Molly Sutton Kiefer is founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and the poetry editor to Midway Journal. She is also the author of a hybrid essay called “Nestuary” and the writer of a couple poetry chapbooks. Her work has shown up in Cold Mountain Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, WomenArts Quarterly, Harpur Palate, etc. She dropped by to talk shop and do a reading from her newest book earlier this month. This is what she had to say!
One of the “perks” of being a writer is dealing with receiving rejections but as daunting as this may seem, Mrs. Sutton Kiefer offers a different take on the matter.
Molly: A friend of mine does the 100 rejections project. In one year her goal is to get 100 rejections. So instead of going for the acceptances, which end up coming by default, she can see how she’s doing to see if she’s falling behind in those 100 rejections. Then she just pushes herself harder and farther, and that I think helped me. Even though rejections always are going to be hard no matter what, it’s just like a little carrot. I literally know people from my MFA programs that do wallpaper a certain wall like in their writing room with their rejection notes because they’re able to sit and give it the middle finger. Think of something to be able to give the middle finger and say I can do this! And that’s what the 100 rejections project is for me, and when I did it, I ended up getting you know like twenty to twenty-five poems in journals each year because I was pushing myself and learning more about the field and what not.
So now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I do a lot of this other stuff to keep my foot in the poetry door. Balancing the Tide, I started because I panicked after having a little kid and thought I could just throw everything into my daughter, and I thought I could raise her, she would be perfect; I could be a perfect mother but I couldn’t write because I can’t be perfect at everything. So I started interviewing different kinds of artists about how they do both. It’s an interesting site to look at if you’re trying to balance anything in your life like writing and this, painting this. I have an interview coming from one of the Project Runway designers. I’ve got a lot of different people from very different experiences letting me know and they’re all the same questions; it’s kind of nice.
Q: I’m interested in what you were discussing with balancing parenthood and writing. I have a three-year-old son, and I’ll be starting an MA program in the fall with a creative writing emphasis. I feel like I’ve just gotten the hang of finishing up my undergrad, having a kid and still writing, submitting and still getting published. Now I’m like…okay, yeah this is going to be great; it’s…also it’s daunting. I’m interested because there aren’t a lot of outlets for mixing domestic life with artistic life…
Molly: Yeah, one of my questions that I ask people is ‘do you use your children as subjects,’ and I think that’s something that you can think about even if you’re not or if you’re children are like children, scary people. Then you can think of family members, do I use them in my writing; good friends, do I use them in my writing? That’s the question that I ask, and I get two answers usually: yes,yes,yes they’re great material, and no way, that’s their private lives. I think that’s interesting that that’s so divisive.
I think as far as my survival goes, I have a partner who is ridiculous. He’s at his mother’s house right now with the two kids, running around in the yard; being run ragged. So I have that opportunity, I’m privileged in that sense. I think you just figure out how to cobble these things together, support that work. I got a lot of good girlfriends. and if I didn’t have him then I would be working my girlfriends to hang out with the kids so that I can do these things. But I think you know whenever you get busy, you end up learning work-a-rounds of anything.
When I first had Maya, and she’d nurse in the middle of the night and you know how you’re more creative when you’re sort of sleepy. Or you’re taking a shower or driving. I would, at four in the morning, go downstairs, take a shower, sit down at the computer and write poems. And that’s how I ended up writing a lot of my stuff. You end up learning how to write in your head too, a lot. That’s a really big thing that sort of saved me.
One piece of advice that Mollly Sutton Kiefer gave was, “Be open and let yourself go with whatever it is that’s pushing yourself forward.” Letting yourself be locked into a set of conventions on a piece or just repeating the same form time and time again can be stultifying, and a change of pace could help boost a writer’s imagination or creative process. In Mrs. Sutton Kiefer’s case this often seems to be a willingness to experiment with the hybrid form.
Molly: Professor Meacham asked me to talk a little about the hybrid as a form, and I kind of wanted to talk to you about that now.
The hybrid is the sort of form that terrifies me in some ways because I seem to be good at it and that is not what I intended to do. I first thought I was going to be a fiction writer; I thought I was going to write stories in novels, and then I ended up writing verse. So I ended up getting in trouble with that; the line breaking and that sort of thing. Then all of a sudden this weird essay-ish, prose-poemy, flash fictiony, except there’s no fiction really in here, but you know just flash form thing came out of my brain. I was so startled by it and so now what I think scares me is what do you do next? My next book, is it going to be hybrid or is it going to be poems? That’s the thing I don’t know right now; it’s sort of a bizarre terrifying thing.
I found an essay online about the hybrid form, and I wanted to bring in parts of it just to sort of show you what hybrid could be. In the second paragraph there it says, “hybrid writers mix fact and fiction, poetry and prose, memoir and history, biography and memoir, the hybrid goes by a number of names.” My publishers decided to call this (“Nestuary”) a lyric essay. So when I submit it to the Minnesota Book Awards, apparently I submit it in nonfiction but as I’m sending copies, and the publishers are sending out for review I’m going for all of the poetry presses because I think poets are going to be more interested in reading this than nonfiction folks. I think that poets might be a little more open to it but it’s actually just more readers of literature versus like someone who’s going to pick it up at the airport. So that’s kind, it’s really hard to find where it goes and that’s part of why I started Tinderbox because people want you to fit into this nice box and I think that the most interesting stuff is going all over the place.
So there’s a whole bunch of different names there, and it says ” any narrative structure is fragmented, graded, threaded, broken or segemented…” and I think for me “Nestuary” is all of those. I’m very interested in the fragment as a unit of composition. I read a lot of Sappho because I was interested in that, and I read a lot of zuihitsu, which is a Japanese form; it means following the brush and it’s sort of like free writing but you have to be very careful because obviously if you write a lot of junk, it can come out, it needs to come out. But working on that is kind of tricky.
Then I brought in some examples in this packet just to sort of give you an idea of what hybrid writing looks like. Instead of bringing a sample from C. D. Wright’s “One Big Self”, I brought in a review. I thought it was a little more interesting to see what they were saying about the book. The book itself is beautiful too, I don’t have a copy of the original but it’s a collaboration between a photographer and this poet C. D. Wright; who is combining voices so taking on different personas. “She visited three Louisiana state prisons in order to unequivocally lay out the real feel of hard times in her own medium, writes interviews with male and female inmates serves the basis for this rambling work which shifts between prose, lineated verse, lists, letters, and other forms; she quotes them verbatim, rips on official paperwork, writes letters, etc.” This is what I sat down to do with my work, and there’s some hospital paperwork that I took and turned it into a poem.
If you want to know more about Molly Sutton Kiefer, you can visit her website mollysuttonkiefer.com
Photo Credits, Top: Molly Sutton Kiefer and Bottom: Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press