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Interviews

Kathryn Gessner: ‘With Poetry, There is Joy’

wordfire squibby Chloe Butcher

Kathryn Gessner will be a poetry workshop leader at the Wordfire 2014 creative writing conference at Butte College, Saturday, April 26. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, and then moved to the west coast to become a teacher at Shasta College. Gessner’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Louisiana Literature, the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop AnthologyNatural Bridge, Red Rock Review and The Illuminations Book. Gessner’s work also appears in the first issue of Floodplane.

I recently had the privilege to speak to Gessner about her inspiration and where her passion towards poetry comes from. 

Chloe Butcher (CB): After growing up and teaching around the east coast, what brought you to northern California?

Kathryn Gessner (KG): You know, most people are amazed when I say the landscape brought me here. That’s true!  I fell in love with the beauty of this place while on vacation in 1992.  On a road trip to the Pacific Northwest, I swung south along the coast and then east on 299, to camp at Whiskeytown Lake.  In the morning, driving up toward Lassen Park, I passed the sign for Shasta College and said, “I want to work there.”

When I was younger, I knew that wherever I landed as an adult, I wanted to be close to the ocean, surrounded by beautiful art and landscape, and close to other artists.  I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a quarter mile from the family chicken farm, but also down the street from a dean of Pratt Institute, and next door to a my piano teacher.  One summer, I had the privilege of working at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I helped carry the inaugural exhibition paintings, now part of the permanent collection, to their places in the museum. Art and life, the two great sources of passion! Growing up, I came to value the qualities artist expression brings to a life, my life, and I wanted to live some place that was like the Bucks County of my childhood.

Here in the North State, I live within the unfolding of this artistic community.

 

CB: Writing, let alone writing poetry, is a task that doesn’t come easily to many people, what inspires you to write?

KG: The suffering of life inspires me – writing poetry comes from a deep fissure in rock, a slice across the abdomen, a dog at the throat.  If we didn’t have poetry, I believe some of life’s events would be inexpressible.  The facility of metaphor moves with the flow of the mind.  With poetry, there is joy.

 

CB: Have you always been passionate about poetry?

KG: Yes. Reading poetry, memorizing poems and songs, the love of language, have always been with me.  I cannot remember my first glance, but I owned A Child’s Garden of Verses before I turned seven.  The book was a gift from my beloved neighbor across the street.  I memorized those poems.
CB: When you’re having trouble writing out some of your poetry, what do you do to relieve your writer’s block?
KG: Go to the bookshelves, and start reading: that’s what I advise myself.  I can pull out words I love, lines, and copy them down, or hand write someone else’s poems onto my notebook.  These are like practicing the piano sessions, short sessions of musical training.  Then, I write out in prose what is bothering me, everything on my mind.  I circle back to central images in the prose, pick out small parts, and try to write poems about those things.

In fact, I am constantly trying to get over writer’s block, even though I write almost every day.  Some days, I cannot “sing” on the page.  So I practice.  I throw out lots of pages.  My daily discipline keeps me from being too social, spending hours as I do with the notebook, with a walk in nature and my observations, with listening to songs.  I have drafted poems inspired by Rita Hosking’s new album, particularly the song, “Clean,” from which I wrote a series of poems on meaningful work, or I might even listen to an “oldies” songwriter, whose words rock my bones, like Jackson Browne, and try to intone what the meaning is for me, why I love this song.  The words themselves and the feelings start to come together.  I know poets who begin by using the lines of other poets, but I never do.  I work from original composition, always.  That probably means I have to work a little bit harder to get something good.  If I get really stuck, I start reading the dictionary.

 

Gessner’s WordFire workshop will cover techniques and tricks that she uses when writing poetry, as well as an exercise in which she utilizes the tips and techniques she used to create her most recent work.

To read up on the other workshops and presenters at this year’s WordFire conference, or to register, please visit: buttewordfire.org.

Don’t forget to revisit The Haberdasher in the days leading up to the conference, as we profile more of this year’s presenters.

 

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About The Haberdasher

Created by writers for writers, The Haberdasher, or le Hab, is your Peddler of Literary Art for Northern California and beyond. In addition to writing tips and literary debates, we also feature critical reviews and author interviews.

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