I met Kristin several years ago at a Miller Cabin reading when she was just getting her feet wet with poetry. In this interview, Kristin gives us the lowdown on her work as a poet. Enjoy!
Kristin Kowalski Ferragut (KKF): Thanks, Ann! I’m grateful to Loving Healing Press and Kelsay for publishing the books and am glad they’re out. I guess I expected to be more ecstatic but it’s a quiet brand of satisfaction I feel. And while it makes perfect sense that publicizing poetry is a very different skill than writing, I’m surprised by how big that job is or would be if I did it better. Although, look at me now! I appreciate your help in letting people know of my work.
Ann Bracken (AB): Congratulations on your two new books that came out this year—Escape Velocity and Becoming the Enchantress. It’s very exciting to premiere one book, so two must be amazing. What’s been the most surprising about putting out new books?
AB: Becoming the Enchantress is a beautifully illustrated and gentle introduction to the idea of a transgender person transitioning. What have you heard from your readers? OR Who are your primary readers and what’s been their response?
KKF: Thank you, Ann. I love the illustrations too. I think most readers are in agreement that it’s a necessary and thus important book. It was written in that spirit, a needed tool to explain a transgender parent to a child. I’m trying to publicize it but that doesn’t come so naturally to me and I think at this point most readers have been friends who have reviewed it well. Although with that said, when I was seeking blurbs for the cover, I had a couple of friends that did not want to comment on it, so it doesn’t seem a story embraced across the board. Sweet and worthwhile though it may be, it was crafted to be a vehicle to provide context and understanding on a theme, less than emerging from artistic inspiration. That may be reflected in the writing. Also transgender is obviously still a controversial issue. The discrimination against transgender individuals in this country is shocking and heart breaking! I anticipate if The Enchantress does come to enjoy some wider appeal, it’ll be subject to some hate and I rather dread that. I’ve only felt a little of that so far.
My “getting it out there” felt more like a public service announcement than an artistic labor of love. Of course that changed when my daughter, Coley, added the illustrations. I absolutely love her drawings and believe they add significant artistic value to the story.
AB: Do you have a follow-up book in mind, or perhaps a series about the Enchantress to explore other issues related to transgender parents?
KKF: I suspect when it comes to children’s stories, I may be a one-hit wonder. Who knows? As long as I can continue to carve out time, I plan to keep writing and remembering what it’s like to be a child is one of my wowpows. So maybe one day I’ll take on more tales exploring children’s perspectives. I don’t imagine I’ll write more children’s stories on the transgender theme though. I’m happy that the book served its purpose and I have a natural bent to uplift especially those struggling in what I often consider an oppressive society, the “tyranny of the majority” and all that. But it’s more peripheral to themes I want to devote study to than central at this point.
AB: Your poetry book, Escape Velocity, also addresses the issue of a transgender parent/spouse and what’s it’s like for the spouse who remains. Tell me about “Transgender Ex at Son’s Birthday Party.”
KKF: It’s all fiction, right? But that was one of my more autobiographical pieces, I mean, with things moved around. It was at a different party that my Ex lifted her foot to a chair to rest a guitar on her knee, in a short dress and electric blue underwear. That left an impression, incited many thoughts and conflicting feelings that I felt compelled to explore it in poetry.
Girls learn so many subtle lessons in behavior to become socially acceptable women, lessons an adult new to womanhood may have missed. That’s all sorts of interesting, sad, and endearing. And having two Gen Z kids in a pretty liberal area, gender fluidity is a common topic around our dinner table. It’s a steep learning curve for me. I see most things in shades of grey and find comfort in the few things I think I can take for granted. For years one of those things was a man being a man and a woman being a woman. I mean, I’m kind of old and was raised with all sorts of wrong notions. It’s taking me time to adjust my view but I admire this generation for getting it more right.
You know how sometimes you start a poem not knowing where it’s going to lead? Well, that was the case with this one and I was grateful that that poem turned into a love poem, a song of a parent’s love for a child but more, of a parent loving anyone who shows love to her child. Because, well, that’s something I still take for granted, that in all of this, Love.
AB: Your poems contain so many wonderful images and phrases. I was particularly struck by the line “There ought to be a word for psychosomatic hope…” Can you talk about what that concept might look like?
