Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM, and talk about their writing journeys.
This month, Reviews Editor Autumn Purdy corresponded over email with Kyle Potvin about her debut poetry collection, how writing poems helps her to process the world, and how the metaphors of life inspire poetry.
Autumn Purdy: Literary Mama published two of your poems, “When He Returns” in November 2006, and “Petition” in November 2011. Since that time, you have written and published a debut poetry collection, Loosen. In what ways did having poems accepted to Literary Mama and elsewhere contribute to and influence your experience of writing a full-length manuscript?
Kyle Potvin: Fifteen years ago, I decided to actively develop my poetry craft. Poetry had been part of my life forever, but I had let it slide for years due to work, family, and other priorities. That passion bubbled up again and I knew I had to pursue it. I looked back at my records and “When He Returns” was the third poem I ever published. I am grateful to Literary Mama for giving my work a home. I remember being thrilled and amazed to be included in this journal that I admired so much and it brought me the confidence to continue sending out work. Five years later, I was honored that “Petition,” which is in Loosen, found a home with Literary Mama, too. After fifteen years, this is my first, full-length book.
Early on, I accepted that my writing journey would be slow, and I learned to be patient. I focused on craft, learning as much as I could from studying with poets, such as Robert Crawford who gave me a strong foundation in metrical poetry, Joan Houlihan, and others through classes, workshops, and conferences. There is an amazing poetry community out there which has been encouraging and supportive.
AP: The poems you contributed to Literary Mama differ greatly in subject and structure, yet feature a unifying element: they were written with a mother’s touch. In what ways have you threaded the theme of motherhood in the poems you chose for Loosen?
KP: Being a mother—and being a daughter—are an essential part of the fabric of Loosen. There are a lot of ghosts in my new collection, including that of my mother who was lost to dementia before she actually died in 2019. Loss—both experienced and anticipated—is at the core of the book. Having children ensures you contemplate mortality regularly. You measure years by what they were doing at a certain time. You watch the pencil marks rise on the wall. Children also inform the past, teaching you to look at it from a different perspective.
AP: Loosen is an incredible book of endearing poems, complete with gracious wit, striking beauty, and lyrical genius. You’ve somehow managed to incite loveliness even when writing about the difficulties you’ve endured, like breast cancer. How does crafting poetry help you capture and make sense of your immediate environment and life’s challenging circumstances?
KP: Our boys were four and six when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, I found comfort in reading poetry. I especially gravitated toward poets like Jane Kenyon who wrote about their own illnesses. Focusing on the craft of poetry was a welcome distraction, an escape from thinking about possible outcomes, from the nausea of chemo, etc. I like to joke that one of my greatest feats was writing a sonnet with chemo brain. The poem, “The New Normal,” which appears in the collection, parallels growing a cactus with young sons with hair growing back. Another local poet impacted by cancer, Tammi Truax, and I started The Prickly Pear Poetry Project (the name comes from the poem). We have led workshops using reading and writing poetry as a way to process the cancer experience. It’s a moving experience to hear participants’ stories and writing. In the end, cancer, as well as dementia or Covid-19, are all metaphors. These experiences provide different ways to explore themes of grief, loss, strength, beauty, and more.
AP: How has your writing process and practice changed and evolved over the years as your children have grown up? How has writing poetry aided you along your motherhood journey?
KP: I’m grateful that my husband—and later my sons, when older—understood how necessary poetry was to me. For so many years, poetry has been a central part of my life which means it’s been a natural part of theirs. The boys grew up used to mom writing, going to workshops and conferences, giving readings, and publishing. When the children were little, I’d wake up early and write as the sun came up. Back then, especially, I could not wait to go to my monthly poetry workshops! When the boys got older, I’d be writing at night on the sidelines at their sports practices.
Flash forward to 2021, and it was lovely to have my husband and two, now college-age sons, join the virtual launch event for Loosen.
AP: In what ways has writing poetry and publishing a book carried you through the last year? What do you hope for yourself, in terms of writing and publishing, in the near future?
KP: Poetry carries me through everything. I always wonder what people do who don’t write. How do they process the world? I am relieved that I have been able to continue writing through the last year. Early on, I wrote a few pandemic poems, but most are outside of that perspective. Although, they may be more influenced than I perceive! On the publishing side, it’s been exciting to bring Loosen to the world. My publisher, Hobblebush Books ensured it was a wonderfully collaborative process. Launching a book during a pandemic has its challenges without onsite readings but there are also many virtual opportunities to connect with poetry enthusiasts across the country. I am certainly not alone. The poet Rosebud Ben-Oni, who also has a new book, recently crowd-sourced a list of 2021 poetry collections for the Kenyon Review. There are more than 300 books coming out this year. I’m in great company!
Perhaps my next collection will come together more quickly. Maybe it will only take ten years this time! Thank you to Literary Mama for checking in.