Interview with Kristin Garth, Pt. 2
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.
We were gifted with a copy of The Legend of the Were Mer with handwritten annotations from the poet, Kristin Garth. This pamphlet of five sonnets contains Garth’s ‘bedtime story’. “Again” is a standalone sonnet that arrived as a print from slang agency with the copy of The Legend of the Were Mer
The word “again” is stamped three times below the sonnet. What is the background of this piece?
“Again” is one of my favorite sonnets about how my status seemed to changed, in life, when I quit teaching high school English and became a stripper in my town in the Deep South. It changed how I was treated by people outside the club as much as inside. I wrote this sonnet to comment on that change remembering specifically a night a guy I was dating made me feel both suddenly undateable and objectified by making me repeat this motion with my kneesocks on my kitchen counter relentlessly again and again for his gratification. I suddenly felt like I was a show everywhere in my life – a game to play and discard.
Why is it printed separately? Is it contained within one of your existing collections?
How did you come across Slang Agency?
This poem was printed, by a reader of mine, (and a great writer himself), Alex Lang. Alex follows me on Twitter, and he was a person who ordered my collection of poetry Shakespeare for Sociopaths. This collection was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press which is my overseas publisher located in Clevedon, England. Hedgehog makes incredibly beautiful books, and I feel honored to work with them. There are complications sometimes working with a publisher overseas, and one of those is that things can be delayed. I had this book in preorder and found out that there was a delay, and I always try to be very candid with my readers about business transactional issues and delivery of books, so I tweeted about it.
Alex Lang, who was already a supporter of the book by ordering it, contacted me and offered as a gift to make me broadsides of a poem of my choosing – not inside the collection, a bonus offering to give to people to thank them for their patience. What I didn’t know at the time is that Alex Lang has had quite a career in advertising, and his offer to do these broadsides wasn’t only generous but also very professional. (You can read more about Alex Lang, his agency The Slang Agency and how this broadside came to be in an interview I did with him in The Sonnetarium here: https://www.rhythmnbone.com/single-post/2019/01/31/Sonnet-OCD-the-Kindness-of-Strangers----even-Mad-Men). So I was really fortunate in the way that my poetry attracted the eye of a professional in advertising who went out and chose the paper and designed the block printing of the word Again.
Is it contained within one of your existing collections?
The sonnet Again is a part of the collection, Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir, which can be ordered through Amazon here: (https://www.amazon.com/Candy-Cigarettes-Womanchild-Kristin-Garth/dp/1916480632/ref=sr_1_6?crid=OZCTHWTZ6YIV&keywords=kristin+garth&qid=1554651937&s=gateway&sprefix=kristin+garth%2Caps%2C192&sr=8-6). You can also order signed or annotated (pink ink teenage diary style thoughts included on the pages) at my website here: https://kristingarth.com/candy-cigarette-womanchild-noir-2/
How did you choose this sonnet for printing?
When Alex Lang suggested I choose a sonnet not inside of Shakespeare for Sociopaths to make a broadside, I chose Again because it is a part of the next book that was being published with The Hedgehog Poetry Press. That book Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir is about my five years stripping – not only the experiences in the club but what it is to feel objectified and reduced in all aspects of your life because of what you do for a living. I thought that Again really exemplified that and is also a sonnet of mine that people really reacted to when it was published in 8 Poems.
The narrative of “Again” is heartbreaking; you convince yourself “that this is what you want to do again”? What do you want young people, especially girls, to take from writing in terms of agency and sexual freedom?
In all things there is a dark side. When I was in a strict religious household where sexuality was a weapon that I was not allowed to wield, I very much coveted the experience of being able to do so. When I got on my own, I went a little wild and certainly my attraction to working in a strip club comes from the repression that I faced that I wanted to defy.
Having said all this, I was taken advantage of, used, hurt in the hedonistic world as I was in the puritanical world. It wasn’t always that way, and I had plenty of enjoyable times in my early years of consensual sexual activity, but I had some traumas, too. Life is dangerous and full of risks, and I don’t say that to prohibit experience. That’s not the answer, but be aware of the darkness out there, and protect yourself, body and heart. No one is perfect, and we all make poor choices, but there are people who exist to take advantage of others, and when you enter the world of sexual experience that is something to always be mindful of and to try very hard to avoid – though it happens to us all at one point or another.
With your annotations in Maudlin Mermaid, you talk about a heightened sensitivity and “feeling things too much” along with a sense of being different and alone. If we may ask, have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness? If so, how has writing helped you?
I have been in therapy in college, and I was diagnosed with depression after the sexual assault at BYU and prescribed Elavil. I didn’t stay on the medication there because it was very strong medication that made me feel less aware of my surroundings in an environment I didn’t trust. After I returned to Florida from Utah, I went to therapy at college, and I was never diagnosed with anything there or medicated for any issues.
I truly believe, though, having said this that I suffer from depression. I haven’t been in therapy since I left college. I take no medications for it, but I do suffer periodic spells of intense depression (that people on Twitter could confirm.) I exercise regularly, and I’m a big believer that that helps me. My parents don’t believe in psychiatry, but my father was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder by his primary physician, and I know that both of my parents have issues with depression.
Writing is exercise for brain. It also physically removes toxins that accumulate through trauma and experience. It helps me workout these negative thoughts and stresses and clear my head. It also keeps me very busy and disciplined because I write every day. I find that routine helps me in my mental struggles because often in my depression, I want to stay in bed and hide from the world. But when I have a full load of writing projects, interviews like this, books to annotate, I can’t let other people down. For me, not letting others down is more effective a deterrent to depression than not letting myself down.
