Kate Partridge and Alyse Knorr met in the MFA program at George Mason nearly ten years ago, and they’ve made their lives together since.
Alyse: One thing I know, from observing your work, is that you write in lots of forms and are often juggling several projects at once. Do you think of yourself as a poet, or as a writer?
Kate: One part of my brain wants to reject this distinction out of hand. But I do think that, even when I’m writing in other genres, I am doing so as a poet first. Poetry is my native language, and everything else is inflected through its particular set of priorities for rhythm and the line. This is probably why I am so partial to poets writing in every genre: poet-scholars, poet-essayists. I love how poets look at the world. What about you? Poet or writer?
Alyse: Because I’ve been working lately in non-fiction just as much as poetry, I’m leaning toward writer! But then again, I spend most of my time writing emails or comments on papers–I’m day to day mostly a teacher, and these roles are intrinsically linked for me–what I do as a writer informs what I do as a teacher and vice versa. Teaching young writers constantly reminds me of the deep courage and vulnerability necessary to write, and encourages me to keep taking new risks in my own work. I always do the in-class writing exercises along with my students, so we’re all writing together, and I’m grateful to have that community. My students energize me with their passion and their dedication, and my conversations with them show up everywhere in my poems.
Kate: I would argue that you also derive a lot of support at home from our cat. Has she impacted your writing process to the same extent as your students?
Alyse: Miss P has had and continues to have an enormous impact on my process. She’s my toughest reader–when I lay out my poems on the floor to order them, she’ll just sit on the ones she doesn’t like, concealing them from my view and effectively eliminating them from the manuscript. She also tends to fall asleep when I read work to her, which often makes me wonder whether the poem is soothing or just boring.
Kate: She really contributed to my work several years ago by sitting on me, trapping me to the couch, while I was reading for my PhD exams. It’s a service I recommend.
Alyse: Who else influences your writing? I know that you’re often thinking about visual art as you write poems.
Kate: I’ve been working in my critical writing on discussing collaborative and intermedia projects between poets and photographers or filmmakers during the 1930s and 40s, so that has led to an ongoing fascination with Dorothea Lange’s work, and with Eadweard Muybridge’s renderings of motion. I’m interested in how photography and time interact, and how that can be represented in language.
I also love Agnes Martin and have written several ekphrastic poems responding to her work; I saw the retrospective of her work at LACMA right after I moved to LA in 2016, and I’ve been to New Mexico several times since to see her paintings there. Everything about her life and her work is interesting to me, from burning the paintings she didn’t like at the end of a year to her idea of creating art “with my back to the world,” which is the title of the great documentary about her. Martin and Lange have really different senses of what it means to be a self that creates art; whether, as Lange says, you need to “annihilate the self” to really see, or if the self is the center of everything. I don’t think these ideas are necessarily mutually exclusive, and I’m continuing to think about the ways a poetic self can be constructed and shift in my own writing.
Alyse: I really admire your approach to the self in your poetry.
Kate: Thanks! I admire your book titling, at which I am terrible. How did you decide on the titles of your books?
Alyse: My favorite title is Copper Mother, which is my book about the Voyager Golden Record project. In the record manufacturing process, a “mother” is a metal negative image of the recording created to produce stamper plates, which are then used to press vinyl copies. To ensure a longer lifespan in the punishing, radioactive climate of space, the Voyager records were constructed as gold-plated copper mothers. I loved that this technical term referred to the record itself while also carrying thematic resonance with the topics in the book. Plus the phrase just sounds cool!
Kate: Another thing I admire about your writing is your sense of the parameters and focus of each project before you even get far into writing it. Like, you always know what the elevator pitch is.
Alyse: Every book I’ve written was conceived of as a project–I find it a really useful way to generate content and to conceptualize what I’m doing in the big picture. My work is also often narrative, following the same set of characters around the same world, so that is in its very nature project-based. I love falling in love with an idea or a character and just letting myself get obsessed. I really appreciate how your books tend to feel like unified projects that are also full of really tight standalone poes. How do you think about form as you compose a poem?
Kate: I’ve found it productive to start with form as a point of origin occasionally, like in class exercises in which everyone is working on encountering a particular inherited form–but by and large I really prefer to let the poem’s shape emerge as I write. I think this is part of, for me, preserving the poem’s spontaneity; I want it to tell me what it should look like.
I’m kind of between poetry manuscripts at the moment, so I’m trying to read as much as possible, which always changes the way I am thinking about form. Have you read anything good recently?
Alyse: I just read The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, and it’s amazing. I had no idea what I was getting into when I read it–it’s strange and beautiful and arresting and profound. The book feels like the lovechild of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Carson. Here’s a line: “I imagined her above all else. I imagined her in every moment. I imagined her even when she was in front of me. To this day, I don’t know a better definition of love.” I’m recommending it to all my friends just to have people to talk with about it. What else have you been reading lately, Kate?
Kate: I’ve been reading a lot of awesome manuscript submissions for Ricochet Editions! At the moment, I’m an editor for two presses: Switchback Books, which publishes first and second books of poetry by self-identified women writers; and Ricochet Editions, which publishes genre-bending work. I have spent a lot of my summer reading hundreds of manuscript submissions for both presses, and mostly I’m just impressed by the range of amazing work that writers are making right now. Reading all of this work makes me want to devote more time to producing my own, but also glad to be part of a literary community that is so alive.
Alyse: Last question! Animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Kate: Animal, for sure.
Alyse Knorr is an assistant professor of English at Regis University and co-editor of Switchback Books. She is the author of three books of poetry–most recently, Mega-City Redux (Green Mountains Review 2017)–as well as three chapbooks and one book of non-fiction.
Kate Partridge is the author of the poetry collection Ends of the Earth (University of Alaska Press, 2017) and her poems have appeared in Field, Yale Review, Pleiades, Third Coast, Colorado Review, and other journals. She is a Dornsife/Graduate School Fellow at the University of Southern California.
Essay Press, 2017
Miel Books, 2016
Boss Fight Books, 2016
Furniture Press Books, 2013
Horse Less Press, 2015
dancing girl press, 2014