Revising Revision: Getting to the beating, pumping heart of the page

Starting in February, Chris Kondrich will teach a four week course on the messy, necessary work of revision. He took the time to share some of his thoughts on what revision means, why it is important, and the importance of undertaking this work with others. This class is a great opportunity to get to work on all that writing you did in 2015.

Sign up today for Revising Revisions. The class begins Thursday, Feb 4, and is offered for $160.

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Frequency: Why is revision important?

Chris Kondrich: Those stories or poems that appear to us as if clouds were parting in our emotional-imagination — they don’t happen as often as we’d like. Much of the work of writing is, indeed, work. It necessitates extended attention and an openness to experimentation, to trial and error. But the ability to stick with a story or poem through this process can totally pay off. It can even help us in the initial stages of the next things we write.

I also think revision is important because it’s an opportunity for community, for sharing ideas, insights and struggles. It widens the scope of writing — which is often characterized by solitude — by allowing for connection over our insights and struggles. Maybe we help each other, lend our eyes, ears and minds to the revision woes of others. And maybe, in the process, we learn something about our own work.

F: What is your favorite revision strategy?

CK: Oftentimes, what happens on the page for me is more than what I end up with. I think this is the case for most writers. There’s the gearing up, the scaffolding to contend with. I mean, it can take pages for me to get to the beating, pumping heart of a thing. Ultimately, I wrest that beating, pumping heart from the chest of the page à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This, inevitably, means abandoning some good phrases or lines, but the thing about revision is that you’re never done. You might be done with one piece, but revision also means recycling those abandoned bits into new pieces and allowing for that recycling to take you to unexpected places. In this way, revision can also be a strategy for generating new work.

F: What is the most frustrating thing you’ve discovered about revision?

CK: Time, our eternal nemesis, can occasionally be revision’s lone obstacle. There will always be poems that need to sit on the desktop as well as the mind, and we have to allow time, experience and the evolution of perception to work their unknowable magic. That said, sometimes revision can speed up this process or maneuver around it. Sometimes it can ignite new projects while we wait. Other times, like I said, we have to wait for that re-envisioning to happen and there isn’t a way around it.

F: Who (or what genres) should take this class?

CK: In the course description for “Revision Revision,” I left things pretty open. I sincerely hope fiction writers, poets, nonfiction writers and hybrid writers all join the course because I think the more variety in perspective, intention and experience, the more expansive the potential for everyone involved. My job will be to wrangle all this potential into constructive methods across all genres, into an energizing and inspiring discussion that one wouldn’t have anywhere else. I’m just really happy that Frequency has given me the opportunity to attempt such an invaluable feat.

 

Christopher Kondrich is the author of Contrapuntal (Parlor Press, 2013), a New Measure Poetry Prize finalist. He is the winner of The Iowa Review Award for Poetry (selected by Srikanth Reddy) and The Paris-American Reading Series Prize. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Cimarron Review,Colorado Review, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, Verse Daily and elsewhere, while his criticism appears in Jacket2, Colorado Review and CutBank. He holds an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a PhD from the University of Denver where he was an editor for Denver Quarterly. Currently, he is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly and an instructor at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

An interview with Janaya Kizzie on her upcoming course, Voices from Beyond

Coming up on Halloween, October 31st, Frequency is thrilled to offer a special one IMG_9803day workshop, Voices from Beyond. This class is taught by Janaya Kizzie and will take place at Providence Public Library. Students will utilize the library’s special collections and investigate haunting.

Janaya answered a few questions about haunting and about her course. This is one you won’t want to miss. Sign up today!

FREQUENCY: Can you tell us about the manuscripts and artifacts that will be used in this course? Are there particular pieces you look forward to sharing with the group?

JANAYA KIZZIE: The course will be an exploration of the parallels between research, writing and haunting, and each person in the class will get to spend an extended amount of time with the historic manuscript or object that speaks to them most. We’re very lucky to be in a city with such amazing special collections available.  Providence Public Library has collections dating back to about 2000 B.C.E. We’ll be focusing on materials from the turn of the 19th century and the early 20th century –they’re a little easier to read!– which are some of the library’s deepest and most exciting collections.. They include tales from whaling voyages, antique photographs, and letters written during the Civil War. I’m inspired by many of the collections at the Library, but I think I have a soft spot for the Nicholson Whaling Collection in particular. It’s one of the foremost whaling collections in the country, and it has everything a lover of stories needs: action, strange occurrences, and shanties.

