"There are queens and divas here, holding notes and holding sway and cloaking themselves in poisonous ways that march on no feet. They say to be careful here in the desert, that the uninitiated will pay like the gamblers they are,
amateurs welshing on a price they negotiated themselves." —From "Desert Suite #5: Cactus Music," which appears in the Music Issue (Volume 57, issue 4).
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
This is the first poem I ever wrote, somewhere in the 1980s, never before published, never shared with anyone:
if it exists, it can be discovered
conformity is death
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
John Cage has been a huge influence. I read Silence and it blew my mind. Every artist, of any stripe, should read that book. The first poets I read were Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, simply because I had heard of them. I had just started to write poetry and was very confounded by it, because I had never had any interest in poetry - yet suddenly, it was coming out of my pen - so I figured, maybe I should read some and see what the fuck is really going on here. Both poets astounded me, and to this day, Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind” is one of my favorite poems. David Bowie, one of the greatest creative minds of our time. After his death, I started writing a lot of poems inspired by specific, whole albums, starting with Bowie then moving on to others. Like many writers, I read a lot and I’m constantly soaking up influences, always looking for the ones who make me feel like I have no talent whatsoever, because they show me where the bar is really set.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve always worked office jobs. Cubicle farm!
What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a painter, to go to art school in Paris and then magically be able to live a wonderful and adventurous life as an artist. Didn’t quite make it....
What inspired you to write this piece?
It’s one of a series of Desert Suite poems, which is a running, occasional theme. I write a lot about the desert, it’s rich, fertile ground. As far as this particular piece, I have no memory of writing it, much less what brought it on, which happens a lot with my work. I cannot tell you how many times I read something I wrote months, years, or even weeks ago, and have no memory of writing it, no clue what inspired it.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Again, the desert is probably the most persistent influence, for want of a better word. I have a longtime love-hate relationship with the desert and have spent time in various parts of the American southwestern desert. My second novel, Hotel Tarantula, has some desert in it, and I’m deep into plans for a novel which takes place entirely in the desert, called They Have Murdered the Rain God. I could never live in the desert, but I’ll probably never be finished with it. Certain mountains have also been very inspirational - again, rich, fertile ground.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I used to listen to music when I write, but not in recent years. For background, I prefer silence, the random ambient music of silence as defined by John Cage. A lot of writing takes place on my back patio, where the music of silence ranges from a fishpond waterfall to city sounds both soft and rude, sirens and helicopters, human, bird, and animal city dwellers, etcetera. It’s surprisingly varied and enchanting, in the right moods.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I’m obsessively particular about pens and paper, as I love to write by hand. Other than that, I’m not terribly ritualistic, at least not on a habitual basis. Things get made up and adapted depending on my mood, and location. It’s a constant state of evolution.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
When I finish writing a poem, I need to read it out loud to see and hear the mistakes that I miss while looking at it on the page, and my boyfriend, Mike, is always an enthusiastic and patient first audience. Also my best friend, poet Mary Fleming. For novels, usually my sister, Kathryn, who is my harshest critic and therefore my most valued audience.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Painting, especially watercolors; pen and ink. I used to do both in high school but unfortunately, not since.
What are you working on currently?
Various poetry bits and pieces, more “album” pieces, as well the final touches on a new novel called Waterfall Girls.
What are you reading right now?
Herzog by Saul Bellow, and a rich poetry anthology called Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley.
KIMBERLY WHITE's poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Comstock Review, new renaissance, and other journals and anthologies. She is the author of four chapbooks, Penelope, A Reachable Tibet, the Daily Diaries of Death, and Letters to a Dead Man; and two novels: Bandy's Restola and Hotel Tarantula.