Or I know I could make a really astute line break at a certain juncture, but I might decide against it for various reasons. Having that background in technique gave me permission, I believe, to depart from conventions in an attempt to find my own aesthetic territory. I am really thankful that Oberlin helped me to realize that. The MFA, for me, has served as a venue for this aesthetic search. All the decisions I make, at the end of the day, are calculated, even if people might read them as “loose” or unpolished.
through pool not of sea but of sequin
unhinged to hoard glamours.
In creating my 209 course, I modeled it based on a class at Oberlin called Technique and Form in Poetry, which was basically Poetry 101...a lecture/workshop hybrid course with more attention to reading, discussion, and lecture. I hoped to give my students the opportunity to further their technical mastery of poetry in ways that would not only improve their writing, but also in ways that would hopefully give them more confidence in themselves as poets.
BC: I have known you over two years now and have observed and admired the parallelism between your artistic and academic ethos. How do you manage to operate simultaneously as an artist and as an educator/scholar with a similar philosophy? Can you give a behind-the-scenes peek at how you developed harmony between these two domains?
DK: I think I gained much of my artistic and academic ethos from the poet Carol Tufts who teaches dramatic literature in the English program at Oberlin. I observed, I suppose, the parallel nature of her art and work. It seems so natural for her to a certain extent. I think it goes back to what I was saying about a “poetic mission.” I think missions such as these come directly from the self, so maybe if you honor your self or leave room for the self’s values in whatever you do, a sort of natural parallelism occurs in various parts of your life, which, of course, includes your art and your career.
BC: If I'm reading it correctly, at some point in your time in the MFA Program you gave yourself a conscious and articulated permission to break out of literary and poetic traditions you clearly value. What was the engine driving this breakthrough?
DK: I remember having a conversation with Martha Collins on the phone at the beginning of the MFA, when I was questioning if writing was really what I was meant to do. I was kind of a mess and really needed someone I had known for years to tell me something. At some point during the conversation, I remember talking about a few new poets I had read and that I was interested in exploring some techniques that they were utilizing in their work. She responded with something like, “Drew, I’ve known you for five years now, and you’re a really good imitator. Perhaps it’s time to figure out what you want to do.” Also, I spoke with Jane Miller about the dual role of artist/student. That was a helpful conversation, too. I came to the conclusion from listening to them both that I couldn’t let concerns for grades, etc. worry me in terms of what I needed to do with my work (which sounds awful, but hear me out...). I took a leap of faith in order to believe that if I was working hard on my art, if I was reading consistently, if I was using the MFA in a way that would be helpful to finding my aesthetic territory, that my success as a student would naturally follow.
I think it goes back to trusting yourself, and I think the way I came to trust myself as an artist was to be able to objectively tell myself that I had tried everything I could possibly think of to try, that I’d read as much as I possibly could read on a certain topic/aesthetic concern, that I’d worked as hard on my poems as I possibly could. I might be kind of obsessive, but I think there’s a certain sense of power that comes when you can honestly say those things to yourself, and that power gives you a sense of freedom to do what you want or need to do. But that’s how I found that sense of freedom; other people might find different ways to access that. I’m by no means claiming my way is the right way, or anything like that.
more, to feed our, make our, pay our
birds forward―― swimming――
swimming――swimming to splash us.
BC: Finally, what gives you the courage not to write what would please a given audience but rather to write, as you have told me, what you want to read?
DK: I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the sense of Audience with a capital A and to assume that any Audience must be outside of the self or that one must target poems to specific journals or write in dominant aesthetics in order for a poem to be successful. This concern of Audience mainly has to do, I think, with the visibility of one’s work; that being widely published or embraced somehow authenticates one as “Poet.” If that logic makes one happy as a poet, great. But I know if I did that, I would ultimately be unhappy with my own work.
There was a moment early on in the program when I realized I was reading amazing published work, but that most of it had one or two dominant facets that didn’t go over well with me. So, as an audience member, I took the time to try to figure out what I thought was missing from all the poetry I had been reading, however strong or weak I felt it was. I rarely pick up a book and find something that is exactly executed and balanced (or un-balanced) in ways that I strongly desire, though much work gets close to fulfilling my predilections. I started to ask myself, even on a line or word level, what could be changed in specific published work to make the poem the ideal poem for me as a reader? This worked best with poetry I felt most strongly about.
The best illustration I have for this process is how this one time I was reading a book from a new poet I really admire, but something about it was not “exactly executed” to my liking––I realized after a really close read that her frequent nominalization of verbs (or maybe her use of nouns as verbs...it’s been a while since I’ve read it) became overwhelming for me at points; this was something I was doing fairly frequently in my work at that moment so I made an effort to resort to this only when there really was no other way to express a certain line. Also, I must mention most of these readings occurred at the Poetry Center, looking at the new books section and the new issues of literary journals. I’ve found reading really current work is helpful, and the Poetry Center is a great resource to find new titles and new poets.
When one reads a really strong poet, one recognizes the poet’s work immediately, even without a name at the top of the page. No one person is really the same and the same goes for the work of great poets. I postulated, then, that if the poet becomes the audience for his/her own work, that the work will distinguish itself naturally from the other work around it. Not everyone can have the exact same taste, right? Similar, sure. Exact, no. So, I saw this self-as-audience construct as a way to access a voice and style I found to be most intimately me.
The danger, I suppose, with this way of looking at audience is that you are the only audience member who likes it. But if you can find yourself in a place where you trust yourself, you can feel that at least a few other people out there will be getting something from your poems that they weren’t getting from other poems before, and they’ll become fans of your work. That audience could be large (say, Quentin Tarantino sized) or more intimate (a group of your friends and your cat named Mooky).
When I chose to look at my work in this way, I came to terms with knowing that I’m still going to be a poet—even if none of the poems from my manuscript see publication. I’m not saying publication is bad. Not at all. Publication would be dreamy; recognition would be dreamy; hell, “poetic fame” would be dreamy. For me though, these could only be dreamy if I knew that the work being praised is work that I believe in, work that functions on its own terms, my terms. We all take risks on some level with our work, and this is the primary risk I’m willing to take.
please, no swim――and the bodies
drown, the clown’s hands captioned,
removed. Boys and girls attempt
migration. Diamonds melt to scream
under their wings, which fan the