poet

Thinking With the Best of Them

Tomorrow I will submit my first poetry chapbook to Honeysuckle Press. This chapbook is filled with my best work, though some lines still feel brittle enough to break me; lines like:

"The problem remained, I thought too much. We were thoughts. We were thinking with the best of them, and we'd worship words, but never wreckage."

My two best friends have been kind enough to give feedback on these poems. These are also the same best friends with whom I reunited in NYC two weekends ago. And what I discovered with these two people is how we all worship words, how we let them destroy and revive us, and all along I, too, was thinking with the best of them. 

Maybe some writers only have the page. Maybe they, too, carry their notebooks and journals as if they are people, capable of conversing back and forth, as I have often found myself doing. But I hope they also having living, breathing people who will help shape stray thoughts into meaning. 

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While away, I was finally able to share my last printed copy of Dream Catchers. Together, my best friend and I admired the pages, remembering the beginning and the middle and the end of creating this story. Together we discussed books and short stories and with one idea, I finally discovered how to return to my most beloved short story collection! And we talked about poetry.

On one trip from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village, we listened to my narration (in Voice Memos) of my chapbook, and every now and again my best fiend would tap me in hopes of pausing the reading to gush or question or note something from a line or title or an image. A year ago, this would've been a terrifying exercise. But since embarking on the Plath Poetry Project and writing along with Sylvia's last year of life, since rediscovering my voice as a poet and crafting enough pieces to create an entire chapbook, I have grown more confident in my words. There are still the vulnerable lines and the ones which are so fictitious, even I'm astounded at how well they resonate off the page, but they exist, and for that I am grateful. 

Many of these poems began as single lines in my journal under various pages marked: Thoughts. Others were born into full-fledged poems at 4AM and they remain some of my best. And I hope to share them all with you someday. Here's to submitting. Here's to winning the Honeysuckle competition and seeing these words in print. Together. Published. Real. 

And here's to starting all over again. 

A few days after returning from that short trip, I still felt energized and rejuvenated both in spirit and creativity, and I found myself completing another journal. It's now become a "thing" where every three months I must start a new journal. And leaving one journal behind in exchange for another is usually a strange and difficult process where it takes me at least a week to get comfortable again. And throughout this time of committing my words to the square-ruled pages of a black hardbound Moleskine, I''ll admit I've become superstitious. I begin every first page with a mantra, I promise eternal gratitude as a reward for finding my journal if ever it should become lost, I sign my name, I write my word for the year in the back to be reminded, and I get to work filling yet another journal. And it's worked for me. I also started finding quotable stickers from The Strand to adorn the back covers, which help me distinguish between them since they all look the same. 

As I walked through The Strand during this last adventure, I found two wonderful stickers, and both are now stuck to the backs of my new journals, one of which you will notice is red! I had serious Dash and Lily vibes upon receiving the object in the mail from one of the best friends. And I can't wait to fill it with even more words. 

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I suppose Jack London is right in his advice to writers to carry notebooks everywhere. I can't imagine what I would miss if I didn't have a sacred place close by to impart confessions, observations, one-liners, poetry, short stories, etc. And I can't imagine where I would be in this writing journey without the people who support me best. 

So here's to them.

Here's to words and better thoughts and the stories I can craft as a writer. Here's to luck and hope for my poetry chapbook. Here's to sharing my words with all of you.

Now It's Nostalgia

Since Sunday, I've been immersed in the idea of nostalgia. After receiving an email from MockingHeart Review, I immediately had the "better luck next time" kind of thought. As I've said before, I'm accustomed to rejection. But this was no rejection. My poem, "How to Heal a Snake Bite," will be published next month in the last issue of 2017 by MockingHeart Review. And what's more, the lovely editor said my poems (even the ones not accepted) touched her greatly. Her words took me back to the beginning of this poem's journey.

