In the fall of 2013 Kate Greenstreet visited Columbia and read from her newest book of poetry Young Tambling. I found her reading to be simultaneously provocative and understated. Two days after this, Greenstreet visited a poetics class taught by Lisa Fishman and held a short Q&A with those students. They discussed the photography incorporated in her poetry as well as aspects of the reading. This interview (conducted January 2014) delves deeper into some of the moments brought up both in her reading and class discussion.
1. What is currently inspiring you creatively?
Open space, and the feeling of having finished something. I spent most of 2013 on the road, doing a long book tour (mid-January to mid-December, with a break over the summer). Now Max and I have moved to New Hampshire. We’ve rented an apartment and studio space in an old textile mill building. I love it here! Room to paint and time to finish up some video projects. I’m also taking a lot of photographs these days.
2. Who was the first poet who was important to you?
The first poetry book I remember owning—needing to own, when I was about 15— was The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I still have it.
3. Could you talk a little bit about your process?
I’ve had the habit for a long time of writing things down on index cards or scrap paper throughout the day (and night), then typing what I’ve got into a Word doc (“the epic”) the next morning. I tend to build my poems from the epic. I talk about this at length in Max’s video My Own Eyes, which you can see here (the part about process starts at 5:29 and goes to 10:01 or so).
Although I am still making some poems that way, my process seems to be changing. Too soon to say where that’s leading or what all it will include, but I won’t be surprised if I adopt some new methods in order to make a different kind of writing.
4. What did you do today?
Summer before last, we sold our house and most of our possessions. I let go of at least three quarters of my books. This morning I got up around seven, did some stretching, and started unpacking the boxes of books I’d put in storage (including that Dylan Thomas). I made coffee. For half an hour I sat among open book boxes, drank coffee, and read from Rosmarie Waldrop’s Lavish Absence: Recalling & Rereading Edmond Jabès. I wrote some things down in my journal. (Keeping a journal connected to reading is one of the new things going on in my process.) I looked out the window—I’ve been doing that a lot—and took pictures until the battery died. I put the battery to recharging, typed yesterday’s notes into the epic, put more books on shelves. I made and ate a piece of toast. I wrote a few emails, then looked at a newish poem, said it aloud, read through the epic for a while. Added two lines to the poem. Said it aloud twice more. Removed a word. I updated the contact address at our online bank. I looked at Facebook briefly. Max came back and we made lunch and talked. After lunch I began to answer your questions. Then I worked for several hours editing a couple of one-minute videos. A minute is surprisingly long! I noticed the room was getting dark. Now I’m thinking about these questions again and it’s time to cook dinner.
5. What books are you currently reading?
I’m in the middle of two biographies—one of Hannah Arendt, For Love of the World by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, and Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger.
After I finished Young Tambling, I didn’t write anything new for nearly a year. I wrote stuff down, took notes, but I wasn’t really writing. I wasn’t troubled by that though—I felt emptied, having poured everything I had into Young Tambling. By “everything” I guess I mean desire. The desire to form writing.
Last spring, Rick Meier traveled with us from Kansas City to Chicago. We talked a lot and he recommended I read Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot by Viktor Shklovsky. When Max and I paused for the summer, I bought the book and dug in. Listening to the sound of Shklovsky’s thinking got me back into writing again.
When I was reading Energy of Delusion, I kept a notebook of my responses to it and some quotations from the book. Now I’m reading these biographies the same way, using the same notebook.
Gabrielle Faith Williams