Tuesday, May 10, 2022

DENISE LOW interviews Twin Cities writer KATHRYN KYSAR

Kathryn Kysar is the author of the poetry books Dark Lake and Pretend the World, and she edited Riding Shotgun: Women Write about Their Mothers. We attended graduate school together at Wichita State University, one of the oldest MFA programs in the country, and we have remained friends. Kysar writes passionately and cares passionately about participating in literary communities. She founded the creative writing program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and she has been active as a board member of major literary organizations (AWP, Rain Taxi) as a behind-the-scenes booster. She’s recently published poetry in The Mollyhouse and Sleet (forthcoming)Links to recent poems are “After You Leave” in Voicemail Poems; “Photograph: Little League Practice” in The Under Review; “Lake Superior: Three Scenes of Summer” in About Place Journal. This email interview takes place May 10, 2022. 

Denise Low: You are one of the most socially committed people I know. How does this affect your choices in writing?

Kathryn Kysar: I am in a constant state of growth and self-correction in my struggle with internalized racism. I am a product of our patriarchal capitalist society that is based on genocide and slavery, and I continue to learn about this history and how my privilege warps my perceptions. I am currently writing a travelogue about a driving trip I took with my son last summer that examines our family’s settler colonialist past and the false stories conveyed through the generations.

DL: Writing about your second book of poetry Pretend the World (Holy Cow! Press), Rigoberto Gonz├ílez writes, “Kysar's ability to politicize parenting and gender offer a gripping but blunt way of seeing the lives we create, the wars we wage, the things we consume, and the connections we make without overbearing sentimentality or righteousness.” (Poetry Foundation). How has being a parent informed your writing subject matter and your writing process?

KK: Gender inequities continue to be a central focus of my writing. As the parent of a transgender child, I have closely witnessed the horrors of transphobia and the deep harm of daily microaggressions. Is the personal political? Of course. Our lives, including the act of raising children, take place within our racist, sexist, and classist society. To ignore the context of within which we parent would be ignoring these truths. One function of poetry is to unveil the truth, to say the unsaid, hopefully “without overbearing sentimentality or righteousness.”

DL: Collaboration is one of the ways you work with community. I remember for Pretend the World that you collaborated with visual artists to create a show of artworks that responded to individual poems. What was that like for you, to see your poems re-envisioned in another genre? What other collaborations have you been involved in recently?

KK: Thanks for asking about collaboration! The visual art shows that accompanied Pretend the World were astounding to me. I was in awe that my humble poems could trigger such engaging and varied pieces. I invited five artists who work in different mediums to respond to the poems in the book with their artwork. Some pieces, like Jan Elftmann’s sculptural white horse, referenced a single line in a poem. Philip Noyed’s “Dresses Everywhere” is a hanging globe of little dresses that echoed an entire poem as well as the book’s title. The show was presented in several galleries, and Jes Lee’s poetry videos are available on YouTube. It was a joyously fun project.  I am currently writing poems in response to a series of Angela Spencer’s tarot card paintings, and we have upcoming shows scheduled for 2022-2023. My last big project was a collaborative recording of the poems from Pretend the World. I invited guest poets, musicians, and singers to record a poem. One of the happiest moments of my life was sitting in the studio sound booth and hearing how others understood and expressed my work so eloquently. 

DL: In an interview for Write On Door County (2017), you wrote: “I deeply enjoy collaborative creation across the arts: I have had several shows with visual artists, written poems to pre-recorded music, and regularly perform with an improvisational poetry/music group called the Sonoglyph Collective. A sample Sonoglyph performance is “Escape from Paradise Iowa.”  The musicians in this group are dynamite! What have you learned from this project?

KK:  Since our graduation reading when I read my poems accompanied by a musician, I have been striving to take poetry off the page. The Sonoglyph Collective is an improvisational jazz/poetry group featuring four poets and three musicians: Sean Egan on clarinet, Jonathan Townsend on drums, Aaron Kerr on bass, with poets Lynette Rein-Grandell, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Ibe Kaba, and myself.  We blend the spoken word with music in improvisational ways. Our performances bring my poetry into the bliss of making meaningful sound with others. I have always been deeply connected with music—I worked in the music business for five years before starting my present job—and had always longed to be in a band. There is a connection, a creative energy, in the process of musical performance that I do not gain any other way. 

DL:  I notice you have video poems on YouTube, “Hand Sisters” and “Love Poem.” In addition to poetry, you have written essays and travel writing. What are some of your current writing projects?

KK: I am always, of course, writing poems, but my recent focus has been writing creative nonfiction. My lyric essays are constructed much like poems and weave dense imagery with insights and observations, often about the past. You can read some of my recent CNF work in Slag Glass City and The Mollyhouse.

DL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

KK: Thanks so much for this conversation!

Kathryn Kysar is the author of two books of poetry, Dark Lake and Pretend the World, and she edited the anthology Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers. She has received fellowships and residencies from the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Tofte Lake Center, and the Oberholtzer Foundation. Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as To Sing Along the Way and Good Poems, American Places. Kysar has served on the board of directors for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Rain Taxi Review. She is the founder of the creative writing program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and offers manuscript consultations through The Loft Literary Center. Twitter: @darklake Instagram: @Pretendtheworld