Following is an interview Christine Klocek-Lim for Couplets. She has four chapbooks: Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press), Cloud Studies (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications), and The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, OCHO, Diode, Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory and elsewhere. Her work received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (most recently for “Coventina“) and Best of the Net (for “Star streams of the Splinter galaxy“) anthologies and was a finalist for 3 Quarks Dailyâ€™s Prize in Arts & Literature. She is also the editor of Autumn Sky Poetry.
Joanne Merriam: I understand your new chapbook, Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press), was written during NaPoWriMo last year. Can you tell us a little about how your writing process worked in such a compressed time period, versus how you would usually work?
|Christine Klocek-Lim: When I began writing poetry, as most teens do, I only wrote when inspiration struck. Sometimes that meant I’d go days, months, and even years without writing a poem. That didn’t work out particularly well, as you can imagine. Sometime around 1999 I began writing more regularly, working on a poem at least once a week. Sometimes I’d work on the same poem for days or months. This was great for a while, but I still wasn’t writing enough. I’d read what I wrote and think: “This is drivel. I hate it.” A few years ago I discovered NaPoWriMo (begun by Maureen Thorson) and decided to give it a try. I posted a poem-a-day on my blog and at Poets.org (where I Admin the discussion forums). At first I found it overwhelming. I wrote a lot of truly bad poems, but I kept going. The more I wrote, the more my creativity seemed to blossom. I think pressure and daily practice exercises the mind. Instead of exhausting myself, I got better and better at dipping my psyche into the zone, the flow, whatever you want to call it when an artist finds that perfect balance between thought and dreaming.|
These days I don’t write poetry any other time of the year except in April. This year I’m planning on writing the poems that will be part of a new book, the sequel to The Quantum Archives. That collection of poems (written during NaPoWriMo 2009) was a semi-finalist in the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook competition which I later expanded into a sci-fi novel. I’d originally planned on writing a poetic memoir this year, but I changed my mind late one night last week. I couldn’t sleep and my brain kept turning over ideas about the daughter of my main character from The Quantum Archives. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I wrote an outline in the middle of the night on my iPhone. I have to tell her story.
Poems that I’ve written during various NaPoWriMo’s have grown into several collections: my Dark Matter full-length poetry manuscript (poems from this won the Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in Poetry 2009), The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press), Cloud Studies: a sonnet sequence (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), and of course, Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press). I adore NaPoWriMo!
|Joanne Merriam: Are your poetry and your dancing connected in any way?
Christine Klocek-Lim: Nope. My husband and I started dancing in 2008. We thought it would be fun, which it was but it was also physically exhausting. It was difficult. Demanding. We were hooked. Now we dance at least three times a week, sometimes more. Ballroom dance has reinforced what I know about art: it requires practice, a lot of it. I’ll never be a professional dancer. I might never be particularly good at it, simply because dancing three or four hours a week just isn’t enough time to master it. Writing is the same way. I write at least three to four hours five or so days out of every week, on average, and sometimes more. I’m willing to put that time in and hopefully someday I will write something brilliant.
|Joanne Merriam: Do you think writing poetry helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a poet more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?
Christine Klocek-Lim: I honestly never thought about poetry as therapy. I write because I love to play with words. I write because I’m interested in expressing an emotion that draws a reader inside the world I’ve created. I don’t think I’ve learned anything about myself or the world through the act of writing a poem. However, what I have learned in my life over the years has taught me a lot about people, work, suffering, joy, etc. I struggle to communicate those things in my work. For me, advancing as a poet definitely means learning to communicate the things I already know.
|Joanne Merriam: What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?
Christine Klocek-Lim: I went to Carnegie Mellon as an undergraduate in their writing program which meant I attended a lot of workshops. I was exposed to poetry readings. I’ve also read a ton of books over the years about writing. I loved Ted Kooser’s book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, because he was the first person who explained what it means to communicate to a reader. The idea that you can’t be too radical or the reader will be pushed out of the poem’s world was illuminating. However, the most recent piece of advice I’ve heard that I find useful is what Ira Glass had to say on storytelling. He explained that when you first begin creating, your taste is great but your work is not. No one who is just starting out in an art can create something brilliant, unless it’s by accident. The only way to bring your work up to the level of your taste is to just keep going. Eventually you’ll get there. Just keep going is my mantra. Along with “I’m not dead yet” (i.e., I still have time to keep writing, to try again and again). Rejections letters and terrible reviews suck but I just keep going. My writing will get better. I can picture myself at age ninety still saying, I’m not dead yet!
Check out more poetry-related interviews, reviews and guest posts at Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour.