Who are you?

Hi, my name’s Kate. I’m a writer from the midwest living in Brooklyn. My loves are my dog Banjo, herbalism, motorcycles, Bob Seger, the color blue, tequila, collaborative art, and jackalopes in non-specific order.

We won’t necessarily be better off

and I’ve made my peace with that.

But the oceans will be semi-gorgeous

and compromising, a laissez-faire approach

and we have to be hands-off now, don’t we?

Take the stem through your teeth from one end and

keep the distances long, but briefly hold

eyes in contact. Our irises something like

swimming pools, innumerable pools,

pools of liquid memory — how effortless

I dip myself in.

I suppose it began when
I opened doors to morning
and my head burst into leaves

there are stranger waters

out there and I can see them.

Sitting five stories tall above this stacked city

I now know that I am a strange bird.

My mother used to split grapefruit in the morning

with fingers delicate and precise, I am not

my mother but I am

breaking the pulp for the better, I believe

in jazz and the accent of an off-beat

feather that splits the wind above distant street.

I am counting the price tags in my medicine cabinet

taking inventory of trauma and truth requires

a steady hand.

Who exactly are the Girls Like Us you refer to in the title of your collection? Are you suggesting that men shouldn’t read your work?

Originally the title was “Girls Like You” which is a phrase I’ve heard many times over the years, both as compliment and critique. Either way, it was such a reductive statement, often derogatory: “Girls like you can’t be trusted” or “Girls like you aren’t worth my time.” The idea that I – or any of us – is just a type bothers me. I like to believe that my pain and suffering are unique! But then I started thinking that there is comfort in knowing I am not alone in my experience. #Metoo brought a lot of old hurts to the surface and helped me recognize the power of community. That there are many women with similar difficulties, who have faced similar challenges and internalized society’s misogyny in similarly self-destructive ways is actually a good thing. Instead of feeling shame over being a “girl like me” I wanted to take ownership of myself – the good and the bad. And I wanted to commiserate with other women rather than compete with or shame them.

I definitely want men to read my work! I hope that some of these poems might provide perspective that will help men to take into account and understand the undercurrents of misogyny that have run through our culture for decades.

There are many hats and selves in this collection, “Still-Life With God.” In fact, you have a poem, “My Persona,” where you say, “My persona /is filled with / bird song. It carries smiles in a jar.” So where do you place yourself in these poems as a speaker and as a writer?

I think people often mistake the fact that ‘the voice’ of the writer/speaker is not always the poet. My poems exist in many voices, sometimes my own biography, but very often, I am taking on a mask or a persona of another. I’ve always loved Elizabeth Bishop’s poems for the way she acquired many selves. Ultimately, these beings are all some part of me, in some incarnation—well, because they are my creation, out of my psyche, sometimes from memory, sometimes from my imagination. I am not beholden to anything but ‘the truth’ the poem tries to excavate.

If you look under G in the card catalog,
a hunched-over landlady will rent you
a space made of dust, albeit, a little domain
of quiet— Where the rent is cheap and so
is the debt, and silence is not morbid.
On these premises, text and rhetoric
mix a sexy playground for words.
Exquisite human machine of pathos
and debris, allowed the pages to be set
on letter-press, then ink bled and seeped
into a refinery of senses. The kids practice
spelling in the back stacks. We are all polar-opposites
on a stage of belief, fact and faith. Yes, Borges
digressed for an atheist and an Aleph. Delinquent,
these prophets and scholars broke the dress-code
in favor of out-of-fashion souls. Under the desk,
two students knock knees to make contact. Egg to sperm,
pen to pulp—Ideas fly to where our better
angels reside—Where chairs are stacked
on tables at the end of the day.

 

I find your title quite confusing. Can you explain it?

The toothless house is an image that came to mind when I was working on this book, which is primarily about parenthood. I imagined that the experience of raising children was akin to being a krill swallowed whole by a blue whale. One minute you are just swimming along happily minding your own business, and the next minute you are in the belly of the whale. Blue whales do not technically have teeth, they have baleen, which are similar to the bristles of a brush. Though one’s house isn’t technically a jail and bristles aren’t technically teeth, escaping intact in either case would be quite difficult.

