Interview with Kristin Garth, Pt. 1
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net and Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker and author of eight books of poetry including Shakespeare for Sociopaths, The Legend of the Were Mer, Pink Plastic House, A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony and Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir. Her sonnets have stalked pages of magazines like Glass, Yes, Luna Luna, ISACOUSTIC*, TERSE. Journal and many more. Visit her website kristingarth.com and her tweets at @lolaandjolie
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
I was assigned to write a Shakespearean sonnet in high school. Didn’t have much exposure to this form or really any formal poetry. Coming from a turbulent, abusive household and experiencing a lot of pain I didn’t speak of publicly or literally, I did scribble poetry in journals. Up to the point of that assignment, the poetry was free verse.
After the assignment, I became obsessed with sonnets. I liked the size and structure being dictated. Something about the parameters made it feel safe to say whatever unspeakable emotion I was feeling. It felt safe to go wild knowing the insanity would be capped at 14 lines.
I’ve joked about the sonnet form being a cage for my wildness. It is really not a joke. I’d also call it a padded cell perhaps. As a girl who was always told, growing up in a Mormon strict environment, to be meek and submissive, the urgency of short form gave me permission to be aggressive. I really responded to that.
Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.?
Obviously you could say I’m a formal poet; objectively though I feel like I’ve been embraced by journals who aren’t necessarily fans of formal poetry, and that makes me happy. I don’t solely define myself as a formal poet. Form is a tool I use. I think of myself as a poet. Early on in publishing, I was in a formal journal but I’ve been in so many journals now — having 400 publications, and I haven’t focused on journals who dictate form. The short answer is I don’t like to be categorized by my form. I don’t discriminate about other people’s form or lack thereof. I like poetry that makes me feel something and by “make,” I mean grabs me by the entrails and makes me scream or cry or laugh. That’s the school of poetry that I hope I’m categorized inside.
Who is your favorite poet and why? Do you believe you write in a similar style as they do? Why or why not?
I have so many favorite poets, and I feel like I learn something from all of them. Stephen Dobyns wrote poem called How To Like It that taught me the beauty of conversational, simple language. You don’t have to use fancy language to make a big impression. While this is a free verse poem, it informs a conversational style I attempt in some of my sonnets. An example would be my sonnet “Kristins” that was published in The Brutal Issue of Here Comes Everyone.
I recently had a reviewer compare my poem “God Is Wrong” (from Puritan U) to Plath.
Stylistically, I feel I’m a lot different though I feel like the subject of my work — a lot of poems about my father who abused me and the men I knew in strip clubs and unworthy lovers who I craved because of my abuse, I think those issues put me in a conversation with her. I’ll always remember the first time I read “Daddy” how much it affected me and how I felt that oh wow you can speak about your private life and battles and make it art. That poem made me feel not alone.
Do you participate in spoken word/slam poetry? If so, where can we find your performances? How is writing spoken word different from ‘traditional’ poetry?
I definitely participate online in spoken word poetry. I’ve never read successfully in public (read a part of a poem in graduate school and cried, had to leave the stage), but I have an engagement to do so next year that will be announced soon. Being asked to do this made me step up my efforts to be able to read in public. I made a commitment to record one video a week and have stuck to that so far. It’s been intimidating, but I am growing a lot and I get such a great response from people on Twitter where I post them. The videos are collected on a very new YouTube channel if you are interested in viewing them: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8m7GFZpVRMoQzJj4Xk9oeA
I had been making audio recitations of my poems for a while. You can listen to those on my SoundCloud: https://m.soundcloud.com/kristin-garth or on my website at https://kristingarth.com/readings I decided when I was booked for this live performance that
I better step up my reading game and worry about being a physical body – so intimidating but also so worth it.
When I started reading I thought people wouldn’t like my literal womanchild voice – which is very soft and tentative at times. In fact, before I recorded any of mine, a friend of mine when I used to write on Medium recorded three for me just to have audios of my poems to post. She had this amazing professional voice, so confident and womanly. The problem was when I listened to it the voice didn’t match the poems. This epiphany became the impetus for me to record my own work -- to be authentic.
I thought even if people don’t like my voice it will thematically match the work. It turns out that a lot of people do like my voice, and I think it adds a layer of genuineness to the work to hear me speak these sonnets in the tremulous voice that composed them.
What (or who) inspires your writing? Do you write purely from emotion and experience?
I almost included this person in a previous answer but one of my greatest inspirations is a man who came to visit my elementary school Rick Rogers. He was a poet, storyteller who came to share his book Ballads and Tales of the Woods. It was the first time I met someone who was a poet, and he wore overalls and was from a small town. I think that imprinted on me being a young girl from a small southern town that my unsophisticated voice was valid.
I feel really emotional about the effect he had on me. I don’t really have a ton of kid friendly
work but I hope someday I will be brave enough and compile some poems I do have for children because I know the difference it can make to meet a writer particularly one who breaks the mold and might make a disenfranchised child feel that there is a place for them.
Which do you prefer more: writing poetry or reading poetry? Why?
