Kim Bridgford: An Interview With Serena M. Agusto-Cox

January 6, 2011

Poet Kim Bridgford

1. How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

I would call myself “a woman poet entrepreneur.” I like making things happen and creating communities. For example, I edit Mezzo Cammin, an online journal of formalist poetry by women, which is now approaching its fifth anniversary, and I founded The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, a comprehensive database of women poets, which was launched at the National Museum of Women in the Arts last March. These projects have brought poets together from all over the world. My new job is directing the West Chester Poetry Conference, so my preoccupations, in many ways, are all coming together.

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

I think we are at a pivotal time in poetry, with spoken word/hip hop communities affecting, for lack of a better word, more “literary” communities, and vice versa. In fact, at West Chester this year, I am working to have more of a dialogue between these communities. The new Anthology of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Adam DuBois, for example, brings performance to the page. By the same token, I think some poets do not think enough about performance, and so miss an opportunity to make poetry more vital and electric for an audience.

In a technological age that is more and more distracted, less communal, poetry has an even more important role to play. Poetry helps to unite us and show our commonalities.

3. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

I’m obsessed by wonderful books. I loved Nick Flynn’s The Ticking Is the Bomb, for example, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s The Orchard. I was profoundly moved by Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till.

If I’m working on something, I am obsessed by reaching for what might seem impossible. I would rather have reached for excellence and fallen short than not have reached high enough in the first place. I don’t think there is enough grandeur in modern life.

4. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I think reading widely is very important and having at least one person who will tell you the truth about your writing. By this, I mean both strengths and flaws– especially flaws. I can sometimes write too quickly or be overly dramatic. My husband will tell me to take another look or to tone it down.

5. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I think the most important aspect of poetry is to communicate something. When I have a “share a favorite poem” day in my classes, many share songs, and love them for the same reason I love poetry. I think too many people think that poetry does not have heart, that it is just a list of inaccessible words made into a puzzle. At the same time, I’m often asked to recommend poems for births, weddings, and funerals, so clearly, at pivotal moments, people want a poem. It is strange that people often don’t believe that school will help them find a poem to make sense of the most important moments in their lives. They think they need to go elsewhere for what matters.

6. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I like to look out a window when I’m writing. When I lived in Connecticut, I used to look out at a gorgeous tree–like Frost’s “Tree at My Window.” Now I look out at the rooftops of Chinatown when I’m at home, or at an idyllic leaf-strewn scene at work. It’s as if, in between the words, I need “blinks” from the outside world.

7. In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

My best friends are all in the arts. Jo Yarrington, my collaborative partner (we have traveled to Iceland and Venezuela together, and will be traveling to Bhutan), is a visual artist, and Russell Goings, the founder of Essence and the author of The Children of Children Keep Coming, is a poet. I’m married to a fiction writer and editor, Pete Duval, the author of Rear View, and my son, Nick Duval, is a film critic at The Flick Pick Monster. More important than the arts themselves, though, is that all of these people in my life are completely passionate about what they do, and they want everything they do to be amazing. Nothing by halves, they would all say.

8. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I walk as much as I can, and I try to eat well. I live in Center City, Philadelphia, so it is easy to do both. I begin each day with a few cups of very strong coffee, and that ritual makes me feel alert and alive, ready to face the day.

9. Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

I don’t know that I’m inspired by food, but I currently live in Philadelphia: in other words, I can’t help finding wonderful food wherever I go.

I’m very work-obsessed, so writer’s block is not really an issue. The issue is finding time to write, given my other responsibilities.

10. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I write when I can, where I can. It’s mostly the writing space in my head that think about, that sense of transformation. To me, physical space is less important than spiritual space.

11. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

I just finished an essay on Susanna Kaysen and Sylvia Plath, as well as a piece on women poets and entrepreneurship. I’m working on essays on Rachel Hadas and A. E. Stallings. I’m finishing up the next couple of issues of Mezzo Cammin. In terms of my poetry, I tend to be more obsessed by form than subject matter, although that can change. I’ve currently fallen back in love with the villanelle.

Thanks to Kim for answering my questions. Please do check out a sample of her work below:

Of Course

          There’s no such thing as an ordinary cat.
          Lucky Numbers 20, 34, 12, 7, 38, 2

There’s no real way to disagree with that.

A cat will place its faith upon the air,

Believing in the solid of somewhere.

There’s no such thing as an ordinary cat.

There’s no real way to disagree with that.

It brings a mouse as gift, or else a bird,

The way a poet springs upon a word.

There’s no such thing as an ordinary cat.

There’s no real way to disagree with that.

A cat and poet place themselves outside,

And find an open place in which to hide.

There’s no such thing as an ordinary cat.

A dog’s superior? Don’t tell me that.

If you want beauty, there’s the poet-cat.

From Take-Out, reprinted from Poem.

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