An interview with poet Kristin Garth

kristin

Kristin Garth is a poet from Pensacola and a sonnet stalker. In addition to Chantarelle’s Notebook, her sonnets have stalked the pages of Luna Luna, Mookychick, Anti-Heroin Chic, Drunk Monkeys Occulum, Rag Queen Perodical and many other publications. Her chapbook is available through maverickduckpress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @lolaandjolie and her website: kristingarth.wordpress.com

 

1. Your poetry is extremely sex positive in a landscape where many would hold back, or be less likely to be as bold. What most informs (or has informed) your poetic voice?

They say write what you know. This is definitely why my writing is as sex positive — and perhaps even sex-obsessed at times — as it is. The details of my own life, even my body, I would say, drive this theme in my work.

I grew up in an extremely religious household. I was also abused. It’s a bizarre, though not unique, set of circumstances to feel both like a sex object in your upbringing and also that sex is terrible and illicit and ruinous to you. You’re in an untenable situation — because of your abuse and abuser, you are a bad person.

I was also made to feel that my body was a sinful, terrible thing that marked me as a certain type of woman. I developed early and had large breasts that were a trouble source in my home. They made me attractive to my abuser and also a threat. It escalated to a point that my mother actually wanted my breasts reduced — attempted to make this happen which was felt like a genital mutilation horror in the making.

It didn’t happen because my father interceded and stopped this, but it was a real epiphany in my life. I realized how little power I had over my body — and also that my body was a very powerful thing. It scared my mother.

I was on the cusp of adulthood when all this happened, and it shaped a lot of my attitudes. Made me angry at the puritanical nature of my family and some people. I saw how far they could take this madness to disfigurement. It made me determined to be different.

I certainly became different — eventually became a stripper. I went to a strip club with some men I knew, my hair in braids, and I got recruited to work there. I had always had a fascination with strip clubs. The Atom Egoyan movie Exotica is one of my favorites. I wanted to try it. So like the actress in Exotica, I did it costumed as a womanchild because that is my personality, my sexuality, for five years. This time period informs so much of my writing.

My life has always been rich with these highly sexually charged environments and themes. It is just simply what I know. I have made a conscious decision to be very blunt and straightforward about it. I feel like I have seen the results of people being hypocritical about sex, and I associate that with secrecy, hypocrisy and abuse — simply because my abuser was like this.

Believe it or not, sometimes I write something and feel great shame about it. Usually in this case, I will send it to someone I trust and say: is this good? Am I just being a puritan that it embarrasses me and I don’t want to send it out? If a person I trust tells me that it is good writing, I send it anyway because I know that I have some residual religious shame built inside me — though many people might be surprised to hear that. My goal is to be truthful and bold. I’m not perfect or a robot. I’m still on the journey and sort of faking a confidence at times that isn’t completely there. it’s not always easy.

2. Conversely, there is a sense of empowerment that is gained from reading your work. Do you feel like you’ve intentionally written poems that compel others to be more open about their wants and desires?

Oh my goodness, gee — I hope so. I hope I’m an example of honesty. I know that I have written abuse poems that inspire others to write about their abuse. That makes me so proud and happy. No abuse victim should ever feel silenced about what has happened to them. They own the experience but not any guilt. They did not make these choices but they have to live with the consequences of someone else’s. So it’s wonderful to have the therapy of putting that down to paper and getting a piece of it outside your body, and I wish for any abuse survivor that opportunity.

I haven’t really had people tell me that they wrote a sexual poem because of me. I hope they have and do. I think sex positive writing gets a bad name. There are many magazines that won’t publish it. To me as an abuse survivor, I see my sex positivity as a triumph. I know many people — and I feel such pain for them — that cannot enjoy sex because of abuse. I am luckily not this way. I am the opposite. I celebrate that about myself, and I love to write about it when the mood strikes. I love people to read it and see something that gives me such joy.

3. What made you choose the sonnet as your form of choice, and do you feel that more traditional forms of poetry have a place in a state of literature where instant gratification seems more and more prevalent?

I was assigned to write a sonnet in high school. I thought I would hate it. I really instantly fell in love with the puzzle of it — the terse nature, the rules. I’m a long-winded person, and the structure made me be bold and decisive. I liked that.

After a while I began to internalize the structure, out of routine. It makes my poetry really focused on content because the form is routine and I just sort of feel it without worrying. Recently I wrote a free verse poem and I was so consumed with structure — how is this supposed to look? All of these questions I never think about. Ironically, being a formal poet, I believe I consider form less than if I wrote free verse.

Likewise, I don’t think writing sonnets takes me more time than a free verse poet. Maybe it would to a person who is writing one as a lark or a first-timer, but the form doesn’t slow me down. I get stuck on lines but I think any poet does. I love free verse poetry and formal, and I think there is no reason why any person can’t do both — try both or the one of their preference.