I love both. Both are essential. Reading is entertainment, survival, my own form of religion. It’s where I worship at the altar of life. It prepares me for the beauty of creation which on the surface could be considered preferable in the sense to me that writing is very sensual and sexual. I have a whole fetish about how I go about it that is very delightful to all my senses. Reading, though, is like oxygen — you can’t have sex if you can’t breathe. So to me it is an essential step to get to that place of hedonism and joy that is doing the work of writing.
Which do you prefer more: reading poetry or novels? Why? Does reading novels help with writing poetry? Why or why not?
I read a lot of both poetry and novels but the way that I read them is very different. Novels, to me, I read at night, late as a reward for work well done. It’s segregated to the time of day that is relaxation, self care. Poetry I read all the time. I read a lot on Twitter, poems that writers I follow tweet, their own and their favorites. I’m constantly exposed to new writers this way, and for a person who didn’t complete graduate school but fetishized that experience, poetry twitter feels like being back in college to me. I feel Influenced by smart people I admire who give me pushes towards other writers I may not have yet had the pleasure of being exposed. Chen Chen, Kelli Russell Agodon, Carla Sofia Ferreira both have Twitter feeds that educate me this way. I respect the work so much of these writers as well as the way they make me feel when I log onto Twitter that I am being mentored by people who don’t know me but offer me the best of themselves and others.
I also buy books of poets I love like Kailey Tedesco, Justin Karcher, Joanna Valente, some recent purchases. I’m really lucky, too, to have followers who send me their books as gifts which is magical to me. I just received one today in fact Meridian by Raymond Gibson I look forward to enjoying.
I feel like my poetry writing is highly influenced by prose and novels. I love to tell a big story in a series of 14 lines poems, and recently I’m even including footnotes — even in a fictional poetry novella I’m having published by TwistIt Press, “Flutter A Southern Gothic Fever Dream.” I love the beauty of the sonnet form but being able to expand on it in prose with features like backstories and character names. I know this all is because of my passionate love of novels which are the reward to myself for immersing myself in poetry.
I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?
It’s a hard question. People handle it different ways. I think some people honestly can do less and attract a lot of attention. I come from a background of stripping. I spent five years of my lifeworking weekends with girls who were taller than me, cooler than me, thinner than my modelesque. I was the girl next door who was a good storyteller, had a good personality and a young face. I tell this story because the moral is — even there, I knew who I was and I knew my strengths and I sold myself, literally, as who I was. I try to do that with my writing, too. I’m exuberant and a hard worker. Never in my life have I been the cool girl, the aloof girl. I am the girl who will write her heart out, work her ass off to make a project happen. I am very good at being myself, and my best advice to any writer is to be yourself. Nobody is exactly you, and if you can learn to really own all the cool and crazy things that make you you, that genuineness is very refreshing and appealing to people. There are so many varieties of genuine. Fake is one thing and very palpable, discernible and no one wants that.
What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?
I will say my biggest advice for overcoming writer’s block is not believing in it. Our beliefs definitely give power to negative thoughts. I am not great at this tactic in other areas of my life. But in writing, I refuse to acknowledge writer’s block. This is not to say I don’t have times when it takes me over and slows me down some but I recognize it and I find a prompt. I do something to prove that negative voice wrong. I know it’s wrong.
Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?
I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing right now -- writing books, writing sonnets and being a part of the poetry conversation. That’s an amazing feeling to say I am doing exactly in this moment what I want to be doing, and I am. I’m so thankful.
Are there any immediate events you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?
I have a big announcement of something exciting coming up soon, but I’m unable to announce it at the moment, but it involves me reading in person at an exciting venue. I can’t wait to share that. In the meantime, you can order my books on my site https://kristingarth.com/books, at BN.com, Amazon.com. On my site you can even get annotated/signed copies, and I love to do those. I havesome books forthcoming this year that I’m very excited about. Puritan U just came out which is my poetic memoir, part one, and I have the full length sequel that is about my years as a stripper forthcoming soon from Hedgehog Poetry Press, who also published Shakespeare for Sociopaths. The full-length is called Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir. I also have a fantasy collaboration forthcoming with Justin Karcher and Tianna Hansen entitled A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony. It’s also a full-length, and it will be able available in June from Rhythm & Bones Press. I have an
audio/visual digitial chapbook of sock poetry and pictures with readings entitled Sock Slut that is forthcoming from Moonchaps in the fall. Lastly, I just had an acceptance of a manuscript entitled Flutter: A Southern Gothic Fever Dream, a story about a teenage girl dying of scarlet fever in my town in 1883 and the fever dreams that celebrate the power of the imagination over the limitations of the body. That book will be forthcoming from TwistiT Press, Janaury 2020.
What do you want the readers to know about you?
I am a complex person. I write about sexuality and embrace sexuality while having been sexuality assaulted and abused. I talk tough in some sonnets and seem brave, and yet I’m terrified all the time everyone hates me. I run on treadmills and then go eat an ice cream sundae for lunch. I’m a weird girl with a lot of contradictions, but I love people, and I’m working hard to always be better to other people and to myself – to take care of myself and others as much as I can.
Thank you all for your love, patience and understanding – and for reading me, wow, that’s the best thing ever.