Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Kelsea Habecker

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Kelsea Habecker.

BT: The poem or the title— which came first?

KELSEA: I love titles. I keep running lists of titles that I might want to use someday, for something— a poem or a story or a piece of art. I title emails that I send to friends, I title my to-do lists, I title everything. So, betting that the title generally came before the poem is a safe bet, but not a sure bet. I'm a firm believer in writing poems with a focus on process rather than a focus on product. I don't usually sit down knowing what I want to write about. I don't like to predetermine my poems in that way. So, quite often the title arrives long after I've been working on a poem. It's not an either/or scenario for me but a both/and.

BT: I love writing, but I love baking just as much. To me, there is something poetic about the preparation of food and the heat involved. I say this because I see, on your blog, that you enjoy welding. Is there something you would consider poetic about welding?

KELSEA: I find welding meditative. When I’m welding, wearing the heavy, dark faceplate and mask, the only thing I can see is the tiny puddle of orange, molten metal pooling at the tip of my welding torch. The only thing I can attend to is the exact
now. I can’t see behind to what I’ve done or look ahead to what’s coming, except in the narrowest margins. In welding, as in my writing and in life, I put on my protective mask, stand in utter darkness, pull the trigger, and then find the flame. Also, welding is classified as a hot-work process, a name given to any process that can cause ignition. What is the dream of any poem if not to cause ignition?

I love writing. It's perhaps my strongest instinct— but it's so cerebral. I long for something more visceral. I'm envious of my friends who are painters and sculptors because they get to physically wrestle with their materials— taste them, feel them, smell them. With my materials – words – I just get to think about them. As relief from that, I'm drawn to physical processes – like welding or baking – that allow me to use my whole body. Those, then, become objective correlatives for my writing work.

BT: I consider myself a logophile (which is a lover of words). Do you have a favorite word at the moment?

KELSEA: I'm writing a memoir and a series of prose poems right now about living in an Inupiaq village in the Arctic region of Alaska, so I've got a lot of Inupiaq words in my ether right now. With these words, the draw isn't their meaning. I'm drawn to the sounds of them— very different, sonically, than English words. I feel like a different person when I say them, like I'm putting on a costume. Nibiuktuk, ugruk, and uvlaakunluu are three I like right now. (They mean hope, bearded seal, and good-bye.)

BT: What poetry book are you currently reading?

KELSEA: I'm reading The Poet's Guide to the Birds, edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser, and Some Odd Afternoon by Sally Ashton.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest one poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

KELSEA: Sally Ashton*, Betsy Johnson Miller, or Norbert Krapf.

Kelsea Habecker's book of poetry, Hollow Out, was published by New Rivers Press. She received her MFA in poetry from Bennington Writing Seminars and her BA from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. When she's not living elsewhere, she lives in Indianapolis, where she teaches graduate creative writing seminars, undergraduate art courses, and community art workshops.

*Since Kelsea Habecker suggested three poets, I picked one out of the three to interview next.


  1. Even your responses to questions are poetic, Kelsea. You say you only get to think about the words you use, but your readers feel them deeply.

  2. I agree! Several people have told me that her answers are poetic. Especially when she said:

    "I feel like a different person when I say them, like I'm putting on a costume. Nibiuktuk, ugruk, and uvlaakunluu..."

    My sister says this could be a poem!