Kenneth P. Gurney. Tells us how you started in poetry? What age?
Karla Huston. I started writing poetry 1994-ish when I started teaching creative writing at Neenah High School, Neenah, Wisconsin. I’d gone back to school late (in my early 40s) and had an interest in creative writing, mostly fiction. I wasn’t able to take any creative writing classes in my course work; so after I was graduated, I took a writing class with Laurel Mills (Neenah poet and fiction writer). Frankly, I didn’t “get” or like the poems that were offered in my English degree “master works” classes. Laurel used contemporary poetry as “prompts” for writing. I understood them. I wrote my first poem in her class. I so enjoyed the process of selecting just the right words. I also met my poetry bestie Cathryn Cofell in this class.
KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?
KH. Anything someone else makes, though I’m not a fan of pancakes (prefer waffles). I like eggs, fruit, lots of fruit!
KPG. Does your university degree influence your writing of poetry and how?
KH. I hold a BS in education and an MA in creative writing. Perhaps my university degrees offer insight into what I don’t know (which is substantial). I don’t consider myself an “academic” writer, however that might be defined. I’m probably more influenced by my gig as a poetry reviewer for Library Journal. I’ve done this for 13+ years, reviewed over a hundred books. While the books I review don’t influence what I write, they offer me a chance to see what others are doing, how they line up words into poems on a page. I’m given the opportunity to read closely poems I might not choose to read on my own.
KPG. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?
KH. Did I mention writing poetry reviews? Poetry again! I serve on the board of two organizations: Council for Wisconsin Writers, which honors fine Wisconsin writing. I also serve on the board and as teaching staff for The Mill: A Place for Writers. But those are writing related endeavors.
My husband and I maintain an organic garden. I love to grow herbs, especially lavender. I also like to make things—soaps, lotions, lavender martinis. I love to read mystery/crime fiction novels. I’m currently working my way through all of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels.
KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.
KH. The first one that comes to mind, Ken, was being published in your journal Hodge Podge Poetry—my first published poem. Then later, you telling me that Milwaukee’s godfather of poetry, Antler, wrote to say how much he liked my poem.
As well, and after a couple of dozen nominations, actually winning a coveted Pushcart Prize in 2011.
Then being selected as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2017-2018.
But perhaps THE BEST poetry experience is writing, letting the poem happen on the page and finding out that it works—and that others think so too.
KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?
KH. Nope! My relatives arrived in this country in the late 1890s. My grandfather, father, uncles, brothers, cousins, nephews have all served in various wars. It’s both sad and frightening to understand how war has defined generations.
KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school English classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?
KH. There are too many, but if forced to choose, I’d select Poetry 180, edited by Billy Collins. These poems are especially chosen for students. There are a wide variety and one poem for every day of the school year. Collin’s objective with this anthology was to allow kids to hear a poem every day without someone (a teacher?) telling them what it meant, what to think, how to interpret it. He just wanted kids exposed to poetry.
KPG. Where was your last selfie taken? With anyone?
KH. I don’t take selfies, as a rule. I always look awful. I understand one must hold your phone up and away, but my arms are never long enough to make this work.
KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.
KH. There are too many; there are too few. I like Verse-Virtual, a site edited by Firestone Feinberg. Firestone serves up a generous helping of poems each month and has created a community of writers who support one another complete with a Facebook page or two. It’s a wonderful thing!
KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?
KH. I’m an indoor sports kind of girl. I’ve visited Yellowstone and the Badlands (spooky) and Devil’s Tower—loved the spirituality of the place. I love Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. So beautiful—and in my own backyard.
KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.
KH. My dream, my goal right now is to serve well the state of Wisconsin as Poet Laureate. I really believe in the power of the written word, in the power of poetry, and I want others to see that, too. I want them to understand that one needn’t fear poetry. There are poems for everyone.
I’d also like put together another book of poems. There’s one lurking in my head right now, but it’s not shown itself yet.
KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and suggest one book of theirs we should purchase?
KH. Your blog isn’t long enough for this answer, Ken. Most of the poets I love aren’t little-known. There are many poets whose work I collect—own every book: Dorianne Laux, Ted Kooser, Denise Duhamel, Philip Dacey. I love Lynne Savitt’s work. Minnesota poets Alixa Doom, Joyce Sutphen and Connie Wanek are some of my favorites.
KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?
KH. I can’t think of a moment in history, but I’d like to have known my mother or my paternal grandmother when they were children. So much has changed for women since they were young.
KPG. What reoccurring themes or personal experience have you noticed in your poetry over the years?
KH. Over the years, I’ve written about love (aren’t all poems love poems?), loss and issues pertaining to women: issues of the body, of how women define themselves, how they are defined.
KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or some other sweet?
KH. Dark chocolate-sea salt-covered caramels. Or caramels of any sort. Or dark chocolate.