Friday, November 18, 2005

10 Questions with

Sophia Kartsonis. Or actually more like 8 questions. She's too pretty for 10 questions and, really, 8 is enough to fill our lives with love.

I had the idea to start interviewing poets here because, well, I thought it'd be fun and maybe even interesting.

So, we begin with Sophia.


Your first book had a particularly circuitous path on its way to winning the Wick Prize. Multiple drafts, even other entirely separate manuscripts preceded it. Can you talk some about its evolution?

Well, for starters, my first book, as it will be known in fall of 2006, is actually my second book, a manuscript I completed after I finished my MFA thesis, a manuscript called The Rub. That manuscript has been gutted, revamped and now contains a good number of new poems that span all the time after Intaglio (the manuscript) up until now, with poems that are as newly-written as a couple of months ago. There are a couple of narratively-linked collections completed or in the works and they make up entirely separate work. It's weird and it makes the whole process of tracking the process really tangled.

Intaglio, the book, has benefited from lots of smart and savvy poets/editors, the most recent of which is Eleanor Wilner, after she judged the Wick Prize. She spent what can only be countless hours editing and suggesting and for that, I am so grateful. The book is still evolving in some ways as my grandmother's narrative series is included and she died this summer about two months after the Stan and Tom Wick Prize concluded. I am madly working on an elegy so that the series of poems about her--about a half dozen--might include this sad finale.

So would the elegy close the book then? In some sense, then, are you writing *towards* a certain end, in regards to both the elegy and the book, as opposed to writing in a more open-ended way, Frost's famous quote about the poem riding the ice of its own melting?

No, the elegy won't close the book or even the section that contains all the grandmother poems. But I think in certain ways the book as a whole has been riding its own melting in the Frost regard. Time has had its way with the poems, my perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses, certain preoccupations and focuses have shifted and the book can't but reflect that.

Putting together a collection of poems is often a series of happy accidents. Is there anything in Intaglio that surprises you?

Kind of. I sent Eleanor some additional poems after I pulled some others out. One of the poems: Hot Lunch

Poem is part of a John Yau-inspired series and it didn't seem very Intaglio-like or my take on what Eleanor would like. It's now in the book. The shapes forming around moments like that and what I'm willing to keep and cut make it seem kind of new-again and that's a surprise, especially after all the time I have spent sending this book/these books out in the hopes that they might one day be books and not just an extravagant habit.

Where were you when you found out Intaglio wasn't going to be an extravagant habit? Describe that moment, if you can.

I want to tell you I accepted the moment with cool, elegant nonchalance. The truth is: I was visiting my family in Salt Lake City and I checked my email on July 27th and Maggie Anderson, the director of the Wick series (bless her, bless her!) had written (after trying to reach me by phone) to say that Intaglio had been selected. I couldn't really read the words correctly, thinking that this was an announcement of the winner and maybe I was being given this information because I was a finalist or because I was not. The winning-manuscript-Intaglio-bit took a moment to register and when it did, I think I began weeping like an infant. My adorable father ran into the office to see what was wrong and from there, the whole Kartsonis clan was either laughing or crying or both. It is not a cool moment but it was deeply, terribly cool for me.

Of course it's cool. So what have you read lately that has impressed you?

Impressed? More like obsessed. Ilya Kaminsky's Dancing in Odessa keeps me coming back.
What else? Well, on the Ph.D. exams lists, I am reading and re-reading the likes of Stevens and Williams and really, what's not to love? I'm gaining a slow-growing appreciation and admiration for the way Ms. Moore works, though my admiration is, like her poetry, restrained and not of the hot, lick-it-off-the-page variety.

For that response in really recent books: of course, Josh Bell's No Planets Strike was long-awaited and much-revered. Its intensity makes me think too, of Richard Siken's Crush and in fact, I'm comparing those two in a conversation with another favorite poet: Matt Guenette--whose own fine poems better be getting ready to appear in book form very soon.

Otherwise, I've just discovered Judy Grahn--a fabulous and fabulously-under-read poet. And Anne Sexton's Selected stays on my nightstand. I've just found "Eighteen Days Without You" and keep reading and re-reading it. I wish I could do that--all of it.

Tell me about your writing process. Where/how does a poem begin for you?

Variously. Sometimes it's a word that sounds nice to me. Other times, a news article or single line that keeps nagging at me. Once in awhile, I think of an image that needs a home and begin to attempt to build a poem around it. And occasionally, I assign myself a form or an exercise or attempt to imitate the sound or form of something I have recently seen and admired. Brenda Hillman's spacing through one of her poems inspired me to try to write a similarly-shaped poem that would "breathe" the same way hers did--lots of doors and windows to her lines, meta-line-breaking by way of pauses. It was a fun venture and one that yielded--I think--a poem that was different from my usual fare.

How would you describe the ideal reader of your poems?

Hmmm... I hate the old self-deprecating observation that if you're reading poetry at all or if you're reading my poems, you are the ideal reader.

But let's dream for a bit: My ideal reader would appreciate the beauty of words, their textures, the way they magnetize each other. I'd like a reader too, who likes a poem that is attempting (though not always succeeding) to keep a lot going on in terms of image and sound and texture and voice. My favorite poets finesse all that very well but they are the few that can do all of that. Many of them do two or three facets extremely well. I guess I hope for a reader that will cheer for me when all the confetti is in the air and hanging and would forgive me for the times when the confetti is more like debris polluting the weather of the page. I think every work of art is or began as, an experiment. I'd like a reader who would understand that.

Last question: why poetry?

I'm really bad at everything else.

Oh, and I love it--reading it, writing it, teaching it.


Sophia Kartsonis' first book, Intaglio, won the 2005 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and will be published in Fall 2006 by Kent State University Press. She is currently a Ph.D.candidate at The University of Cincinnati.


Melissa said...

This is a great idea, adding interviews to your site. You know how to keep your readers happy with interests stirred, eh? ;)

Amanda Auchter said...

I love this interview and I'm so glad that there will be more. Great idea!

Paul said...

I am, of course, your servant....

Anonymous said...

And the most amazing of poets to start your series with...

Paul said...

I tend to agree.

Kathrine said...

Ooops. Anonymous was me.

Anonymous said...

Kathrine Wright and Amanda A. are two of MY favorite poets. Thanks, Gang! And thanks to you Paul HunkyBoyPoet Guest!

p.s. That Kathrine W. is a sly one. Watch her. She moves so well in disguise.

Dahling KW:
Call me! So what if I'm never there. Be persistant. I miss you!