A One Question Interview with Kik Williams

I really love talking to people about writing and what it means to them, and I continue to be inspired by Frequency folks. If you know Kik Williams, you may know that her house is a wild paradise of art, books, giant sunflowers, and cute animals. It’s a work of art in itself. I love Kik’s story here, and her assertion at the end that art and text can be, and is, experienced in the same way– words, as objects, as sounds, can be felt and viewed in order to be understood. Language–a system made of, and for, association– can at times, maybe just for a moment, be experienced free of the world it represents. Poetry sometimes gives this experience to us, if we can let go of the impulse to translate it out of its physical composition.

Kik, what is your relationship to the different forms art can take? 

 I have always been an artist. I can’t remember ever not being an artist. When I was a little girl, artist was at the top of the list of things that I wanted to be, then nun, teacher, and mother. I skipped the nun career. I always had that urge to make things, move things around, re-arrange, observe. When I was eighteen I was sent to a “Finishing School” in Florence, Italy. I had undiagnosed dyslexia and ADD, and I recently found my report card from the Le Fleuron school. I pretty much flunked everything but I had the second highest marks in Art History. I was taking it all in that year in Florence. The first night I was there, it was foggy. My uncle and I went to have a Campari at the main square and then took a little walk around. Suddenly out of the fog came this huge black and white marble structure looming right in front of us, the Duomo. I could hardly breath, I was completely in awe of it’s beauty. When I got to college I wanted to major in art but my first art teacher was a real prig and suggested I major in something else. I didn’t really care about finishing college but my uncle told me no one would marry me if I didn’t and then the man I did marry told me he wouldn’t marry me unless I finished college, so I got a degree in Art History.

I learned about all sorts of forms in art and often I felt them deeply in my guts, the cave paintings, and I know this is going to sound weird, but ….Copley. John Singelton Copley really does it for me, rips me right open; my son’s paintings do the same. In my travels to South America, India, the Mid-East, I have felt moved over and over again by the textiles of these places, the similarities, the differences, the colors, textures. I went to Montessori school as a kid and we learned with our senses, so to taste, smell, feel, and really see a shawl, a sari, or hand-made hat, gives me great pleasure.

When I moved to RI I started taking lots of courses at RISD and I became a ceramic artist. I paint on ceramics, and I also started writing on little porcelain pinch pots. I didn’t think much of it. It’s just writing. A friend told me that I’m a poet and I argued that in fact I’m not a poet, I don’t write poetry, I don’t read poetry. (There has always been a book or two of poetry hanging out in my bathroom.)  I didn’t think much of it until this weird door opened and poems started to pour out, flooding my brain. They were really bad poems. I was in my fifties. I made a conscious effort to stop writing because it was too much and as I said, the writing was pathetic. Then in my sixties, I found Frequency and everything changed.

There is no doubt that I am a poet. Saying that came more easily than owning that I was an artist. I started to write and to read different poets and to read the poems of fellow students. My favorite poet– it seems ridiculous to say “my favorite poet”; I could never say that about a painter, for example (even if he is my son)– is Jack Gilbert. Darcie Dennigan gave me a book of Gilbert’s. I opened it, read the poem “Moments of Grace,” closed the book and couldn’t go back to it for two weeks. I felt as though I’d just seen the Duomo come to life out of the fog; I was in awe.

I have been writing poems now for over two and a half years. I still feel a bit uncomfortable talking about poetry because I don’t really know the vernacular. In the beginning of my journey with Frequency, I was confused by a lot of what I read, but as I read more and wrote more, poems started to make more sense to me. I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned about poetry is that it’s not always written to be understood. In this way, as in many ways, it’s like art, like paintings. Often poems are made to be felt in the gut. Often it’s impossible to understand a poem, to know what a poet is talking about, it’s indecipherable, but if you can sit with the words as if they were color, and look at their placement as if it’s the composition of a painting or music or a Frank Gehry building, and let it flow through your heart and belly and let it rip your guts opened, you’ll find your own meaning. My relationship with art in all forms continues to grow because I am determined to continue to learn and live fully. Writing has been an amazing gift for me, a really good friend, punching me in the gut one day and soothing my spirit the next.

Kik Williams is a ceramic artist, poet, laughter yoga teacher, world traveler, grandma, mom, keeper of hens, dogs, a cat and a fish, collector of art, altars, friends, stuff in general, gardener, hanger outer in hammocker, swimmer, kayaker, and expecting another grandchild in March.

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