Kristene Brown’s poem, “What Does the Old Moon Think of the New Moon,” is featured in this year’s summer issue. We asked her a few brief questions on craft. Here are her answers.
Q: Do you have any super secret rituals that help your writing process?
A: I have rituals. Most writers do, I believe. I like to sit on the floor and face a wall when I write. It looks weird, kind of like a child in time out, but it helps me concentrate. I also have a strange fetish for ‘special pens.’ I write all first drafts in longhand. So, if I have a particularly productive writing day I’ll use the same pen every time after. I’m superstitious like that. And, I have a designated shelf on my bookcase where I keep writers that have meant the most to me. When my writing stalls, I’ll venture over to that shelf and randomly flip books open. Sometimes I just like to see what the dead poets have to say. They almost always have something to say. I don’t know if these things help or hinder my writing, but they’re my rituals and I’m serious about my rituals.
Q: What parts of your writing have you put the most focus on?
A: The act of writing is humbling. When I write a poem and send it out into the world I’m amazed to think about all the places that poem will travel and all the people it will meet along the way, places I will likely never travel and people I will likely never meet. I have hope that my poem will make friends along the way. Ultimately, the poem will stand alone. As a writer, I feel responsible to send out work that’s as genuine and authentic as possible. If I’m going to ask a reader for their time, than the least I can do is deliver a poem worthy of the reader’s time. This has been my focus, trying to be as genuine and authentic as possible with my writing.
Q: When did you first become serious about writing? Do you have other artistic talents?
A: I’ve worked in community mental health for a number of years. Working with others deeply informs how I write. I’m reminded everyday what it is to be human. It’s hard work to move and live in this world. The act of writing can sometimes feel small and insignificant. As a writer, there have been times when I’ve asked myself ‘why bother.’ As a social worker there have also been times when I’ve asked the same. Sometimes I feel inept by the largeness of it all. Yet, I know both endeavors are about connecting with others, about moving outside myself and into a world bigger and more generous. Although social work doesn’t seem like a creative profession it does guide my writing. It forces me to view the world beyond my own internal landscape, which has helped me develop creatively into a more compassionate and informed writer.
Q: What’s your favorite sentence from a piece of writing?
A: “I had my underground world in my soul.’ — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground
Q: A lot of people talk about MFA factories churning out carbon copy writers. What are your thoughts on authenticity and integrity in writing in such a competitive field?
A: Good question. I don’t personally feel MFA programs churn out carbon copy writers, though I certainly understand why some feel this way. There does seem to be a certain ‘aesthetic’ that comes from the workshop. I attribute this aesthetic to lack of development rather than a flaw in the system. Most beginning writers go through an imitative phase, sometimes several imitative phases. This happens with or without the MFA experience. I just think writers move through that phase faster in an MFA program, which is why the work produced may look similar. I still hear the voices of my advisors in my head when I write, like an invisible editor. And I will always be grateful for their guidance. However, at a certain point I learned to let my voice be louder. To move forward and write from a genuine place, every writer has to do that, MFA or not.
Kristene Brown is a psychiatric social worker for the State of Kansas. Her poetry and fiction has previously been published or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Midwest Quarterly, Linebreak, Storyscape, upstreet, and others. Kristene lives and works in Kansas City