Contributor Spotlight: Leah Claire Kaminski


20090724-2531-3Leah Claire Kaminski’s poems, “Night Apartments” and “California child speaks in August,” are featured in Issue 73 of the Bellingham Review.

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

These pieces were both written while sitting on a patio in Irvine, CA, the ur-suburb where I’ve lived since grad school. Irvine is a strange place, and not one I love unreservedly, but where I am, the area around the university, there’s some untouched riparian wilderness left (as well as a golf course and some sculpted parks where nature makes do) so outside the patio in my apartment complex was this fake pond and there would often be a Great Blue Heron pacing there and picking up sticks for its nest, or Cooper’s Hawks circling. When I wrote each of these two poems, I was sitting on that patio, watching that pond for signs of the next poem. “Night Apartments” is fairly clearly about that exact scene, on a really really hot night after I went to the complex’s pool to cool off; I think it’s about my own long-term attempt to sense the authentic and human, or even holy,  in what often feels so safe and fake in the suburbs. And “California child…” is a persona poem, essentially, that uses my actual location but not my life. I was a Florida child myself, not a California child—in fact there’s a partner poem to this one, called “Florida child speaks to hurricane seahorses,” that was recently in Tupelo Quarterly. Both poems, which share a form—they both started as attempts at ghazals—are concerned with humans’ encroachment on nature. I am often preoccupied with how similar South Florida and Southern California are; they’re almost doppelgängers, where one was too wet to sustain human life, the other too dry, and we’ve somehow made our massive mark anyway. Seeing that through a child’s eyes just made sense—I think I wrote the poem initially from my own usual speaker’s perspective but as I revised it the child’s voice became clear, as did her (murkily described) family situation, which is part of what alienates her from the place and allows her to see it somehow with more accuracy.

Tell us about your writing life. 

I’ve been writing seriously for 10 or 15 years, and while I’ve had a few extremely fallow periods (that’s the kind way to say it) I always come back to it because life is thinner without it. Like so many writers, I think and feel through my writing, so I feel half-formed during the periods where I’m not writing. It’s not even just the therapeutic aspects of it—though the catharsis has been real. It’s the craft, too, which because you’ve learned it from others continues to link you to others even when you are not yet writing with the thought of an audience. I also think I’m somewhat braver during the fallow periods now, since I’ve thought every time that a poem will never come again. I only somewhat believe that now.

Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?

Place, in general, influences my writing the most. Being, outside, wherever I am. This is where the sort of Romantic/ecopoetic bent comes from. I grew up spending a great deal of time outside, in nature, by myself and with my sister and friends, and if I can be outside, preferably barefoot, I’m happy. And more likely to write.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

James McMichael, my graduate school mentor, taught me just by being how he is to care first and most about the poem, with rigor and bravery; distinguishing when criticism is given with care for the work and not out of meanness of spirit has helped me in workshops ever since. And this way of being as a poet—it was almost monastic, being a student there—is part of how I get back to writing when the external frameworks of it get discouraging (read: when I keep getting rejected), and it’s also how I revise my own work, when I do it best.

What are you reading right now?

Student writing! But also, I’m teaching a lot of creative nonfiction because that’s something I’d like to start writing soon. Specifically Eula Biss. And poetry-wise, I’ve gotten really into Melissa Green lately. Magpiety is amazing and should be more well known.

What project are you working on now?

I’m in the process of submitting (and to some degree, continuing to edit) my first full-length manuscript (called In case it’s catching it quick that’s important), as well as a chapbook (called Peninsular Scar). And I’ve begun to write lyric essays, too.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

I was the Rookie of the Year on Harvard’s varsity water polo team when I was a freshman, though I ended up quitting soon after because I felt kind of out of place on the team (and I now tell my athlete writer-students: just because you aren’t a “jock” doesn’t mean you need to quit! since I still regret it). Also, I met Hillary Clinton when she was first lady because I won a cool writing award from Scholastic in high school. She was friendly and plenty charismatic, so don’t believe the hype!

Where can our readers connect with you online?

@leahkaminski is my twitter handle, and though it’s not been in use the past few months as I’ve been avoiding social media during the election year, I will be back soon!

You can find LEAH CLAIRE KAMINSKI‘s work in Tupelo Quarterly, Catch Up, and Midway Journal, as well as upcoming in Witness Magazine and Negative Capability. She teaches writing at UC Irvine, and is shopping her first book around: it will be called In case it’s catching it quick that’s important. Follow her sporadic missives on twitter @leahkaminski.