Monday, November 8, 2010
Kat Mortensen in da house!!
Okay, its nearly three o'clock in the morning and look who's just dropped in, all the way from Kitchener, Ontario - my favourite Canadian poet, Kat Mortensen. Kat brought out Shadowstalking in the summer and I loved it so much, I read it all through in one sitting. Its accessible, its very funny, its also somewhat sad. And the wordsmithery is terrific. Basically, its where I'm trying to get to - combining humour and depth, but remaining understandable to poets and non-poets alike. Buy it, I urge you - you won't regret it (see side panel for details)
So how does she do it? Lets try to get inside her head.
Q. Quite a number of the poems in Shadowstalking take a wry look at death and dying from unusual angles. Does this mask a fascination with mortality and is the book an extension of the desire to make your mark on the world?
Kat:You got me on one hand, Peter. I do have a bit of a preoccupation with death and dying and it is largely down to having been raised Catholic with anticipation of another, better life to come. I haven’t always been as fascinated with it, but when my dad became ill and his death was inevitable, it made me start to think not only about his dying, but about the possibility of my own. I would make these bargains with god: while in the process of moving my parents and making repeated journeys at all hours across a notorious highway, I would think, Well he’s surely going to keep us alive until we accomplish this, isn’t he? Right up to my father’s death, I thought, I must be safe, because god would want me to be there for my mom, right? Even now, I feel pretty comfortable because we are moving in with my mom and I don’t think he’d pull the rug out from under me while that’s happening. You get my drift, here?
All joking (or is it?) aside, I have long had this notion that my life wouldn’t be a particularly long one. I’ve dodged death on two occasions – first at age 11 when I was struck down by my friend’s bike and had concussion, and second when I was struck by a car while on vacation in Letterkenny, Ireland.
My father used to believe you would stay on this earth as long as you had a job to do in the eyes of God. I’m not sure I’m fulfilling that, but I’m trying not to offend him (God) too much. I hope I’m worthy of a few more years, at least!
As for an ulterior motive to make a mark on the world, I guess we all want to leave some sort of mark, don’t we? I’m not obsessed with becoming a household name, but deep down I suppose I’d like to be picked up by a publisher in some capacity, be it a collection of poems, a book for children, or even a memoir. It remains to be seen whether or not I can garner that sort of interest, I guess.
Q. What's your favourite chocolate bar?
Kat: My favourite chocolate bar isn't really a bar at all; I love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (they're really good if you take the mini ones and plop them into a pan of brownie batter before it's baked).
Q. Your rhyming and rhythm is immaculate in the book. What is your attitude to half-rhymes and nearly-rhymes? What kind of process do you go through to come up not just with perfect rhymes but also such unforced rhyming?
Kat: It really depends on the nature of the poem, for me. If I’m attempting something in a classic form, then I want it to be perfect – letter-perfect. I won’t be satisfied with half-rhymes or “nearly-rhymes” in that instance. If I’m writing “off-the-cuff” and it’s more of a spilling out of emotion, then I’m a bit more flexible and will even go for something where an ending is spelled identically, but pronounced differently. However, it must be said that it goes against my grain somewhat, and those sorts of poems that I’ve written, I inevitably end up viewing as inferior to my classic ones with the more precise and meticulous rhymes.
I have found, that I cannot write any poem unless it has rhyme of some sort involved in it. As well, I’m very fond of alliteration.When it comes to my process—you’ll laugh at this—I do it the old-fashioned way; I take the base words and rhyme them up in my head from a-z. So, if the word is “blood” (don’t ask where that came from) I would say to myself, “blood, a,b,c,d,e, flood, etc.” (really bad example that, since “flood” is the only rhyme – ha!), but you see what I’m saying. For more complex rhymes with double endings, I write them out and go through the alphabet, then I walk away and kind of let it all swirl around in my head while I’m doing something else. Eventually, things come to the surface that I knew were buried in there somewhere.
You can’t imagine the number of scraps of paper I have lying around that have words with lists of their rhyming counterparts.
When all else fails, I use an online rhyming dictionary.
Q. Similar to the question above, your poems are accessible and easily understandable. Do you write with an audience in mind, or for yourself, and do you detect a prejudice in serious literary circles against accessible poetry?
Kat:I may write with the intention to entertain an audience, but I always write for myself and I am my own worst critic. The problem is, once I have a poem that I like, I am driven to share it and am dying for feedback. It really is very much an addiction. I get an idea, I get it into the shape I want and then I want others to have a part of it. I liken it to spending a while in the kitchen, preparing something special and then serving it up. Well, you want to hear people say, “Mmm, this is delicious! and “Wow, you’re a great cook! or, “I really enjoyed that!” don’t you? For me, it’s the same with my poetic offerings; I want to know that people read it and enjoyed it. When you work at something, especially if it is a creative impulse and endeavour, you do most certainly want to know what people think. I mean, I don’t believe blogs would even be in existence unless that principle was fulfilled, do you?
As for prejudice against accessible poetry, the only thing I can say on that score is that those who think of themselves as “serious” literary people, generally are highly educated, have crammed their heads with every masterpiece and highly-acclaimed thing ever written (well, almost) and as such, I don’t think they’re capable of bending so low as to entertain the notion of reading, what, to their minds is “doggerel”. Well, I’ve always liked dogs, so I personally have no problem with it at all (and I’m fairly well educated too).
All kidding aside, it is their loss. There is much that is being written that will never be acknowledged as “serious literature”, but in the scheme of things, who really has the right to say what is “serious” and what isn’t? For that matter, who has the right to define “literature” at all?
What’s sad, is that there are so many undiscovered and never-to-be-discovered poets and writers out there who will always be too afraid to compete with the so-called “legitimate” ones and the joke is, we’re all only human and we’re all going to die and once we’re gone, we’re not going to give a crap anyway. (Paging Pandora! Please come and shut your box!)
Q. How tall are you? (inspired question, eh?)
Kat: 5' 4"
Q. Most first time authors secretly hope their book will prove to be the publishing sensation of the century. Invariably we are disappointed. Has the experience cured you of the desire to self-publish or has it only served to propel you further into the murky world of authorship?
Kat: I never deluded myself into thinking that my book would sweep the universe and become a huge hit. (I didn’t work nearly hard enough for that to happen, to begin with.) For just an inkling, at the beginning, when there was a bit of a flurry of activity, I thought there might be a chance that it would be a little more successful, but that flicker soon died out.
Has it dissuaded me from writing another? Not at all! Now that I know where I can self-publish and how to go about it, that’s an option of course, but I’d love to send something to a publisher and have it taken on. (I guess that spectre of legitimacy is always present, in a way.)
Currently, I have about three possibilities for the direction I plan to go next. I’m always (and I mean always) whittling away at some idea in my head – whether it’s how to configure my blogs, or what poem I want to write, or what I’m cooking for dinner— there is something brewing on a continuous flame and it’s accompanied by a musical soundtrack, pieced together from snippets of ads, radio and my own eclectic collection on iTunes (which is also probably why I enjoy rhyme so much).
So keep your eye on me, there’ll be something new coming for sure. It might be self-published and it might not, but there will be poetry in it!
Please go ahead and order Shadowstalking immediately. It can be ordered here
Now Kat, you may sleep in the spare room because I'm off to bed. Many thanks for visiting but try and make it at a more sociable hour next time.