Dunes Review Interview Series: Karen Paul Holmes

Karen Paul Holmes has a second poetry book, No Such Thing As Distance forthcoming from Terrapin Books. Her first book is Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014) and her work has appeared in multiple publications, including Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Slipstream, and Best Emerging Poets 2015.  To support fellow writers, Holmes originated and hosts a critique group in Atlanta, and Writers' Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  She grew up in Michigan and has an MA in music history from the University of Michigan.

Karen's poem "The L-Shaped House, Packard Avenue, Flint, Michigan" appeared in the 2017 spring/summer issue of Dunes Review.   


Do you typically write prose, poetry, or both?

First of all, thank you for this interview! I write prose as a freelance business writer but my love and creative pursuit is poetry.


What first inspired you to write?

I think I always loved reading and writing as a kid. My 8th grade teacher further inspired an appreciation of grammar.  I won a poetry contest that year but never shared poems beyond school assignments until about 8 years ago, when I started taking poetry workshops and participating in a critique group. Learning and sharing like that as well as reading my poetry in public really lit a fire under me.


What is your writing routine like?  Do you have a schedule, a favorite place to work, a favorite type of pen you always write with?

I don't have a specific schedule for poetry. When an idea or line hits me, I jot it down or record it on my phone and hope that when I have time to sit and write, I'll still be inspired by it. I have lots of tidbits on my phone that I have yet to turn into poems or parts of poems. I find I write in spurts. I have a cabin in the mountains, and when I get there, I automatically feel like poetry. Once I start writing, I may write for three days without doing much else... though I do remember to eat, I might not shower! I also read others' poems pretty much every day. Oh, and I usually compose on my laptop, and it's a must when I'm editing.


What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?

I often have an idea for a title or first line, and then I let the rest flow.


Do you listen to music or must you have silence while you write?

Normally silence, though listening to classical music inspires ideas before I sit down to write.

Do you let other people read your works in progress?  If so, whom?

I run a critique group in Atlanta, and those poets are my trusted friends and mentors. We all help each other with honest feedback.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

Sometimes I get a feeling of "Yes!" but more often, I keep editing until I've exhausted all opportunities I can find for improvement, and then I put the piece away and tweak more when I pull it back out.


How do you feel about sharing your writing with readers?  Do you have any insights into that experience?

I love doing readings. I used to primarily read my more humorous poems in public, but when I started reading intense poems from my book (largely about divorce), I found the audience related so much more. Many many people have come up to me afterward to mention a poem they particularly related to -- and that is one of my goals as a poet.


Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?

Oh gee, that's hard. I'm really happy with some of the poems in my new manuscript, which focuses on family and the melding of my mother's Australian roots with my father's Macedonian ones. But I'm also proud of several poems in my book, Untying the Knot -- they are very honest and sometimes the feelings are quite raw, though I have humor mixed in.  Perhaps a favorite is "Zumba with Lady Gaga - Divorce Therapy," which you can read here.


Whose writing inspires you?

Thomas Lux, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, David Kirby and many other contemporary poets.


Who are you currently reading?

Just finished Moby Dick and absolutely loved the poetry, intelligence, humor and spirituality of it.

What is your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?

Ballroom dancing with my sweetie.


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