FQ: Can you give some examples of authors who might be good to read beforehand, to experience a haunting?

JK: The book I think of instantly when talking about great ghost stories is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It’s easy to write a ghost story that’s just a supernatural revenge story, but she wrote a ghost story that is an exploration into the minds of women in the mid-twentieth century. In class, we’ll be doing a little bit of reading from that and a wide range of authors, like Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates and Kelly Link.

FQ: What makes an ordinary event horrific?

JK: Haunting can happen everywhere and to anyone. I think that’s what makes it most interesting. It’s a very personal horror. Haunting occurs when something strange reaches out to us and we stop to listen. What happens next is a separation from our most fundamental moorings; that is horror.

Janaya Kizzie writes horror stories and an occasional prose-style sonnet. Providence inspires her often, and her career as an archivist often informs the historical elements in her creative work. She is particularly interested in genre fiction  (especially historical fiction, horror and sci fi), interstitial fiction, small-batch self-publishing, and the places where writing meets other things, like visual art, music and film.

An interview with Stephanie Ford on her upcoming class, Imagined Audiences

Saturday, October 3rd, Stephanie Ford will teach the one day workshop, Imaginedphoto Audiences. Stephanie is visiting Rhode Island all the way from LA, so this really is a special opportunity. AND the course is being offered sliding scale, starting at just $25.

If you’re still on the fence, just read what Stephanie had to say when we asked her a few questions about the course.

Click here to register for Imagined Audiences!

FREQUENCY: The class description for Imagined Audiences states, “We might—if we dare—invent and invite a new species of reader.” Can you give some examples of what an imagined “species of reader” might mean?

STEPHANIE FORD: To answer this, I’d like to share what got me thinking about the poet’s—or, really, each poem’s—approach to audience in the first place. In reflecting on my own experience as a reader and trying to understand what factors might lead me to keep reading a poem vs. deciding to move on, I found that one of the things that really hooks me is when a poem addresses me in an arresting way, inviting me to listen in a manner that feels like either a challenge to, or a respite from, my daily modes of being in the world. I like poems that seem to announce, from the first line, “I am going to teach you my language”—not because the poet explicitly positions her- or himself as avant-garde or experimental, but because the poem itself bears the pressures of translating a complex and deeply considered perspective that calls on my ability to learn as I read.

I also began to think about poets I admire who strike me as being particularly adventurous in this regard—whose poems, in order to push against limiting or irrelevant poetic conventions, demand new capacities of their readers. And then I started to think about how this might be a generative question in the making of poems:. What if, rather than defaulting to my generalized sense of the readers who might “hear” my work (a potential audience that, if I really tried to picture it, seemed to have the color and responsiveness of Silly Putty), I acknowledged to myself what kinds of readers (whether real or entirely speculative) I was interested in engaging in my work, and wrote my poems accordingly? What would it feel like to consciously address more than one of these hypothetical readers in the same poem? If I could envision an understanding audience for a poem that seemed too strange or difficult to write, could I be emboldened in my grasping toward the seemingly unsayable? As a means of generating raw material from new sources—which is what I hope my students will gain from this workshop—these questions seem exciting to me.

F: As an audience changes, how might this alter the writer’s motivations and actions? What new information could be revealed or kept?

SF: There are all kinds of authoritative and time-honored exhortations for writers not to consider audience; we are told again and again that what sets writing apart from other activities is that it occupies a realm in which we need answer only to ourselves, or to the demands of the work itself. Further, to expect that one can directly and successfully communicate with any specific reader or set of readers would be naive as to poetry’s relationship to meaning, nebulous and unstable as it is. However, modes of “address”—the subtle but powerful ways in which poems teach us how to hear them, and include us within their seemingly private conversations—are fundamental to how poems work, and are ripe for poetic play. To imagine that one could shift one’s relationship to a proposed audience—in the sense of asking How would I write my poem if I supposed that x was my reader?—is what I want to explore in this class.

