Sunday, September 9, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Kimmy Beach

in Cars, Kimmy Beach’s fourth full collection of poetry with Turnstone Press, was published in the spring of 2007. Her previous collections are Nice Day for Murder: Poems for James Cagney (2001), Alarum Within: theatre poems (2003), and fake Paul (2005). Alarum Within was long-listed for the ReLit award, and has twice been adapted as a full-length stage play. In 2004, the University of Toronto at Mississauga/Erindale Theatre staged a collective adaptation under the direction of Ralph Small. Larry Reese and Kimmy Beach collaborated on a second adaptation for the Red Deer College Theatre and Film Studies Program in 2005 under the direction of Larry Reese. Kimmy was the 2005 International Guest Poet for the Dead Good Poets Society in Liverpool, UK, where she was invited to launch fake Paul on stage at the Cavern Club in Mathew Street. She took second place in the 2006 Lichen Arts and Letters Preview’s “Tracking a Serial Poet” Competition and was a finalist in the 2003 CV2 48-Hour Poetry Competition. Kimmy has facilitated Blue Pencil Cafés and writing workshops in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and has read at festivals and literary gatherings across the country including the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, Banff/Calgary Wordfest, the inaugural Edmonton Poetry Festival, and at the South Country Fair in Fort Macleod, Alberta. Kimmy is the first and only Poet Laureate of Humboldt Collegiate Institute in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets. She holds a First Class Honors Degree in English from the University of Alberta, and writes from Red Deer, Alberta where she lives with her husband, Stu.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I wouldn’t say it changed my life (my life was chugging along happily before I published a book), but it did add to my knowledge of what I could accomplish. My first book was very much a First Book, but because it was picked up by a house I knew and respected, I started to feel more confident about what I had chosen to do with my creative talents, whatever they might be or evolve into. Wait, I lied. It did change my life because it brought four Canadian women poets into my life at a colloquium when I was working on it (Rebecca Campbell, Holly Borgerson-Calder, Heidi Greco, and Catherine Greenwood). The five of us are still in daily email contact nearly eight years later, and it’s one of the most important friendships of my life.

2 - How long have you lived in Red Deer, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I’ve been here more than half my life, so it truly is my home. The vibrancy of the cultural community here impacts my writing more than geography does. I know I have a group of people here on whom I can rely for cultural nourishment, and hopefully I provide that to them as well. I’m an “indoor” poet, so generally speaking, geography and nature don’t enter my work unless a character is hurtling through them at midnight in a 74 Mustang. I have less than no interest in writing about the cedar waxwings in my crab tree, that sort of thing. The race or gender question doesn’t really speak to me so I’ll leave that dangling.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I’m working on a book from the very beginning. Each of my books begins with a central moment; then I build the world in a spiral pattern around that moment. When it’s at the stage where I feel it’s spiraled to my satisfaction, I take it on retreat to St. Peter’s Abbey and lay it out, physically, on the floor of my room and allow it to order itself correctly. The physical laying-out-on-the-floor of the poems on paper is the key to my narrative continuity.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Readings are part of the bargain. We enter into this life knowing that certain things are expected of us. I personally love readings, but I know a lot of writers who don’t. I give high-energy readings, but the extended gregarious requirements during and after do tire me out. But I signed up for that. No complaints. I like it, and that’s where I sell my books, so I’d be silly not to embrace that part of the process. Aside from that, each time I launch a book in Red Deer, it’s a glorious celebration for me as I’m surrounded by friends and family, the crowd is warmer than almost anything I’ve experienced, and it’s just a big, fat party.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Nah. I’ll leave all that to the rest of the writers. I’d rather have fun and let the reader ask her/his own questions and decide whether I’ve answered them. I’m not really sure what the current questions are, and I deliberately don’t seek to answer them. I only speak for myself, but I feel that if I were setting out to ask or answer the Current Questions, then I’m taking my work waaay too seriously, and that’s not my style or my intent. For instance, a couple of writers have told me that they think I’m making a statement about the energy crisis in my new book because it’s full of gas-guzzling muscle cars. I’m not, but that’s what I mean by allowing the reader to ask her/his own questions. Every reading of a published text is valid, and by putting it out there, I invite those varied readings.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It can be a pain in the arse, and at the same time, it’s absolutely necessary. I would never dream of publishing a book without an independent editor. I’ve been lucky, though, as I’ve really liked - and worked well with - my editors. Frequently, they’re right, but sometimes they’re not. The key is to recognize when something has to stay the way you wrote it rather than changing it based on advice from an editor or anyone else. I’ve often been wrong when I’ve stuck to my guns on a line or a stanza, but I’ve still been right.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It’s easier in that I now know how to put a “Kimmy Beach” book together. I recognize that I have developed a particular style of storytelling in my work, and I’m fiercely true to it. My first book fell together without my knowing it, and it wasn’t until after it was published that I could see its narrative and thematic continuity. Now I’m completely aware that I do that in my work, so by my (hopefully) fifth book, I feel pretty confident that if I stand aside, the work will lay itself down in the correct narrative and thematic order.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

