By: Karolina Zapal
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FRUIT you can pick off a tree?
What is your favorite fruit you can pick off a woman? You have to
climb her to get it. Her gems are not bush-gems. The 2D latitude/
longitude grid over her body was placed there by social institution
(intuition), not by God. Her nipple, a bullet moon, equidistant from
her nipple, a gun sun. His mouth puts out the light. Your mouth
can’t reach the light for a reason. You’d be like the bug that gets
squashed for light. Fluttering in the psychology section, screaming,
“Yes! Health! Understanding!” until it gets too hot to stay zipped
up, as if stuck in a tent in the Arizona heat. She likes men who are
decisive because husbands and fathers decide to leave. A fruit
pinches the branch before saying goodbye.
KAROLINA ZAPAL is an itinerant poet, essayist, translator, and author of Polalka (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). Her second book, Notes for Mid-birth, is forthcoming from Inside the Castle in late 2019. She is collaborating with the poet CA Conrad on translating their book, The Book of Frank, into Polish. Her work has appeared in Flock, The Manhattanville Review, Bone Bouquet, Foglifter, Witness, Bombay Gin, and others. Born in Poland and raised in the United States, she wonders about lost cities and impenetrable borders.
Interview with the Poet:
"Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing prose since middle school, when my best friend and I collaborated on writing a story that placed our friends and enemies on an island together, figuring out how to survive. This of course included a number of steamy scenes we formulated in our adolescent brains, and expecting this, we debated long and hard about the cast of characters we would choose to include. I dabbled in poetry in high school in response to classroom assignments—the sestina, the villanelle, the haiku—and though I felt proud of my compositions then, it wasn’t until pursuing the poetry track for my creative writing degree in college that I began to feel like a poet. I had an amazing professor (shoutout to Julie Price!) who believed in my “otherworldly” writing and pushed me to keep exploring forms and perspectives. In graduate school, after dumping my plans to attend medical school, I turned almost entirely away from prose and threw myself at poetic experiments that hinted at the beauty and chaos of everyday life.
This question inspired me to dig up one of the first poems I ever wrote:
21st Century Girl
If eating clouds for breakfast wasn’t enough
To show you that I’ve been dreaming,
Then I don’t know what will.
And if you’ve ripped the pages in those magazines with the beautiful girls,
And stacked them on a scale, they’d weigh as much as the sky.
If you stole my clothes and handed me a camera, I’d know what to do.
And if I had to choose between love and flying,
I’d choose flying.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I cannot recall the title of the poem, but it was by Elaine Equi and had to do with a gift box of chocolates. If someone can find it and bring it back to me, there will be a cash reward! No, unfortunately, as someone who is in love with poetry, I cannot afford a cash reward, but I would like to reread this poem and try to diagnose what about it made me ask my father to scan the book in which it appeared and print it, so I could then cut it into a neat rectangle and place it somewhere special that no longer exists.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
One of my favorite poets is Bob Hicok. His poems about the Virgina Tech massacre were formative in teaching me how to write about disaster and injustice. I return to his books often, especially when I want to “go back to the drawing board,” so to speak, after reading or writing more hybrid forms. His poems are brilliant simple creatures that smile at me like my bare feet in the grass or a hairful of sunshine. This isn’t to say they’re all cheerful poems, but they do ground me. They wipe my slate so I can start over, eager and inspired. Another poet that has been speaking to me lately is Rachel Zucker. In my professional life, II have fallen into a time warp, trying to find lucrative and meaningful employment, and her honest, formless (yet form-ful in being formless) poems have made me feel like I still belonged inside of time. Some of my other favorite poets are: CA Conrad, Daniel Borzutzky, Bhanu Kapil, Mary Ruefle, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Dao Strom, and Anne Carson. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I strive to write in the mornings with a poetry book and a strong cup of coffee at my side. If I write in the afternoon or evening, it usually also involves a strong cup of coffee. I know coffee is a cliche ritual for a writer, but the caffeine and bold taste make me come running to poetry, as if it were a bell. As for writing process, it is easier for me to enter into the writing space when I am working on an ongoing project and have recently written new material I’m excited to review and add to. For individual pieces, I collect notes on a particular experience or feeling for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, put it all in a document, and arrange.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
A little bit of both. For longer projects, I usually have a form in mind when I dive in, although oftentimes I change or play with the form as I work. I am inspired by books that feature all kinds of forms throughout, books that don’t rely on form as their thread of cohesion (form is to cohesion in poetry as color and material are to cohesion in fashion design). Thus, I try to give myself the freedom to jump forms when the content calls for it. With shorter pieces, it’s usually easier to read what form an idea wants to take, although this, too, sometimes changes in the revision process. I take a lot of inspiration regarding form from whatever book I’m reading at the time. How I read bleeds into how I write.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Some of the best advice I received was this (I’ll sum it up in two parts): 1. Poetry is everywhere. It is a personal detail. It is note taking. It is that girl’s gum-stuck hair on a long-winded ride across town. It is not epiphany or revelation (at least in intention). Every idea and observation, no matter how quirky or unrevised, belongs in poetry. 2. You can write poetry anywhere, anytime. Because poetry is everywhere, one’s ability to write is everywhere, too. Writer’s block is just fear in disguise. For me, it’s a fear to start or approach. The solution is to write all the time, even if the bulk of it never goes anywhere. Certain phrases or lines will shine through, like my eyes through my forever-smudged glasses.
What is your editing process like?
I have an ideal editing process, and then I have the one that I use. In my ideal editing process, I leave the poem alone for a while once I have reached a good stopping point in order to forget what I had just written and return to the work with new eyes. However, what ends up happening is this: I feverishly tinker with a piece for hours, days, weeks, changing a word here, moving a line there, without ever giving the poem room to breathe. I work on it with a gradually increasing sense of distaste until I end up leaving it alone anyway, without intending to pick it up again. Months or years later, I reread it, like it, make some small tweaks, and consider it complete. One fun editing trick I have is to put the entire poem (and any notes associated with it) through the Bonsai Story Generator (http://www.critters.org/bonsai/), which mixes up my words and gets me to think about them in a whole new light. I often end up revising my lines based on this scribble-scramble.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
You just know?? Poem charming will prance in on his high horse (he has a stable full of them), you’ll take one look at him, and the rest will be history. This isn’t entirely untrue, but the real answer is that I know when I have either exhausted an idea, completed a narrative arc, or simply written a line fit for an ending. It is rare, but sometimes a line is so good and final that to say anything after it would be like warming someone’s seat on a nice summer day. When I write prose poetry, I like to swerve off course on the last line, subverting the seemingly narrative form. "