Interview with Kika Dorsey, by Curtis Pierce
Your chapbook, Beside Herself, was published in 2010 and your full-length debut, Rust, followed six years later. What did you learn about your writing and/or publishing during the time between your chapbook and your first full-length release?
More than anything, I learned discipline. Beside Herself was a culmination of about five years, when I was mothering two small children and found little time to write. Rust, on the other hand, came to be because I began to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to devote my time to the page before my family and work woke up with the sun. I simply showed up on the page. Now every morning I write something, and even though most of it I discard, and some of it is just rambling about my life, I have learned to set aside time for writing. About publishing I learned to try to be more of a perfectionist so I don’t regret a typo the proofreader and I missed, or second-guess a stanza break or something. That being said, every time I publish something I see what I could have done better.
What writer and/or book most influenced you as a poet? Why?
Such a tough question because I love so many poets! I’d say in the past the biggest influences were Sylvia Plath and Rainier Marie Rilke. Sylvia Plath combines intense emotional resonance and superb craft. She also spent years writing in closed forms before she embarked in free verse, and so her free verse contained the lyricism and subtle use of techniques like slant rhyme and meter that we see in closed forms. Rilke was one of my favorite poets because of the depth of his philosophical content.
What do you want the world to know about you?
Maybe that my deepest value is that of compassion. Hopefully without sounding sentimental, I can say that as a person and as a writer, I try to listen to the world, empathize with life, whether that is human or anything on this planet. I also have quite a Jungian philosophy that influences my writing and perspective. My mother was a Jungian psychologist when I was a child and always told me to write down my dreams, to be in tune with the collective unconscious, the depth of the waters within us.
Can you give me three reasons why you love living in Colorado?
I grew up in the flat Rust Belt and my mother was Austrian, so we traveled to the Alps often. I fell in love with the mountains. As a child, I went to camp in Colorado and decided then and there I would move here, so when I turned eighteen I went to CU. Winters here are a bit long for me, but it’s worth it. I’m just as crazy about the plains now, and I run with my dog preferably where it’s flat instead of the mountains. I value the open space. I’m happy walking next to a ditch, watching the cottonwoods sway in the wind, and visiting our neighborhood pond with all the blackbirds on the cattails.
Personally, I felt Coming Up for Air was “sneaky lyrical” (I read the book’s blurb on your web site prior to reading the book; but, I didn’t read the lyrical praise on the back of the book until later). Has performing with musicians influenced your writing, or has the lyrical vibe always been part of your repertoire?
My father composed music and as I grew up, I heard him playing piano constantly, and if he wasn’t composing, he was playing classical music. I believe some of that influence might come through in my writing. I also was influenced by Julia Kristeva’s work as a graduate student in Seattle, where I performed with musicians. She writes about rhythm in poetic language, how it is integral to a primitive part of our identification with our body, and it keeps the language from what she calls transcendence, or closure. It breaks language open. And yes, I performed with musicians and the work I wrote then was really like writing songs.
What is the biggest, most common mistake new poets (beginners) make when writing poetry?
Either they want to rhyme (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in learning closed forms, but beginners rhyme without pattern sometimes). Rhyme can really limit your diction. Another tendency is the classic one of telling and not showing—using abstract language, writing category words instead of concrete, specific details. There can also be the tendency to try to make a piece of work too tidy, too rational.
I believe it was David Sedaris who said “you must choose to deliberately give something more importance at the cost of something else” in regard to writing. What do you typically sacrifice when you are on a writing deadline, and/or working on a writing-related project?
Sacrifice can be multidimensional. After I finished my PhD, I moved back to Colorado and half-heartedly applied for a few academic positions, and I stopped writing and publishing literary criticism because all I wanted to write was poetry and fiction. I decided that between my creative endeavors and my home I was settling into in Colorado, I would live in the margins of academia and teach adjunct. So, I sacrificed having any real career in order to settle down and write. I realize I was lucky to have the resources to do that, and a husband who could make more money than I. The choice has still had financial repercussions. I know some people can maybe do it all—work full-time in a demanding job, raise a family, and write—but then something else may have to give. I never sacrificed anything having to do with parenting or exercise or nurturing my friendships. The other sacrifice has been sleep. When I wrote Rust and Coming Up for Air, I was sleeping six or seven hours a night so that I could have the early mornings to write, not ideal. I’ve worked it out by going to bed really early. In the summer I can still write and sleep in a little since the family doesn’t have to get up early and I teach less or not at all.
What was the last book you read (poetry or otherwise) that made you see the world differently?
I just finished Educated: A Memoir. I’m still reeling. I also grew up with a mentally ill parent and I felt for her. I’m also impressed with how she grew despite the circumstances of a really hard childhood. It made me see how you can carry your wounds and create not only art but beauty out of them.
In all of your travels, what place (outside of Colorado) has inspired your writing the most? Why?
Austria. I am bicultural and I’ve lived in Germany and Austria, speak German, and most my family is in Austria. My parents lived in Vienna for over twenty years before my father’s death. Vienna feels like home to me, and as I mentioned before, the Alps are what brought me to Colorado.
What are you working on next?
I have several projects. I’m working on a collection of humorous short stories about a flawed character named Joan, and I’m always writing poetry, lately prose poetry. My biggest project right now is finalizing a manuscript titled Vienna is a Broken Man and Other Poems, which is an epic poem featuring different characters during postwar Austria and Germany based on my mother’s stories, research, and imagination, followed by my best poems from a manuscript I had titled Thirst and discarded because I felt it was too dreamy in a world that I believe right now maybe calls for less narcissism and more engagement with society and the environment. The epic poem I see as a piece of warning of what can happen when a country falls into fascism and suffers the consequences of war. The writing is done, but I keep looking at it and tweaking it because I want it to be perfect. It’s always so terrifying when you send something out!