Kathleen Volk Miller will be featured, along with Leonard Gontarek and Mike Ingram, in the next Poetdelphia reading (Friday, Dec. 14th). Check out the following interview for some insights about writing, teaching, and good books.
Poetdelphia: What do you find particularly compelling or engaging about writing nonfiction. I’m curious about this because I think your strong sense and use of voice would be quite suitable to other genres; it’d translate well to poetry, for instance. Do you naturally gravitate to CNF, non-fiction, or personal essays? Do subjects seem to choose their forms (if you know what I mean)? What kinds of particular challenges come with this style and genre?
Kathleen Volk Miller: Well, that’s a funny question to start with because for the majority of my life, I thought I was supposed to write fiction. I wrote short stories and was rejected for years and years.
I’m not sure if there was a moment that was some large turning point or anything—I guess I had things to say that weren’t fiction.
I also think I simply got old enough that I got brave enough to not need the “shield” of fiction.
My essays have fared much better than my fiction and now I’m fully comfortable in that genre instead. I do believe it may be easier, at least for me and at least right now. I’m just “talking” on the page without so many of the concerns that come up with fiction.
I’m very much enjoying “playing” with flash CNF.
I enjoy dabbling with poetry. With reading as much as I do, who could I not? I tell my students that reading poetry will help inform their writing—even non-literary writing, and I firmly believe it does.
I’ve written very few poems. I wish I was better at it. A professor in grad school said that my poems sounded like the lyrics to country songs and that—quite seriously—turned me off from attempting poetry for years.
I’m going to read a couple of poems on 12/14 so you can tell me if they sound like country songs instead!
Poetdelphia: Can you recommend one specific new book that you have been reading? What’s great about the book, the author?
Kathleen Volk Miller: Right now I’m reading Paul Lisicky’s “Lawnboy” an older novel of his I’ve always wanted to read. My next purchase will be Lisicky’s “Unbuilt Projects” for two reasons—1) I am really enjoying “Lawnboy” and 2) I just heard him read something from Unbuilt Projects that I must read again and teach and share every way I can. Mind blowing.
I am a huge Steve Almond fan. Totally in love with his work right now. What I admire most is how he gets away with really, really romantic language because he uses so little of it, interspersed with visceral, stripped down language.
Poetdelphia: Can you share a writing tip or prompt? (If you don’t approach your work in this way, or don’t use prompts/exercises that much, feel free to tell us something about your process or writing habits generally.)
Kathleen Volk Miller: I do not use prompts for myself. My favorite one for students—a first line for fiction, is, “Honey, there’s a bear at the door.” I just had a terrific creative writing class and one of my students came up with this one, “This guy gets in a cab.”
Poetdelphia: In what ways do the arts (could include non-literary arts) influence your work? Can you give an example (of an inspiring work, of a time you made use of some artwork)?
Kathleen Volk Miller: I’m going to read a poem on 12/14 that references Dylan’s “Do Not Go Gently” and another one that almost mockingly mimics Wallace Stevens “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
Neither were prompts, but came to my consciousness as I wrote the poems. Funny, huh, that I don’t consider myself a poet and I wrote two poems after other poems?
I think this is a tough question—everything we experience/see/read becomes part of who we are, so therefore becomes part of our work. I don’t know if I can separate out any other SPECIFIC art influences.
Poetdelphia: Thanks so much! We can’t wait to hear you read next week!