the winter I begin the practice
of making bread,
water, salt, flour, yeast,blistered crusts that hold
—from “Artisan Bread,” Kate Fadick
Kate Fadick worked for over 25 years as a community organizer and advocate for social justice in rural Appalachian communities and urban neighborhoods. She lives in Cincinnati and now considers her day job as that of "poet." Her work has appeared in Appalachian Connection, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, For a Better World (anthology of poems and drawings around the theme of social justice), A Few Good Words (Cincinnati Writers Project 2012 anthology), and Buddhist Poetry Review.
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As mentioned in my review of Slipstream, I met Kate Fadick at a monthly meeting of The Greater Cincinnati Writers League, a poetry critique group that's been in existence for over 80 years. I began to see more of her at local workshops, poetry readings, and eventually at The Cincinnati Writers Project's poetry critique group. Her poems intrigue me, with their brevity and yet their wealth of suggestion, haiku-like poems that expand with meaning—poems you want to read many times. When Finishing Line Press accepted her chapbook, I was excited that these richly nuanced poems would be available for others to enjoy.
—Karen L. George
(This interview was conducted via email in May 2013.)
Kate, I want to start this interview off by congratulating you on SLIPSTREAM, your debut poetry chapbook, and by saying how much I enjoyed working on the review and interview—revisiting these lovely, thought-provoking poems. I know you began writing poetry later in life. Did you read poetry for years before you began writing it? What led you to first start writing poems? And have those reasons changed over time?
KF: I began writing poems as a third grader. I still remember my teacher’s name—Miss Belle McGaughey—and the actual mimeograph book she created of several poems I wrote while in her class. A few years later I entered what was to become a long silence, writing occasionally, but rarely showing what I wrote to anyone. It was in my 50’s that I began to call myself a poet and call writing my “work." Writing, for me, has to do with the way I want to live my life; it’s a way of paying attention, of “showing up."
One of the things I admire most about your poems is how rhythmic they are, through the use of assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme. I know you were once a member of Muse, Cincinnati's women's choir. Do you feel there is a connection between that and how your poems are so rich in sound and rhythm?
KF: That’s an intriguing question. I haven’t thought of the crafting of poems in that way, but now that you mention it, I realize that the physical act of writing a poem is very much like musical notation for me. I hear my poems before I write anything down….often find myself speaking them aloud as I drive somewhere or cook or lay in bed sleepless. And then, as I write them first with pen and paper followed by using my laptop, I continue to “speak them," adding and cutting words as I go.
You have a skill for breaking lines at interesting points, really working line breaks to add layers of meaning to your poems. I’m curious if that’s something that comes naturally to you, and/or if you studied particular poets who excel in that area?
KF: The line breaks are a part of the musicality of the poem. Like the rests in a piece of music, the line breaks open up a space in the poem. They help expose the layered images, inviting the reader into the heart of the poem. They do come somewhat naturally for me—being a singer has something to do with it, I suspect. I do pay attention to what other poets do with line breaks—Kay Ryan, W. S. Merwin, Li-Young Lee, Lucille Clifton—to name a few.
I’m fascinated by several of the poems in your chapbook that have no punctuation, such as “yesterday in a forgotten box,” and “This is Enough;” and how you use line breaks to reveal meaning and/or unfold the story. Is this a decision from the beginning of a poem’s genesis, or is it something that surfaces during later revisions? And can you describe what about a poem makes you want to shape it that way?
KF: Early drafts are usually punctuated. It’s when I begin to cut words and lines that I take it out. When the poem is really right, I find that punctuation would get in the way of its natural flow and wind up removing it all. I find myself using punctuation less and less as my work continues the transition from narrative to more lyric tone begun with some of the pieces in Slipstream.
Your poems often contain an element of ambiguity that results in a sense of mystery that keeps me thinking about them long after I’ve finished reading them. I believe that’s a choice you made. Can you explain why and what you hoped to accomplish through allowing for multiple interpretations, or various levels of meaning, in your poems?
KF: I think the ambiguity is there because, as Merwin is fond of saying, and I paraphrase—poetry is in some sense about what can’t be said—about those places in our experience when words fail us. I write poems about what I don’t know and in the writing am led to some understanding of some part of my life that hasn’t been attended to. And I hope the ambiguity, the mystery, pulls the reader into some part of her or his experience that is as yet unspoken.
