Today’s Book Chat is especially exciting for me to share with you. My incredibly talented writing friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, is publishing her first poetry chapbook, Evening Body. Karissa is a gifted poet whose words resonate with some of our most basic and essential human experiences. I was lucky enough to read the manuscript of this collection and I can honestly say that these poems are beautiful, evocative, and deeply felt. They are a treat to read.
Karissa is running a giveaway contest at her blog for anyone who pre-orders Evening Body. If you pre-order a copy, you will automatically be entered into giveaway drawing for a Booklover’s Gift Pack! The Gift Pack includes three books and a Starbucks gift card. All you have to do is let Karissa know you pre-ordered a copy and she’ll add your name to the pot! Find more info about the giveaway over at Karissa’s blog.
Want a sneak preview of what you’ll be getting? You can read two of the poems in this collection (“The Boulevard” and “Luminescence” at Gravel Magazine where they were originally published.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Karissa in which she talks about her poetry, about balancing her writing with her day job and family, and gives some advice for aspiring poets.
Interview with Karissa Knox Sorrell
- How long have you been writing poetry? Do you remember your first poem?
Since I was a child. When I was in third grade, I chose to take a summer school creative writing course! One particular memory I have is writing a poem about the sunset at my grandmother’s house when I was about 10 years old.
- You did an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) in poetry. What did you take away from the experience and would you recommend an MFA to other writers?
There’s such a debate over MFAs right now! For me, an MFA was the right thing. I wanted to get back into writing and my previous degrees were in education. I needed the expertise, experience, and community that an MFA gave me. I was in a low-residency program, so I was only on campus twice a year, but those residency weeks were definitely some of my favorite times. I learned a ton, was exposed to a variety of writers/poets, became a more skillful writer and reader, and gained a supportive family of other writers. Also, I think being a part of an MFA program boosted my confidence, both as a person and as a writer.
- You also write creative non-fiction and fiction, do you still think of yourself primarily as a poet? If not, how would you define/describe your writing?
I think my definition of myself as a writer is pretty fluid. After graduating, I didn’t write much for two years, then I focused mostly on creative non-fiction for two years after that. It has only been a year or so since I’ve really gone back to writing poetry, and it was exactly what I needed. Right now, I would mostly say I’m a poet, but I have written an entire nonfiction manuscript and am in the middle of writing a YA novel. I don’t feel the pressure to compartmentalize, though. It’s okay for me to write different things at different points in my journey.
- You aren’t just a writer, you are also a wife and a mother and a professional educator. Can you talk about finding time and balancing your writing with the other parts of your life?
It’s not easy. For a couple of years, I wrote from 4-5 am. I really loved that quiet time in the mornings, but eventually I just felt so tired all the time that I quit. Over the past year, I’ve wiggled in writing time here and there. I might be in the same room as my children and they are watching TV while I am working on poems. I try to set aside a couple of hours each weekend if possible. And occasionally I will get away to a coffee shop for three hours in the evening. I think I’ve finally reached a balance of realizing that I don’t have to push myself so hard. The writing is important, but I also need to focus on other areas of my life.
- Who are your favorite poets and who are your influences?
Louise Gluck has a beautiful book called The Wild Iris. Li-Young Lee, especially his book Rose. He has a way of bringing the world into a poem that surprises you and takes your breath away. Rainer Maria Rilke – his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God stays on my nightstand. Mary Oliver. Marie Howe. Gregory Orr. Linda Bierds. I recently read two really great new books of poetry: Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson and The Palace of Contemplating Departure by Brynn Saito.
- Many of your poems paint vivid pictures that often capture a singular moment or event almost like looking at a still-shot. What draws you to write about these moments? What do you most hope readers take will take away from them?
A lot of my poems are inspired by real moments in my life. I think our human experiences are undergirded by so many complex emotions, and a poem is an opportunity to sort of dig deeper and pull out that depth and vulnerability so that it can be shared. Poems help us slow down, savor, and contemplate our humanity. I want my readers to recognize something in my poems, something that reminds them of their own experiences and complexities.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?
I think one thing is to remember that a poem is not just taking what you would normally write in a paragraph and adding a little white space. While that might be a good place to start if you are beginning a poem, so many things are coming together to make the poem work: word choice, rhythm, strategic use of sounds, strategic line breaks, layers of meaning. A great test is to read your poem out loud and see what it sounds like. However, my biggest advice is to not be afraid. Read, write, let your message spill out of you. Poetry is for everyone.
So, are you ready to pre-order? Click here to order the chapbook, Evening Body, from Finishing Line Press. And don’t forget to head over to Karissa’s blog to enter the giveaway!