Author interview: Elizabeth Kirschner

Today we have a visit from Elizabeth Kirschner, who’s doing a blog tour about her book My Life as a Doll, a book of poems about how a mother’s violence affects her daughter. Here’s some more info about her:

Elizabeth KirschnerElizabeth Kirschner has published three collections of poetry, Twenty Colors, Postal Routes and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees  with Carnegie Mellon University, and most recently the fourth, My Life as a Doll, with Autumn House Press. She has also published a chapbook, The Red Dragon, and has a fifth book of poetry, Surrender to Light, due out from Cherry Grove Collections this August.

In addition, she has collaborated with many composers and has two CDs, both from Albany Records, that feature her work. In the first one, The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, she set her own poetry, not a translation, to Robert Schumann’s gorgeous love sing cycle. In the latter, New Dawn, Carson Cooman has set to music eight of her poems. Elizabeth studies ballet and lives on the water at Sea Cabins Retreat in Kittery Point, ME.

cakeWelcome, Elizabeth, and first, Happy Birthday! It’s wonderful to have you with us on your special day. To celebrate, here’s a cake. You’ll have to imagine it tastes wonderful. 🙂

And congratulations on your new book, My Life as a Doll. Poetry is something I have never be any good at, but it’s so beautiful. Can you tell us a little about your process? When you’re writing a poem, which comes first, the premise or the words?

Much of my process flows out of my practice. I write every morning, seven days a week. Early on, I developed what Flannery O’Connor called the “habit of art.” Being present, attentive and tuned in brings the words in. I often move from the art of reading to the art of writing, as reading can serve as a catalyst for poems. I also take a long matins walk by the sea everyday and lines sometimes come to me, even whole poems. Like Mary Oliver, I carry a little notebook and pen on my excursions into the natural world to get things down before I lose them. So, yes, language comes first—a poetic phrasing or image that embodies a feeling—that is slowly shaped into the full realization of a poem. I don’t consciously think about premises: They announce themselves media res.

My Life as a Doll is about the effects a mother’s violence has on her daughter. Can you elaborate?

My Life as a Doll emerged, fiercely so, out of the retrieval of a catastrophic memory that had been buried in the underworld of my consciousness for decades. This memory spurred other demonic memories and is delineated in the title sequence:


                        After my mother hit the back

                                    of my head with the bat’s

                                                sweet spot, light cried


                        its way out of my body.

                                    I could not yet tie my own

                                                shoes. I could not yet pour


                        my own milk, but deeply

                                    down and down I went

                                                like a ball bouncing down


                        the cellar stairs. There

                                    I played with my dolls…


My Life as a Doll book coverCruelty tutored me, and out of that brutal schooling came the book, which is one long poem broken into four sections that define, refine the violence and its impact, which, for the speaker, is madness. In the end, My Life as a Doll stands as trophy, testament to the resilience of the human spirit, its triumphant rising out of the bleakest of depths.

Wow! What kinds of things inspire you in your writing?

The natural world has had a great influence on my writing. Much comes to me during my epic, Wordsworthian walks. The work of other poets, current and non, has been a constant deep, rich source of the inspiration in my aspiration to write poems. I keep what I call “Nickel Notebooks,” which are old composition books in which I record poems I love and words about the writing of poetry that resonate with me. I have well over a dozen Nickel Notebooks—it’s a great way to get inside other poet’s poems. I also dance and am a lyricist, and this engagement in other art form also molds the choreographing of the poem, particularly its music.

Have you ever wanted to write prose, or were you always drawn to poetry?

Poetry was and remains my primary passion, but I have segued into prose, particularly in my twenties when I entered what Erik Erickson terms “the moratorium,” which is “a time when the individual appears to be getting nowhere, accomplishing none of his {or her} aims.” Like Sylvia Plath, I made a bad calculation by spending nearly a decade trying to write short stories. It wasn’t until I, like Plath, according to Ted Hughes, accepted that my “painful subjectivity” was my real theme and that the plunge into myself was my only real direction, could I begin to come into my full promise as a poet, and the writing of My Life as a Doll really employed every ounce of my poetic powers.

I love that you have created a mentorship program for poets. Please tell us more about Wise Eye: Creating Poetry That Soars.

Mentoring, I think, goes deeper than what one can accomplish in the classroom. It allows me to help develop, in the fullness of time, first the gestation, then the fruition of the poetic sensibility. This is very complex, as it means delving deep into myself for that wise eye that has deepened my vision and envisioning of the art of poetry. I tend to the cultivation of other poet’s poems as seriously as I do  my own poems. It’s akin to breathing—I instruct others on how to inhale fledgling poems, exhale poems given wings with roots. A beautiful paradox, but one that speaks to the genesis of a poem. I have much to give, and by doing so, I pay homage to the gifts given to me.

And I’m sure those you mentor are grateful. Thanks very much for joining us, Elizabeth. And good luck with the book.

If you’ve got a question for Elizabeth, you can post it in the comments. You can also see more about Elizabeth and her work on her website.

2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much, Samantha, for hosting me today and extra special thanks for the birthday greetings and cake. I have 54 glorious candles to blow out and I send good wishes to you and all who stop by for a visit today.

  2. Our pleasure, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing all this great information with us — especially on your birthday.

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