I was there, in that Williamsburg coffee shop where I first wrote this strange poem. Back before the revisions. Back before I submitted to five other publications who've all rejected this poem. There was the bitter scent of espresso, and the just-barely-there hum from the city beyond the patio of Black Brick. There was the best friend sitting across from me. There was the rest of the day we spent exploring, and the photos I took, and the memories I made. Looking back, I suppose I'd call this feeling now nostalgia, but then I just called it perfection. 

So now it is almost a full year later, and this poem will be published! Since diving back into the world of poetry, I've been struck often by uncertainty; unsure if I'd found the right words or tone or voice, though I enjoy writing them immensely. But this acceptance is validation that my words mean something, that the act of writing poetry has helped more than just myself.

The world of poetry is strange. On one side, I have my beloved favorites: Sylvia Plath and Tennyson, Jack Spicer and Stephen Mills, and then there are the typewriter poems and the Tumblr poets and their words are just as important. We are in this unique place where poetry can be anything. No more are the days of Ginsberg having to fight to demolish the expected, no more do we forget women's voice in poetry like too many did when seeing Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath together. Times are different. Poetry is different. And I'm not so sure us poets need the validation when it feels so delicious to destroy ourselves on the page, to permeate those same pages with a prose poem, or a couplet, or a strange twist of words. 

But publication feels pretty damn good! Sharing work is what juxtaposes these poems against our secrets still hidden in iPhone notes or journal pages or whispers before bed. But writing is still writing. Words are still words. And soon you will be able to read this completed work.

Until then, I'd like to remember that perfect day at Black Brick with the words of this poem barreling through me to the page. I'm still not sure where they come from sometimes. And I'd like to remember that conversation between myself and the best friend where we both discussed losing a story, and wondering who might've found it next. Because maybe we were too busy. Maybe it wasn't right for us in that moment. And I'm not sure what it was about sitting behind that small coffee shop visiting the best friend for the first time in NYC that helped me find this strange poem. 

I'd also like to note what happened after the joy and excitement from that email. As I readied to send an updated bio and author photo to MockingHeart Review, I realized I had to make sure this piece wasn't still out to other publications. In the world of writing and submitting, simultaneous submissions are not discouraged. In fact, literary magazines and presses understand it might take thirty rejections before your work ever finds a home. But they also expect you to withdraw your work upon publication. Now being an old-school, pen and paper loving person that I am, I had to go back through my archives to find where I'd sent this poem. Along the way, I did find the page where I'd written this (October 4, 2016), and I found many other things. I also discovered that "How to Heal a Snake Bite" was rejected everywhere else it'd been sent, and so withdrawing was a non-issue.

But I didn't let this go as an unlearned lesson. I've since created my own color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of publications I'd like to submit to in the future, places still pending, rejections, and those three acceptances I've had so far this year. It's currently four full pages, and getting longer. And even looking at all those red rejections contained therein, it is astounding to see all the places I've submitted in 2017. And sure the rejection list continues to grow (I'm currently at 49!), but so does my list of publications!

Maybe I'll look back on this acceptance a year from now and be taken back to the exact moment I opened the email. Nostalgia is a fickle fiend, which too often tricks us into heartbreak. But sometimes she's good and kind and perfect and reminds us all how wonderful we can be, and how much we have to be grateful for now. 

*Update: As of August 31, 2017, you can read "How to Heal a Snake Bite" published at MockingHeart Review

Enemies Of the Every Day

As a writer, and as a person, I grapple with self-doubt, as I'm sure is true for many of you. But Sylvia Plath reminds me to move past this enemy I face every day to find the words, which want to be written. One of the ways I've been tackling my own self-doubt as a writer has been to find my way back to poetry. And the Plath Poetry Project has helped me do just that!

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My calling to be a writer did not begin with fiction (unless you count that story from second grade about a turtle becoming king, or the other more fantastical tales I signed in crayon), but instead, began with poetry. I can still recite my first limerick I crafted, and still remember the moment I felt like a real poet.

In middle school, the mother of a childhood friend who lived at the end of my street was killed in a car accident, and the only way I could think to process the news was to write a poem. Now many might think the moment this poem was published was the time I felt like a real writer, and maybe for some the validation of seeing their words in print is that moment. I know all these years later the first time I did see my words published by an online magazine that, yes, it was an incredible feeling.

