Kate Feld writes short fiction, essays, poetry, and work that sits between forms. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies including Hotel, The Stinging Fly and The Letters Page. She is founding editor of creative nonfiction journal The Real Story and teaches journalism at Salford University. A native of Vermont, she lives outside Manchester, UK.
Her poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode” appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode.”
A: 'Pockets' is one of the shortest poems I've written. I waited but there wasn't any more. It's what I was thinking while emptying out my daughters' pockets in the course of doing laundry and finding several fine conkers. Conkers are the shiny brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree and over here in England kids used to collect them and play a game with them that involved drilling holes in them and stringing them and pitting one conker against another one -- the first to crack lost. Sadly, most English kids don't know how to play it anymore. My kids don't, but they retain this vestigial fascination with conkers and collect them and they end up in odd corners of the house.
'That's where the canker gnaws' is a line from the stage play of Peter Pan, enunciated with great relish by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook on the Original Broadway Cast record, which my mother played continuously throughout my childhood.
False Spring Ode: Like (probably) lots of other people I was inspired by Sharon Olds to try writing odes to the kinds of things that don't normally get odes written about them. We'd had a doozy of a false spring that year and I was both ruminating on that and also kind of interested in the false spring as a thing that has happened sometimes in some years of my life. I'm talking about things that happened that spring - pubs calling it wrong and putting out their flower baskets too early, warm weather birds returning only to die, mucky-tailed cows and kites and that old saying 'March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.'
Q: How do these pieces compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?
A: They feel looser and more jazzy, more off-the-cuff and riffy. Lately I've been working in longer prose pieces like lyric essays that have big structures and there is a lot more control. I want to get back to this more playful writing practice, but it's maybe harder for me to get there right now.
Q: You seem to focus much of your work on prose structures, whether the longer lyric essays or these shorter prose poems. What is it about the prose poem that appeals, and what do you feel you can accomplish through the form that might not be possible otherwise?
A: You know, it just feels right to me. I love reading lined poetry, but when I try to do it myself it feels artificial and gimmicky and also kind of limited. I think I'm activated by the mess of a bunch of prose and the possibility of that mess, the interesting slippage and jerks and cross pollinations and associations. It feels capacious, like it can take anything you wanna throw in there, but only according to the internal rigor of the thing you're making which kind of emerges as you go.
Q: How much of that internal rigor is pre-determined? Do poems emerge organically, or do you attempt any particular elements of structure, apart from the obvious consideration to the prose-block?
A: Hmmm. Sometimes I'll try to do it a certain way. Like I'm working on a prose sequence that I can only write on nights with full moons, and I think that will feed into the structure somehow. Mostly, I think, they come out pretty organically. If a certain formal element turns up and seems to fit then I can sometimes kind of make it a feature. But once you know you're working exclusively in prose maybe there are different kinds of parameters to how you go about it and for me they mostly don't have to do very much with how it looks on the page. I think they're more internal, intrinsic.
Q: Do you have any models for this kind of work? How did you first begin to engage with the prose poem?
A: I think I probably first encountered prose poems by Baudelaire, which we translated for my French class at St. John's College in Annapolis MD in the 90s. I didn't try to write any until much much later in my life, maybe about four or five years ago when I entered poetry through the more experimental reaches of short nonfiction.
Since then Rosmarie Waldrop's work has been really important to me, also Francis Ponge, and Mary Ruefle, whose prose poetry I specifically love. The last two both seem to be able to pull glorious prose poems out of the cracks between things in their daily lives. They find the momentousness of the everyday. I think prose poetry works really well for that, because it is not usually announcing its grand message with trumpets and trochees, it is just humming a little song to itself on the bus.... but what can come out of that song is really something.
Q: From what I’ve been able to gather, you’ve yet to publish a chapbook, pamphlet or full-length collection. Is this something you’ve been working on at all? And if so, do you see a difference between composing individual poems against composing individual poems that work to exist in the context of a larger structure?
A: Yes you're right, I have not yet published anything but individual pieces and poems. I've just started sending out a manuscript of short prose pieces that are longer than poems – lyric essays, hybrid prose pieces and stories that aren't either true or made up. I've been working intermittently on a novella-like piece of experimental fiction written in fragments. But both are unusual and perhaps difficult prospects as the publishing world often likes books that are definitely one thing or another, and I like writing things that aren’t.
I am intrigued by the possibilities of creating pieces that exist as part of a larger structure. That idea appeals to me, but it is not something I have done much of yet. My 4-part prose sequence 'Pause Processional' was published in Train, and this is the longest piece of poetry I think I've written, which isn't very long – it was a very short train. I suspect it is easier if you have a thematic through line that can act as a frame for your work, or a handle. I'm waiting for one to turn up, I guess. But there is something you give up if you go that route that maybe I am not ready to part with in my writing.
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
A: I keep going back to Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay and a couple of her short recent prose pieces published in Brick and Paris Review. The way she has put these together seems endlessly fascinating to me. Another one I pick up a lot is Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel. There is a kind of energy in these that can be generative for me. But it is also good to keep a lot of poetry around and just kind of pick things up carelessly.