Q&A with Poetry Contributor Kimberly Grabowski Strayer

Kimberly Grabowski Strayer is a horsewoman from Kalamazoo with an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Cleaver, Crab Fat Magazine, & others. Her chapbook, Afterward, is available at Dancing Girl Press.

Kimberly’s poem “The Real Museum” will appear in the Fall 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Tuesday, October 2, for special savings and discounts.

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First, I want to say that I’m so happy “The Real Museum” has found a home in Carve. I was the poem’s first reader, and I was mesmerized by your use of language and how the poem so gracefully traversed the feminine self and the body, how the feminine maneuvers itself through tension: between its binary oppositions, but also between the interior and exterior spaces. The poem also explicitly speaks to time as it relates to narrativity, which is introduced in its epigraph (two lines by Alice Notley). How did you conceive of this concept, and how did Notley’s lines dictate the direction of the poem?

I could not be happier that this poem found a home in Carve, because its writing demanded so much of me. I wrote it after an experience I had at The Carnegie Natural History Museum during the first year of my MFA at the University of Pittsburgh.

I’d read through all of Notley’s Descent of Alette earlier that day, which was a truly mind-altering thing to do. When my partner and I arrived at the dinosaur exhibit, there was a small, very old man there who was holding what appeared to be a piece of asteroid. The first thing he did was touch my wrist and tell me that every bone in my body was present in some way in the bodies of the dinosaurs. I was annoyed, because this was something I felt I already knew. It turned out that this man used to work on the exhibit, and had been instrumental in remodeling it so attendees would see the oldest specimens first, and then progress through something like time. Before that, all the dinosaurs had been housed in one gigantic room.

So, all these threads came from this one experience, while I was already in a poetically-altered state. The poem started out as a little tiny placeholder, and went through so many drafts and near-complete overhauls. On some level, the poem that you are publishing needed to be freed from the experience itself before it could reach its final draft, but the story of how it came to be remains the same. I chose the epigraph after the poem was completed, as a way to link the two texts.

The poem snakes the page—it meanders to and from the left-hand margin. Why did you decide to form the poem in this way? How do you feel it fits its content?

I wanted the poem to reflect the idea of a journey through time (or at least, the story of it), which I felt could not solely hug the left margin. I wanted each line to hold the weight of the one above it, but only barely. Some of the lines only just touch what’s before them, like generations do. Once a friend of mine suggested 1.5 spacing, I noticed that the shape of the poem looked skeletal, spine-like.

This poem and the poems in your chapbook, Afterward, seem to revel in the proximal spaces between its human speakers and the non-human. In your bio, you also self-identify as a “horsewoman.” What is your attraction to these spaces?

Oh, I feel so seen by this question, thank you! When I was an undergraduate, I did as much work in philosophy as I did in poetry. I was mostly interested in theories of embodiment, which also led me to think about how the body relates to human perception and experience. I was reading a lot of theorists (mostly white/straight/cis/able-bodied men) who were essentially trying to argue that the body is an aperture, a way of sensing and knowing the world. The flipside of this sentiment seemed to be that the body isn’t also a thing-in-the-world. I was constantly pushing back against this reading.

The body is an intermediary between our experience of the world and the world itself. Language is an intermediary, as well. In fact, it is impossible to experience an unmediated version of the world. This seems like one of the keys to comprehending what we think of as truth and honesty.

I still don’t fully understand what it means. One thing I do know is that I feel more comfortable on my horse’s back (who I’ve had since I was nine years old and he was just four…he’s twenty-two now) than I do walking around on my own.

What do you consider your role in your literary community to be? And in non-literary communities? In what space(s) do you want your poetry to find its contemporaries?

Most of all, I want to be someone who celebrates poems and poets. I shout my praises for the moments in poems that really light me up. As a teacher, I think students get a lot more out of praise for what’s working than bashing what isn’t—because, the next time they come to a blank page, how is an idea of what they shouldn’t do going to help them move forward? This is something I want to live by in literary and non-literary communities alike.

In terms of my own poetry and its contemporaries, emotional investment comes first and foremost. Of course, language and craft are important, but what I’m looking and striving for most of all is that spark of urgency. Craft can come after that. I also continue to believe that poems can think as well as feel—that the intellectual is not at odds with the emotional or the physical.

You’re a reader of Alice Notley, obviously. Who else—poets, writers, or otherwise—do you look to for guidance and inspiration?

I recently started reading Marosa di Giorgio, a poet from Uruguay who wrote these wonderfully strange prose poems. Louise Glück was an early influence of mine—I’ve read The Wild Iris more times than I can count. I return to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets again and again. I think of Lucille Clifton’s collected works as a kind of bible. Diane Seuss’ poetry is an integral part of my poetic heritage.

Beyond poetry, I find inspiration in the natural sciences and the natural world. I’m still interested in philosophy, though I often find what I’m looking for from philosophy in poems.

I also love comics, watch too much TV and too many movies, and have recently started reading fiction again after a brief hiatus (for a moment, felt like I needed to read only poetry forever, because there’s so much great work out there!).