July. I got it at the farmers market, and I’m pretty sure it was from BC. We don’t grow a lot of pears in these parts.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“Don’t show me half your dark side! If you’re going to show me your dark side, show me the whole thing.” A monk told me that over breakfast years ago.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I don’t move back and forth, except on very rare occasions when the contest (or whatever) calls for it. I’m a poet. When I do shift, the appeal is that Geist isn’t running a Postcard Poem contest. I can shift if I have to, but I don’t get a lot of pleasure out of it. I’m not a Jill of all trades when it comes to my writing. My work is highly narrative anyway, so in some ways, I think I’m crossing genre within what I call poetry.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

The only time I keep a routine is when I’m on retreat for the specific purpose of writing or revising. I try, on those occasions, to spend at least four hours in front of the computer per afternoon. The mornings are for writing-related stuff like reading, editing, or walking alone in the woods, and the evenings are social. At home, I have other commitments like everyone else, and sometimes the work has to be squeezed in wherever it can fit. I don’t have any sort of routine at home, as I find it difficult to generate new stuff at home. Sirens blaring, phones ringing, Jehovah’s Witnesses ringing my bell off the bloody hook, gas bill to be paid, etc. I’m a writer on retreat, and a reviser at home. If St. Peter’s Abbey ever shuts down, I’m sunk.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

The first thing I do when that happens is go to the Abbey with a stack of books and a laptop, just in case. However, I welcome being stalled as part of the process. I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative; I don’t feel the need to Be A Writer 24/7. That’s a completely unreasonable expectation to saddle oneself with. I have a life outside writing. Everybody else goes to work eight hours a day, and they don’t panic if they’re not thinking about their day job till the minute they go to bed. I think it’s damaging to say that if we’re not writing or thinking about writing all the time, that we’re somehow Not Writing. My writing has been stalled by trauma in the past and I accept it and work through it as a natural component of the writing life. I try not to freak out about it, especially if I know the cause. My mentor, Birk Sproxton, died six months ago and I’m only now getting back on the horse that’s been standing next to me waiting for me to saddle him up. I accept that and I move through that.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

I believe my latest book is my best work. I like all my previous books very much, but I see a pattern of improvement in craft and style in my work that I’m very gratified about. The work feels the same in that I recognize that I am meant to write in a very colloquial, narrative style. My work’s not for everyone because of that, but I don’t care.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I wish I could join the growing camp of poets who say that science is the new poetry just so I would fit in, but not so much. Science and poetry don’t go together in my work. I’m glad they do for some. My books come from other books, movies, lived experience, and a conscious noticing of the moment I’m in.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I rely on a network of writers far and near who will look at whatever I’m writing with amazing regularity and clarity. I lament the demise of an Edmonton group I was in for years (lead by Bert Almon), but I have a local group in Red Deer (Leslie Greentree, Joan Crate, and Blaine Newton) that has sustained me through four books and myriad other (successful and not so successful) writing stuff the last eight years. My friendship with the four poets I mentioned earlier has been a constant source of inspiration and editing as well. I’ve always relied on Birk, and now that he’s gone, his work and advice to me over fifteen years are even more important to me. Of course I’ve had many other mentors, but he was my truest. And when in doubt, always, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. If I were only allowed one book on the desert island, that would be it. There is nothing that book cannot teach me, over and over, about how to be a writer.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Travel through the length and breadth of the U.K. for six months. It’s on my list. All I have to do is win the Griffin. [pause] HA HA HAAA!

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I was a great stage manager, and if the theatre hadn’t sucked the very soul out of me, I would probably still be doing that. Or something equally control-freaky where I’m in total charge. That’s why I love writing; I’m the boss of it. It likes to think it’s the boss of me. I let it think that as it helps us come to some agreement about what order the words are going to be in. So maybe, Queen of All She Surveys. Yeah, that’s a good job.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I did everything else first, but everything seems to have lead into the writing. My life has been a series of real cool events that show up in my work in one form or another. I didn’t start writing seriously (though mom tells me I’ve written in some form all my life) until I was nearly thirty, so I’d had all kinds of life and careers prior to that. T/Ed Dyck and Birk Sproxton are to blame for planting the evil seed in my mind.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The last great film I saw was Tarantino and Rodriquez’ Grindhouse Double Feature. In fact, I’d say that’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the last five years. Its sensibility really spoke to me on a visceral level, and then I stood up and applauded at the end. Haven’t done that for years. That film reminded me that everything great doesn’t have to be High Art, and that my own work is legit, even though a lot of it might fall into that fun art-making style as well. Of course, even Tarantino’s deliberately low art is high art anyway. I don’t think a lot of people got that film, but it spoke directly to my core about how art is supposed to be made in the year 007.
The last great book I read was I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan. What a cheeky little thing it is.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m hoping to go back to Crete to finish a zillion-year-old manuscript set there that I’ve never been completely happy with. I’m also thinking a lot about turning my chapbook, Aberrant Lounges, into a full-length collection. And I’ve just sent a proposal to the Canada Council in which I go on and on about some nebulous book I think I might write someday involving Jean Harlow. I wrote a lot about her in my first book, Nice Day for Murder, but I’m not done with Hollywood in the 1930s and she has always fascinated me.

12 or 20 questions archive

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