April is National Poetry Month! Often, as poets, when we do interviews we approach them in a journalistic fashion, even as Ezra Pound reminds us, “poetry is news that stays news.” Over the next few months, I wanted to see what would happen if Minnesota poets were interviewed as poet to poet, through the forms we work in the most. This month, we have an interview with poet Kris Bigalk.
Kris Bigalk (pronounced BEE-yahk) is a poet, writer, and educator from the Twin Cities. Her first poetry collection, Repeat the Flesh in Numbers, was published in February by NYQ Books. You visit her website at www.krisbigalk.com
She has published poetry in many literary magazines, including The Water~Stone Review, The Minnetonka Review, The New York Quarterly, Silk Road, and the cream city review. Kris was awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant in Poetry in 2010 and 2012, and was a poetry contributor at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 2010 and 2011. In 2009, she served as Writer-in-Residence at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, and subsequently curated the Banfill-Locke Reading Series.
Kris designed and now directs the creative writing program at Normandale Community College, where she recently was honored with a Board of Trustees Outstanding Educator Award. She holds an Master of Arts in Teaching and an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University-Mankato, an MA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Florida State University, and a BA in English from Drake University.
She graciously sat down to talk with us about everything from kudzu to Rabelais, the power of language and the roots of success:
Knowledge rises, inspires, sustains,
Risk is sometimes kind,
Informing silken, keening roads,
Secretly keeping ideas repeatable?
Patterns, repetitions – these are the scaffolding
upon which we build our reality; a baby
first opens her eyes and sees her mother’s face, over
and over, and it gains meaning; it is, for awhile,
the entire world. As her world expands, with more
repetitions, the mother’s face and its meaning changes,
but stays the same. It defines everything that comes
after it. Our minds are made of repetitions,
and the repetitions we notice become a part
of us: the red-winged blackbird’s call, over and over;
the rhythmic thrum of tires on the highway overpass;
the scent of ozone before the rain. Our very cells
repeat and replace themselves, with the entire
body renewing itself every seven years, and slowly
this scaffolding of repetitions is built and rebuilt.
This is also how I see the process of making
a poem. It is not the structure itself, the eventual “knowledge”
of what the poem will eventually mean,
that matters so much to me – because this will
necessarily change and evolve, and is not static.
I enjoy the building
of the structure, the process of choosing (or being chosen by)
those images, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures
that obsess and define. The joy of poetry, for me,
is in the generation of raw materials, and the challenge
of arranging and organizing them together. This
engagement and work of poetry making creates meaning
for me that goes far beyond the “knowledge” or reality
the finished poem attains.
Beyond identities, germinating among letters, kingfishers,
Is growth a lucky kudzu blooming?
Kudzu blooms, and wraps its tendrils around the
tulips and roses, strangles them with shade. She runs
up electrical poles, across fences, to find and kill
the wisteria, the gardenia.
Kudzu does not believe
in luck – she stacks the deck,
blushing purple flowers to distract.
Kudzu poetry seems beautiful
to poetry tourists, but is a familiar pestilence
to poetry natives.
Kudzu poetry is first thought,
worst thought, gone wild.
Kudzu poetry cannot be eradicated,
but the patient gardener will recognize
it when it starts twisting its way
through her lines, dig it out by the roots, and burn it.
Going where, tomorrow, beyond
All this bustling, ingenious guessing and
Looking at loaves, stones, water, silk, cream and cities?
When the mind and hands
are put to good use:
Today’s loaves are tomorrow’s croutons,
Today’s stones are tomorrow’s cherry trees,
Today’s water is tomorrow’s bath,
Today’s silk is tomorrow’s blouse,
Today’s cream is tomorrow’s butter,
Today’s city is tomorrow’s memory.
Poetry is yesterday, today, tomorrow,
beyond tomorrow, beyond this illusion
of time, a superstring of eleven dimensions,
everywhere and nowhere all at once. Every
scrap of matter and anti-matter the
poet saves in a jar on the shelf,
waiting for the moment, sometimes
years in the future, when it might
be required by the universe.
Kafkaesque, Rabalasian inquiries surprising?
Listening and gazing in between
Evenings, notes interstitial, tempestuous
Songs, ideas, responses kneaded,
Remarkable in simple truths,
Is numinosity elusive?
What surprises is what we don’t say,
the space between words. Kafka
made that space into a parlor, Rabelais
made it into a boudoir, when women
could not create or inhabit such rooms,
but now we will make ourselves
at home where we wish.
Is this bothersome? Very well, be bothered.
I’ve been called unapologetic,
a woman surrounded by ghosts
of the silenced and the silent,
their numinous voices spilling
out the end of my pen.
Brisk larks, silk barks, gabbing,
Is life grinning, books brimming,
Generously adding labors
Accomplished, leaving keepsakes
Knitting recollections into something?
Book of poetry, my first, after five kids –
Repeat the Flesh in Numbers, as I suppose I’ve done.
Yes, I keep the baby photos, toothless smiles, in
Albums, frame tiny handprints on red-painted walls,
Next to my husband’s sumi-e paintings.
The poems trace the truth of emotion,
How it conflicts and intersects with fact is
A matter I leave to the reader,
Words and the music inside them
Orchestrate the current of my thoughts,
Require me to put them in albums, books,
Rewrite them on napkins, matchbooks, coupons,
Accoutrements of poetry, these scraps.
Sometimes intuitive, reasoning, knowing
Inquiries glean a looming key beckoning.
Revelations: Is success
Kinship between two worlds of reflective reactions ambling?
Success is still
to consider, wrestle,
reflect upon – success
not so much a destination,
but the opportunity to
walk the path, and consider
what might be waiting
over the next hill.
Answers evolve with the asker,
but keys do not alter their blades or bittings
to fit the new keyhole. It was when the key
didn’t fit that I knocked,
found the kinship between myself
and the one who answers,
unlocks the door
from the inside, throws
it wide, invites the