“Often the poems I like best are the ones I’m still trying to figure out.” / Q & A with Poet Kathryn Mockler

Recently noted poet, screenwriter, and editor Kathryn Mockler agreed to answer a few questions online for me. Her noted works include “Onion Man” and “The Saddest Place on Earth.” (Links are to reviews on my old blog)

1) Why do you use poetry to write? Have you ever tried any other forms of writing to express yourself?


KM: I write in a variety of forms. I write short fiction and, until the last couple of years, screenwriting was my primary genre. If a poem occurs to me, I write a poem. If a short story idea comes to mind, I write that. Usually it’s the project that dictates the form for me. Sometimes I adapt my stories or poems into screenplays or videos.


2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?


KM: The writers I admire most concern themselves with social or political critiques. Kafka comes to mind as one of my favourite writers and Kurt Vonnegut too.

At the moment, I’m reading One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin and The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance by Franco “Fifo” Berardi.

3) I recently reviewed a poet who became ecstatic over the review I wrote about her work. She said I was the first reviewer who didn’t complain that “her words didn’t rhyme. Do you find that poetry suffers from a ‘stereotypical’ image that keeps readers away?


KM: It does to some extent. The way poetry was taught when I went to school didn’t make it very appealing, so I understand the resistance. Poetry can feel alienating to new readers because sometimes it is ambiguous and readers feel like they’re not “getting” the poem. One way to move beyond that is to not worry about what it means and break the poem down into its various parts and just ask yourself some questions. What are some of the connotations of the words, what are the lines doing, how is the sound of the language affecting the tone, who is the speaker of the poem, what is the connection between the speaker and the subject, etc. Just being open to the fact that you might get lost in a poem can take away the pressure of feeling like you have to understand it on a first read. Often the poems I like best are the ones I’m still trying to figure out.


4) Onion Man deals with a young woman’s role in a factory. People that I have introduced that book to them have talked how the book made them re-think their role in the workplace AND how they deal with their teenage daughter. Is that the type of reaction you get from people who have read Onion Man?


KM: Many people have told me it reminded them of their past or present jobs or what London was like in the 1980s or being a teenager.


5) At a recent reading of Onion Man, some people around me bristled at some of the language used in the book. How does that make you feel?


KM: Well, I’d rather have them bristling than yawning. The book is written from the point of view of an eighteen-year-old girl, so some to of the language is reflective of that voice.


6) What has been people’s reaction to The Saddest Place on Earth? Do you find people are getting the premise of the book?


KM: The reaction has been very positive. I’ve had some nice reviews in The Winnipeg Free Press, Geist, This Magazine, Canadian Poetries.


A couple of the poems will be included in an anthology edited by Jonathan Ball and Ryan Fitzpatrick called Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental English Canadian Poetry which is coming out with Insomniac in the Spring 2014.


7) Are you planning any new writing projects in the future?


KM: I’m always working on a variety of projects at once. Some poetry, a screenplay, a novel idea that I’ve been kicking around for a few years.


At the moment, I’m working on a series of poems that I’m posting on my blog. They are a response to my concerns about the Canadian government’s attack on scientists and the environment.


8) Your Twitter and Facebook comments are filled with unique and quirky observations about the world around you. What inspires you the most to comment about the world?


KM: I guess my bleak view of humanity and the world inspires me to comment on it. I usually try to do it through humour. I suppose I see these updates as little poems—a way of writing when I’m too busy to write.


9) Your husband has illustrated both your books. Does the role in helping you with your work end there or does he play a bigger part?


KM: My husband is the first reader of everything I write. He’s also my humour gage. If I can make him laugh, then I can usually make other people laugh. We also collaborate on video and art projects. We collaborated on a video series called The Reluctant Narrator which was based on several poems from The Saddest Place on Earth.


10) You are presently teaching creative writing at the University of Western Ontario. Does doing that job help you with your creative writing projects?


KM:  It doesn’t help me with my projects specifically, but it’s a nice compliment to writing. It’s nice to teach in an area where the students are genuinely interested and excited. Their enthusiasm can be contagious.

Kathryn Mockler’s website

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