By Annette Hinkle
It’s not easy to make a living as a poet … just ask Kathryn Levy who is in the midst of promoting “Reports,” her new collection of poems recently published by New Rivers Press.
“I’m in big marketing mode now and it’s not natural to me,” confesses Levy who has been traveling from one book event to the next in recent weeks.
“I’m going to Fargo and the Twin Cities and I just did a big event in the city,” says Levy who will be at Canio’s Books this Saturday to read from “Reports,” and has more events lined up for spring.
“I’m getting terrific responses, but its not about writing poetry,” says Levy. “I’m so eager to go back to being a poet. I can’t tell you.”
Levy is the first to admit it’s ridiculous for her to complain about the busy work associated with the publication of a new book, but it does interfere with the solitude she requires in order to write.
“In a month, the hoopla will be over and it will be winter in Sag Harbor — and there will be plenty of solitude,” she says.
In fact, Levy is thankful to be in the position she’s in and she acknowledges she has many poet friends who would love to be in her shoes right about now — especially because the tone of “Reports” is decidedly not what’s trending in poetry these days.
“It’s not ‘cool’,” she says, “and ‘cool’ is the order of the day — in fiction, poetry and the world at large.”
Levy’s book may not be “cool,” per se, but it is, she notes, full of passion, strange synapses and punctuation that doesn’t fall into a clear format. Truth be told, Levy, who found her calling as a poet at the tender age of 9, doesn’t much care about what’s expected and is not particularly concerned about being au courant in her work. In fact, publication has never been a high priority and for years, she didn’t even send her work out largely because of the frustrations inherent in the submission process. Levy maintains she was quite happy even in the years she wasn’t being published because it’s the process itself, not the print, that inspires her.
“It’s important for me to go deeply into the solitude and live in it,” explains Levy of her process. “This business of marketing works against the solitude I need for writing. I don’t have time to do the kind of serious writing I need to do and it makes me crazy.”
While there are many people in the world who fear solitude, for Levy, it’s a prerequisite for creativity. She recites the words of poet Robert Penn Warren who described solitude as a “blankness that makes accidents happen.”
“I understand what he means,” says Levy. “If I allow myself to be solitary and quiet — not on the Internet, not watching TV or talking to people — things bubble up in my head that would not appear otherwise.”
“For me, I tend to look pretty closely at the darker elements of life. I would do that whether I was writing or not,” she adds. “The writing is actually salvation for and me. It takes those dark thoughts and makes them into art. That’s very much what writing poetry is for me – it transcends the darkens. It’s not just the outcome, but the process of working on the music, the words and craft.”
“It’s a paradox,” she concedes.
The process can also be liberating. Levy saw that firsthand in the 1980s and ‘90s when she taught poetry to inner city school children, many of whom had experienced horrific violence in their lives.
“They had experienced gun violence, seen parents killed, they had to dodge bullets,” she says. “They would write about this and feel elated because of act of writing. They were putting it in a container and making it their own. That’s powerful.”
While poetry is an effective way to share very personal stories, Levy is quick to point out that though her poems come from her own life and dreams, they are not autobiographical per se.
“You are creating fictions — and creating fictions is a wonderful way to transcend the terror,” she says.
Though many of the poems in “Reports” delve into the very personal terrain of Levy’s thoughts and experiences, she notes external influences also play a big part in the work.
“I was interested in exploring the contemporary age where there’s so much information coming at you from a lot of sources, but it’s not real enough,” explains Levy. “Like images of wars on TV, it’s too easy to wage war and not feel the pain of what it means.”
External influences were the initial focus when Levy began the writing process, but soon she found herself delving deeper — exploring voices from her past, voices from her dreams and what it’s like to be a women working through the trials and tribulations of middle-age in a culture that values youth over experience.
“For me, the book has a narrative arc,” says Levy. “The sections — ‘Driving All Night,’ which is about trying to get somewhere you never arrive at, or ‘The Lovers,” where they’re not just lovers, but strangers, and ‘The Middle Way’ of middle age and ‘Bedtime Stories’ — trying to somehow get through the nights when the ghosts arrive.”
“I call the past a book of stories you can’t stop reading,” she says. “You’re trying to make sense of it, mythologize it and understand who you are. For me the act of writing is the act of discovery. I write because I have to.”
“When you write, you fight back and make the terrain your own,” she adds.
Poet Kathryn Levy reads from her latest collection, “Reports” this Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 5 p.m. at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. Call 725-4926 for details.