The Keetje Kuipers Microinterview
The August edition of Late Night Library’s flagship series features novelist Cai Emmons and poet Dorianne Laux, who met in Portland this summer to discuss Keetje Kuipers’ debut collection of poems, Beautiful in the Mouth. Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, Beautiful in the Mouth was published in 2010 by BOA Editions. Through close readings, Emmons and Laux look at the poet’s contrasting sense of place as well as her deft use of language and haunting imagery in several poems.
We were fortunate to catch up with Keetje on her way to a new job at Auburn University in Alabama. She answered a few questions about recent influences and publishing her first collection.
What is your favorite work of debut poetry or fiction published in 2011 or early 2012?
I love reading fiction, but I’ve gotten lazy over the years—if a book doesn’t grab me and hold on, I won’t finish it. Sadly, this means I only make it part way through many novels. However, this year I read Jennifer DuBois’ debut novel,A Partial History of Lost Causes, and I felt so compelled by the characters and the story—as they say, I couldn’t put it down. Full disclosure: Jennifer was a Wallace Stegner Fellow with me at Stanford, and so I didn’t come across her book by chance. However, the choice to finish it was all mine: it’s the first novel I’ve read in a long time that was just purely a pleasure, page after page. I really can’t recommend it highly enough—it’s smart, political, darkly comic, and richly populated with characters I both believed in and cared about. Read it!
Please identify one or two writers who have influenced you, either in general or specifically in writing Beautiful in the Mouth.
One of the things that I love most about Late Night Library is the way that it gives credit where credit is due: to our peers. While I continue to read, study, and teach from the canon, these days I find my influences to be much more immediate. I am most interested in risk-taking in my work—when I see a poet around me doing something that I find scary, I want to try it. These experiments don’t always work out, but often they do lead me to a discovery about my writing. For instance, I love writing sonnets, but I realized at some point that the sonnet form was beginning to become a sort of crutch for me: even when I wasn’t writing a sonnet, I was writing a poem that worked with the same rhetorical structure as a sonnet. Then I read Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s stunning collection Apocalyptic Swing which contains the poem “Pantoum Evangel: Billy Sunday.” I was interested in the obsessive nature of memory at the time, and the pantoum form fit this preoccupation much more appropriately than the sonnet. Though I’ve written a number of pantoums since reading Gabby’s, I still don’t think I’ve written one that approaches the complexity and beauty she’s located in the form. Still, I was inspired by what I found there, and it challenged my work to find a new way of facing its subject matter.
What are a few things you learned or discovered after your collection was published that you wish you had known or anticipated beforehand?
I didn’t know that publishing the book would be such an experience of self-doubt. After spending two years believing in the manuscript enough to drop a considerable amount of money sending it out to competitions, upon acceptance and publication I struggled with whether or not I believed in it anymore. I’m glad to say that those feelings passed, and that I’m proud of the work in the book. But there were a few months when I doubted the wisdom of publishing those poems as a collection. I’ve come to learn from other poets that “hating the book” is a fairly common phase to go through, but nobody warned me about it ahead of time, and I wish they had.
Click here for the Beautiful in the Mouth episode of Late Night Debut.