I met Kristin Gulotta in a poetry workshop. I remember reading a poem of hers for the first time and being stunned. Her use of imagery was vivid and she had a certain something in her poems that I can’t quite put into words. Since that first poem, she has become one of my dear friends and this has given me the chance to continue to get to read her amazing poetry, playwriting, and fiction. Kristin is the real deal—a wonderful writer and a wonderful person. I am delighted to have interviewed her as my third EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person, if you’re new to Pints and Cupcakes). So, enjoy dear reader, and check out a link to one of Ms. Gulotta’s fabulous poems!
1.) When did you begin writing? And why?
When I was nine. My fourth grade reading teacher was this really cool, fun, hippie chick, who was always telling us to use our imaginations and having us write stories and poems. At the end of the school year, she told me that she really liked my writing and that I should keep doing it–and then she handed me this little green journal with gold-lined pages to fill up. So, I did. I still have it, and there’s some beautifully horrible work in there, the poem “Living in a Bottle of Toothpaste” (“Living in a bottle of toothpaste / isn’t much fun; / Your [sic] very weak, since you don’t get any sun”), and a horror story called “The House on the Bluff,” in which a man moves into his dream home, only to realize that all of his neighbors are (da-da-duh) dead. Anyway, writing’s just felt like something I needed to do ever since.
2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something you’re going to write
Hmm. . . I don’t really feel like I approach the ideas. I feel like they approach me, or at least, I prefer to think of it that way, that there’s something a little special and magical about it, and a kind of falling in love happens.
Just let me have my dream.
3.) What is your “aha” moment when it comes to thinking of poems to write—do you start with something you want to write about? Or do you just start writing?
I’ve written both ways. In workshops, as you know, you’re sometimes given exercises and just have to write, hoping something will come. But, I’ve never felt comfortable with that approach on my own. I can’t journal either. So, I write when I get struck by some idea or image or song or person. A “fell swoops” kind of thing. I guess in lieu of journaling or any other writing routine, I’m diligent about finding or looking at or learning about new things, so I have opportunities for a spark to happen.
4.) I remember hearing you read a poem about fracking…Are environmental issues something important to your writing? How did that poem come about?
I actually have two fracking poems now. (fracking poems. heh.). Like anything I write, those poems started with an idea that became overwhelmingly important once it appeared to me. So, fracking was (is) important, and I was also feeling really affected by so many horrible things I’d learned about, not just fracking but factory farms, GMOs, the disappearing honey bees. So, that all ended up in my work. I have another poem about Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women,” because that struck me pretty significantly after the debate. But, I wouldn’t say I make a point of dealing with environmental (or political) issues, especially because that seems like it’d get sort of preachy and annoying. And, you know, sometimes beds or chocolates are really important too.
5.) Do you mostly want to work within poetry? I know you also write short stories, how does that process differ for you? Do you have a preference between the two? What makes you turn one idea into a poem and one into a story—is that a conscious decision?
I think I do feel most at home working in poetry, but I don’t want to limit myself to that. I’ve had to specify for my thesis (and for applying to MFA programs), and I was really torn between choosing fiction of poetry. Well, and playwriting, but mostly fiction and poetry. So, I took a fiction workshop to help me decide–and that settled me on poetry. I just like how quickly I can get an idea out in a poem so that, within a couple of days, I’m working on revisions. Fiction takes so much longer, and by the time the ideas are all out, I don’t always have the patience to start whittling and polishing. Though, I have been playing around with prose poetry some, and that’s kind of a nice compromise between the two. As for choosing which ideas might end up as stories or poems, I don’t know if it’s conscious. It sort of just feels like I see some ideas as more . . . cinematic, I guess, or as just needing more words and details than a poem would usually allow. So, those are stories.
6.) I’ve had the pleasure of reading a good deal of your writing (though never as much as I’d like since I want to read EVERYTHING by you), but could you describe your style/ types of writing you do:
The feeling is mutual! I love all your work. But describing mine. . . based on what I’m doing now, which is what I feel I’ll be continuing with for a while, I suppose narrative, formal. Historical. It’s sometimes humorous, occasionally a little sentimental, but almost always telling a story. I really love making characters and writing from their perspectives. But some of my work is lyrical or a little confessional, too. So, that’s my poetry. My stories tend toward horror or suspense.
7.) You’re currently working on a creative writing thesis…Can you tell me what that’s about? How has that kind of concentrated process been for you?
