10+ Questions! is a series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming. Below, we speak with Krysten Hill and Kurt Klopmeier. Krysten will be leading a poetry workshop for the “MFA/Mass Poetry – Poets in the Galleries” series on October 31, November 7, 14, and 28. Kurt was featured at Mass Poetry’s U35 Reading Series in July 2017.
It’s been a while! What’s new in life?
Kurt: Well, we just got engaged last weekend, so that’s exciting! We’re both doing summer school stuff at UMass – Boston, trying to keep up once again with grading.
What are you working on these days? Do you ever collaborate on projects?
Kurt: I’m writing a series of interconnected sci-fi poems with themes of man’s inhumanity to man (obviously having nothing to do with modern life), as well as some short, more essayistic pieces. We’ve never fully collaborated, though we often read each other’s work and give suggestions.
Krysten: We were in the same cohort in the MFA program at UMass, and I think we’re used to looking at each other’s work when it’s a hot-mess and new-new. Usually, Kurt’s the first person to hear something when I have a bad draft, sitting at the dining room, and I just yell it into the living room where he is and ask, “Is this any good?” or at least “What is this doing?” He’s my first audience a lot of the time because that’s how my editing process works. I like to hear stuff aloud when I’m drafting and revising. He’s a good listener and can hear when I’m using too many syllables on one line or when the voice seems inconsistent. I’m working on a manuscript, but I’m not sure what it is yet. I just keep putting poems in a pile that I feel talk to each other and attempt to cultivate places of power in their witnessing. This world is difficult, and I’ve been writing about surviving in it.
Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways? Do you think you have influenced each other’s styles or work?
Kurt: My work has become more magical realist than it used to be, less straightforward. I know Krysten has pushed my poetry to greater social relevance.
Krysten: Thankfully, yes. In high school, my poetry rhymed and was about a lot of sad flowers. There are some sad flowers in my new stuff, but they do more work than just being sad. The MFA program taught me how to use research to inform my narrative and subjects in my poems. A few weeks ago, we were at a party and a fiction writer friend was surprised that poets research too. I think all writers should research and research looks like a lot of different things. Sometimes, it’s talking to an aunt about how your black family ended up in Missouri. Sometimes, it’s spending some time where a building you are writing about once stood. It doesn’t always have to be about sitting behind a stack of books, but I love that too. Kurt’s work influences me to try on strange scenarios in poetry and sometimes get away from “what happened that one time.”
Who/what are you reading lately?
Kurt: I just finished Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which is funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Krysten: I read everything, but when I’m teaching, I like reading fiction on my way to work. I’m wrapping up Matt Ruff’s terrifying book, Lovecraft Country. The characters deal with the racism and horror of Jim Crow America and some disturbing mythical horror as well. I think Jordan Peele is producing it for a show on HBO. I’ll watch that.
Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
Krysten: I have a few new poems coming out in Up the Staircase in August. I got those poems accepted the day after my birthday after two years of getting a least one rejection on my actual birthday.
Kurt: I have a few poems out in the world, but still looking out for acceptances! *Fingers crossed*
And in the style of 2000s-era email surveys…
What’s your favorite animal & why?
Kurt: I think that pangolins are the coolest-looking animals, but I think this question is supposed to go further, in a more metaphorical direction. So I guess there, I think wisdom is something lacking in much of our ethical and political discourse, so let’s say the owl, more specifically, having grown up in the country, the barn owl.
Krysten: ELEPHANTS. They are better than most human beings.
Rain or sun?
Kurt: I always liked the way colors look so much deeper when it’s overcast, so beauty-wise, rain. But can’t get enough Vitamin D to stay well-regulated, so sun emotionally-speaking.
Krysten: I draw a lot of sparkly energy from a good thunderstorm, but I’m a chicken when it comes to thunder. When it gets too bad, I go hide with the cat. I like the time just before rain hits when everything seems to change color and even smells different. Boston’s weather can be like a bad relationship where you spend a few days in the sun forgetting all the bad stuff for a bit just to be surprised by weeks of cold and ice-spit in your face.
What’s the last song you listened to?
Kurt: Just walked home listening to “Moving Like a Train” by Herbert, which has a great motoring disco beat to it.
Krysten: I danced by myself in the kitchen to “Point of Being Right” by Shannon and the Clams. The cat endured it so that she could get fed.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep?
