Art Chowder September | October 2017, Issue 11 - Page 30

P O E T K AT H E R I N E S M I T H By Karen Mobley Please describe your process. My process generally looks something like this: Wake up. Make coffee. Stare at things. Write some things down. Stare some more. Write some more things down. Eat a snack. Go outside and poke around in the garden. Pull some weeds. Watch ants excavating sand from between the patio bricks. Go inside and type up what I’ve written. Add some things about ants. Put a chicken in there. Revise the line breaks. which just won the Pulitzer, is remark- able); Jamaal May, who recently came to Spokane as part of Get Lit!; and Kath- ryn Nuernberger’s new book, The End of Pink, which is amazing. And then there are some local poets who are also friends, but I’m sure I’d love their work even if I didn’t know them: Nance Van Winckel, Maya Jewell Zeller, Ellen Welcker, Laura Read (our current city poet laureate), and Christopher Howell. That said, I don’t have one set way of making a poem. Sometimes it happens the way I described. Sometimes I spend several days (or weeks) thinking about a particular idea, maybe an article I’ve read, a conversation I had or something I saw, and over the course of days or weeks I’ll jot down my thoughts until finally something comes together that feels like a poem. I’ve had a great time with writing work- shops at Spark Central, where poets of different levels of experience work together and write poems on a simi- lar theme. Nance did one to correspond with Kay O’Rourke’s “The River Re- members” paintings that are on display at Spark; Laura did the “I am a Town” project; and then just recently I helped Laura and Brooke Matson with a project called “Unloved: An Encyclopedia of Os- tracized Animals,” based on sketches by local artist Jessica Wade. These projects speak to the spirit of collaboration and mutual encouragement that exists in Spo- kane’s writing scene, and it’s wonderful to be part of it. I’m part of an online writing group that contributes significantly to my process. There are eight of us, all women, and we take turns sharing writing prompts each week. Those prompts sometimes gen- erate poems. The poems the other poets write sometimes generate poems of my own. Everyone has a different style so the prompts we come up with are all very different, which is helpful for generat- ing new material. My work is stronger and has more variety to it than it would without that support network. And it’s so helpful to have people cheering you on, as it were, since it’s often discouraging and frustrating to try to gain recognition as a poet. Who are your favorite poets, publications or events? My favorite poets tend to change with who I’m reading. Right now, these in- clude: Tyehimba Jess (his book Olio, 30 ART CHOWDER MAGAZINE Do you have any new publications or recognition? I received a SAGA grant from Spokane Arts in March for a poetry project that I started for Lilac City Fairy Tales. My first full-length poetry collection will be published this fall by Scablands Books. I have poems in the current issues of Bell- ingham Review and Carve Magazine, and forthcoming in the Laurel Review, Duen- de, The Collagist, and The Cresset. The book that will be out this fall, Book of Exodus, is based on a Russian fami- ly that fled religious persecution in the 1930s and lived in the Siberian wilder- ness without contact with the outside world for more than 40 years. The proj- ect for which I received the SAGA grant is based on the Fox sisters, who were Spiritualist mediums in the late 1800s. I think I’m drawn to these stories because they’re the stories of outliers and outsid- ers, people who do things that aren’t quite believable, who are driven by a particular faith in something—or maybe it’s some- one else’s faith, and they’re just carried along—and I’m interested in what com- pels them. What other activities inform your work? I make collage art that combines words and images. In poetry, I create images with my words, and I started wondering what would happen if I could add lay- ers of imagery without using words. The words add meaning to the images, and the images add meaning to the words, but rather than having one illustrate the other, the relationship between the two depends on the fact that they coexist in the same space. I raise a garden and backyard chickens, and those things show up in my work, either overtly or as a sort of background noise. Working in the garden and making poems are similar to me—figuring out where each thing goes, noticing how each word or plant plays off the one beside it, finding the weeds or the things that aren’t working and pulling them out, rearrang- ing. There is a continual practice for both—watering, feeding, pruning—then spending time in the space and observ- ing. I let the plant or poem grow on its own, working with the shape it wants to take rather than what I want, or thought I wanted.