Kay Zeiss, the poet who graces our pages as peculiar‘s newest Featured Writer, composes her poetry like an invitation. Each line guiding you around a corner, opening a snapshot, a landscape, a person materializing in the smoke. Zeiss is a queer Seattle-based poet and licensed social worker from Chicagoland. She has been found behind typewriters attempting “name your price poems,” curating art walks, and co-facilitating creative writing groups.
When did you start writing?
I started writing on a typewriter in grade school with my dad. He and I used to write eloquent (but probably in actuality, nonsensical) stories in turn, line by line, about anything from earthworms to aliens. Despite an early start, the great majority of my life was spent not writing anything beyond what was required of me throughout my formal education.
I was briefly interested in science writing in undergrad while pursuing a research fellowship as a double major in psychology and biology. However, I did not rediscover creative writing until after I obtained my master’s in social work. A few years ago, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a writing group at the VA. This was the rebirth of my passion for writing, and I was reminded of how deeply I value the art of storytelling as a practice.
Why do you write?
I have a great passion for language generally, but specifically regarding how language helps us to connect with one another. I believe stories in any form are powerful because they allow us to realize we aren’t alone in our experiences. For me, writing has the ability to unlock lexicon gaps and allow for a playground of commonality and interconnection. In searching for the right concentration and combination of words, I hope my writing will convey my unique and simultaneously universal experience.
I find much joy out of creating poetry inspired by random words I learn (petrichor is a recent favorite). Also, a favorite of mine is to take a situation and reason out how to convey the story through nature and metaphor.
Sometimes I’ll write as a means to process what I’m going through, to understand better what has brought confusion, or to let go of the pain of suffering.
What poets and authors do you read?
Li-Young Lee is my absolute favorite poet. His poem “furious visions” is wonderful. Time begins to seem less linear, perhaps more cyclical or circular through the lens of Lee’s writing. His seemingly tangential stories are grounded by the adept weaving of memories from his childhood, young adulthood, and the present. It’s almost as though each moment across a lifespan, across generations, is occurring presently. There is an invitation to detach from our conception of time. As someone who understands intergenerational trauma first hand, I truly value a writer’s ability to convey this phenomenon.
I also adore Annie Dillard (“Total Eclipse,” my favorite story by her; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my favorite book), Emily Dickinson, Oliver Sacks, V.S. Ramachandran, Jeanette Winterson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Oliver, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Adrienne Rich, Clarice Lispector, R.A. Sasaki, Italo Calvino, Saul Bellow, Ted Chiang, Rumi, and Rilke. There are so many more.
What’s your writing process?
I treat what I have written in the past few years as an experiment, of sorts. I tend to have a memory, a thought, a feeling, a struggle, or an existential fixation in mind that I want to reason out, toy with, or challenge myself into finding objectivity. Most of the time, I will slip into thought about what sensations or visualizations arise, and try to incorporate that sensory input into my poetry. I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors and commonly will draw on my observations in nature to help my attempts at describing the indescribable.
Sometimes I’ll sit in a comfortable place with a cup of tea and pensively stare at my computer or typewriter to reason out the latest curious thought with which I’ve been grappling. Other times I’ll festoon my hammock within sight of a lake. Always within earshot of the chirping birds.
Writing is one of my favorite activities to foster that sense of flow. Everything else fades away as I get hyper focused on the task of writing. Writing becomes about giving creative expression to an experience with intent to find a voice that will invite others to identify, and thusly connect. Sometimes the words just flow out onto the page, other times the piece requires much editing. I don’t have a structured approach to writing, though.
What inspires you to write?
People. Spirituality. Mother Earth. The elegant, yet unapologetic nature of my cats (Frenchington and Grandpa). The courage of others. Oppression. Privilege. Lexicon gaps. Silos. Capitalism. The turn of the seasons. An impossibly blue and impossibly still tarn. Sunsets. Tibetan singing bowls. The pain brought by the ending of a relationship. Impermanence. The joy of connecting with others. Channeling and practicing objectivity as inherently biased beings. The question, “how do we find commonality?”
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
I love writing sultry haikus.. with a typewriter.. on heavy, haphazardly torn strips of paper.. There’s something about the intense thumping sound of each key stroke and the commanding urgency and permanence of red ink that is incomparable. It’s super fun, ridiculous, and great practice for my writing process.
Last year, during an art walk in Seattle, I wrote poetry on the spot in the form of sultry haikus. This was my favorite:
Her sway, her rhythm;
You catch your breath, arrested.
A levee breaking.
What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?
I have two hopes as a writer. I hope for my words to leave an image with the reader that’s reminiscent of what I have experienced, and I hope to convey that we as living beings aren’t as different from each other as we may imagine.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Oh, I don’t know. I try to live my life a day at a time.
What’s it like being queer where you live?
In Seattle, at least when I moved here, it seemed like being queer was more the norm than anything. I remember joking with my friends back home in Chicago that it almost seemed like there was a competition to be “the queerest.” There were so many words queer folk were using as self-descriptors that I had never heard of before moving to the Pacific Northwest, despite being “out” for nearly a decade. People who identify as straight even use the word “partner” here. Back in the Midwest, labeling a person as your partner for anyone who wasn’t your business associate automatically flagged you as gay. I’ve felt the safest living here being out, loud and proud in comparison to other cities. The rainbow crosswalks are pretty cool too.
What makes you peculiar?
I dance to the Muzak down grocery store aisles, my favorite movie is The Lion King, and I also like to eat wild city lavender.
Kay Zeiss is a queer Seattle-based poet and licensed social worker from Chicagoland. This is the first time she has been published for her writing endeavors. She is currently pursuing her second master’s degree, this one in bioethics. In her free time, if she’s not writing, she’s finding tiny flowers on big mountains with the naturalist and scrambling groups of the Mountaineers.