When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I think my first encounter with poetry was in nursery rhymes and jump-rope chants. Through them I learned about rhythm and rhyme. Then in high school, I fell in love with the poems of Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay, and e.e. cummings. I wanted to write poems like theirs.
My father was a star football player, coach and director of athletics who loved to write “light verse” for occasions like retirement dinners, sports luncheons, and Kiwanis events, where he was often a master of ceremonies. I have early memories of Dad sitting on the couch with a yellow legal pad and pen in hand, staring into space and mumbling to himself—sound like he was modeling a poet for me? He would also occasionally walk around the house reciting from memory: “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service; and his favorite poet was Ogden Nash, whom he could quote at random. In a way, all of that normalized poetry, and being a poet, as a part of a life.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I like to write on my laptop, which is the only computer I own, and these days I write at home at my desk. I also enjoy writing in the A&J King Bakery (and coffee shop) in Salem, but of course that hasn’t been possible since March 2020.
I don’t have a writing routine, but I do have an external structure of commitments that keeps me writing fairly regularly. I meet with three other poets on Zoom every other Tuesday morning and I have to have three poems (either new or revised) ready to workshop at each of those meetings. On the alternate Tuesdays I go to the Salem Atheneum for a Writers Studio – fancy name for study hall or quiet space for writers. Every Thursday I meet with other poets for breakfast at a local Salem café or on Zoom. Those conversations are wide-ranging about life and poetry, and are unfailingly supportive. Also, I participate in The Cleanse for the first week of every month where ten or so poets each write a poem a day and share those with the other writers via email—without expecting any comments or critique.
Where do your poems most often “come from”—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
There isn’t any single particular source, though I do often get ideas for lines or poems in the shower! I like prompts; and my poems can also come from memories, reading someone else’s poem, or sometimes from just a word. Close observation of people or nature, or an incident on the subway can inspire me, too. In other words, just about anything can become a poem.
Which writers (living or dead) have influenced you the most?
My favorite poet is Wislawa Szymborska, as she is translated into English by Clare Cavanagh. I would most like to be able to write like her. For me, she epitomizes the adage, “take your work seriously and yourself lightly.” I love her wit, curiosity, and simple elegance of the poems—profound in their often off-beat perspective.
At this point there are probably a hundred other poets that I have loved or returned to more than once, or anticipated reading. Surfeit of riches.
What excites you most about your new collection?
Frankly, the cover and book design that CavanKerry Press produced totally blew me away when I first saw it. I am excited also about the notes I have received from friends from other parts of my life who have bought and enjoyed the poems, and I am very grateful to the people who helped me polish the poems and find the best arrangement for the collection.
The apples will not care
that I didn’t walk this morning
or never learned a second language
or read Proust
or was not a better supervisor.
Knowing that atoms of my body come from stars
that died five billion years ago
and will be available
five billion years from now in some other body
or drop of water
or apple lying in the orchard path
is oddly comforting.
Red and purple sunsets from the bluff above the pond
or Katahdin on a full moon night
or “Silent Night” sung by candlelight
or the smiles of my grandsons
will be of no consequence to a drop of water.
I will be as dust drifting
on a solar wind,
and planet, untroubled and unconscious.
This much-worried, much-loved life—
atoms strewn across a galaxy of galaxies.
Purchase Pelted By Flowers
Kali Lightfoot lives in Salem, MA. Her poems and reviews of poetry have appeared in journals and anthologies, been nominated twice for Pushcart, and once for Best of the Net. Her debut poetry collection, Pelted by Flowers, was chosen one of Lambda Literary’s “Most Anticipated” books in April 2020 and is now available from CavanKerry Press, Bookshop.org and local bookstores. Kali earned an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, find her at kali-lightfoot.com.