. Love. Joy. Lunacy. Torture. Love.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
With young kids in the house, most films I watch these days include animation and/or characters who randomly beak into song. I’ll answer this one with the book(s): I was completely undone by two recently: Heidi Garnett’s Blood Orange and Sarah De Leeuw’s Where It Hurts. Both were absolute literary gifts.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I am happily editing my latest manuscript Little Red that will come out with Mother Tongue Publishing in spring of 2019.