Also, does writing help nurture and cultivate your relationship with others? Have you become closer to people because of it? Where do you turn when you feel so different and alone and words aren’t enough?
Writing definitely helps cultivate a relationship with others. In real life, I’m a very reclusive person. I don’t have close friends, and I work on my writing and other responsibilities without a lot of social interaction. The very best thing that my poetry has brought me is friends. I have made my closest friends online directly through submitting, being in magazines, having dialogue about work that turned into an exchange about life that turned into friendships.
My best friend online is Tianna Hansen who I met submitting poetry to her magazine Rhythm & Bones. I am so honored that we are such close friends, and she has talked me through such horrible ordeals in my life most recently my cat being killed by a fox. She is such a pure soul. We talk about our writing, too, and help each other out when we are insecure about our work or just want another reader. We are both Capricorns, and it’s really crazy how well we understand each other.
Do you know if the concept of a Were Mer existed before your creation (when you google Were Mer, your book is the first option to appear and second is the link to the original poem with Rag Queen Periodical)?
It’s funny that you ask this question because when I heard that title in my head in response to a prompt I was given “write about a were character, not a wolf,” I instantly googled it, as I often do when I think I’ve perhaps stumbled upon an original idea. Most times upon doing this, I discover that it’s not an original title or idea. When I googled Were Mer at the time I wrote Were Mer, the sonnet, nothing came up. I was so happy, and so I always assumed wow I think I coined this phrase about a mermaid like a were wolf who changes (in her case every night) with the moon to another species, a woman. To my knowledge, you are correct, the only references I’ve ever found are mine, and I created this. I take a lot of pride in that.
In your annotation, you mention relating to this idea of living in two worlds. Is this idea a universal womxn-centric (womxn encompassing all femme-presenting non-binary individuals, trans womxn, and cis womxn) concept or is this personal to your experience? Why or why not?
I feel that when I was stripping I lived in two worlds. I even had two names. My stage name was Jolie. When I would be at the grocery store, and I heard the name Jolie called out and my back would be to the person, my whole body would be on alert, seized up with stress that someone from the wrong world had spotted me outside of their, away from security. In Were Mer, specifically, I look at it as my bedtime story as an artist – it’s a story of how artists need two worlds to create. They need a writing universe with space and lots of time to themselves, but as a human you need love and companionship. It’s a struggle I think, for me, because I get lonely, but I, like the Were Mer, can’t afford to be captured. I have things to say, and I need the space to accomplish that, so I can’t give in to my loneliness to be with a person who doesn’t respect that. This book is about that struggle as an artist and a woman to have your workspace and to have companionship without compromising either.
I do think women, historically, have had to fight for this space as artists more than men. I recently watched the film, “The Wife,” with Glenn Close who plays the wife of a man who is about to win the Nobel Prize for literature. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but a plot point turns on the supposition that a man can sell a book and be taken more seriously as a writer. That has definitely been the case in the past. I don’t think we’ve completely overcome it, personally. I think a lot of women have to fight for their artistic spaces as they still are seen as more responsible for childcare and domestic duties even while they are working careers as laborious as men.
In the Capture, you lead “from bar to bed by men / she’s led, a wordless waif who’s fed.” Did you feel like you didn’t have a voice during this time of your life?
I think I addressed this question earlier about agency and sexual freedom. I definitely have been submissive in my life, not always taking care of myself. The poem “The Capture” very much reminds me of myself as a stripper, during that time period. I wanted freedom, and I didn’t have a lot of skills. I was leaving the job my college degree trained me for – high school teaching (something my parents pressured me to do.) I wanted to be free, and I used my body to accomplish that much like the Were Mer lives off men when she first comes to land. I made some poor choices, not every day, not every man, but I grew up, and I make less of those though certainly am not immune to a poor choice in men.
I wasn’t writing as much at this point – only published one poem during this period in a fetish anthology. In fact, it wasn’t submitted to that anthology by me but by a partner of mine at the time. I very much didn’t have the voice I have now. What I have now is immense gratitude for the platform I have, the opportunities I have to make books and promote my art. It thrills me to do so, and I take a lot of joy in the presentation of my work. I’m so happy I am the person and the artist I am today.
In Stranger Seas, you reference living in two worlds again. Did you subvert your neediness with writing? Are you currently living in these two worlds with complete balance? What do you do when it begins to teeter in favor of one of the two exremes: alone-ness versus neediness?
I am a needy person. I know that about myself. It’s my womanchildishness, as I would call it. I turn people into parent figures I don’t have. I try to be aware of when I’m doing that and place boundaries on myself. Though having that said, I’m by no means perfect. Having all these responsibilities of writing though, it really helps me because I am limited in the time I can give myself to be needy. I have things to do. So I do think I have evolved out of some of my neediness out of necessity, and I hope to evolve even more. The thing about a forever schoolgirl, as I like to call myself, is that we are always open and learning, so there is always hope.
What is your advice to writers who still struggle with wanting freedom yet the security of a loved one to come home to?
I think you have to do your best to be a well-rounded person. That’s a battle for me, too. You need to make time for things in your life that are not writing – be it the gym, social interactions, dating. I say that with full candor that I struggle with this, too. I am just forcing myself to get back to being a regular at the gym, even though I have so much work to do. We can become so introspective as writers but we are human bodies that do need physical activity. We need sex and companionship. We have to put ourselves in the gym, in the dating world, at parties, with a partner – whatever it looks like for you to have human experiences, physical experience every once in a while. Writing is so cerebral and quiet and isolating. We need that to create, but we need communion, too, for the body and the soul.