"I do believe almost everyone has a poem in them. And a song. And a strange little painting. It's my goal, in teaching, to assist students in the unearthing of their own treasures..."


Kathleen Lynch

Interview by Joan Houlihan

Kathleen Lynch has published poetry, fiction, essays, and B&W photographs. Her "How to Build an Owl" won the Select Poet Series Award from Small Poetry Press. Her poems have been published in many journals, including Poetry East, Poetry Flash, Poetry Northwest, Sycamore Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Quarterly West, and Chariton Review. She has work forthcoming in Poetry, Nimrod, The English Journal, The Laurel Review, Slipstream, and Disquieting Muses. She lives in Loomis, California, where she studies clay sculpture, works as a free lance writer and conducts writing workshops.

Perihelion Verbatim:  Do you think there is an identifiable "west coast" style in poetry? Can you use a few words to describe it?

Since just about every population on earth is represented on the west coast, I think the poetry from this region is eclectic, wide-ranging and open
to all comers. Like any other regionís, some of it is horrid, lots fair-to-decent, & some: sparklers. 

When did you start writing poetry? Why?

While in high school, I began writing poems secretly. Secretly, because in the late Ď50s in Sacramento, poetry was not a path to popularityĖ-something 
a "dip" or "dud" would do. And I did. But donít tell anyone.

"Why?" Ė because I loved the sounds of poems, the music of them, the strangeness and difficulty.

Who would you say are your poetic influences?

The most important poetic influence is probably not a who, but a what. A condition. We had parents who read aloud to us. The only poetry book we
had in our home was The Best Loved Poems of the American People. Mom read from it regularly. When old enough, I read it repeatedly, as avidly as I read comic books. That, and the dictionary. I loved the tissue--thin pages, the tiny illustrations, the inserts of flags, ships, knots, etc.

Also, we had no television in our home until I was well into my teens, so I had the opportunity to experience some healthy boredom, which helped
foster a life of the mind - the mind making things up.

Regarding teachers: in my mid twenties, I had the great fortune of studying for three semesters with Dennis Schmitz at California State University
in Sacramento. He is a much honored, widely published poet, and a truly great teacher. That was the bedrock scholastic experience for me. I am not an academic poet, and did not attend any official Poetry Workshops. Every now and then I took myself to a class, or to a summer workshop. In that way, I studied briefly with Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, Stephen Dunn, Linda Gregg, Phil Dacey. But for the most part, I have studied and
written alone for over 30 years. 

I am currently a member of an outstanding writing group. We meet every other week in Berkeley. The level of writing and criticism is very high. Itís
a valued resource for me. 

In looking for a writing group, I suggest poets try to find one in which there are writers whose level of accomplishment is equal to or greater than their own. Itís not very helpful to oneís development to be the Star. 

You run a writing workshop--would you say a workshop, or some kind of study of writing, is essential to fostering good writing? 

Definitely study. Read widely and deeply. And not just contemporary poets. Not just poets. Study the sciences, music, art. Learn to cook. Travel.
Itís all connected. It all broadens the work.

I donít think a writing workshop is the only way to learn to write. But for some writers, it can temporarily provide a focused environment and the 
fellowship of other writers. But too much "workshopping" can be addictive and demoralizing, just as too much shopping can sap the soul and kill time. 

Do you think there is such a thing as a "workshop poem"? 

Oh, yes. I think thereís a proliferation of them now, even in the best magazines. Some workshop leaders try to help students find their own voices, explore language intuitively, intelligently. Others, unfortunately, teach Tricks of the Trade workshops. Perhaps even unwittingly, they urge students 
to develop a certain attitude in the work, to use contrivances that make the poem "look like a poem." 

Workshops often push students into the publishing process too soon. When the focus of the writer turns prematurely to  the business of getting
published, they face the danger of turning poems into commodities. Something for the marketplace. If the writer is skilled, he or she may be able to "crank
out" clever and engaging poems, win praise, publication, etc.  But they may lose the humility which is essential to the process of true learning. 

Fundamentally, I believe writing poetry is a way of learning how to think. To think deeply and differently. To discover what is surprising in oneís
own mind, and in the secret world of things. Given that, I hope always to be a student of poetry, a learner. 

Do you think everyone has talent in writing and it's just a matter of the right kind of influences/nurturing to develop their talent?

I donít think everyone has talent with a capital T, but I do believe almost everyone has a poem in them. And a song. And a strange little painting.
Itís my goal, in teaching, to assist students in the unearthing of their own treasures. To help bring them into the world. Even if they donít go on
to "become poets," they will have seen poetry in a different light. Perhaps they will become actual readers of poetry. 

You work with other art forms--sculpture, photography. Does your creative process tend to dictate the medium or do you decide ahead of time which form you want to work in? 

Writing is my primary medium, but it is fed by, and feeds, the other work. If I feel stalled verbally, I turn to the mute work. Itís another way to
study. It opens all the pores. I think of the imagination as a big old house. If I canít get in through the front (stuck) door, Iíll try a window, Iíll
squeeze down the chimney. I will get in. 

Do the different mediums impact each other? In what ways?

Yes, I do think there is a "dialogue" between the works. In sculpture, as in a poem, the negative space, the silence, what you donít put there,
matters as much as what you do. Itís an antidote to overspeaking. With the photographs, I feel closer to story, to narrative. While working on a photo series, I often find a new direction I need to take in the writing. A shift reveals itself to me. It does seem that when Iím working on sculpture, my poems
are more spare, & when doing a photo series, the poems more narrative.

Do you think poets need to learn form and technique before they can be considered "real "poets?

I donít know what a "real" poet is. I suspect it doesnít necessarily mean famous, nor widely published. I do think that a real working poet
inevitably will study form, in order to know the underpinnings of free verse. Some discover they are drawn to working in form, or learn a way to impose a self-invented form of their own, to intensify and challenge the work.

Do you think there is a central emotion/idea that you return to in your poems and express in different ways? In other words, what is your poetic "obsession"?

Love and Terror. Survival. Joy Ė because of and in spite of everything. 

What, if anything, does living in California have to do with your poetry?

Nada. I was born in upstate New York on a Navy base during the war (1943). We moved to Sacramento when I was a few months old. At age 30 I left California, lived 6 years in eastern 
Washington, then Connecticut, then San Jose, CA, then Poway, CA (about 1/2 hour from San Diego), then Pleasanton, CA (bay area), then Fremont, CA,
and finally, moved to Loomis, CA. Loomis is about 1/2 hour from Sacramento, so I am back "home," in a sense, after a journey of 25 years away. 

I do think "place" has an impact on any writerĖ any person, for that matter. And I believe that we each have a "psycic landscape," one that somehow
speaks to us unconsciously. I know forest people, ocean people, etc. I used to believe I was a "meadow" person, until, in my forties, I moved south and discovered the desert. I felt such a deep sense of recognition in that "alien" place. A correspondence. The vastness of land and sky. All that air. Hard-tested survivors. Starkness rendering each shadow in high relief: 

Lovely. Terrifying. Mine.