But the moment when I realized my words could help someone other than myself, is the moment I felt called to the page. That same childhood friend read the poem I'd written at her mother's funeral. I still remember the sound of my words from her mouth, voice so small; too young to have had to deal with such a thing. 

Now fast forward. I am a writer. And while I love writing, really I do, there are some days, which are difficult. There are moments when the creativity isn't there, when the excitement is just out of reach; the times of day when I stare in front of a blank page hoping something will happen. And if I'm being honest, these are the days, which scare me the most. These are the days when I wonder if I am really a writer. For those non-writerly folk out there, this might seem completely nonsensical, and I assure you, it is, but I'm not sure how quite to explain where the writing comes from.

Alas, I digress.

It is in these times when I feel self-doubt more than anything else, which never makes the writing any easier. Sometimes our own self-doubts outweigh our self-worth, but still, we must continue onward. 

While I mentioned writing poetry in middle school, I must also admit I wrote many a melancholic poem in high school as well. When I took Experimental Writing for the first time, however, I abandoned poetry for a new love of fiction! I started a book, which I am still working on today, some eight years later, and I started another book, which I refuse to ever look at again. And sure there were some poems here and there. I took a poetry class in my undergrad. I discovered that I am a writer who cannot resist the trappings of lyrical language. Through all of this, I never felt like a poet, not the way I had all those years before. I didn't feel like I had found my voice as a poet like I had in writing fiction. 

The Plath Poetry Project, however, helped me find my way back to poetry. It helped me find my voice. I've been following along with this writing challenge since April and have completed twelve poems in the past few months. My poem, "Sacrament," was featured in the first retrospective of this project, and you can read that work HERE.

Now you might be wondering what this Plath Poetry Project is all about. The home page asks:

"What is the relationship between discipline, inspiration, and external pressures?"

The project serves to help writers answer this question. By following the writing Plath produced in her last year of life, I have been writing a poem (sometimes more than one) each day Sylvia wrote a poem, taking inspiration from the work she created. Not only has this project helped me feel closer to one of my favorite writers, it also brought me back to poetry. It helped me cultivate a pamphlet of poems, which has since been submitted for a contest, so keep your fingers crossed for me! 

Two nights ago, I finished my latest poem for this challenge, and I was reminded that self-doubt is indeed the worst enemy to creativity. Since I've stopped doubting my ability to write poetry, to have a unique voice, to actually sit and write, I have felt more creative. And on the days when the words aren't quite there, I still find myself drifting toward a line or two that might grow to be something more.  

I am hoping when I check back in at the end of this project that I can say I successfully wrote all 67 poems, just as Plath did in her last year of life. I find myself wondering more and more what kind of work we might've had from Sylvia today. But the thought is wishful thinking. It comes and goes. I open up to a blank page, and I wonder, and I write. 

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Birthday Letter

Dear Sylvia,

Your once beloved beau wrote a final collection entitled Birthday Letters that I have yet to read. But I read that today it is your birthday, (though it is actually October 27th) and I might never read those poems because I didn't love Crow the way I wanted to, and I suppose this is because your voice, your poetry, has already possessed me. 

Though you're gone, I said a small, "Happy Birthday," just because. But this wasn't enough, because you were a poet and I am writer and I think it is only in the written word that you will feel the sentiments of that birthday wish. 

And I wonder what you might've written had you found a way to bottle your illness long enough to make it to today's medicine. I would say today's understanding, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist now. And I wonder if you would've marched last Saturday, the taste of disgust like the bitterness of pills left on the tongue too long without water to ease them down. Would you have plastered a poster with images of bees because your father was Otto, King of the Bees, and he'd taught you long ago that the Queen was meant to be more? More than rights stripped away and choices provided by men who will never know what it is like to feel the moon of a womb or the wane of loss. Would you sit at your computer and vomit a compendium of poetry about the plight of womanhood amidst today's technology and jarring juxtaposition between all we have accomplished and all we choose to forget?