I know that is a ridiculously convoluted (and probably scientifically inaccurate) metaphor, but there you have it.

Parenthood has turned out to be the best experience of my life, but this book is about the first years, which were like knocking up against the bristles, both physically and emotionally.

credits: CameraRAW Photography


Do you believe in ghosts?

No, but I believe in being haunted.

You hear words

By Gayle Brandeis

Poem

You hear words like burn and drown and freeze and scald and they’re just words to you. You hear stab and strangle and pummel and hack and they’re just words, too. A few letters, easy to say. Easy to move past. Burn. Drown. Freeze. Scald. Compact little sounds. Some may make you flinch. Send a momentary shiver down your body, raise a bit of gooseflesh. But then your nerves settle; your body seals itself again.

 

When your body knows these words, knows them in every fiber, the words change. They become the smell of your own scorched skin, the taste of your own blood, the sight of your own fingers on the floor, separate as dropped slices of apple. These words have become something more than words. They have become weapons, ready to get under the surface of you, pry you back open.

 

Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body

(some tender part of you still flinches)

(some immaterial nerves still flare)

 

Would you consider yourself an immigrant poet?

Yes, I would. But who isn’t an immigrant? And I don’t just mean that tired old explanation of we all come from someplace else if weren’t not true native americans. I mean more that we all came from that before-time, before the alpha, when it was…what? Womb-darkness, star-fizz, spiritual-shampoo. We’re all immigrants having arrived at this particular existence. We don’t know what we really all are, so why the hell do we insist on labeling other human beings anything other than human beings?

I can’t stop thinking of the blind young man’s tapping,
and that dandy cuckolded Bloom, the sickening sirens,
and the whole work laying over my commute, the highway,
like an exploded Church, my tires crackling over each brick,
every day like another ballad to the sun, exposed like Dedalus
buying a little milk in the morning—Comey, Yates, McCabe—
the tarpaulin, pulling, the top, the teepee, top parade, the babe
being strolled by his good mother. I listen to the seashore,
the heave and ho of the country’s nostrils, its punctured eye,
the people asking: “Who did this to you?”—America responding,
“Nobody. Nobody did this to me.” His falsehoods are music,
nearly innocent and childlike. His Hamlet-breath, still speaking
to his father atop a real estate project. “I am thy father’s spirit.”
Swelling at the throat, the aria that may cast a darkened light.
Marking the long tale, I feel as if my insides were cold dust,
the heart reduced to a monologue. Where to go for lunch?
Somewhere where I won’t run into him, the world-whisperer,
the eternal flatterer, the black helicopter filled with steaks
and the stone wife, playing at odds as if we needed to believe
in her statuary. Dignam is dug and gone; his life is spoken for,
the attributions, the lectures in the library, the greasy man
has passed, the barmaids giggled, the world is the world.

You were born and raised in the Bronx, what brought you to LA?

For better or worse, I really didn’t think about it much, I just did it. I had a best friend who moved out here and I was curious to see the city that Bukowski wrote about. I was only writing for a few years at this point, still trying to find my voice, but I thought throwing myself into a whole new strange world and starting from scratch would give me the kick in the ass I needed.

To be quite honest, it damn near killed me. Writing was the only thing that kept me going… that and booze, lots and lots of booze.

today
will not
get away

it will be
hunted and
stalked

opened
and entered

feasted upon
and finally
laid to rest

well lived
and unwasted.

What does it most often look like around you when you write? Do you have a zone?

I like a big desk and a bulletin board. I decorate my writing space with earthly treasures and many different notes that help guide me through my process. I also like to have space to get up and dance while I work because moving my body makes it all better. I like to be in complete solitude while I write. The best is a room with a view of nothing but landscape and a nearby wall that I can tape paper and images to. I’ve been lucky enough to conjure this at various times in my life and am in awe of the privilege. I seek out solo retreats in Joshua Tree and Humboldt County. The natural world, as opposed to the urban, is a consistent part of my practice.