GR: Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?
SK: Thanks for inviting me to participate. I grew up in New York City, but I was actually born in Shanghai, China. My parents were Holocaust survivors (my mother is still alive at 98) and were part of a group of refugees who ended up in China. I came to the U.S. as an infant. I went to college in Binghamton, NY, and graduate school at the University of Chicago. I spent my teaching career in the Midwest, first at a small college in Wisconsin, then at The College of Saint Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in Saint Paul, MN, and finally, for thirty-one years at Saint Cloud State University. I live and write in Saint Cloud. I was drawn to lyric poetry early because of the compression, the challenge of saying much (or trying to) in a short space, and because of the music inherent in language.
GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?
SK: William Blake has been an influence, though my world view is not religious and I don’t write either in fixed forms or in long epics. What appeals to me about Blake is his openness to the strangeness of the world. I find that in Emily Dickinson as well. Paul Celan and Rilke have also influenced me toward poems that often follow a non-linear “logic” or cohesion.
GR: How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?
SK: The poem decides most of the time. I have done some Tanka in the last couple of years and I’ve written a few parodies and villanelles, but mostly I write free verse. I never (almost never) decide on a form ahead of time, and the poem tends to shape itself as it spools out across the page.
GR: What is your writing process like?
SK: I mostly write in the mornings after a four mile walk and a shower. To prime the pump, I usually read some poetry – on my desk now are Neruda’s late and posthumous poems, Agha Shahid Ali’s A Nostalgist’s Map of America, and the Summer/Fall issue of the I-70 Review. I like to read online journals and Best of the Net as well. Then I just sit at my computer and wait as an opening line occurs to me, and follow it where it leads. Sometimes it goes somewhere I like and I find a voice and a form that works for me. I must say that I enjoy this process immensely; I think I get a similar effect that some enjoy through meditation.
GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?
SK: I am a proud member of the Verse-Virtual online poetry community and a contributing writer to that journal. Through the V-V Facebook page, I communicate with other writers, and I get to share their work and successes. The editor, Firestone Feinstein, is a fine gentleman, and has created something special with this community.
GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?
SK: I like a great many poets – my academic field was the Romantics, so I love them, but also the whole range of British and American poetry, and increasingly all poetry written in English. I love the work of my good friend Joseph Lisowski, and my Facebook friend Laura Kaminsky. I feel the power of Audre Lord’s work, and the elegance of Rita Dove’s. I love Yeats and Frost, shorter Stevens, not to mention Shakespeare….
GR: What is the most important role for poets today?
SK: I think that poetry, like many other human activities, appeals to certain people. Anyone who pays attention to poetry – like your readers, I’m sure – knows that many people around the world are writing verse. The plethora of little magazines, print and online, receive many submissions, and it is plain to see that there is a lively interest in the ancient art. In a large world population, even a small minority constitutes a great many individuals. Poets may not be the legislators of the world, as Shelley would have it, but they express not only many individual states of mind and being, but, taken as a whole, the joys and fears of humankind. What poetry does best is to examine small moments of experience, memory, emotion which resonate outward in wave after wave to create meaning.
GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?
SK: I have been lucky enough to have heard Anne Sexton, Robert Bly, Alan Ginsberg, Robert Creely (he was very drunk), Doris Lessing, Lucile Clifton, and others.
GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?
SK: I’ve been working on two sets of poems. One deals with women (or a woman who represents them all) who, despite her own considerable talents, has devoted herself to a man she considers to be a genius – think of Dorothy Wordsworth or Caroline Herschel, say. The poems try to get at the acid blend of worship and resentment at the heart of such a relationship. The other is a group of poems using the central figure of Li Bo, the great Tang dynasty Chinese poet. I have a lot of uncollected work from 2014 and 2015 that would be enough for several books if I ever get around to organizing them. I am really looking forward to pulling some of that work together. I’m thinking of a collection focused on the physical. The working title is Body Language.
GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?
SK: I have an amateur interest in science. I attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and got a good grounding in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I don’t have the math to understand it, but I find the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics fascinating, and I love reading about Astrophysics. I’m very interested in the period around the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, so I read about that as well. I try to keep up with politics, and I love classical music (and some folk as well). I’ve recently developed an interest in Australia, as I plan to spend a semester there in 2017. I have a soft spot for old time baseball, and revel in the statistics of players who were active before I was born or when I was a kid.
GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and creative process with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work.