How might this practice further manifest itself in our work? We might exercise a more precise and nimble control of tone, diction, syntax, and point-of-view. By imagining specific, shifting sorts of auditors for our poems—sympathetic or hostile, living or dead, familiar or far-removed—we might become more at home with the notion that all writing is an act of translation rather than a direct transmission of thought and feeling. We might take to heart that to presume or aspire to a universal perspective is a dead end, and that to write from an outward-reaching, yet particular and embodied, place offers a different kind of richness. In terms of motivations and actions in the world: my hope is that we can see that poetry is already here—not a separate realm to which we need gain admission—and that we find ways to write, share, and talk about poems accordingly.

F: Can you talk a bit about how imagining a particular audience may change the writer’s relationship with his or her actual audience?

SF: Another side to this is the specifically (peculiarly?) American way in which I’m thinking about these questions. Given the differences, divisions, and structural inequities that govern social life and individual experience in our country, and the many instances of cultural tone-deafness, crossed wires, and outright harm-doing that I see as both symptom and agent of these conditions, I wonder if and how poems can be places to contend with the complexities and contradictions of any poet’s particular American-ness.

Yet another way to look at this, returning the focus to the moment of writing, is to ask To which self, or selves, am I being true in any given poem? Separating out the many possible ways of answering this question, and finding sophisticated ways of manifesting internal tensions in our poems—it seems to me—can be a productive way of moving toward greater awareness of oneself in relation to others, and of moving one’s writing toward greater precision, complexity, and effect. And to do this is ultimately to invite the living, breathing people who read one’s poems to take part in the process. When reading the work of Cathy Park Hong, Claudia Rankine, and Donald Revell—to take just three of the poets we’ll consider in the class—I find myself called upon to exercise new faculties of listening, thinking, and responding. As a reader, I find these writers’ modes of poetic engagement to be both challenging and exhilarating; in order to meet such writing on its own terms, I must do real internal work that does not end when I close the book; my mind is re-wired and new questions pursue me into my daily life. On the one hand, this can be seen as the natural outgrowth of any poem/reader relationship, but when writing is sufficiently ambitious, I believe that its author has, by inviting us to listen anew, also conjured a new audience into being.

Stephanie Ford is the author of All Pilgrim (Four Way Books, 2015). Her poems have appeared in Tin House, Boston Review, Fence, Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles, where she currently teaches poetry with Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

A One Question Interview with Victor Wildman

Victor is currently teaching Everybody’s Autobiography. Recently we asked Victor, “What have you discovered about autobiographical or biographical writing?” Here’s his response:

Lives cannot be documented, only made—somehow constructed. Even if the subject is yourself, there is an awareness from “outside”—an inability to penetrate the core, a realization of its absence—it intrudes. You are never identical with yourself. We are, at best, but tourists with a view to every life. So when engaged in biographical or autobiographical writing, I know before I start that I am making something; it is a construction built from the materials of someone’s life. This, however, does not mean that anything can “go,” but there’s a range, an honest way of working through your materials that over time enforces certain limits on the way that this gets done; these, however, are not factual, but formal limits. Like any work of art, the material you use will start to come together in a way that makes demands, that must be followed if the piece—albeit essay, poem, book—is to be itself, is to “work.” And ironically, the more you work with facts, the more the research tends to pull you out of what you’re making, into something merely anecdotal, accidental, quite unnecessary—just a pile of “stuff.” There is a tension between the things you know about your subject and the things that over time become the meaning of the work. This is why an artist must be willing to sacrifice the facts—even if these facts are supposed to be your own—if they impede the inner workings of the text. In the end, a life—as all things passing—fades, but if you do your job “correctly”—passionately, honestly—there is the work. And that (one hopes) will be enough.

A One Question Interview with Laura Brown Lavoie

Happy Monday! Three of our winter classes are starting next week, and on Saturday, February 8, Laura Brown Lavoie is teaching a one day Workshop in Spoken Text. The class is being offered on a sliding scale ($25-60), and this is a great opportunity to work with an incredible writer and performer. Laura asked me to convey that the class is open to all ages and levels of experience. And people who don’t like to read out loud are also very welcome– there are numerous ways to consider voice and sound without actually performing your work.

I had the chance to interview Laura. I asked, How does a physical voice affect the way you write, or affect the way you experience writing?