I’m doing a project book, a collection of poems on my current obsession: dime museums, which were popular in the 19th century and were amazing buildings stuffed with wonders: freak shows, theatre, fortune tellers, phrenologists, musicians, magic lantern shows, art, historical artifacts, faked artifacts, wax works, etc. P.T. Barnum got his start with them. So, my work is from the points of view of different “exhibits” or spectators, trying to give an idea of the excitement and awe you’d have visiting a dime museum, but also looking at some of the troubling parts, especially concerning “human anomalies” and how they were treated or viewed. And I’m thinking about how we’re all sort of little dime museums – a jumble of the wonderful and creepy, real and fake.
I’m really enjoying working on this. It’s been fantastic to have an excuse to spend lots of my time writing – and to do research just because I need to know more (or everything) about this. I’ve read a bunch of books, and I recently went to the Chicago History Museum to research the Libby Prison War Museum, a dime museum Charles Gunther opened in 1898. I actually got to read – and hold in my own hands – bunches of his personal letters related to the museum. It was thrilling!
8.) Dream projects you’d like to work on:
Well, this will probably seem out of left field, but tucked in the back of my heart is this longing to write about Scopitone films. They were popular from the late ‘50s until the ‘70s and were sort of the precursor to music videos. So, musicians had to make these little films to promote their songs, and they’d play on Scopitone machines that worked like jukeboxes. These films are the best, most campiest things ever. They’re full of scantily clad, gyrating women (or men) and crazy costumes and sets. I seriously love them all. So, I want to write a book about them and make a documentary. Really, I’d just love to be able to interview anyone involved with them who’s still around – and I need to see (and own) a Scopitone machine.
9.) What is your revision process like? Is that hard for you? How do you decide when a piece of writing is finished?
I’ve gotten much better at doing the work of revising, mainly because I’m working in forms. In my own writing, I feel that I’ve sometimes used free verse as an excuse to be sloppy and let myself get away with thinking, “It’s okay if the ideas are vague or abstract. That’s how poetry is.” But, in most forms, there just isn’t room to be sloppy or complacent. To say what I want and also conform to the restrictions of forms (rhyme scheme, meter), I have to keep working at it. And yes, it’s hard. I just finished writing a crown of sonnets. Well, it’s not finished, because I’m still revising. But all seven sonnets are there. It’s been torture. Maybe with forms it’s a bit easier in some ways to know if something is or isn’t done: a sonnet has 14 lines, so at 14 lines, you’re technically finished. But, it take a lot of reading and re-reading and playing around to get the words to say what I want before it’s really be finished. I’m also lucky to have the inimitable Ron Wallace as my thesis advisor – and he’s been great about telling me where the ideas get tripped up. Usually, I already know these are the rough spots, but it’s good to hear from someone outside my own head that they are – and it’s motivating.
10.) You’re an insanely fabulous reader of your own work, having made appearances at such places as the Wisconsin Book Festival. How do you prepare for readings?
Aw, shucks. Thanks. I’ve done a fair amount of theater, so I feel pretty comfortable in front of a crowd – at least when I have something that I can lose myself in. Even though some of my work is personal/confessional, the writing is removed enough that I can think of it like a character and sort of trick myself into thinking I’m taking on a role. I also spend a little time rehearsing before a reading, mainly thinking about where I’ll need to take breaths. Sometimes, I’ll even re-format the work I’ll be reading, break it up by where my breaths need to come, to keep the reading smooth.
11.) Thing you think every writer should know:
Keep reading and learning and putting ideas in your head.
12.) Thing you’d most like people to get out of your work:
To feel it’s true or real–and maybe to feel they’ve discovered something new.
13.) Writer you’d most like to meet:
Honestly, I don’t know how to choose.
14.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing:
When I capture something true.
15.) Who are some of the writers and artists who have most inspired your work?
Well, here are some that come to mind.
For their mastery of forms: Christina Rossetti, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ron Wallace, Mark Jarman
For being wonderfully creepy, horrifying, and/or surprising: Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Katherine Dunn, Samuel Beckett
For the ways they make my heart catch, or break it: E.E. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Shel Silverstein, Charlotte Bronte, Paul Simon, Victor Jara, Albert Camus, Werner Herzog, Susan Mitchell
For their humor and wit: Allison Burnett, David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein
16.) What is coming up next for the world of Kristin Gulotta?
A flurry of MFA applications. But right at this moment, a pumpkin cheesecake.
17.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less:
Knowing I need to fix something but not knowing how.
Thank you, Kristin, for such an engaging interview! Dear Readers, if you’d like to check out one of Kristin’s gorgeous works of poetry, please follow this link to an issue of Goblin Fruit
Bio: Kristin Gulotta is a creative writing major at UW-Madison where she’s also on staff with the Madison Review (and, formerly, with REDzine).
To contact: Kristin.firstname.lastname@example.org