Cathryn Cofell | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. Tells us how you started in poetry? What age?

Cathryn Cofell: I remember writing the first thing I called a poem in 2nd grade, a wretched creature about hating my sister for making me do the dishes. Since then, I’ve grown to love my sister and write far better poetry, though I still hate doing the dishes.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

CC: Don’t tell my friends who own Acoca Coffee, but I love the cinnamon scones at a competitor’s coffee shop, with a latte, extra shot.

KPG. Does your university degree influence your writing of poetry and how?

CC: I have a liberal arts degree in English so heck ya; that degree sure didn’t influence my first couple of employers so I’m glad it’s been good for something. More than anything, it introduced me to poetry that made the hair on my legs pop out (by Diane Wakoski and Gwendolyn Brooks and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock). It taught me what a great poem is and is not, and the importance of fueling my own creative bonfire by reading as much as my brain can absorb.


KPG. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

CC: Well, there’s my kid. Definitely my first passion, though I don’t think he’d appreciate being considered an endeavor. I also devote my limited free time to social justice (broadly)—equity for those who are racially and/or sexually diverse and the mentally ill. I have little tolerance for intolerance.

KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.

CC: Enter the way back time machine with me, to my first conference with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. It was Green Bay, Wisconsin. I hadn’t written for years because of my asshole ex-husband but my new boyfriend (later husband number 2) had encouraged me to start up again and I was desperately seeking a tribe of like-minded mutants. Enter, Ken Gurney (among others). I owe so much of my poetic success to the friendships and networks that formed from this organization, including my first chapbook, published by the Gurney’s Hodge Podge Press. (Hug ya!)

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

CC: Not that I know of. The closest I’ve come, regrettably, is the mandatory reenactment by my son’s 5th grade class. He was a blue coat, killed almost instantaneously.

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?

CC: If I could wave a magic wand, it wouldn’t be for books in schools (but thanks for the gift of world peace and early retirement). ☺  That said, we don’t need a magic wand to get good poetry in the hands of our youth. We need to be donating those favorite books to their school libraries, volunteering in their classrooms and more importantly, valuing those who teach so that the best of the best or building the minds that will build our futures.

Cat_Cofell_2KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

CC: Passenger seat of my friend’s car, driving to Milwaukee. I found a pair of swim goggles tucked in the pocket next to me. She had no idea why they were there. I put them on to stir her memory.


KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

CC: I visit the Poetry Foundation website when I’m looking for a poem on a specific topic or information on a specific poet, or to find out about events happening in the Chicago area. I also love Button Poetry – exceptional spoken word poetry and fresh voices.

KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

CC: I’m more of a State Park girl – Devil’s Lake rocks my world (pun intended), though I have fond memories of visiting the Grand Canyon as a kid.


KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.

CC: My dreams aren’t currently my own, but for my son – that he gets into the college he wants, standardized testing be damned. That he becomes the professional musician he dreams he can be. The finds love and confidence and happiness, but not too far away from his doting old mom.

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?

CC: I hate questions like this. Gah! Nobody can eat just one! I will say that I’m perpetually pissed off that poets in flyover country (aka the Midwest) are too often overlooked. I could rattle off 50 poets in Wisconsin and Minnesota alone whose work I would choose to be stranded with on a desert island.


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?

CC: I’d like to fast-forward about 200 years, to see if this ship gets righted.

KPG. What reoccurring themes or personal experience have you noticed in your poetry over the years?

CC: Love and death, unrequited and otherwise. Cancer and suicide, the long and sudden impact of both. Motherhood, womanhood, body parts.



KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or some other sweet?

CC: Yes.

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