2013 Contest: An Interview with Poetry Judge Kate Durbin
Interview by ANNE BRETTELL
Black Warrior Review: What was it that initially got you interested in poetry? What aspect of “the poem” grabbed you as an art form?
Kate Durbin: I can think of two instances in which poetry grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. One was when I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical Christian school, very repressed and depressed. I was assigned to read Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” and Plath’s “Elm” in the same week in my English class. Both poems electrocuted me–I had never read anything that described my own experience so closely, where intense female anger and repression were channeled into art. I had lived a very sheltered life before that–had been taught feminism was “bad,” etc.–it was really poetry that led me out of that corseted darkness.
The second experience was in graduate school, where I was actually studying fiction. I felt really bored and stressed out over all the rules I was learning in workshop, like people were trying to strangle my stories. I took a couple of poetry classes just for fun, and felt really liberated by the poets’ willingness to play with form, to not take anything on the page for granted. I now believe narrative doesn’t have to be constricted/beaten into submission either, but at the time I was still figuring all that stuff out. I read Kimiko Hahn and Teresa Hak Jyung Cha and Anne Carson, and watched Catherine Breillat’s films, and wrote my way out of my then-24 years of a repressed sad girl bullshit life. I didn’t care if anyone read the poems, but they ended up becoming The Ravenous Audience, my first book.
BWR: What is the last book of poetry you read? How did it surprise you?
KD: Right now I am reading my dear friend Lara Glenum’s POP CORPSE, which takes a cleaver to Hans Christian Andersen’s sadistic The Little Mermaid. Lara’s work always surprises–nay, shocks me!–in the best possible way. I think the form of this particular text–a sort of bratty teenage underwater opera–is my favorite thing about it. And the emoticons, which make it read like a text message from the icky bottom of the cultural unconscious.
BWR: Describe your favorite dress.
KD: I have so many it’s hard to pick a favorite. A classic Durbin dress was my Rockinghorsefly dress (by designer Mandate of Heaven) that I wore for my first book party. I had someone slowly unbutton the dress while I read and pull and tie the two corners on the sides, like curtains at a theater. Underneath I had felt letters that read POEM on my shorts.
BWR: Your poems (especially in your latest chapbook, Kept Women) often mix a bit of both the humorous and the grotesque. Can you tell us how your process influences your subject matter?
KD: Thank you for noticing the humor! This was my process with my recent reality TV work: I essentially “meditated” or went into an alternate state of consciousness with reality TV / fluff / shallow entertainment by focusing on it minutely and intensely over long periods of time, faithfully transcribing and then carefully re-crafting it.
As a result, my consciousness fused with the subject matter and the poems are the afterbirth of that fusion. Their humor, their eeriness, their pleasures, their revelations or lack thereof, are all the after-birth. In the end, the reader, the writer, and the subjects have been subtly transformed. In what way is up to the reader to decide, I think.
BWR: What do you consider to be your most important non-poet activity?
KD: Probably painting my nails, but maybe that is a poet activity actually.
BWR: Can you give any shy contest-hopefuls your opinion on what contemporary poetry needs more of?
KD: I think contemporary poetry could use more glitter and more Internet. I am excited to read your poems, contest hopefuls!