I was tagged by the poet Barbara Crooker to participate in the Next Big Thing. Barbara’s next book is Gold, forthcoming from Cascade Books.
What is your working title of your book?
The title of the books is Reports. The publication date is October, 2013.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I started Reports while I was still writing poems for my previous book, Losing the Moon. Although I was very interested in those poems, I began to be frustrated with the way most of them focused almost solely on my interior life. I have always been politically engaged, but there was little evidence of that in my earlier verse. I was eager to expand the range of the work to address a more complex reality, but wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I certainly wasn’t interested in writing anything narrowly polemical, but rather in examining the subtle interaction between our public and private worlds.
When I came up with the title and original concept of Reports, I finally began to understand how to approach that more expansive terrain. But I can’t say where the title or concept came from—that’s one of the mysteries of writing. In any case, although the first poems I wrote for the book were too narrow and had to be discarded, they already had a different dynamic from much of what I had written previously. At first, the work dealt primarily with the need to make sense of the overwhelming volume of news and information in our lives. However, as I delved into that territory, I started to write poems that didn’t just explore seemingly disparate private and public worlds, but rather the ways in which all our experiences are intertwined.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Given that it is composed of non-linear, non-narrative poems, which often entail dream imagery, Reports would make a very strange movie.
However, I can think of one figure who appears in the book and who could be played by a movie actor, although unfortunately, one who is no longer alive.
There is a recurring image of a witch in the book, and in one poem in particular, “No Substance to the Charges,” the witch figure derives from the witch in The Wizard of Oz, particularly the scene in which she is riding on her broom past Dorothy’s house while it is caught in the whirlwind of a tornado. I had nightmares throughout my childhood about that terrifying scene. So if Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, could be brought back to life, I would choose her to play the witch.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Reports deals with the many voices that echo through our lives—the often overwhelming news from the public sphere, the unrelenting voices from the past, “a book of stories / you can’t stop reading,” and those dreamlike, evanescent voices that haltingly search for language, to find expression for what can never be fully expressed.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? (if this applies – otherwise, make up another question to answer!)
The book will be published by New Rivers Press.
But since this question doesn’t entirely apply to me, I will ask myself another question: What is a one-sentence evocation of the book?
From Hamlet: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
That is a difficult question. I often work on several different projects at once and also allow things I’m working on to lie dormant for a while so I can approach them with more perspective. I guess I could say fifteen years, but that doesn’t mean I worked only on this manuscript for fifteen years. However, I spend a lot of time thinking about and revising and agonizing over these slim volumes of poetry.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I wouldn’t use the word “compare,” but I do know that my writing, and in particular this book, has been affected by the work of the extraordinary Polish poets, Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, and Adam Zagajewski, among others, work which charts the deeply entwined personal and political imperatives of a dangerous world. I’ve been particularly impressed by the urgency and lucidity of Herbert’s poetry, and the manner in which his work keeps crossing borders, both in content and structure. In writing Reports I found myself pressing at the edges of language and meaning in ways which I believe were related to that work. I would never, however, presume to “compare” my poetry to that of Herbert, who was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. But the example of his work helped me to approach the territory I needed to explore.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
So much that occupies my mind inspired me to write this book—the poetry I love, the complicated people I know, the reports on the news, my nightmares, my daydreams, bill collectors, angels, truck drivers, politicians, my favorite dolls from childhood . . . well, all those multitudes we always contain and hope to capture, a least to some slight degree, in our work.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The exceptionally talented writer Joe Wilkins wrote one of the blurbs for the book, one which I think conveys particularly well the world of Reports. So I’ll end with his generous words:
“The poems in Kathryn Levy’s Reports burn and shine. They track fire-lit paths through the dark interiors of our murky cultural mythologies . . . From start to finish, this is a breathless and necessary collection. Reading it, I felt at times outside of myself, wholly inhabited by Levy’s terrifying, thrilling monologues and dreamscapes. Yet, for the horror—and this is what I find most admirable in this book that offers much to admire—Reports refuses despair: ‘This / is for life,’ Levy insists, ‘—as everything / always was— / and some days you see that / and stop.’ “
Here also are links to some poems from the book:
I am tagging the fiction writers, Alan Davis and Susan McNear, to participate next.