A Conversation with Kristin Garth
Congratulations on Pensacola Girls! The story behind this collection is quite incredible – it’s filled with pain and horror, but also hope. The story belongs to you, Elizabeth Horan (your collaborator) and Dericka Lindsay, a nine-year-old girl from your neighbourhood who was murdered by her family. How did you approach such a difficult topic while taking into consideration the three different perspectives?
KG: From the conception of this chapbook, it was, in fact, as you say, a three-way collaboration. I’m a person who has many ghosts. I give myself over to them. In Pink Plastic House, the ghost was a poet friend of mine named Jeff Robinson who passed away from a brain tumor. Before he did, he contacted me on social media me to thank me for the time we spent together. His clipped, inaccurately spelled monosyllabic words made the gravity of his situation as clear as the content of his words. He asked me if I was writing still, as we had known each other 15 years earlier as young poets. I wasn’t. He haunted me through this conversation, his passing weeks later to reclaim this essential part of my identity through hard work. He haunts me every day.
Dericka Lindsay haunts me, too. She was only nine years old, a fixture in the streets of my old neighborhood where I was an avid runner/wanderer. I spoke to her almost every day about a bicycling boy she had a crush on, the fashion shows she did in her front yard, being excluded from a neighborhood party. What we never discussed was that she was being horrifically abused and neglected. She always had a smile for the world (something I can’t manage many days.) When she died and myself, my neighborhood, the world (as it was covered in the national news) found out the abuse she suffered, it was shocking and personally devastating.
I was a survivor of abuse, and I felt sorry for myself a lot of the time, broken, damaged, unfixable. Knowing Dericka and experiencing the loss of her educated me as to my privilege – not everyone survives child abuse. Loving little people full of life and potential do not get even the chance for evolution and change. I wrote this in her couplet of her sonnet Dericka, “a little friend of mine who was alive/whispers what a privilege to survive.” Elisabeth Horan made the offhand comment as we were brainstorming topics for a potential chapbook, “I was born in Pensacola” (though she left at a very young age). I told her about Dericka’s passing, all the feelings it was bringing out in me. She immediately jumped on the idea of writing about this, about Dericka, our own experiences of abuse. Abuse bonds people, strangers. When you find out a person was, like you, abused, it’s like finding out they are from your hometown. You understand and know them.
As to the three perspectives, Dericka’s story is obviously told through the lens of my relationship with her and what I know. Liz listened to stories and read about her in the news coverage and was able to relay things she felt about the case. Dericka haunts Pensacola Girls, and my mission was to show her as an actual child, not just a victim, that abusers destroyed. Liz and I are both very determined, prolific, possessed (I would call myself this and I hope Liz doesn’t take offense; I mean it kindly) writers. We forced ourselves by writing fast and furious to be ruthlessly honest about our experiences. I think we were able to represent ourselves well in these horrific truths. I hope that we were able to both show the horror of Dericka’s life but also some of the beautiful details of her presence on this earth that were erased by violence.
What is your creative process?
KG: I write every day. I love to sit in coffee shops, places with people around me but hidden in a little corner table with my headphones on, instrumental music (I can’t write with other people’s words in my head – how I wish I could). Writing can feel so isolating, and even though I don’t communicate with people I like to feel in the middle of a lot of activity. I like huge coffees and my Macbook – though I write a lot on my iphone (I have the bigger one the Plus) too.
I used to write a lot in my bathtub at my old house (when I lived in the neighbourhood with Dericka). I moved out of that neighborhood honestly because my depression was spiralling downward to a hopeless place. It seemed tethered to the specifics of that geography. I moved into a house far away that has no bathtubs. It’s been a sacrifice because I literally used to call my bathtub my mermaid office, and many poems of mine were written inside of it. However, my mental state is so much better not having to drive by Dericka’s house every day. A mermaid office is a small sacrifice, and maybe I’ll have one again some day.
I also like to wander around with my phone in the woods or on long walks and write. I get very inspired by nature, trees, the water, clouds whether they become subjects of my poems (less often) or not.
Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?
KG: I know I’m supposed to say one person here, and if I had to say one it would Shakespeare because I write so many sonnets. I, in fact, have a whole book Shakespeare for Sociopaths that is nothing but Shakespearean sonnets on dark characters. (Though I do also write many other things: CNF, short stories, free verse poem and I’ve written two novels.) Shakespeare inspires my formal poetry writing; contentwise I would say if I had to pick one writer who opened my mind to the broad array of modern topics literary writing could encompass, it would be Joyce Carol Oates. I started reading her books as a teenager and was inspired by her prolificness, the work ethic, the modern themes, the fearlessness of her content. She taught me you can write about anything if you write it well.
Your poems are modern Shakespearean Sonnets. What is it about this form that inspires you?
