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The Poet’s Challenge – July, 2009
Interview with K. R. ("Kim") Copeland
by Russell Bittner

April showers ----> May flowers?  Maybe – under ordinary circumstances.  But here on the East Coast at least, it was a showery April, a showery May, and so far, a showery first half of June.  And so, we turn to the Midwest, a traditionally drier clime, for a dire wit – and maybe, finally, for flowers.

K.R. (“Kim”) Copeland is a widely-published Chicago poet/digital artist. One of her poems, "Guilt-induced Riff with Eyeballs and Fish" recently placed in The Borders Open Door Poetry Competition judged by former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand. Currently, K.R. volunteers as assistant art editor for the online literary journal, The Centrifugal Eye..  She’s also a contributor to Jeff Crouch's new blog-zine, Famous Album Covers on a regular basis. Outside the realm of art, K.R. is a neophyte yogi and the proud owner of a breeding colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.

RRB:K.R., I’m dying to know about those cockroaches.  Are they really from Madagascar?  Do they really hiss?

KRC:Yes, Russell, these lovable bugs are in fact from Madagascar, where they act as nature’s little recyclers cleaning up the forest floor by eating the debris and then depositing a more nutrient substance back into the soil. And yes, they do make a rather loud hissing sound (by forcing air out of tiny spiracles in the sides of their bodies) when startled. It’s their primary defense mechanism.

RRB:Fascinating! I recently read that insects – which I believe cockroaches are – represent something like 90% of the life-forms on earth.  We may indeed be at the top of the food-chain, but by God there are a lot of leggy, hairy, spiny, spindly, less sapient non-folks down there just waiting for the chance to munch away on our mortal coils once cast off.

I see you brought along some poems – something no cockroach I’ve ever known has managed to accomplish.  Let’s have a look, shall we?

KRC:Sure thing.  “The Hours Flower Briefly” was first published at a site called Elimae 2008:2

The hours flower briefly, every well-spread petal, seconds from a chiefly peaceful death. Minutes mimic themselves most days, with the laze of old bones folding. Green things croak amongst the Crocuses and bulbs. Unbuzz the bees. Seasons pluck the love-me’s, doldrums thrum the trees, forget-me-nots. Daily, weekly, on weak knees we dig our plots. Lots of ease in going under, rooting numerous the blooms -- sunken bundles of perfumes mud-caked with wonder.

RRB:Lovely sounds, K. R.  Tell us, please, what inspired this lyrical flight of fancy. 

KRC: I was inspired to write this poem by the wondrous nature of time itself and by the mind-tricks it plays….how the days will drag, yet the months and years will fly…the fleeting nature of being alive… I suppose the fleeting nature of (false) love is represented as well.

RRB:  Got ya.  I see you have a second piece here in which sound, once again, plays a significant part.  Would I be amiss in calling these “sound poems?”  Do you feel that that particular label belittles them or misses the point?

KRC: One of my favorite things about language is its musicality – and so, I generally tend to incorporate a lot of like-sounds and lilt. Consequently, calling these pieces “sound poems” doesn’t offend in the least.

My next piece, “Locoweed Lavenders Silky Phacelia,” relies particularly heavily on sounds and inventive word-play. In the title, for instance, “lavender” acts as a verb – as does “daffodil” in the first verse.  I’ve also used assonance and alliteration throughout the piece – to good effect, I hope:

minutes daffodil don’t slalom through the tulips
confused the liverwort grows on stone walls
hosts multitudinous spur-nectared hawkmoths
and birds turned on by several inches long
rosy pussytoes nose up to lowly toadflax
as heavy headed heather smells itself
geraniums a rage of red-haired harlots
trick trillium into a messy bed

RRB:  You have indeed used them to good effect, K.R. As before, could you give us a bit of background to this piece?

KRC: Sure. To delve deeper, I’ve chosen not to use punctuation to help aid in the disorientation, as I want the reader to be caught off guard by the last two lines, which render this seemingly nonsensical piece of poetry sensual/sexual. There are hints along the way, of course, as in, “liverwort grows”, “rosy pussytoes” (an actual flower variety) and, “birds turned on by several inches long” (hummingbirds prefer feeding from flowers with longer stamens), and, um, you can well recognize the implication at hand. It’s a slight piece, highly reliant on linguistic manipulation and the personification of our fine-petaled friends.