The sound of a word, how it rounds or squares with words next to it– sound directs my sentences immensely. Depending on the genre I’m in at a given moment, the writing process is more or less vocal– if it’s a performance piece, I tend to edit out loud, to the point that a finished draft is half-memorized already. If it’s a dense little story with lots of roundabout sentences, and therefore probably something I’d rather give to people on the page, I still often read parts out loud to make sure there’s enough cement between the syllables.

My mom read loads of books to me when I was a kid. (Even when I was more of an adolescent, and would have been mortified if my peers could have seen me: under the covers in my mom’s bed all zoned-out to the sound of The Mists of Avalon or the Narnia books…) So I think hearing literature is really fun and comforting to me. Animating words you’re hearing into coherent images and stories in your head is a huge effort of concentration and imagination, but it’s really rewarding. At this point, with poetry, I can’t enjoy it all the way until I’ve heard it out loud– either reading it to myself or (ideally) having the poet read it to me. I do read a lot of novels quietly to myself, but the best passages at LEAST make me groan and often I gotta read it to someone.

Voice is instant gratification in writing, the place where your ideas start to really take up space in this world. It’s pretty thrilling.

Laura Brown-Lavoie is a fiction writer, poet, and performer here in Providence, RI. Her stories and poems have appeared in some journals, but mostly she likes reading out loud. She represented Providence as a finalist at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam and the 2011 National Poetry Slam, and is currently the is co-slammaster at the Providence Poetry slam, where she also runs the youth slam program. When she isn’t writing, Laura works as a farmer, growing food and raising chickens on a vacant lot in Providence, and selling the produce to her neighbors.

A One Question Interview with Erica Mena

There are only a few weeks until Erica Mena’s Art of Stealing Workshop, so now is the time to sign up if you haven’t already!

Wondering whether this class is a good fit for you? Curious about flarf poetry, erasure works, and adaptations? Then come chat with Erica tomorrow night at our Winter Reading and Open House (Wednesday, January 15 at 7pm,  186 Carpenter Street in Providence). She’ll be doing a brief reading alongside Ren Evans, Danielle Vogel, Victor Wildman, Maria Anderson, and Laura Brown-Lavoie.

Mingle with other writers in the community, find out how to apply for scholarships, and join us in a toast to the writing goals each of us has for the new year!

I spoke with Erica about originality, authority, and the desirability of foregrounding other works in our creative practices.

Your winter class focuses on different modes of “creative stealing.” Given that we are all– ideally– readers, viewers, and students of existing art and text, what does it mean to create original work?

L.H.O.O.QWell, one of the things I’ve begun to question is the assumption that there is such a thing as “originality.” This for me started in my work as translator, when struggling with the question of who wrote the text I had translated. I had, of course, but so had the original-language author. We both had, but we had written different texts. My text was based on the original author’s, derivative in the literal sense, but not dependent.

Embedded in the concept of originality is authority, and if you pull back even further it has to do with value, both in the artistic sense and more insidiously in the capitalistic sense. The fantastic philosopher Walter Benjamin exposes this in his essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” when he tries to pin down what makes the original different from a reproduction. He’s talking about paintings and photographs, and he settles on this idea of the “aura” of the work of art. An aura that is diminished by its reproduction, in his understanding.

But when we think about this in terms of writing, which has been easily reproducible for much much longer than visual art, original doesn’t mean the manuscript-as-art-object. It means the authority to sell/distribute/profit from the text. It’s tangled up in legal concepts like intellectual property and copyright. It has more to do with distribution than creation.

Of course there’s another thing at work here: the Romantic’s concept of an individual artist as god-like genius. While modernism and the 20th century did away with a lot of the artistic baggage of Romanticism, for some reason this idea became entrenched. The individualism here has no room for multi-authored works (collaborations, translations, etc.), and no room for influence. See Eliot’s fantastic essay on that. Certainly not for the kind of influence that acknowledges a huge web of cultural indebtedness, often completely unacknowledged in the artistic process.

So I guess my short answer is that I don’t believe in originality. I don’t believe that it’s possible, or desirable. I think that as artists we create in a context of influence and collaboration, and that doesn’t mean that what we are creating has less value because of it. In fact, I would argue that our work becomes more valuable the more it engages with the cultural artifacts that inform it.

And ultimately, by foregrounding the role of other works in our own as a practice or as an exercise, we realize that we don’t actually have to try quite so hard to be “original” – to create works that are reflective of ourselves and our artistic vision. It’s impossible not to.

