If you have been a reader of Stick Poet Super Hero for any length of time, Katey Nicosia likely needs no introduction to you. She has been the winner of the Stick Poet Top Five Weekly Blogs more often than any other poetry blogger. In fact her blog One Good Bumblebee (formerly Chewing On Pencils) reigned at the Number One spot for five straight weeks.
Katey is a Texan. A young energetic woman who hardly shows any restraint of her high energy level when it comes to writing.
One of the reasons Katey's blog has continually ranked so high on my list is the excellent mixture of personal poetic works, serious discussion of poetics and a number of entertaining links that just allow for plain old enjoyment.
She is refreshingly honest and open. This made my task of interviewing her very easy.
It is my hope to bring you a series of interviews over the next few months. No all will necessarily be bloggers. They will all have some connection to poetry or writing in general. It seemed to me selecting Katey for the first interview was a no brainer. I hope you find it as interesting to read as I did to put together.
Interview of February 2004 with Katey Nicosia:
SP: First off, I'd like to ask you what initially sparked your interest and love of poetry? I assume you love it, it would seem like it has become a major force in your life.
KATEY: I've always enjoyed creating things, and I've always been in love with words, but the actual writing of poetry never occurred to me until college when I enrolled in a creative writing class and was forced to write it. Immediately, I fell in love with the medium of words and being able to shape something with language. The tangible, yet simultaneously intangible aspect of poetry fascinated me.
SP: Any particular individuals really push or direct you in this regard?
KATEY: My father is a photographer, and there's a very strange connection between photography and poetry...the quick capture of a moment, an image, and so, I think that relationship also pushed me into the mysterious realm of poetry. I ended up taking an advanced creative writing class which was formatted much the same way as a workshop, and all we did was write poems. At the end of the semester my professor asked me if I was planning on applying to graduate schools, and he encouraged me to do so. That's when I started taking writing more seriously. He is the one person that really pressed me and urged me to pursue poetry, and I have ever since.
SP: And how long have you been seriously writing?
KATEY: I've been writing seriously for about 2 1/2 years. I'm still a newborn!
SP: I'd like to know a little about the process you go through to get a poem from your head to a piece of paper. That would include rewrites. Do you tend to stick with one piece through the various drafts till complete, or do you keep coming back over a period of time? Try and walk me through your normal writing process. What do you think is the longest you spent on a single piece of poetry?
KATEY: OK...here's how it goes: First of all, I never "plan" to write, because the second I tell myself, "I'm going to sit down and write a poem right now," I lock up and can't write at all. There's too much pressure in that for me. I usually just sit at my computer and write. Most of the time I write in paragraphs and then craft them into lines...into a poem, because when I write, I don’t like to think about anything but moving my fingers. There are really three parts of creating a poem. The first is what I usually call "the explosion," where I just type whatever is in my head. The second part is the crafting of the explosion...this is the part that requires the most focus, it requires that zone, that frame of mind in which I forget where I am and all I know is the poem. There's a type of tunnel vision involved, it seems. This is the part where I figure out what the poem is trying to do, and where it wants to go. Then when I'm finished with the second part I usually get the poem critiqued by one of my poet-friends, which is a very important part of the process for me. Then comes the third part, which is revision...where I fix things. I change words or clean up line breaks. I switch up the perspective or change the title. I fine-tune the poem. Then, I send it off to publishers. But a poem is never finished for me...there are too many choices and too many paths in creating a poem to say that a poem is finished. However, I usually consider a poem finished if someone I admire says it's perfect (but that’s never happened so…) or if it gets published, but not always. I have about 40 poems that I'm working on right now. There's no way I could focus on one poem at a time. I'm always re-writing. I think I re-write more than I write. Some days I'll just sit down and go through a few of my poems and rework them one after the other.
SP: Categorize for me what school or style of poetry you would hope others view your work as. Much of your work that I have seen has a fun side to it.