Kurt: I actually went without sleep for 55-or-so hours once. Late in my senior year of high school, I got up early to take the SAT, went to prom, stayed up all night at an after-prom party. Then I got home on Sunday afternoon to do an essay I’d put off for school (probably slacking a lot along the way), worked all night, and went to school the next day. The stupidity of being young.
If you could spend next year living in the setting of any book, TV show, or movie, where would you choose and why?
Krysten: This question is very important to me. I used to write (what I didn’t recognize at the time as) fan fiction about the 90s tv show, Living Single, with Khadijah, Maxine, Synclaire, and Regine. Maybe we’d get into an impossible situation where I’d have to the prove myself, and then we’d all laugh about what we’d learned over breakfast. Despite my low survival chances, I used to have aspirations to live in Sunnydale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I secretly have always wanted to be a slayer or at least hang out in the Bronze when stuff goes down.
Kurt: I feel like all my favorite settings are awful places that I wouldn’t want to live in. That’s what makes for the best stories as far as I can tell. What about One Hundred Years of Solitude? Though there are horrifying elements to that world, there’s so much beauty and magic as well. Except I don’t know Spanish, so that might be an obstacle.
Tell us a joke you know by heart.
Kurt: I’m bad at telling jokes, so the only one I knew I’d never screw up was “Two guys walk into a bar. The third one ducks.”
Krysten: I’m bad at telling jokes because I get anxious about getting it right. It’s a lot pressure. People say I surprise them with moments of “dry” deadpan humor.
What’s the best thing you ever found at a thrift store?
Kurt: Once we were in a thrift store and found a decorative plate with a baby airbrushed onto it. Its eyes were scarily far apart. Krysten really wanted to get it, but I knew it would haunt us, so I convinced her not to buy it.
Krysten: I regret not buying that for our home office! I’m serious. It was definitely haunted, and I’m about that life. I hope someone gave that doll plate a good home, and that someone is rejoicing over the sound of small doll feet walking around at night.
What’s a word you hate?
Kurt: I don’t think I hate any words. They’re here and they’re beautiful! I know Lloyd Schwartz brought my attention to the word “seep” being overused in poems, so I definitely notice it when I read it now. However, I still have it in a poem, and I’m not changing it!
An Oral History of Our Submersion
by Kurt Klopmeier
The water had risen up
to our knees when the week
previous, it was at our ankles,
and a month before
it had only wet the soles
of our shoes.
We sloshed through days, treading
water, slogging from place
to drowning place,
a slow rising
of all boats that began
to drift aground, to roost.
Canoes and catamarans at first,
but soon, schooners,
yachts, aircraft carriers rose
above our heads, our new clouds.
Some still live
atop those beautiful ships
with the birds and last champagne
reserves while we die from anchors.
Trudging along the seafloor
with our government-issued rebreathers,
the world has dimmed, everything
a green mist. We’ve lost
each other’s faces
to the mouthpiece and mask.
I miss your smile and dry wit
only apparent in the subtle movement
of your eyes.
About the Poem
This is a poem that I finished a bit ago. It paints a pretty dire portrait, but has an over-the-top tone that tries to be satiric, connecting willful ignorance of climate change and its connection to class.
I Keep an Anthology of Hope in Small Things that Grow from Uncertain Places
by Krysten Hill
When I was a little girl, I snuck through
to a vacant lot close to my house to see
sunflowers eating their way out of the frame
of a burned-out car someone scorched rather than tow.
I wasn’t supposed to be that far from the yard,
and risked my ass to see the miracle that grew
through a skeleton of rust to make a broken thing useful again.
If the sunflowers could find their way, flourish in the damp
soil made from composted car seat, and stretch
for the light they needed. If they persisted,
unbidden, then I wanted to make
my mouth and hands
a vehicle those sunflowers
could make a home in.
About the Poem
My backyard opened to a vacant lot behind my house, and one of the first things my baby-poet eyes remembers is seeing flowers and weeds growing in the middle of of burned-out car. I don’t know how long the car had been there, but it belonged to the neighborhood as much as any building. I remember it being so violently beautiful. I made up the part about going in the yard. I was actually pretty scared to break the rules as a kid. I think about that car now as I think about what resilience means to my life today.