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by Megan Nix
I met Kim O’Connor, the upcoming Alice Maxine Bowie fellow, on the Lighthouse porch at the Back to School Party a few years ago. I was immediately charmed by her North Carolina accent and her easiness of being. Since then, as a friend and colleague, Kim has helped me navigate this space between the people we are and the writers we want to be. If you don’t know Kim, she’s the kind of person who shows up with cupcakes or homemade zucchini muffins or the poster board you forgot to get (that you said you’d get. For the class she’s teaching). Or, as one high school writer put it, after taking Kim’s class on incorporating facts into poetry, “She made me feel safe.” Kim is quietly thoughtful but also thoughtfully responsive. It’s what has made her such an anchor in the Young Writers Program at Lighthouse—whether it’s teaching young writers how to write sestinas, or taking on an unexpected request to teach a trimester-long graphic novel class at a public school—she accepts every opportunity with an enviable calm. She has taught me how to be a mother and a writer, and when I think I can only be one of the two, I think of what she wrote on the Hayden’s Ferry Review blog about one of the poems in her first collection, which she completed in the crazybrained years after her daughter was born: “What is most remarkable to me about ‘What the Blood Does’ is that it was written at all.” I think this is probably how we all feel, whether we are new parents or not: how will we ever get this gray matter of work—with no deadline and no other brains but our own—completed? I asked Kim a few questions in this vein before her year of getting more done begins.
What are you working on right now?
After spending a lot of time focusing on my first manuscript, titled What the Blood Does, this spring I began writing new poems for a second manuscript. By early summer, I had over 20 new drafts and a working title, which was 34 Autobiographical Poems Related to Stone and Sky. [Questioner’s note: when I asked Kim why 34, she said because she “just liked the sound of 34”]. It was a poem-writing spree, and for a while I told myself I would finish the manuscript by the fall. Now, I’ve slowed down a bit. I am spending more time revising and deleting, realizing which drafts are worth keeping, but also starting more new poems, too. I’m also thinking that the title I had in mind, though it helped spark my writing spree, won’t actually be the title of the collection. For one thing, I realized it sounds a lot like Pablo Neruda’s Stones of the Sky (and that Stones of the Sky is more interesting). For another, although most of the poems I have written so far really do relate to the sky or the earth in some way, it’s starting to feel a little formulaic trying to get clouds or a rockslide or a pebble into every poem. I’m also trying to keep going with my blog, which is meant to be a place to collect writing about mothers who are writers. It’s ended up being equally about motherhood in general, “how we do it.”
During the fellowship year, I hope to find a home for my first manuscript and to finish my second one, including a new and improved title. I would also like to expand my blog through publishing more pieces from other mother/writers.
What’s one thing motherhood has taught you about the writing process?
Motherhood has taught me that I can write even if I haven’t had enough sleep. All of the poems I’ve written since becoming a mother have been written faster and feel freer than my older poems, which is kind of remarkable considering that as a pregnant person and then a new mother, I was pretty sure I would never write again. But I think that motherhood has made me a more confident writer. When you’re a parent, there’s less time for everything, including self-doubt. And it also probably helps the imagination to be regularly immersed in the world of children, with its sunny mornings at parks and songs and endless snacktimes.
Where does the magic happen?
Although most of my poems start as a flash, anywhere—in the car, while doing laundry, at a Music Together class with my daughter—the real magic, the part where the flash becomes a poem, happens when I sit down on a regular basis and just write. Though I’ve been pretty good at spending time writing on a regular basis for the last couple of years, this summer I took Chris Ransick’s “Creating Your Bliss Station” class, which taught me to create specific tasks for my writing time. For example, I’ll plan to spend ten minutes reading, ten minutes working on a brand new draft, and seven minutes each on five other drafts. I use a timer so I don’t cheat. I’ve found that the magic happens more quickly and more regularly when I have a more specific plan than just “to write.” Also, I’ve learned that if I check my email or look at Facebook, the magic ends. If I have a plan and a timer, I’m a lot less likely to wander around on the Internet in despair.
Detach yourself from your own online despairs to meet Kim and hear readings from this past year’s Alice Maxine Bowie fellow, Courtney Zenner, at the Writer’s Buzz on Saturday September 7 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM in the Lighthouse Grotto.