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10 Questions for Stefanie Kirby

Equal parts energy and mass, bodies are held
together by light. You learn how light
pollutes, dependent on its ability to scatter.
The womb gets lighter with every daughter
you have and every daughter you don't have.
Those daughters weigh stones hand over
fist before building them into your womb
like a ballast or fallen wall.
—from "I Ask My Daughter to Consider Her Body," Volume 64, Issue 4 (Winter 2023)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I started as a storyteller. Before I could write any words myself, I dictated a story I titled Der Bergsteiger (The Mountain Climber) to my mom, who added all of the words beneath my illustrations. That book is still at my parents' house, in a box under a bed. I like to believe that my childhood self is still there, in those pages, simply because my mom set my words down on paper. Perhaps what drew me to writing initially was a feeling of permanence, an attempt to create a space to which I could return.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
When I read, I’m mostly looking for permission: what do poets do with language and, by extension, what am I able to do with language? The writers who influence me ask me to consider in what ways I can stretch language and myself on the page. Because of this, I’m doubtlessly indebted to innumerable writers—really, to anyone whose words I’ve ever been lucky enough to read. Still, certain writers’ works stand out as pivotal to me in terms of how they impacted my own ability to move linguistically.

As a poet, I’ve always been drawn to image. Image is what initially brought me to poetry and still serves as the primary compositional impulse in pieces I write. The poem I credit with first bringing my attention to image would be Jacques Roubaud’s “The Best Thing” (trans. Neil Baldwin). This piece, which I first encountered in a volume of twentieth century French poetry that I received for my 16th birthday from my dad, remains foundational for the kind of impact I want images to have in my writing. There’s the “solitary green bench,” the “drop of water stretched to the infinite distance of a railroad track,” the “three white salt memories.” I revisit that poem often, to sit quietly with the language and return to the images it reliably conjures for me, an act that’s become a sort of homecoming.

Another influential text is Sabrina Orah Mark’s The Babies. This collection is packed with poems that use a narrative prose structure to hold boundless leaps. These poems remind me that the mind, and not necessarily reality, sets the limits. Whenever I feel constrained by my version of events, I turn to these pieces because they create their own logic as they move across the page. I’ve noticed that allowing myself to leap at will in a piece brings me far closer to the truth of that poem.

Marosa di Giorgio’s Diadem (trans. Adam Giannelli) is another favorite because of the way she’s able to settle into her obsessions yet still render them new with each poem. Butterflies, eggs, roses, wolves, and mushrooms appear and reappear, but always in new iterations. Before reading di Giorgio’s work, I was afraid of reusing images and even words, of leaning into my interests too heavily. Her poems remind me that repetition serves as a way to listen to our impulses and reflect what matters.

What other professions have you worked in?
I spent several years teaching English language and Language Arts to middle and high school students. I taught during a time when the writer’s workshop model for writing instruction was en vogue. I was encouraged to write alongside my students, to model all the techniques I was teaching, to take on the role of being a writer or a poet within a community of writers. This laid the base for how I think about writing today: a way of engaging with and learning from others. These years were foundational for my own writing, allowing me to build up the necessary skills I’d need to re-enter writing after years away—a sort of connective tissue that bound me to an identity I’d always wanted and never felt confident enough to fully claim as my own. After a couple of years insisting that my students, no matter how fledgling, were writers, after spending hours upon hours after school binding their stories and poems into classroom anthologies to be celebrated and signed and cherished, I think I started to believe that perhaps it was possible that I, too, could be a real writer.