Honestly, if I have a goal in poetry in general, it is to help remove these distinctions between formal poetry and free verse. I like to be in magazines where both are represented. I don’t really try for venues that are form specific much. I just don’t feel that way about poetry in my heart. I write poems. A lot of them are sonnets, but I want them in the company of good poems of any form. I love poetry.

4. How has living in Pensacola, Florida influenced your poetry, if at all?

I love Pensacola for its geography — Snow white beaches and dense woods. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and wild and just being on the beach or lost in its trees makes me feel instantly free and calm. My mental state is not always serene. I get caught up in a lot of dark memories and thoughts sometimes. There is something very healing about living in a pristine, beautiful natural landscapes. It feels pure and primitive.

I also feel very strongly influenced by the southern gothic tradition living in Pensacola. Pensacola is very southern. The state of Florida is a very diverse state. South Florida is very populated by transplants and retirees. It has a lot of northern accents and affectations like unsweet tea.

Pensacola is very sweet tea. We are one hour from Mobile, Alabama, three hours from New Orleans. I wrote a sonnet called Southern Gothic Ghosts. It’s about a guy who gave me a copy of the book Sanctuary by William Faulkner. Part of the plot of that book is that a very nefarious figure Popeye rapes a girl with a corncob. Well the poem starts out with a reference to the fact that this nefarious corncob rapist is going to visit his mother in Pensacola. We are the home of infamous southern gothic Faulkner villains.

Something about this resonated with me. I love where I am from and still live. Having said that, as wild and rural as the geography is, the people can be very wild and complicated creatures as well. Faulkner could have made that character be from anywhere but as a Pensacola girl, I absolutely believed this character would be in my hometown.

There is a lot of gentility and southern charm in my town. There is a darkness too. My true crime interest, I believe, is greatly informed by living in this place with its disproportionate amount of crime. There is a joke here when Pensacola makes the national news, you know it’s some terrible crime. It’s a Florida thing I think. There is a beauty, a charm and a roughness to this place and the people that works it’s way into my writing.

5. You’ve shared much of your work on the website Medium. Was posting there a positive experience, and did you gain a following there? What do you credit for your ascension in the poetry community?

Medium, for me, was an experiment in a lot of ways. I had been very active in publishing in traditional literature journals. I had some friends on Medium in the Partner Program. They told me about it and how they were publishing so quickly and making money, encouraged me to try it.

I joined in the Partner Program l, and it was a great experience. I did gain an audience that had some overlap with my indie lit mag audience, but there were new people I met, too. I was making money, and it was all very exciting.

The problem, for me, is that I do things full out. I’m a Capricorn, and I like to achieve and to work. I wrote a sonnet every day on that site. Unfortunately, many literary magazines do not want work that has been on Medium. So I was unable to publish in the literary magazine world as much as I wanted.

I was very conflicted by this. It was thrilling being paid to write, but I enjoy the audience in the literary magazine world. I love this community, and I felt less engaged because I simply could not write equally to both.

The money was the tipping point towards Medium. The money at Medium in the Partner Program is calculated by claps of Medium members. Every member pays $5 a month and claps for pieces they like. I always got a lot of claps, and my audience was on the rise.

However, the money that the writers were paid started to go dramatically down. I should have been making more and suddenly I was making three quarters what I was. Then I made half. When it dipped below that, I decided that no longer having the monetary incentive to stay, I wanted to be more active in the literary magazine world.

I have never once regretted that decision. I love the literary magazine world. I love submitting work often and engaging with editors. I realized from that experience that I am not a self publisher. I enjoy the process of working with a press on a book and talking about my work in all stages. Love to hear insights on my work, suggestions and cover ideas. I love the editorial mind, and I missed out on that immensely.

As far as my ascension in the poetry world, wow, that is a hard question to answer. I feel lucky to have more opportunities now. I could say that my Capricorn work ethic has something to do with the number of publications I have, but I know that there are a lot of hard workers out there.

I am one of those people who writes every day, submits something almost every day. I’ve made good habits for myself that way. I don’t believe any one method is perfect for everyone. I wouldn’t tell other people: do this. Maybe writing every day is not good for you. I don’t always finish a poem. But I think it helps my particular brain to stay active and on a schedule. I also suffer from depression, and activity helps me.

I think there is a degree of luck. I also think that if I had any advice for a writer out there that I would give anyone is: be yourself. Whoever that is. I’m a former stripper, abuse survivor, who likes kneesocks and sonnets and hard nerdy work. I showcase all these things about myself on social media. People get to know you and root for you because they sense the genuineness. Identify those things about you that are truly intrinsically you and share them with your audience in the ways you are comfortable. I feel that people root for me in this community, and I am honored by that. I think they root for me because they know me and know I root for them. I want to see their truest self, the kneesock, the skinned knee with a pink Barbie BAND-AID on top — wait, no that’s me. What is your BAND-AID? Let people know.

 

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