Interview Conducted by Jessica Therese, Senior Prose Editor
1. I love your poem "At*" published in Rag Queen Periodical exploring responses after hearing of a disclosure of sexual assault. What do you think is the best response someone could give after hearing about trauma?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. I believe listening comes first and oftentimes gets forgotten the most. Most people are in a rush to provide an answer, solution, or even justification, when really listening to what someone is saying and how they are feeling, then validating that should be primary. After this, helping them find professional help is a great response.
2. What’s it like studying an MFA in poetry in one of the greatest cities in the world?
Honestly, it’s been a bit wild! I moved from Indianapolis last summer to start the MFA program here at the City College of New York. The transition was a little more difficult than I thought it would be. Growing up next to Chicago, I thought I could handle NYC, no problem. I was wrong – they are such different city vibes. But, it’s been a great experience. I can’t say enough great things about my program. The cohort is astonishing, truly. I’m discovering things about myself as a writer I didn’t know were possible and have amazing support to explore that.
3. What can we hope to see from you in the future?
Right now, I’m writing a lot about sexuality, sexual harassment, and just being a woman. I went through what felt like a rather lengthy legal process recently where I was suing a former employer due to sexual harassment. Going through the legal system is always a traumatic experience (that’s putting it nicely), and I feel it’s important to share the experience in addition to the daily bullshit women encounter.
4. How do you begin writing a poem?
Usually, it starts in one of two ways. The first is I’ll have a feeling or subject I’d really like to dive deeper into – so to explore that I will start jotting down those attributes and then see where it takes me. The other is a single line or phrase will strike me, then I’ll write it down and mediate on it. From there it’s mostly watching to see what comes next. I think physically handwriting down my poems is an important aspect when first writing a poem for me. It’s difficult for the rest of the poem to come otherwise.
5. I particularly liked the repetition of "I’m a demon to you" in your poem ‘lily dreams, lurking’. What was the inspiration behind that line and what does it mean to you?
This poem has so many influences, and I’m so glad you asked! I was reading an interview for work to which the interviewee, Reed Birney, lamented while discussing his acting career goals in comparison to others, “It’s true. I have my demons and I know that I am a demon for some people.” At the time, I was heavily pondering the mistakes I’ve made in the past to people, the system in which we’re brought up in to encourage certain sins, and so on. So, this quote really struck me. Originally, when I started writing this poem, I used this direct quote and credited it, but after several rounds of edits, and shift in subject matter, eventually that fell away.
Also, at the time of writing the poem, I was taking a prosody class studying the villanelle. Combined with a writing exercise I learned in a workshop with Kaveh Akbar at the Poets House, everything kind of fell together.
It was a subject I wanted to desperately talk about and had the opportunity to find avenues to be able to do that. This poem is probably one of the pieces that I drew the most elements from different places, but I think it came out rather powerful. “lily demons, lurking” is a poem I get asked about often.
KRISTINE ESSER SLENTZ is originally from northwest Indiana and the Chicagoland area, or what’s lovingly called “The Region.” Kristine is a Purdue University alum who studied English literature and creative writing. Currently, Kristine is earning her MFA in creative writing (poetry) at City College of New York. She is also the Assistant Editor for the online poetry publication Unfold Magazine, and the Features Manager for The Speakeasy Project. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in in Yes Poetry, Philosophical Idiot, and then Flying Island Journal where she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.