Are you writing for a particular audience? What do you hope your readers come away with from your poems?
KF: I really don’t have a particular audience in mind. It can be discouraging to realize how few of the people in my life read anyone’s poetry, let alone mine. I think it safe to say that in this country, relatively few read a substantial amount of poetry. So, I’m thrilled to hear people talk about the poetry they do read; and if it’s mine they happen to talk about, I hope they are coming away from the poems with more questions than answers.
The bio on the back of your chapbook says “…you worked for over 25 years as a community organizer and advocate for social justice in rural Appalachian communities and urban neighborhoods.” Did that have any impact on your becoming a poet, and/or in what you choose to write about?
KF: That work was about making a different world more likely, a more just world, a less violent world, a more sustainable world. I think poetry can help us continue to hope in such possibility when only the opposite seems likely.
So many of the poems in your book abound with birds, insects, animals, flowers, trees, gardens, bodies of water. Why is the natural world important to you, and what do you see as its role in your poetry?
KF: Gary Synder says that humans are nature. My poems seem to reflect that—at least I hope they do. We can’t live well without that intimate, mutual relationship with all that is other than ourselves. Close to home for you and me is the mountain top removal that bears a grotesque witness to the lack of mutuality with nature.
One of the poems I didn’t mention in the review of Slipstream is “Welcome the Stranger,” which reveals the integral connection between the woodpecker and the saguaro cactus it makes its nest inside. What was the inspiration for this poem? Did you see such a nest in person, did you read about it, or learn about it in a documentary?
KF: “Welcome the Stranger” came out of a visit with friends in the Southwest. They have an adobe in the desert, and it was there I found a saguaro boot, as they are called. I had never seen one before, and after my friends told what they knew, I “googled” and learned more. The poem is about the connections between the woodpecker and the cactus, as well as the human connection to what goes on in nature. I hope the poem also speaks to our response to other beings.
Do you have a favorite poem/poems from Slipstream and why?
KF: The poem we’ve just discussed is certainly one of my favorites because it is for me a very personal poem written in such a way that no reader has to know the backstory. I’m tending toward that more and more with my work. “Eve Before Surgery” is another like that.
Tell us about the writer groups you belong to and how they’ve contributed to your poetry. Do you have any suggestions for poets concerning critique groups?
KF: I’ve been a member of Greater Cincinnati Writers League for several years and the poetry group of the Cincinnati Writers Project for two or three. They are very important to my writing in a couple of ways. They are each in their unique way a connection to other poets in the area and their work. And, they are places where early drafts get a hearing and a critique that always leads to a stronger poem. Mary Oliver talks about the solitary act of writing, that eventually one has to sit down and do it. I agree with that. However, it is good to have companions along the way to that solitary place. While critique is necessary for my writing, in the end I make the decisions about the poem. I like making informed ones.
Who are the poets that most influenced you and/or whose poems intrigued you most?
KF: It’s hard for me to think in terms of whose work intrigues me most, or even who favorite poets or poems are for me. It’s usually the ones I’m reading at any given time. Right now you’d find in various reading spots around my house Mary Oliver (always someplace), Merwin, Langston Hughes, Nancy Willard, Jane Hirshfield (always someplace), Mark Doty, Jim Harrison, Anne Carson, and others.
What are you working on now?
KF: I’m working on another chapbook of pieces many of which began with walks in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery…working title is “surrounded by weary angels." I’m also working on a short cycle of 6-8 pieces which I think will have a spot in the collection. They are series of self portraits as a woman with whom I sense some connection. For example, “Self Portrait as Hildegard of Bingen."
A sampling of Kate Fadick's poems on-line:
- "Road Trip," Buddhist Poetry Review
- Listen to a WVXU "Around Cincinnati" radio interview to hear Fadick read "Slipstream," "Artisan Bread," "This Is Enough."
Karen George lives in Northern Kentucky. Since she retired from computer programming to write full-time, she has enjoyed traveling to historic river towns, mountain country, and her first European trip. Her chapbook, Into the Heartland, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2011. You can find her recent and forthcoming work in Memoir, The Louisville Review, Border Crossing, Permafrost, Blast Furnace, Kudzu, and The Heartland Review.