Interview with Kara Candito, by Marianne Kunkel.
Kara Candito is the author of Taste of Cherry (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the 2008 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird, AGNI, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and others. She has appeared in Best New Poets and has received an Academy of American Poets Prize as well as scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
MK: Your poem “Epic Poem Concerning the Poet’s Coming of Age as Attis” (Prairie Schooner, Spring 2010) candidly, and at times unflinchingly, examines the experiences of a young boy. What drew you to elaborating on boyhood and what about this task, if anything, was challenging?
KC: I’ve always been drawn to art that blurs the lines between what we often see as fixed categories: male/female, heterosexuality/homosexuality, innocence/experience. In writing “Epic Poem,” I wanted to speak honestly and compellingly from the fraught place of adolescence. Entering into the mindset of a fourteen-year-old boy was a way of convening with my female self at that age through a different lens. In fact, many of the objects and memories that surface into the poem are my own—the TV tables covered with the presidents’ faces, the constant buzz of pop culture, and the obsessions with sound and solitude. This poem was actually a pure pleasure to write, because as I was writing it, all of the elements that matter to me as a writer—invention, memory, and imagination—seemed to coalesce on the page. I don’t have that experience too often!
Your imagery in “Sleeping with René Magritte” is stunning, a fitting quality since it is a poem that profiles the famous painter. The poem’s concluding simile in which you describe “watching / the weather gather like the hem of a dress / we trip over and back / into ourselves” is especially lovely. Striking imagery shows up in much of your poetry; how do you go about constructing an image, and does imagery serve the same purpose in each poem?
I’m obsessed with Lorca’s idea of the hecho poetico, or poetic fact. I love how the images in his poems can’t be subsumed or explained, how they become their own irrational, hermetic matrixes of meaning. I think René Magritte’s paintings are visual enactments of poetic facts. Each object in a painting like Homesickness (1941) is concrete and recognizable, and yet the associations between the objects—a man (with wings on the back of his tuxedo jacket), a bridge, and a lion—are simultaneously ambiguous and deeply emotional. They evoke the experience of homesickness without describing it. When I craft an image, I try to get at the irreducible, irrational dream-logic that governs any intense experience, as a way of circumventing explanation and offering the reader a less mediated version of a private reality with which he or she might identify.
This year’s Prairie Schooner Book Prize Symposium featured you reading from Taste of Cherry. Your poems bring such life to language through their arrangement on the page, how do you perform them in a way that does justice to their appearance in print?
Once, when I was particularly nervous about reading my work, my friend Anna Journey gave me some great advice: think of yourself as a devotee to the poems, and read each one the way it sounded when it appeared in your head, or as a draft on your computer screen.
Even if it means moaning “ooh-la-la!” or channeling my grandmother’s Italglish, even if it means embarrassing myself, I’m just the messenger.
You just completed your Ph.D. in creative writing at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Many creative writers might enjoy traveling to such a sunny, tropical climate to write. What about you—what is your ideal writing space? What does your current writing space look like?
I just moved to Wisconsin to begin a professorship, so my new writing space is still under construction. I really like to work on a big, flat desk, surrounded by a kitschy pastiche of familiar objects. I have this David Bowie poster that absolutely must hang somewhere in my writing space. In fact, I think of Bowie as my ideal self, if I were a musician. He’s audacious without taking himself too seriously, and unapologetically into sex and swagger.
It’s funny that I’m particular about my writing space, because I often “write” the initial drafts of poems when I’m traveling in a car, bus, or airplane. I also find the shower inspiring.
Poets’ Quarterly’s Valerie Wetlaufer remarked of Taste of Cherry, “We are hypnotized, besotted, and we want to follow along with the speaker, past the end of the poem.” Currently, what creative works are you reading that are hypnotizing and besotting you?
I’ve been reading William Kulik’s translation of French surrealist poet Robert Desnos’ work. Desnos’ capacity for wonder and brutality really blow me away. In “Rope,” he writes: “If I like trains, it’s no doubt because they go faster/than funerals.” His work takes fragments from everyday life—observations, tastes, and textures—and makes them magical and disturbing.