Kenneth P. Gurney. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?
Stella Reed. Activism. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been given opportunities to work in domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, facilitating poetry groups with the residents. I worked with a group of men who were examining their issues of violent behavior and that was incredibly eye-opening. I also work as a teaching artist with 5th grade students using writing and art to help them sort out and reflect on their lives and environment. It’s all pretty poignant. I try to stay active in local events. Bringing poetry into the realm of activism is something I’m passionate about, especially in collaboration.
KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.
SR. Wow, so many. Hard to pick just one. Listening to Ilya Kaminsky [pf] read his work was akin to being hypnotized. But I’ll go with this: Last summer I was at my final residency for my MFA program in Henniker, NH. I gathered with the other students on the covered bridge behind New England College at night to read from our favorite poets and authors. Fabulous ambiance. As my friend, Jamie Greffe was reading “Lessness” by Beckett, a marvelous deconstructed piece that reads like an incantation, (“Little body little block heart beating ash grey only upright…”) a grey fox appeared at the opposite end of the bridge and began walking toward us, as if Beckett’s words had summoned it.
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?
SR: Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, and I would spend an entire semester on the title poem, a praise poem that brings me to my knees every time I read it. I would love for young people to similarly be brought to their knees or at least be fully moved by poetry. I think this collection could do it.
KPG. Favorite poetry website
SR: Poetry foundation.
KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?
SR: Yellowstone holds a special place in my heart as it was my first and my first trip to the western U.S. I hitchhiked there from my home in West Virginia when I was nineteen. I caught a ride in a yellow van full of hippies on their way to the Rainbow Gathering. That night we soaked in the hot springs along the river. The stars were overwhelming. The next day I continued on to Grand Teton. It was a life-changing experience. Every part of me opened.
KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.
SR: Dismantling the current administration.
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?
SR: Everyone is a big word. That’s a lot of ones. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all kind of poet; all kinds of people read all kinds of poetry for all kinds of reasons, so this is a difficult question. How about an anthology or two? In light of the current political horrors I’d recommend Against Forgetting, edited by Carolyn Forché. And to dissolve borders, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry.
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?
SR: Berlin, the Golden Twenties. I’d love to have been part of that art scene, wear a flapper dress, and smoke cigarettes from a long elegant holder without the knowledge that it could kill me. I’d want to scoot before the next decade came around though.
KPG. What reoccurring themes or personal experience have you noticed in your poetry over the years?
SR: I write a lot of persona. It’s difficult for me to write confessional or personal poetry. Having a mask to write behind makes the personal issues and experiences come to the page more readily. I like speaking from the point of view of mythological characters or fairytale folk whose stories resonate with mine or with a situation that is present in the collective unconscious. My poetry tends to rail against the abundance of light in the Western concepts of spirituality and the way it negates the fertile dark and ignores the feminine. Yet the mythologies of religious characters fascinate me. The bookshelves of my childhood homes held tiny volumes of The Lives of the Saints. I was particularly interested in the martyrs and mystics. I’ve written a few poems about or from imagined perspectives of the saints.
KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or some other sweet?
SR: Unequivocally dark.