Erica Mena is a poet, translator, and book artist. Her work has been published in Vanitas, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Asymptote, Words without Borders and others. Her translations include Return to the Sea by Etnairis Rivera (Arrowsmith, 2006) and The Eternonaut by Hector German Oesterheld and Francisco Solano Lopez (Fantagraphics, 2014). She holds an MFA in literary translation from The University of Iowa and is an MFA candidate in poetry at Brown University. She is the founding editor of Anomalous Press.

A One Question Interview with Maria Anderson

We’ve got a lot coming up the coming weeks. Kicking off our winter courses is Maria Anderson’s Youth Writing Workshop, which begins next weekend. We’re so excited about this because it’s the first youth class we have offered, and it’s also completely full with a wait list!

I had the chance to talk a bit with Maria about her newest and oldest writing experiences. Maria and the rest of our winter instructors will be reading at our Winter Reading and Open House on Wed, January 15, 7PM at 186 Carpenter Street. Don’t miss it!

Maria, please describe your earliest writing experience and then describe your most recent writing experience. What has (or hasn’t) changed?

My earliest writing experience was with a blue pen in a hardcover cat diary that locked. The key turned out to be the same as my sister’s, and she’d sneak into my room to read it. I don’t remember much else, except that I would usually write in bed before I went to sleep. I’d feel very anxious before school the next morning. The cat diary helped me calm down.

Now, writing still has that secretive quality to it. I like this about my process. If I take out a notebook in a restaurant or write on a napkin, I tend to feel like people want to see what’s on there. They want in on this thing I’m doing. This bit of ego, of pride about what I’m up to, the notion that this is something a stranger is curious about simply because they witness the act of marking paper, is interesting to me. Even if they aren’t actually curious. The thought is enough to keep me wanting to write. Different systems of motivation are a big part of my process, like writing when I’m late, or when I’m supposed to be working. These systems help keep my daily practice strong. Unless I’m revising, sitting at a desk in a quiet room doesn’t often work for me. Except, of course, when it does.

Maria Anderson has a BA in Literary Arts from Brown University. She has extensive experience teaching English and creative writing to children ages 8-16. Her fiction and reviews have been published in The Atlas Review, NY Arts Magazine, The Fiddleback, and elsewhere.

A One Question Interview with Ren Evans

I can’t think of a better way to start 2014 than by sharing the following interview with local writer and Frequency instructor, Ren Evans. Ren will be teaching Long Form Fiction beginning Feb. 4. The class is offered on a sliding scale. Once you read what Ren has to say about novels and long form work, I think you’ll agree that this class is not to be missed. 

For a chance to hear Ren read, make sure to come to our reading and open house on Jan 15, 7PM at 186 Carpenter. Ren will be reading along with the rest of our winter instructors.

 

Ren, what is a novel?

A novel is a great many things.

Sometimes, a novel is just a shape, a form. With most forms, the first thing you see is the surface. You can build an intricate system, let the components interact and then you can see it in motion on the surface like ripples in water. 

I think most writing is a relationship between creating space and honing in/getting close to the questions at the center.

Sometimes, the novel is a room, or a house with many rooms. You enter the room and the question arises: What do we do in this space? How does one interact with it and with everything inside of it?  Then writing becomes movement, a performance inside the space of the novel. We keep returning to the same spots, revisiting points of rupture or trauma that allow for the investigation of edges.

Sometimes, we want the novel to have an answer at its center but hopefully there is actually a question in the belly of the thing. Answers never challenge. The thing cannot move without a question.

Sometimes, the novel is a body. I often think of the narrative as the circulation inside that body, multiple intricately connected trajectories. If the novel is a body, we must think of the shape of that body, the space it inhabits, how that body moves and who it loves. The body is written and unfolds and becomes and the body is the story.

Sometimes a novel is time. Novels hold time in a way that other forms do not. It’s the right amount of space to talk about time, to fold it, and stretch and compress it. There is poetry in the way narrative is measured, in its attention to sentence, the rhythm, the rise and the fall of narrative as it intersects with prosody.

