“The poetic voice has invisible instructions:/crack open in case of emergency…” from Crack Open/Emergency, Karen Poppy’s forthcoming chapbook by Finishing Line Press.
At the end of 2019, we were honored to include two of Poppy’s pieces (“Sonoma Wildfire” and “Defining”) in Issue 7 of peculiar. Now, as we inch and bide and scrimp and grieve our way through the opening months of 2020, we are in more need than ever: of help, of leadership, of voice, of comfort and instruction, of poetry. Poppy’s voice is a guide, wise and patient as she contends with plights both personal and encompassing.
As creators we turn inward, then outward. We surge toward answers. Karen Poppy does this exquisitely in “Sonoma Wildfire,” an answer of hope during the California wildfires of 2017:
Birds returning from darkness,
Their murmuration a living ocean,
A flocking school flying high,
And “Defining,” a poignant study of violence and oppression:
Of our own
As Poppy prepares to release her chapbook next month, we’re excited to point you toward where you can get your hands on it, and share a little more of her voice in today’s Q&A.
What gave you the idea for Crack Open/Emergency?
The poems in this chapbook came together organically, after surging forth, born from emergencies personal and political.
How does it echo or diverge from your past work?
These poems are some of my first in coming back to writing. I don’t adhere to one style or theme in my work, past or present, and while I have mostly been published in poetry, I also write fiction and hybrid works.
Describe an early experience where you realized language had power.
When I created and recited my first poem, and my mother transcribed it for me because I couldn’t write yet. I was about two years old. She wrote it into a book she kept for me, and it made me realize that language has power because it is special enough to be written down and preserved. That language has lasting artistic significance.
My mother also always read to me at bedtime. Little Golden Books, a boxed set of classic children’s books, and just as often, Shakespeare and the Bible.
Do you find writing energizing or exhausting?
It depends on what I am writing, and how I am feeling in general. Energizing or exhausting, I know that I still need to push through and keep going. We all do. The world needs all our voices.
What would you describe as a “literary pilgrimage” and have you gone on any?
Every time I read someone else’s work, I hope for a literary pilgrimage. Good writing takes us somewhere, allows us to transcend our realities, inspires us. The best writing, the writing that lives on, is by writers with generosity of spirit. Writing with which we can converse, with which we can continue the conversation through our own writing.
It is no accident that so many of us connect and respond to certain writers. It is their generosity of spirit. Think of Emily Dickinson baking cakes, singing, and playing piano for her community. Now the writing she didn’t much share during her lifetime communicates with us, carries on the work of her giving spirit, and allows us a literary pilgrimage. This is only one example. So many writers have this generosity of spirit. It is important that we all give generously of ourselves and remain open to each other.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
To not listen to writing advice! Trust yourself and your own voice. That being said, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to wonderful editors and others who have helped to guide and shape my work.
How does the contemplation of queer identity and experience figure into your work, or does it?
I write about queer identity and experience, and I also write about a wide variety of other topics. I find it interesting to explore queer identity and experience within the context of something different and unexpected.
As a society, we are still forming the language to communicate our unique experiences, articulate our identities, and expand the discourse regarding the complexities of our emotional journeys. Until fairly recently, for example, we didn’t have widespread use of the word non-binary to describe someone—like me—who does not fit within the gender binary of male/female.
Giving a name to something, defining it, gives it power. Within Crack Open/Emergency, I also focus on the power of naming and defining, with regard to queer identity and in other contexts.
What’s next for you? Tell us about your other projects.
I have two additional poetry chapbooks forthcoming, and four of my poems have been set to music for soprano (art songs) by Chicago composer Myron Silberstein. I am also working on fiction projects, as well as a cat-themed book.
Praise for Crack Open/Emergency
Although the language of Karen Poppy’s poetry is beautifully lyric and classically pure, she wants us to attend to her silences—the spaces between words, between lines, between stanzas and poems. A lawyer, she knows how cruelly words can be divided against themselves, that one can become “ashamed that you did not believe less” in them. But her silence is indisputable and clear. It fills us with “noiseless ecstasy.”
–David Bergman, author of poetry titles including Fortunate Light (A Midsummer Night’s Press), Heroic Measures (Ohio State University Press), The Care and Treatment of Pain (Kairos Editions), and Cracking the Code (George Elliston Poetry Prize), and winner of the Lambda Literary Award for his anthology Men on Men 2000.
Karen Poppy‘s poems are lush, lustrous and defined, all at once. One can taste the pebble in the mouth that confronts Goliath, smell the blood stains of post mortem life. These are poems that excite, reveal and inspire, charging us with electric appreciation. What an amazing collection.
–Rene Denfeld, internationally bestselling author of the novels The Child Finder, The Enchanted, and The Butterfly Girl, and winner of the prestigious French Prix award.
Two poem excerpt from Crack Open/Emergency:
In Case of Emergency
The poetic voice has
Crack open in case
We avoid the shards, but
Some cuts are necessary.
For we work close
To the pain.
Closer than anybody.
Oysters on the Beach
Water swirls below, wilds itself on rocks.
I step back, as if you were a photograph.
Withdraw from you.
Your soft, open delicacy.
Karen Poppy has work published or forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, ArLiJo, Wallace Stevens Journal, and Young Ravens Literary Review, among others. She has recently written her first novel, is at work on her second novel, and is an attorney licensed in California and Texas. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.