KATEY: I'm not sure if there's a particular style that I'd hope others would view my work as, but there are poets who I'd like to be compared to. I like invention and wit in poetry. I like a poem that can make me laugh. I also admire poets who use everyday language and simple words that create potent poems. A perfect example is Richard Brautigan or even Billy Collins. I guess I'd have to say I happen to lean towards a surreal style. I think this is a result of my approach to poetry. I try not to hold back and control too much of what the next line will say. This usually creates odd, bizarre poems, but somehow they work, I think. I also happen to be a huge fan of surreal art. Magritte, mostly. In a strange way, I feel that Magritte has influenced my writing, or at least the way I view things, so that I can find poetry in ordinary objects. A perfect example of surreal poetry, to me, would be Russell Edson or James Tate, both of who are poets that I can't get enough of. I've noticed that I'm a true sponge, in that whatever I read, I tend to soak up drops of the poet’s voice, and I think my writing shows this.
SP: Do you find it hard to write in a confessional style?
KATEY: Yes, I find it extremely difficult to write confessional poetry, and there are reasons for that. I find confessional poetry rather boring, much like listening to someone complain. People always seem to think that poetry should be dark and depressing, but that's not true. Some of the best poems are about ordinary life, and that’s what I like to write about. Not about death or my terrified soul or my broken heart. Poetry lurks everywhere, so I’ll let everybody else write confessional poetry while I write about a gravel driveway or something. I just think confessional poetry is a bit antiquated if you know what I mean. It's almost become cliché. I have a feeling some people are going to hate me for saying that. Oh phooey.
SP: What form is most challenging to you?
Katey: What form is most challenging for me?
Sonnets are difficult, but I think they’re fun to write. I like flipping through my rhyming dictionary and counting the iambs on my fingers, which I’m sure is entertaining for anyone who’s willing to watch me write one.
SP: What role do you see for poets and poetry in terms of social issues or concerns? Are you turned off by any particular subject matter in poetry? Religion? Politics? Erotica? Anything?
KATEY: I'll read poetry about anything. But I think the most successful poems are those that don't try to make a huge statement about an issue or about religion, politics, etc, but that just are. I like poems that stay close to home, poems that are windows into someone's house. I'd like to read one that shows a bedroom, or a messy closet, a woman pouring a glass of orange juice. I like poetry that celebrates the mundane objects or aspects of life.
SP: As an individual, do you consider yourself to be more settled in or energetic and changing?
KATEY: Right now, I am definitely energetic and changing just because I'm still learning so much. I am perhaps overly passionate about poetry. I eat it. I get overwhelmingly giddy when the newest issue of The Paris Review comes out or when I read a great poem by a poet I'd never heard of before.
SP: How would you say this relates to the nature of your work?
KATEY: All of that adds up to an energetic me!
SP: You have indicated that you are afflicted with ADHD. You may not feel comfortable discussing this and I would understand. However, if you don't mind, I'd be interested to know if this poses any extra special challenges for you in writing? Are there any therapeutic benefits?
KATEY: This is very complicated and confusing. I don't mind talking about it at all; I just have a hard time figuring it all out for myself. But, here's my situation: I am ADHD and I take adderall. (I know some people don’t “believe in ADHD” but whatever. I have it.) Without the adderall, I have no inhibitions and I usually write my best poems this way. This is going to sound strange but without Adderall, I feel almost like I’m drunk. I am very silly and creative without it, but there's another side to this. Without adderall, I have a hard time sitting down. I find writing to be quite scary, as well, and it's very difficult for me to write without adderall because my emotions flow and I tend to avoid writing all together. However, when I do take my adderall, I have overwhelming urges to write, and I do. But for some reason the medicine hinders my creativity with language a little. I become more linear and left-brained. But at the same time I have such a drive to write, that something worthwhile is usually created. All in all, I find it best to write on adderall and force myself to let go and not worry about "the rules" of poetry. It's a little more complicated than all of what I just told you but that's the gist.
SP: Your recent post related to Donald Murray's book Crafting a Life you discuss the danger of reaching for "rhyme" and ending up with words that dilute or distort I believe you said, the meaning. What do you feel are the advantages, if any of the more traditional rhyme in poetry?
KATEY: Sound. Pure sound. Poetry is about sound as much as it is about images. Although I don’t write poems with regular rhyme schemes, I’m constantly striving to create sounds including all types of rhymes, alliteration, consonance, assonance, etc.
SP: Where do you fall in your thoughts about surrealism in poetry?
