Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Kristy Bowen : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

If you go way, way back, I was fascinated with Mother Goose, which I guess is is a type of poetry.  Before I could even read a word about it, I carried around this very battered (and stained with applesauce) black and white checkered book of it and "read" it via the pictures. Otherwise, poetry wasn't something that lived in my world as a kid outside of nursery rhymes and the sort of chants you did while jump roping in elementary school. I was really into to horror and spooky things, so when Poe came around in junior high, I was smitten. While I easily would have told you I was writing a horror novel as a pre-teen, poetry was something firmly in the past and not something people--real people--actually did anymore. Poe. Shakespeare. Longfellow. Chaucer. All the fodder of high school textbooks. I wouldn't have been able to pick a contemporary poet out of a lineup, and probably would have argued, like a unicorn, they didn't exist. Our freshman year English teacher had us write poems, though, and I remember wowing her with one about flamingos. Somewhere there's a high school diary, bedecked in a rainbow and with a tiny lock, filled with poems about unrequited love and kittens. So I just kept going, but it still felt like something I had no idea what to do with or if there was even an audience for it. If you fast forward post-adolescent poems that at first were very spare and about societal issues, then later, Dickinson rip-offs about what my 20 year old self thought were VERY BIG IDEAS. I actually got to a space where things were improving. At the time, I was moving past the idea that poetry was this old, dusty, archaic thing and actually starting to read contemporary poets--at first Louise Gluck, Anne Sexton, Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds. I had long been a Plath fan, but more for her prose and journals,  and less for the poems, which I don't think I was skilled enough yet to appreciate in those years. For all my strong feminist woman poet models, I always laugh that it was the deadest of the dead white men that broke things open for me and gave me a kind of permission to write the poems I wanted to write. I was in a graduate lit program and we were reading The Wasteland and it broke something open. In the months after, after years of writing on the side and making other plans for my life, I decided that poetry was what I needed to be doing.

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