I am interested in the hybrid novel and the poet’s novel and all the ways in which, we as writers, can explore form. I recently read an essay called Incidents of Time Travel by Laura Moriarty and there is a part where she talks about reading poetic narrative and she writes, ” Reading poetic narrative, we are slowed down and speeded up at the same time. We have a feeling we aren’t getting anywhere in the sense of events occurring, except the events of language.” I like the idea that in narrative, in the long fiction form, language can be the event, that the explosion or implosion, the meaning can happen within the sentence itself. This is really exciting to me because it means you are using everything, that one thing does not simply transport the other, but that both language and story are in a constant collaboration.

 

 

Ren Evans is a writer, teacher, book designer and multi-media artist living in Providence.  Co-editor and founder of the online literary journal Digital Artifact, Ren also publishes the bi-annual comic book series The Secret Life. Ren received an MFA in fiction from Bard College and has taught creative writing and bookmaking in San Francisco and Providence. Currently, Ren is at work on a novella entitled Lost Boys.

A One Question Interview with Casey Llewellyn

Happy Monday, writers! Recently I asked playwright and past Frequency instructor, Casey Llewellyn, about writing and performance. Enjoy!

 

Casey, how has performance changed the way you think about writing? Or, conversely, how has writing changed the way you think about performance?

I’m not really sure how to separate these things: performance and writing. I view performance (another word could be enactment, maybe ritual) as the most fundamental way of expressing. Animals do it. Humans did it before text. It’s very closely related to just living.

I find theater and performance (as art media) essential because they address God, the self, the body and the community extremely directly in each instance of happening. Other media, like writing, don’t necessarily do this. So performance is a very close idea for me, and it is the frame through which I understand much of myself and the world as well as my entire art practice which includes writing.

Recently, my teacher Marcus Gardley referred to a play as a spell. This is one way in which I relate writing and performance. Unlike a text intended to end on the page, a play is a spell which makes a performance happen. Text on a page can also be an enactment (or at least can involve an acknowledgment of the fact that writing is the result of an action and involve that action in the text itself) like telling is an action. I enter the writing process very much thinking of it as a kind of enactment or performance or very closely related to those, no matter which medium I am working in.

In a more down-to-earth way of answering your question, working in both writing and performance separately as well as together takes an excessive weight off of each and allows me to leave more space open in my work. Writing is material that may become a play or performance, therefore will have another energy cutting across it. Rewrites will happen in relation to rehearsals in rooms, and the text does not have to be (should not be) complete in itself. Performance of an action can also be complicated (left open) by the energy of a telling (writing) cutting across in a different direction, resting in a different place. The gap between is precious. There is air, play.

Writing can get heavy. So I like writing not as an end, but as an action I engage in. In theater, we don’t have the idea of our work as an object, with all of its implied separateness from anything else. Theater is unstill, passing, with no clear edges. Unobjectifiable (though people are trying really hard!). Non-existent without people whose job it is to be outside of it: the audience. But since their presence is necessary, they are also inside! It keeps going on! So that unholdableness which is like life helps me enter the unholdable of writing which of course is everything too and relax in there. Oriented as a writer, not toward an object.

 

 

Casey Llewellyn’s work interrogates identity, collectivity, and form. Her work has been shown in her apartment, at Collect Pond, Brown University, Pratt Institute, Haverford and Pomona Colleges, and at Dixon Place. Works for theater include: The Mechanical Opera Company Presents: Zaide! A Desperate Stab, Obsession Piece, The Body which is the Town…, The Pipeline and Everyone, The Quiet Way (also director and performer), Existing Conditions (co-written with Claudia Rankine), and I Love Dick, an adaptation for theater of the book by Chris Kraus (also director). Performance works include: Come in. Be with me. Don’t Touch me., Piece for Vibrating Chair, Obsession Piece 1: In Your Room, and What is Happening Right Now. She is currently working on an adaption of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town commissioned by The Foundry Theatre to premier in New York in 2014 and her first novella Freeing Our Natural Voices/Freeing this Voice/Talking. Casey has developed work at MacDowell and Millay Colonies and is currently studying writing for performance at Brown with Erik Ehn where she is the recipient of the Lucille Lortel Fellowship in Playwriting and is a playwriting instructor. She has a B.A. in Theatre from Columbia University with a concentration in directing and is the Assistant Editor of PLAY A JOURNAL OF PLAYS. She makes theater as Public Emotions.

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.