We’re introducing a new feature for our little blog-that-could, today: Member Spotlight. The Baltimore Chapter gets a lot of amazing writers attending our events and chapter meetings. We figured, let’s use the blog for more than just announcing meetings. Since it’s National Poetry Month, we’ve opted to kick it off with fabulous local poet, Kathleen Hellen. We presented Kat, who sometimes writes under the pen name Shiori, with a series of questions, which she generously answered. We hope her answers can help you with your personal writing endeavors.
1) Tell us about your writing life. When did you start to write? What genres do you write in?
The first poem I remember writing was, of course, awful—an ode to flowers. I remember the lines but would be embarrassed to recite them now. I was about 12. I would go to my room after school or whenever I needed to shut out everything: my family, the world I knew. There, I was able to connect more fully with myself. I filled notebooks. I was infatuated with the sounds and rhythms of the language, a kind of self-soothing, like a cradle rocking inside me.
My first publication was a short story titled “Now You See It, Now You Don’t,” and though I had tried for several years to have a go at fiction, I eventually realized that poetry and other short and hybrid forms like the prose poem and haibun are where my sensibilities locate.
2) Do you have a regular writing routine, i.e. writing in the a.m., writing for 30 minutes a day?
A habit for writing is essential. The time, place, the money. As Virginia Woolf so aptly phrased it: A room of one’s own. Usually I write in my small home office between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., before the sun is up and the sanitation truck growls up the street. In these hours between dream and waking, poems are free to find their meanings. They speak before they are understood. I write until I feel myself trying to make sense of it. Later, in successive drafts, I attend to craft, my fingers counting out the syllables, my mouth announcing consciousness of line breaks, the sounds that approximate sounds. As I grow older, I revise more.
3) What writers inspire you?
The good ones. The great ones.
Now, for example, I’m re-reading The Odyssey, and I am stunned by Robert Fitzgerald’s exquisite translation, those lyrical moments in the description of Odysseus’ journey home to Ithaca. I go to Dickinson and Blake, often. Keats, of course. Rumi. To Rilke and Baudelaire. Basho. Akhmatova. Lorca. Plath and Neruda. I browse collections and contemporary journals to read the work of poets I admire, a long, eclectic list, including, in no particular order, Carolyn Forché, Frank Bidart, Franz Wright, Jane Hirshfield, Charles Wright, Rae Armantrout, Stephen Dunn, the late Lucille Clifton— so many. I read the work of local poets, my friends who inspire me. And then too I find a poem that rises from anonymity to float in my consciousness for days. A poet I’ve never heard of. A poem I wish I would have written.
4) Do you submit work for publication? If so, tell us about your experiences. Where have you been published? How do you deal with rejections?
In Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, he looks to Paul Celan who said: “A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always greatly hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps.”
I think of this often when I submit. I send out a poem that might be rejected a dozen times before it washes up on the heartland of a particular editor who says she absolutely loves it. The challenge is to be patient. If you believe in a poem, if it is finished, be persistent. But do not submit before the poem is ready, as Yeats reminds us in his often-repeated quote that a “poem makes a sound when it is finished like the click of the lid of a perfectly made box.” It’s that click you wait for. You know it when you hear it.
Most recently my work has appeared in American Letters & Commentary; The Evansville Review; Harpur Palate; Pedestal; Poemeleon; and Poetry Northwest.
5) What advice would you offer to new writers?
Read everything. Write every day.
6) What are your writing goals for this year & beyond?
It’s always one goal: To write the best poem, the perfect poem, and every poem I write hopefully approaches that standard in some small measure.
7) What would you consider the high point of your writing life, thus far?
My collection Umberto’s Night in 2012 won The Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House. To be recognized by a community of writers I respect, whose work I admire, was an honor.