KATEY: I think I already answered this, but I love surrealism in poetry. I have an interest in poetry that on the surface doesn’t make “sense,” but for some reason the poem works deep down below somewhere. Again, Russell Edson and James Tate are perfect examples.
SP: Off the cuff, who do you consider the five individuals to most significantly influence American Poetry in the past fifty years?
1. William Carlos Williams
2. Charles Bukowski
3. Elizabeth Bishop
4. Ezra Pound
5. T.S. Eliot
SP: Who do you like the most of new, up and coming writers that have not already made a name for themselves?
KATEY: Will Roby. He was born to be a poet. He has a rare talent with language that tingles off the page. He reminds me of a combination between Rita Dove, Tate, and Brautigan. He’ll be huge someday. Guaranteed.
Rick Lupert. He’s the owner/editor of The Poetry Superhighway so he’s sort of made a name for himself, but I think he should be bigger. He makes me laugh a little too loud sometimes. He writes poems that make me want to hang out with him. He writes poems about things that people think about but never mention out loud. He’s the Jerry Seinfeld of young poets.
SP: I believe I saw where you indicated that you felt Louise Glück was difficult to understand. I don't want to put words in your mouth, assuming this is true, how well do you believe a poet of this nature can adequately promote the cause of poetry as poet laureate?
KATEY: No, I don’t think she’s difficult to understand. I just don’t particularly enjoy the type of poetry she writes: confessional. I know she’s a good poet, but there are so many types of poetry, and she falls into a category that I don’t attend to much. I think she’ll do a fine job as poet laureate, but I think I remember reading somewhere that she’s not planning on actually doing anything. Whereas Billy Collins did the Poetry 180 project and the airline poetry. So, I don’t know. I guess it’s good that we have a range of poetic talents as laureate.
SP: "How important do you believe formal education is to successfully writing poetry?"
I think about this a lot as I am preparing to apply for an MFA soon. I think it all depends on the person. Some people feel that school can get in the way of creativity and so on. I feel differently. Right now, I want to go back to school not just to get a degree in poetry but because I want to know more about it. I want a community where I can write and be forced to write. I'm comfortable in a formal setting of education. I remember when I'd go to my creative writing classes as an undergrad, there was never a time that I left class without a new, inspired motivation to write. Every time I left the classroom, I fell in love with poetry all over again. I think the sustained reinforcement that the poetry classroom lends would be very beneficial in my success as a poet. I crave the classroom. I crave that group of people who sit around and do nothing but talk about poetry. I don't see how that could get in the way of creativity. Laundry and grocery lists gets in the way of my creativity, not discussions on the subject of poetry. But, still, it depends on the writer.
SP: I see you have some responsibilities associated with some online literary sites. Can you tell me about those and what those experiences lend to your overall growth as a writer?
I co-edit Word Riot (wordriot.org) with Will Roby. He asked me to be his “assistant” (ha ha) and of course I said yes. I think the best part of editing Word Riot is being able to see the other side of publishing. It makes rejections easier for me because I know what editors go through to find the poems they want to publish. I’ve probably rejected heaps of poems that were actually quite great, but for strange reasons, I didn’t feel they fit the magazine or they didn’t hit me the right way. I’ve learned that rejection doesn’t mean I suck as a poet, it means I submitted to the wrong place or at the wrong time.
I’m also an administrator at Enter the Muse (enterthemuse.com) which is a critical forum for writers. It has been amazingly significant in my growth as a writer. I’ve learned so much from receiving critiques and from communicating with a tight knot of people that share my interests in writing. I don’t think I’d be writing today if it weren’t for the critiques and advice I receive from the members.
SP: Katey, where would you like to see yourself five year from now in terms of writing?
All I know is I better have a book or at least a chapbook within the next five years. (I just laughed out loud after writing that.)
KATEY: In fifteen years I’d like to see myself married with children and with an MFA in poetry. Oh and a few books of poetry. I’d also like to see myself signing autographs on the streets of some big city. I’d like to have a dog and a cappuccino maker. Maybe a fish tank too.
SP: Katey has been a great sport about this, though I am not surprised. As I said at the beginning, I find her to be very open and engaging in her work, it should not surprise me for her to be no different under questions. I want to express my sincere thanks for being my first victim here and hope it was relatively painless for her.
Interview by Michael Wells / Stick Poet Super Hero