Here Parallax editor Jordan Sternberg interviews IAA’s Poet-in-Residence, Katherine Factor, on writing and editing.
Was there a defining moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to be a poet? If so, what was it?
No, there was no moment because the desire is steadfast, it is an endeavor one is always alive in — just that and what happens when you relentlessly press upon surface. So, the moment didn’t end, you know? But the mentors came in. I had this eccentric, polyester turtleneck wearing, abrasive as if-she-smoked-cigars sixth grade teacher, Jo Ann O’Hern. She not only turned me on to poetry, she demonstrated what championing work at a young age meant! Jo is forever lodged in my memory as she-who-showed-me language is moldable; My later retinue of mentors proved one could turn language into matter, and by proper craft we could churn it into something that truly matters.
Other early influences involve my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, a town of yesteryear whose trains taught me that thought phrases could be dominated by sound; The poetic line is loud, is rollicking, is breaking landscapes. By grinding friction did those trochaic spondees chug, instilling rhythm in me. Also, being the birthplace of the Carl Sandburg — I inherited the sense that poetry could voice a people.
Early on I was also exposed to a lot of jazz and classical music, pinning in my ear a penchant for compositions that simultaneously sweep and experiment. However, whatever imprints abounded only make it more frustrating that “poet” comes from constant application of that noisy and annoying grindstone.
As a poet, what made you want to start working on the editing side of writing?
A poet is always editing, for poetry happens in a compression chamber. Consistently we edit as we run crazy errands for the economy of language. But the trick is, to turn the self-editor off while turning the composer on — making every note count! To grind is to bear down on letters until they become defined, bringing a lens into focus. The gears must be constantly churning, for the muse flashes so infrequently — better hope she’s greased and that you are poised with precision.
When I founded Wild Idylls Press in 2010, it was clear that student work at Idyllwild Arts was stupendous and deserved to be collected and published, which is an act of dispersal and an act of preservation. With the generous help of Arts Enterprise Laboratory (AEL) grants, we’ve paired with professional poets for mentoring. Students receive feedback on drafts, polishing and doing pre-production with me. Our first project was quite an event! Austin “Boston” (’11) kept crafting his tutorial novella with me — a surreal hero’s journey called The Breakfast. We put it into print and Austin’s reading paired with paintings by visual arts major Delaney Clark. Scenes from the stories formed a backdrop, breakfast was served, balloons were blown up, and Austin brought us on a journey indeed!
Our other chapbooks show the great diversity of style and experiment that poetry offers a young writer, as evident even by the book titles: Taylor Johnson’s (’11) breaking sunsets and Whitney Aviles-Low The Child’s Shadow were mentored long distance with poet Cathy Wagner. Jazz major Kat Dieter, (’12) took photographs to pair with her poems to produce Tidal Acceleration mentored by guest Kazim Ali, hand-binding her books with the help of faculty Erin Latimer (’02). 2012 saw incredible diversity with the publications of Kalinah White’s Guarded Memories about Africa and Peruvian Maria Alvarado’s book WRECKED. And I’m excited to have just published Erin Breen’s chapbook, Misconceptions! Erin collaborated with senior visual arts majors Kendall Ozmun and Delaney Clark, who took turns illustrating the fantastic, fun, and formally risky poems in the collection.
interr|upture, the online journal I edit with Curtis Perdue, I wanted to be involved with because I believe in what we are publishing — poets like Emily Kendal Frey, Wendy Xu, and Justin Marks, with artists like Dana Olfdeather and Fernando Chamarelli. And I edit because I so enjoy what our peers are doing – journals like diode, jellyfish, sixth finch, H_NGM_N, iO, the Volta, and Drunken Boat — those making best use of the internet canvas. Editing is a prime way of contributing to the vibrant and viral community that poetry fosters.
Tell us more about inter|rupture.
I met inter|rupture editor Curtis Perdue at Squaw Valley Poetry the summer before the magazine launched. He published two poems of mine in the first issue, poems I thought obstinate to most, but in publishing them, Curtis bestowed permission. Permission through publication is a type of mentoring. That is a hope and motion I desire to give other writers.
Turns out, Curtis could brave a gem of of journal, and we are different readers reaching for the same swell. Also, Anna Pollack is an incredible designer. She even found us this issue’s artist, Denton Crawford. So ill! His work is exactly what I’d expect a poem of mine to look like, gateway reflexing and all.
Additionally, I love the name inter|rupture! It feels like a place I inhabit, with the liminal easily seen and demarcated.
What kind of things do you publish?
Things? What is that? Do you mean, What do you look for in submissions? Well, I decidedly want the poem to pulverize me, grind on my notions with surprise! So please pop off immediately so I can furrow in and hence follow an image that drools and spools. One way to do this? Watch what articles are compression points, joints, hinges, what ones are unnecessary…what verbs are stagnant. Don’t try but taunt syntactical manipulation…sense why are you saying this…know how to fencepost…and so on.
Has your writing evolved over time or do you think you’ve always been consistent?
Yes, consistent in practice and purpose, following a Romantic urge, which is being in the mystery, the uncertainty. But the writing and collecting of language has evolved immensely. Idyllwild has given me the time to exist in a continuous grind, always tempting the augur and wishing an augury. For that I am grateful!
Outside of inter|rupture and Idyllwild Arts, how do you spend your free time?
I spend in practice, deeply immersed in process, the joys of which are heavily influenced by audio. 6,792 days might go by but I am just grinding away: typing keys and chafing the pulleys of my imagination. Currently, I am keeping calendars, which is a regulatory act, and culling content that deserves to be freed. This can entail any variety of activities: delicately cutting & scanning images; compiling notebooks out of articles that provide a backside for printing fragments; researching, ripping pages & dogearing books t0 better translate their data into a new text; but often I am just absorbing.
On your twitter page, you post a lot about music. Is there any reason or are you just fascinated with music industry facts?
Oh, you want to know? Well, follow me @katfactor to find out!