Kathy Davis, author of Passiflora, is a writer of poetry and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in many publications such as The Southern Review and Guernica.
Get to know Kathy in this Q&A and then join us on Thursday, April 28 at 12 PM ET to hear her in conversation with poets Danielle Beazer Dubrasky and Cathryn Hankla as they read from and discuss their recent collections. This virtual event is FREE to attend and open to the public. To attend, please register to take part on Zoom or simply make plans to watch the livestream on Facebook.com/VaBookFest.
Festival: What is your method for assembling a book of poetry?
Davis: That’s the $64,000 question isn’t it?! The process is so much like piecing a puzzle together and just as frustrating. Generally, I start with gathering all the poems that I think might work together in a manuscript and laying them out on the floor or a large table. Then I try to discern which pieces speak to each other through images or topics and if there is a narrative or thematic arc for a section or for the manuscript as a whole. But I think the most crucial step is having a trusted reader or two who can look at your draft and tell you what works and what doesn’t work for them. I find that often they will see connections or themes of which I am not even conscious, and that kind of input can significantly enhance the organization of the whole.
Where did you draw inspiration for your most recent book?
A number of the poems in Passiflora were written during a time when I was grieving the deaths of some family members, friends and beloved pets. I tend to seek solace in the outdoors, including through gardening. And I think that way of processing loss permeates the book.
What are some challenges that you encountered in your writing process?
I find the biggest challenge is to continually break out of comfortable patterns and try something new—whether it’s a different writing process, form or subject matter. It’s so much easier to stay with what you think you’re good at. But what fun is that?! Getting out of my comfort zone reminds me that trying and failing is an important part of creative growth. Plus, it feels so good when you’ve mastered, even just a little bit, something you couldn’t do before.
What types of preliminary research do you do before writing?
I don’t do much subject research before writing, but I do read writers who I think are doing interesting work stylistically that I can learn from. Once I’m into drafting a poem, I’ll do research, if needed, to make sure my “facts” or descriptions are accurate.
What are you working on next?
I’m trying to learn how to write flash nonfiction and to improve my skills in writing sentences—both of which I’m finding very challenging.
What books are you currently reading or excited to read soon?
I’m currently reading two memoirs: Tessa Fontaine’s The Electric Woman, A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, where she weaves the story of her experience working with a traveling sideshow with reflections on her relationship with her mother, who is recovering from a devastating illness; and Patricia Williams’ Rabbit, about overcoming a childhood amidst poverty, violence and drug dealing to become a successful comedian, actress and writer. Next up, I’m looking forward to reading Lydia Davis’ Essays Two: On Proust, Translation, Foreign Languages, and the City of Arles.