KG: I came to sonnet writing as a schoolgirl. I talk about this in my poem Ophelia Interrupted, which was published in The Cabinet of Heed. It’s a poem inside of my chapbook Shakespeaere for Sociopaths, which will be released on my birthday January 17th, 2018 by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. I was given an assignment to write one, and I didn’t get it all, but I fell in love pretty quickly and found a kind of solace in the stricture of a form. I think some people find formal constrains confining. To me, it took away all those choices of what the form of a poem will be and allowed me to go crazy on content which is where my heart is at. It took me some time to internalize the form to where it is now in my head – which is I don’t really think about it (for the most part.)
Conversely, I listen to my free verse friends who at times have ribbed me on my formal style who seem to spend a lot of time contemplating line breaks and the form of their writing. I like structure because, for me, it frees me from those concerns. When I do run into a place where the restriction of the form manifests itself, and I have to puzzle something out – it’s a fun brain exercise, too. Sometimes, the brain exercise is a break from the darkness of the content. Sonnets are a safety net to me in writing that allow me to free the beast inside inside a four-hundred year old padded cell secure enough for the animal inside me to show its claws.
You’ve been open about your life and struggles in your work. Do you find it challenging to be so open with your readers or is it cathartic, a form of release?
KG: I think people think if you write everything about your own life, and you are very personal that it is very easy for you. I think it’s essential to me, and I think it’s natural to me in ways, but it’s hardly easy. A poetry friend Christine Taylor tweeted the other day, “I don’t know how some of y’all are so prolific – every time I write something, I feel like I’m bleeding.” I tweeted in response to this, “I am covered in the scars of my poems.” Exposing myself, for me, is therapeutic in ways and wounding in others, at times.
There is catharsis from getting a poison out of you. And my poems – my writing is primarily about that for me -- getting these dark thoughts physically outside of my body. I’m very glad and fortunate to be read and resonate with people when I do, and I crave that. But its’ the secondary reason I do it. Sometimes though my poems trigger depression inside of me in the reliving of experiences. I will say that, for me, finishing a poem that is triggering me feels oddly like resolving that relived trauma. I often feel much better when it’s done, but writing some of my poems I suffer things twice.
So, what’s next for Kristin Garth?
KG: Pensacola Girls will be released by Bone & Ink Press in September, so there will be promotions of that. Then January I have Shakespeare for Sociopaths (The Hedgehog Poetry Press) which is my true crime book of all Shakespearean sonnets on sociopaths in my life, film, books and true crime. In April, the dream of my life is being realized in that I have a full length coming out Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir . It’s a film noir inspired poetic collection/memoir of the period of my life I was a schoolgirl stirpper (for five years) performing in cheerleading uniforms and Catholic schoolgirl outfits. It’s really about living in the deep south as an adult entertainer/womanchild and what was that was like as much as the stripping itself.
I have just finished a fetish microchapbook with a collaborator Yara S. Nerida that is sex positive poetry on our middle natures. A middle is an adult woman who takes on the personality characteristics in her daily life, sexuality of a 12-17 year old. It’s called Good Girl Games and is being vetted by a publisher currently. I hope to announce a publication of that book in the future and look forward to promoting it like all my books. I have a chapbook I want to write on masochism – the road that took me there through my abuse and how it manifested in my adulthood. It is called The Meadow. I also write a poetry column for Rhythm & Bones called Passed Notes and Poems that offers an annotated essay response I write to a poem I’ve written. I also write The Sonnetarium, my poetry column that features other writers https://www.rhythmnbone.com/sonnetarium. I write a regular column for Awkward Mermaid in their Siren Blog called Schoolgirl Memoirs. There will be more cnf’s in my future, more kneesock posts on Twitter (one of my middle manifestations) and sonnets – always there will be sonnets.
Kristin Garth is a kneesock enthusiast and a Best of the Net nominated sonnet stalker. Her sonnets have stalked magazines like Five:2: One, Glass, Yes, Anti-Heroin Chic, Former Cactus, Occulum, Luna Luna, Yes & many more. She has a chapbook Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), two forthcoming: Pensacola Girls (Bone & Ink Press, Sept 2018) and Shakespeare for Sociopaths (The Hedgehog Poetry Press Jan 2019). Her full length, Candy Cigarette, is forthcoming April 2019 (The Hedgehog Poetry Press). Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie), her weekly poetry column (spidermirror.com/the-sonnetarium), her blog School Memoirs at awkwardmermaid.com where she is also a contributing poet and her website (kristingarth.wordpress.com).
Lauren Walsburg is an Australian writer, editor, and artist. She has been published or has forthcoming work in Skive Magazine, Positive Words, Cauldron Anthology, The Mystic Blue Review and Riggwelter. Her debut poetry collection Ink Stained Heart was released in April 2017. You can find her at laurenwalsburg.com and @LaurenWalsburg.