I've wondered a great many things about you. 

Sometimes, I think I feel your darkness. And maybe it isn't mine to claim, though that sort of depressive darkening runs in my blood from a paternal place. Maybe this is the same darkness, which ran in your veins, like ink that takes more than just black to be created; you add the blues and the purples, the bruises no one will ever see because all they know is black and white. Maybe that substance, whatever you'd like to call it now, floats in the ether of creation before making us into these people, these writers of words and dreams and draconian dependencies that keep us chained to the pen and the promise of splitting our souls for others. Sometimes we call it love or burden or beauty or art. 

Oh, Sylvia, I want to open to the pages I've annotated with my own thoughts, but I've left your work at home in exchange for a new novel, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and a book of poetry called Beautiful Zero. And I never thought I would miss your collections so much because they have been too many places with me. 

You do not come to people lightly. It is full on obsession and love because there is something within you that we understand. When you took your life, maybe you erupted into particles reincarnated within us all. 

I remember that one poem you wrote, and imagine the people around you as the thoughts filtered in.

I remember my poetry professor from my undergrad who never talked about you, and I wonder why. Because he talked about Dickinson and Pound and recited the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and he brought the works of Spicer into my life, and Spicer wrote about Lorca and Alice, but never about you. But you were there in that collection from the Strand, and the dolphin seemed to resurrect you in writing, and you were there in The History of the Unmarried, and I cried a little at the idea of death in that one poem because Mills is scared of the way it might separate him and his love and their love seems more understandable because he writes about movie theaters and Gap sweaters. And maybe I don't want to understand you and Ted because I don't want to see myself in you. And Ted. And the way that one writer broke my heart with the things he'd text and the way he understood my madness and my mind until one day he didn't. We didn't. We never will, and the what if is poetry he will never understand.

There was another poetry professor I had, and he, too, left you off the syllabus because, maybe, you were too much woman for him to handle amidst the poems of woods and nature that bowed down to men and ignored the sacrifice of Mother Earth. And that same professor had a bit of an accent, and he asked us every class what we had observed that day. He was trying to make us better writers. Better poets.

And here is what I've observed from my seat on this train: the sound of the cards on the table and the love in the sound of the father's voice. (I remember a similar sound, but I don't.) (Not quite.) The young girl sings. I don’t know the song, but the music sounds like the in-between of childhood and adulthood; something she will hear in the car twenty years from now making her remember this trip to NYC with her father. He sings with her, both so off key that the moment becomes perfect in the imperfection.

I think that is what you would write about today if you were here; perfect must be flawed or else our eyes would be burned by the sight of the godliness. The sacrament of a song that is not real could be Holy under the right circumstances. And maybe you would write a poem in which this father tells his girl that she is enough, because she is. Explanation drives the narrative.

Maybe he will discuss the female circumstance of having a voice and not using it, because his wife grew up in a traditional household, and maybe she voted for he who must not be named, but the father doesn't hate her. He can't hate her. But he can't understand her either. And maybe he won't say this to his daughter, because maybe, it is about the things we say and the things we don't. 

When the girl frowns at her thin arms, and the way she can't lift her suitcase into the overhead compartment, admitting this makes her feel weak, the father will explain that being slight is nothing she can control, but that one day she might be filled with enough power to paper her walls in poetry. And dreams. Because in the end those are the same thing. And he will smile at the way she sings her own song because that means she is enough. 

You were enough, Sylvia.

Enough for all of us who read your words. Enough for yourself. And your poetry exists as a reminder of the way "Lady Lazarus" and "Ariel" broke through the barriers to be a force, not a frailty.

In these tumultuous days, with grey skies overhead that look too much like nature in mourning, your brashness is something to bring us back to bone, to remind us we are strong. And maybe they would call you nasty, tweet at you with little regard for the things you've endured. And maybe some would just say, "Happy Birthday." I can only leave these possibilities as wonderings in a post you will never get to read.