RRB:  “Our fine-petaled friends…”  You rube, you!  I should mention, for the gentlemen-readers among us, that the last time I saw Ms. Copeland in 35 mm at The Alsop Review, she was (as they say) rather ‘easy on the eye.’  Google to images of “K. R. Copeland” if you don’t believe me – or if you want to get a whole different take on this piece.

Now, with that bit of lookism behind us, back to poetry.

You’ve got a third piece, “Forsaking Thalia,” which, you tell me, first appeared in the very same Alsop Review.  “A throng of water wetting Thalia’s face parts” is imagery I’ve seen on Websites somewhat less upstanding than Long Story Short, but I think I’ll leave the explanation to you.

Thalia prays for rain, a velvet strain of thunder.
Her lover, Ludovicus kisses her neck, fingers
through streaming blonde locks. A flock of sheep
bleats, dots the pink horizon.

Things are dying all around them now,
the sound of cowbells, foxgloves, and their love
of herding lesser things towards grandeur.
Her comic mask has cracked beneath the weight

of too few cooings, has fallen from her hand
and fractured. Laughter hasn’t happened since
this drought. No doubt he’s leaving.

A subtle shift of lung-wind
when Lud offers his so long,
then a throng of water wetting Thalia’s face parts.

KRC:  Maybe I should just let the piece speak for itself and let your readers fill in their own blanks.  If I’m mistress at all, I’m mistress more of composition than of exegesis.  And so, with that, another piece for you to contemplate.  This one’s titled “You used to be a beekeeper” and was first published at Seven Corners in April of 2006:

alone with all the honeycombs and drones in Manitoba.
Beehives lined your balcony like low-strung amber lanterns.
Near-silence buzzed your brain like homemade wine.
The quicker wing-beats set your mind to dancing

the slower led your mind to just recline.
You imagined what it might be like to suck the wow from flowers,
how powerful to pollinate the land. An extra stomach wouldn’t be bad, either.
But you were neither honeybee nor beetle, you were human,

a sad, impassioned insect-loving man. Nobody by your side to share
the sweetness, to lick the sticky richness from your hand.
You decided to leave life, fly off, you went completely mad,
grabbed a gun, blasted a bullet through your head.

You didn’t set your bees free first you didn’t say goodbye, instead,
three tiny glubs of grub-soft vowels cowered from your mouth, espoused the sky.

RRB:Excuse me for suggesting it, K.R., but the subject-matter of this piece sounds a tad too particular to simply be the product of free association.  Can you please give us a bit of background?

KRC: Well, I’m certainly glad this comes off as authentic, real-life circumstance.  In actuality, however, it’s entirely fictional. I often incorporate insect imagery into my writing, as I have an inordinate fondness for the little critters (as indicated by my choice of hissing housemates). The story I’m telling here could really be anyone’s – well, anyone wholly overwhelmed by loneliness or heartache, that is.

RRB:Autobiographical, then, it’s not. After all, you’ve got those hissing housemates.

Which brings me to an observation…  The title of your next piece – something you suggest was inspired by the writings of Gertrude Stein – one of the first of your “sound poems,” and published in 2002 in Seeker Magazine, is “Them’s Some Handsome Hands.”

“Hissing housemates…Handsome Hands.”  Do you have a thing about h’s?

KRC:Ha! Interesting observation, Russell – but no, my penchant is not at all letter-specific. It just sort of happened that way. Again, it’s happily more about the alliteration for me, the way the mouth moves when sounding out homonymic language. You’ll notice a healthy abundance of short “u” sounds and long “o” sounds in this piece as well:

Handsome hands sometimes sunder
under understated stands,
overwhelm me, whelm me over
clover, lover, over, O!
Them's some handsome hands.

RRB:So, you’re a fan of alliteration, assonance and personification – just for starters.  Dare I say also of hyperbole?  In any case, allow me to indulge in a bit of litotes by suggesting that this interview has not been in the least unpleasant.  I can only hope our readers have had half the pleasure in reading it that I have had in conducting it.  Thanks, K.R.!

K.R. (“Kim”) Copeland