Regal House Publishing Senior Editor, Pam Van Dyk, interviews Martha Kalin, winner of the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award, on the craft of poetry, winning the award, and advice for novice poets.
Regal House: We’d like to know how you got started writing poetry. What is your “poet’s origin story”?
Martha Kalin: I began writing poetry as a very young girl, so it seems as though poetry’s been part of me forever. It’s a bit of a mystery what drew me to poetry in particular, but I always loved the sounds of words, loved to be read to, and had an extended family of teachers and writers who encouraged me. I particularly loved writing limericks and other short forms. I even created a collection of my work, with the book divided into sections, one titled “Poems About Animals”, the other titled “Poems About Anything but Animals”! In school my favorite classes were always creative writing and I often would secretly write poems when I was supposed to be working on math problems.
Regal House: Who were/are your biggest influences as a poet and why?
Martha Kalin: There have been so many influences I could never name them all. In college I fell in love with English Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley and American poets such as Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens. In some cases the influence was because I shared a love for the beauty of the natural world, in some cases, because there was so much feeling in their poetry, I always felt transported. Over the years I’ve dipped into the waters of many contemporary poets and have loved many. About ten years ago I was fortunate to discover Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a non-profit center for writers in Denver, Colorado and became closely involved in the Lighthouse community. This has been a rich source of ongoing learning and support and has had a huge impact on my writing.
Regal House: What books, poetry or otherwise, are you currently reading?
Martha Kalin: I’m reading (and re-reading) Marie Howe’s beautiful poetry collection Magdalene, and Ocean Vuong’s stunning collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I just finished Natalie Goldberg’s memoir Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home and am slowly making my way through The Way of the Dream: Conversations on Jungian Dream Interpretation with Marie-Louise von Franz, by Fraser Boa.
Regal House: What does winning the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award mean to you?
Martha Kalin: It’s such an incredible honor to win the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award. As a poet, it’s often hard to know how one’s work is being received, or whether it speaks to people in memorable ways. It means so much that others appreciate my work and want to support me in finding a wider audience. I was particularly moved that the award was named for the father of Regal House Publishing’s Editor-in-Chief, who was a poet himself.
Regal House: Among the poems in your winning collection, How to Hold a Flying River, do you have a favorite or one that holds special meaning? Can you share why?
Martha Kalin: The poem “Between Your Sleep and Mine” has particular significance to me. It represents a point in time when I was consciously trying to move from writing short, and more traditional lyric poems toward longer (for me), more complex and layered poems. I was seeking to reflect more fully today’s world, the pain, strangeness and intensity, but also new forms of understanding. I began to develop increasing interest in experimental and hybrid forms that integrate poetry and prose and that make leaps into and out of dreams and the unconscious.
Regal House: Alice Walker once said, “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” What are your thoughts on what poetry does for the world?
Martha Kalin: I love this quote and feel deeply that poetry has tremendous power to speak the unspeakable. Poetry, can startle, shock, and break us open in ways that can lead to deeper compassion and connection with one another and the truth of our experience.
Regal House: Do you have a routine or process for crafting your poetry?
Martha Kalin: Yes! This may seem a bit weird, but I write most of my poems these days in my phone. I use it like a journal, but it works even better than a paper notebook, in that I almost always have it with me and can capture little fleeting images and lines that otherwise would be lost. I’ve never been adept at writing in a disciplined way, or at responding to prompts or assignments. I do best when I catch impressions and unexpected passing phrases that then stimulate my imagination. I take all these notes in my phone and mull them over and play with them. Eventually I’ll gather them to see whether anything interesting starts to arise. Only when I have something with a bit of sizzle for me do I begin to craft the lines into a poem. I usually work on a poem for quite a long time, sometimes even for years.
Regal House: Finally, what words of advice might you offer to those who are just beginning to write poetry?
Martha Kalin: I encourage anyone with an interest in writing to read widely and find poems that inspire you, delight you, or speak to you in an important way. Listen carefully to the rhythm and music of the language. Practice writing by imitating or just letting your imagination run freely. Take feedback from others you respect but don’t let criticism stop you from writing what you want to write. Search for your own voice, the voice uniquely yours. And then write fearlessly.
Martha lives and write in Denver, Colorado where she works for University of Colorado’s Department of Family Medicine, developing programs for vulnerable and high risk patients. Her recent publications include poems in Anastamos, Don’t Just Sit There, Inklette, Hospital Drive, Panoply, San Pedro River Review, and the anthology Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century published by University Press of New England. Her chapbook Afterlife and Mango, was published by Green Fuse Poetic Arts in 2013.