BY PETER LABERGE
Peter LaBerge: Let’s get right down to it: Kinsale, you’re—amazingly—still a student in high school. Heidi, you pursued poetry as a teenager, then “lost the plot” and had an (extremely successful) 40-year career in communications, and are only now settling back into poetry. I’m curious—what led you to pursue writing beyond the extent of a teenage hobby, Kinsale, and Heidi, what led you back again to the open arms of poetry?
Kinsale Hueston: There was a turning point around my sophomore year of high school that signalled my departure from poetry just as something fun I’d enjoyed scribbling out in middle school or memorized just to entertain my friends. Where I live, less than 1% of my county’s population is Native American, and I think I became very aware of this once I took on a more active role in advocating for contemporary Indigenous rights. Poetry became my way of reconnecting with my roots on the Navajo reservation, which I’d lost touch with as a preteen because of my isolation within a homogenous population that did not know very much about contemporary Native issues and identity. I dove into my culture and began to celebrate it through this art form I’d loved so much, and I used it as an accessible tool and art form to educate my peers about my experiences, history, and people. As a National Student Poet, poetry is a little more like an actual job now, but I love the work and sharing my passion for writing on a national scale.
Heidi Seaborn: A couple years ago, someone I hadn’t seen since high school called me a “poet” in greeting. It got me thinking. I signed up the next day for a class at the Hugo House—a wonderful place for all things literary in Seattle—with Jane Wong. That’s all it took. I was hooked again. Since then, I’ve been hustling to make up for decades of lost time. The good news is that I have a lifetime of experiences to sustain my writing.
PL: What do you think is the largest misconception about teen writers today, Kinsale? And Heidi, what do you think is the largest misconception about writers who pursue careers in other areas?
KH: I think most adults dismiss teen poets because they think we lack enough knowledge of and experience with writing. However, I think every poet, no matter how old they may be, is continually learning, re-learning, and developing their skills. Poetry is inherently imperfect, which is what makes it so accessible. Especially with today’s political and social climate, teen poets are more important than ever. We are caught up in the middle of things, and around this point in our lives we are questioning everything (ourselves, identities, politics, trends) which can generate some very powerfully observative, active, and transformational work. We are the next generation of writers, and to foster our growth is to invest in the future of this art form. We are also a truly honest reflection of our time, and therefore tend to bring an unmatched sense of truthfulness and rawness to poetry.
HS: I am blown away by the opportunities for young poets today. There was nothing when I was a teenage poet, and perhaps that is why I left my writing behind for a long time. That and needing to make a living! Most writers must pursue careers in other areas to pay the bills, sadly. If there is a misconception, it is that if you aren’t writing full time, you are a dilettante—you aren’t serious. Yet, we know many of our greatest poets had other careers (think Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams) and wrote all the way through. In my case, I loved my work, and I had a very successful business career. Yes, I wish I had kept writing, but given the intensity I bring to everything I do, it wouldn’t have worked. Now I’m grateful that I am able to dedicate my time to poetry. For me, this is my second professional act.
PL: I’ve been thinking a lot about what compels some of my favorite writers to write—fear, anxiety, outrage, love, and entirely different emotional impulses altogether. Do you find that you write more to say something to someone else, or to say something to yourself?
KH: I’d like to think that I try to do a little of both. As an activist, I lean towards using poetry as a tool to advocate and educate, but I also love developing my own voice with every poem I write. Most of my works are celebrations of my heritage—like mini “songs of myself”—or bits of storytelling that, for me, are a way to deconstruct and analyze my own identity and discuss what it truly means to be a Native teen living in contemporary America. My writing is an invitation into my life and traditions, but simultaneously a veneration of all these beautiful bits of culture that make me who I am.
HS: Both. In some cases, I am exploring my life’s experiences to surface meaning. In others, I’m sharing observations, wisdom, my perspective and sometimes, a social or politicized message. The majority of my work tends to relate the personal to the external world—not unlike life.
PL: From reading applications for the Djanikian Scholarships to assembling and releasing our twenty-fourth issue, it’s been quite a reading season so far. What’s been your favorite moment of being on staff? What’s been the biggest surprise?
KH: The biggest surprise for me was definitely opening Submittable for the first time as a Poetry Reader and attempting to wrap my head around the sheer number of poems that were being submitted! That was also one of my favorite moments because of how excited I was to dig in and get to know these writers and their work. Reading diverse, personal, and distinct poetry is actually one of my favorite things to do, so one can imagine how much I love settling down on a weeknight with a cup of tea, ready to dive into new submissions. I also find myself so inspired after reading that I usually end up getting sidetracked and writing my own poems!
HS: Quantity and Quality. Like Kinsale, I’ve been amazed at the sheer volume—as if everyone on earth is writing poetry (and submitting to The Adroit Journal). The best surprise is when I open up a submission and start reading, and can’t stop, and can barely breathe because the writing is magic, stunning, transporting. You have created a literary home for that kind of work. It is very impressive.
PL: Aww, thanks! Switching gears a bit, I feel like any writer who says they’ve never experienced writer’s block is definitely lying. Do you have any advice for our readers for kicking writer’s block to the curb?
KH: Reading work by other poets and writers is a really great way to find new inspiration. I tend to have a very cemented, safe vocabulary when I’m stuck in a writer’s block, so I usually listen to some slam poems online or crack open a random book at a library to just create a little word bank for myself. Other poets tend to use words I haven’t even thought of using, or ones I haven’t heard in a while that are really useful for conjuring up memories or key information that then can motivate me to keep writing. Also, just taking a walk, taking a break, or having a change of scenery are all really helpful, too.
HS: Since I started writing again two years ago, I haven’t stopped. I find inspiration is everywhere. Recently, I completed my first full-length book and two chapbook manuscripts, and was feeling a bit spent—not writer’s block, per say, just needing a kick in the butt. Taking a generative workshop did the trick for me. I recommend The Daily Poet (Two Sylvias Press, 2013) that has 365 prompts to anyone who is struggling with getting word to page. And the best is to read poetry. Lots of poetry. Given that is what I do for Adroit, I’m in luck.
PL: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Could you each give our readers a reading suggestion for the road? And what about this collection, publication, novel, or anthology led you to select it?
KH: Any collection of poems by Federico García Lorca is absolutely wonderful for long road trips or exploring new places. Poet in Spain is my particular favorite because it has mirrored translations in English and Spanish. Lorca is one of my favorite poets, not only for his romantic, haunting poetry, but also because he was so fascinating as a revolutionary and a modern hero. You can see his passion and love for nature and life in his work, which makes everything he writes a powerhouse. There’s such a good mix in there too—his short, sweet poems, his fiery and tragic epics, and also his fantastic, whimsical pieces. Even if you don’t understand the poems in Spanish without the translation, just reading them aloud is like music. The rhythm and rhyme are just gorgeous.
HS: Like Kinsale, I love García Lorca and spent last fall immersed in his work for a particular poem that I was working through based on my time living in Madrid. Currently, I keep picking up Nasty Women Poets (edited by Grace Bauer & Julie Kane; Lost Horse Press, 2018) when I have a spare minute. This anthology was dreamed up after Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate. The poems in it are varied, powerful, painful, funny, a clarion call for our times, with so many great women poets represented. While I don’t have a poem in it, friends of mine do, and I’ve had the good fortune to read alongside them on occasion. The readings are raucous. Nasty Women Poets has over 250 poems that speak loudly to what’s on the minds of American women today. It is very much today’s edition of No More Masks—the poetry anthology that captured the women’s movement in the 70’s—a book that was my bible back in the day!
Peter LaBerge is the San Francisco-based editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal.