Sunday, January 31, 2016

Laurie Kuntz responds

Laurie Kuntz: My bio is as elusive as my estrogen levels. Sometimes I remember I am a poet and sometimes not. I lived and worked as a writer and teacher in the Philippines, Thailand and Japan for 35 years, but am now in nomadic retirement mode. My poetic themes are a result of working with Southeast Asian refugees, living as an expatriate, and being an empty nester. Three of my poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. My chapbook,  Women at the Onsen, was published by Blue Light Press; another chapbook, Simple Gestures, won the Texas Review Chapbook Contest; and my full length poetry collection, Somewhere in the Telling, was published by Mellon Press.  I enjoyed long walks with my two dogs, Sage and Merlin, named for wisdom and magic, but unfortunately both dogs are running loose in doggy heaven, so now I walk alone with haiku angels.
DV: So, tell me, Laurie, how did you get into the writing game? Especially, how or when or why did you decide to be a poet? 
LK: When I was a child, my father turned off his TV, (the Mets must have been losing ), and he read me a poem. That was my beginning. In high school a rogue English teacher read me an e. e. cummings poem, that was another beginning.... some place in between those two beginnings, I picked up a pen and "opened  a vein," as they say, and I began.

DV: Well, back then the Mets were always losing, so I guess it was just a matter of time  that Casey Stengel and his boys would open a door for your dad. And cummings! I used to hate him. I always read a lot, and widely, but I guess my tastes were pretty conventional. The process of figuring out "in Just-" -- not only why it was constructed the way it was but the layers of meaning and association that could be peeled away like an an onion -- was an important milestone in my own development.  Do you remember your first poem -- not necessarily in the sense of being able to recite it, but the way it came into being?

LK: My first poems were written in the voice of teenage angst questioning the universe. I wanted to make a difference, and felt poetry allowed me to do so. Of course, those first poems were dreadful, but writing them allowed me to have a voice and a direction for the voice to go.

DV: Once you found a voice and a direction, how have you been able to stay on track? You've obviously been at it for some time.
LK: As Bob Dylan says: I 'm a poet and I know it, hope I don't blow it. Poets pay attention to details and consider every moment in life fodder for a poem. So, for me, even if I am not writing daily, I still feel I am on track, as every experience, even the mundane, has the potential to be turned into a poem.

DV: Wow! "I Shall Be Free No. 10!" That's certainly one of Dylan's more obscure songs. I find it very odd that it appeared on ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN, while "Mr. Tambourine Man," of all things, was left off. The last verse begins, "Now you’re probably wondering by now / Just what this song is all about." Do you ever feel that way about your work or your audience? How do you react to that feeling?

LK: There is a famous quote, much controversy as to who said it, many people think this is a Robert Browning quote, but it has been attributed to the German writer, Johann Paul Friedrich Richter. Regardless, the quote goes something like this:  "When I wrote it, only God and I knew the meaning; now God alone knows."  For me, God is a metaphor in this sense, to the universal audience. I believe that regardless of what I originally meant my poem to mean, poetry is dynamic, like language, forever changing. So one day the poem might be a love story, but on the next reading it might be a political statement (and aren't all love stories political?). So when I write, when the poem is finished, it goes out to the universe-- as a gift. God is my audience, they will garner the meaning they need.

DV: I too think love stories are political, especially in the sense of the popular quote from LOVE STORY, about "never having to say I'm sorry." It's hard for me to imagine that you never wrote a love poem, because the theme is so ubiquitous, especially for beginning writers. But, however they may actually turn out, do you sometimes write what are intended to be political poems?

LK: Oh, I am not saying that I never wrote a love poem, actually I think all of my poems are love poems. Love has many facets, so a bittersweet poem written to a husband of many years is a love poem, a poem written in a motherly tone is a love poem, and political poems are most definitely love poems ... love for a homeland, love for freedom, love for humanity... it all adds up to love. I worked with Southeast Asian refugees for 12 years in Thailand and in the Philippines, much of my canon of work is a result of working with refugees, these are my political poems, as are my poems about marriage, parenting, and identity. For me, the strong political poem is not a soap box poem, but one which takes a detail(s) and creates a metaphor for a larger statement. One of my favorite political poems is "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," by Adam Zagajewski, which appeared in the New Yorker Magazine on Sept 23, 2001 and is the iconic poem for 9/11.  In this poem, the poet  talks about curtains and feathers and  "the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns." 
DV: Southeast Asia, Japan. These are considered to be "exotic" places by most people. How about New York? Is that where you grew up? Were you an habitue of Greenwich Village back in your formative years?

LK: Yes, I grew up in
Brooklyn, which is now what seems to be the hippest place on earth.  When I grew up in Brooklyn, born in the fifties and bred in the sixties, Brooklyn had no status--most of my friends wanted to lose the accent, which I, through no fault of  my own, still have. I was in high school when the 60's were raging, and I do have memories of Greenwhich Village. I remember wanting to change my look from collegiate high school girl to hippie, and my best friend and I took the subway to the East Village, and we went to  a seedy second hand store and bought leather fighter bomber jackets, which was my emblem for the 60's... I wore it to Woodstock, to the Pentagon to march against the Vietnam War and to every street corner hangout.  My mother hated that jacket and all it symbolized, and one day unbeknownst  to me, she threw it out.   I wish I still had that leather jacket, it was very cool. I met my husband in Brooklyn in front of the Jolly Bull Pub on Flatbush Ave... Just this summer, my husband and I passed by the building, no longer a pub, but the building is still there--we were with our 27 year old son, who has heard "We met at the Jolly Bull Pub" story many times---it was a most Aha moment for me.

DV: In the Village, did you attend any of the folksingers' or Beat poets' performances? Dylan? Kerouac? Did the ambience affect you any way, artistically?
LK: No, unfortunately, I did not get to see the beat poets or the folksingers.  I was in high school and bound by parental rule. But I did go to Woodstock! And, of course the ambiance of the sixties had a huge effect on me socially and artistically then and now --Go Bernie Sanders!

DV: Many people write poems at some time in their lives without considering themselves to be "poets." When did you first come to identify yourself in those terms?
LK: I started to feel validated as a poet when I found myself in a community of poets.  Showing one's poems to friends and lovers is not validation, friends and lovers will always say you are the next Shakespeare. Validation came when I started publishing poems, when I went to poetry workshops, when I went to grad school for my MFA in writing. The people I met in these venues offered validation through constructive criticism, a passion for the art, and camaraderie.  These are the essentials for feeling validated as a poet, and of course, getting published. Getting published is the Ben and Jerry's flavor of the month for validation -- so thanks, Duane.

DV: Gertrude Stein said we should write for ourselves and strangers. 

LK: I loved doing this interview; it really helps me think about the art.

DV: Do you have anything you would like to say before we close this interview?

LK: "Carry on, love is coming, love is coming to us all."


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