KKF: Oh, that’s a great question, Ann! A good line to pick out. The idea of psychosomatic ailments is deep in my understanding of how people often perceive and treat themselves, having witnessed family members suffer them from a young age. And I have a complicated relationship with the concept of hope. On one level, there’s always hope, so always possibility and potential. That’s all good. On another level, I think dashed hope has broken my heart more than any other single element. So in my life I think hope can be very dangerous, as much as it can spur one to better things. Given that awareness, I think I mute my hopes — hope with an eye roll, somewhat guarded, which is barely hope at all. But perhaps it’s psychosomatic hope. I believe but also believe it’s probably not real. That line tries to capture that sentiment, although having laid it down, it could mean something entirely different, indeed many other things, to a reader.
AB: Loss seems to be a recurring theme in your poetry, and I love the idea of “favorite lost things.” Say more about that poem.
KKF: Oh, that is a wistful one! It’s funny and often unpredictable who and what we fall in love with, at least for me. I’ve found that I often find one’s faults as endearing as one’s strengths. And sometimes it’s hard to take stock of all the things I love about someone until at some late hour, weeks later, I become aware of missing something like how one exhales a certain way, or uses a particular phrase, stammers, scratches his chin, or turns to leave a room. So many little details to love in a person!
-a name of staccato syllables rich in consonants that blend
sexy in print, all the lines and curves dancing side-by-side
-a wink from across a room -landscapes of profiles
-a rich voice that sounds of music, whether in speech or song.
I don’t know if a handful of those little traits is enough to build a relationship on but when I wrote that I was thinking, Why not?
AB: People are always interested in a writer’s process. How do you come to poetry and where do you think your poems come from?
KKF: I think I have a lot of areas to grow as a poet. Recently I wrote a poem about the news story of the baby handed over the barbed wire to the Marines in Afghanistan. It seemed to work and I’d like to do that more — reflect global circumstance in my poetry. I’d also like to write more short stories. I’ve written several, but haven’t yet edited one to my satisfaction. I’m also writing songs these days. For the last one I composed both the music and the lyrics, which was incredibly challenging, since I’m a barely capable guitarist yet, but rewarding.
Usually my poems come from something I want to explore, to work out, maybe a form of therapy or meditation, often starting with an image. I love to write first thing in the morning when barely awake, still close to my subconscious where less expected connections seem easier to draw. I also love to write in nature. That works anytime — everything’s so magical and dreamlike in the woods.
I go back and forth on whether devoting time to my art is selfish or generous. I mean, time in my Nook or Writing Fort is time I’m not caring for my children, the house, doing work… It requires a peculiar brand of faith to be a writer. I just need to trust that what I’m compelled to say is worth saying. Sometimes it comes so easy, as though through divine intervention, and sometimes it’s painstaking and laborious. I’m getting better at knowing when to give up the ghost when it’s the latter or keep struggling through. I still have much to learn!
AB: If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you like her to know?
KKF: Oh, little Kristin, life will be weirder and harder and more wonderful than you can imagine! I’d let my single-digit-aged self know that. I’d tell my 20’s self to stick with the process and edit. I wrote a lot but rarely finished anything in those days, partially because… Well, I’d also tell me to be careful who you let critique your work. I’m better at knowing who to listen to now and knowing when to care less about feedback. The artistic process can be fragile and can be stymied before a work is even permitted to fully form. I think there are probably millions of could-have-been-brilliant artists who were shut down early. Heck, that’s probably everything! So many individuals could be so much (scientists, musicians, historians…) if given the freedom and support to Be Them! Talk about the theme of loss. I think we lose so much to poverty and oppression every day. Anyway, I’m glad I have the circumstance, support of my children, and welcoming poetry community to enjoy space to create now. So I guess I wouldn’t suggest I change much.
Ann, thank you so much for your questions and space to think some of this through! Your reading at the Joaquin Miller series back in 2015 and your words of encouragement were significant catalysts for my re-commitment to poetry. I love your work. And your support. Thank you!
Cover artist: Coley Dolmance Ferragut’s Link Tree to Social Media Art: https://linktr.ee/Dolmance.works
Kristin’s bio: Kristin Kowalski Ferragut teaches, plays guitar, hikes, supports her children in becoming who they are meant to be, and enjoys the vibrant writing community in the DMV. She is author of the full-length poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021) and the children’s book Becoming the Enchantress: A Magical Transgender Tale (Loving Healing Press, 2021). Her poetry has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Nightingale and Sparrow, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fledgling Rag, and Little Patuxent Review among others. For more information see her website: https://www.kristinskiferragut.com/