What did you want to be when you were young?
Based on my memories and according to the tiny print in my third grade diary, I desperately wanted to be a ballerina. We moved a lot when I was young, and I remember having a framed print of Edgar Degas’ ballerinas that moved with me from house to house. My mom enrolled me in ballet classes in each new place, too, so perhaps dance became a sort of thread that held my childhood together. I do not have the coordination required to excel at any kind of dance—my most recent forays into salsa ended with a shoulder injury after just a single lesson—but I’ve always loved the euphoria of moving to music.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I’d read an article about “noctalgia,” the particular term coined for the grief resulting from the loss of dark skies. In Colorado, I’m lucky to still have access to some fantastically dark, quiet places, and moving between the ever dwindling dark and the city lights of my home, I became fascinated by the prevalence and particulars of light pollution. I started reading about the way light scatters and spreads and impacts everything from avian migratory patterns to circadian rhythms in various species. While some of this information worked its way into the piece, my poems often arise from initially disparate impulses and sets of notes or lines. In this case, my interaction with the information I’d digested collided with other initially separate lines and parts of drafts. I had a series of images with mothers and daughters and wombs and stones, which, on their own, never felt like enough of a spark for a poem. The piece finally grew from the flexibility of “light” as both a kind of energy as well as its use as a descriptor for weight. That connection allowed me to bring the poem together.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Just minutes from my home is an irrigation canal that channels water from the mountains to the eastern plains, and it’s one of the few areas that can sustain cottonwoods in the arid Colorado grasslands. During the pandemic, I’d step out under those cottonwoods for a short walk every afternoon. Walking became a rhythm that held regardless of weather: across the canal bridge, past the field, up a raised bank of a now-drained holding pond, back across the pavement, up the hill. This space, in its many seasonal iterations, repeats across much of my work. I adore repetition because it offers me an encounter with the same thing over and over until I realize that this thing is, in each instance, not the same after all. This is true both of my well-worn path along the canal as well as of my writing. I can write about mothers and daughters and wombs and stones and light again and again, but they will never be identical if I look closely enough. Each time, they will teach me something new.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I prefer as close to complete silence as possible for writing. I’ve tried using music to ground me before approaching the page, but those sounds seem to reverberate and make it difficult for me to hear what words are surfacing for me. I can’t go directly from reading someone else’s poems to writing my own, either. This rapid transition leaves me with too much noise, with too many words that I haven’t digested and that don’t feel as if they are my own. Perhaps what’s so essential to me is the practice of pausing. Years ago, I read a beautiful book to my then-toddler about the Japanese concept of Ma, which was loosely translated as the pause between sounds. I like to think that I need to write into this pause, this brief interval or gap or emptiness, in order to hear myself well enough to write.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
There are two chores that, if I’m feeling stuck or uninspired, pretty reliably help me generate new work. The first is dish-washing, the second is cleaning bathrooms. I wish it wasn’t so, especially since the first requires me to dry my hands repeatedly to jot lines and images in my notebook. As for the second, I’ve stopped trying to peel off my cleaning gloves in order to write anything down. Instead, I repeat my thoughts in my mind or out loud so that I won’t forget them before I set down the toilet brush. Sometimes this is effective, and sometimes I lose what I’m sure are absolutely brilliant lines. In fact, I probably lose all of my best lines this way.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d love to be a fiber artist! Because poetry, as a word-based art, feels almost loud to me, I think the visual, tactile language of fiber would lend an interesting contrast. How would I express something without any words at all? I imagine the fiber contorting into its own kind of wordless language, and that fascinates me.

What are you reading right now?
I rarely read any book cover to cover, as I prefer to leap from text to text, dipping my toes into one but hopping over to another before I can become fully immersed. This usually results in a stack of books that I carry from room to room. I don’t have a dedicated work space, so the stack must be mobile. I continue adding additional books until the stack becomes unmanageable, at which point I reshelve all of the books and start over. Right now, my stack consists of K-Ming Chang’s Organ Meats, Annelyse Gelman’s Vexations, Victoria Kennefick’s Eat or We Both Starve, Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords vol. 2, Friederike Mayröcker’s Benachbarte Metalle, Friederike Mayröcker’s études (trans. Donna Stonecipher), and Tommy Archuleta’s Susto.


STEFANIE KIRBY lives and writes along Colorado’s Front Range. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Maine Review, Passages North, Poet Lore, Faultline Journal, and Stonecoast Review, among others, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net.

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