A Conversation with Rebecca Kokitus
Congratulations on your upcoming work! Your work has appeared (and is upcoming) in many indie journals. You’ve also worked behind the scenes on a few. Where do you think indie journals stand in the publishing industry? Are they our future?
RK: Thank you Lauren! Yes—I am now a poetry editor at three journals! All three journals have onboarded me within the past month or so, and it has been a whirlwind of new experiences for me. It has opened my eyes to the intricacies of building a literary journal and given me an even greater respect for editors. I would like to think that indie journals are the future of the industry. With so many new journals being based online in a society where we spend so much time online, I feel that literature is more accessible than ever. There’s something really beautiful about that to me—literature is often seen like an echo chamber, like, the only people who read are the same people who write. I hope the online presence of lit journals gets more people reading and rebuilds an interest in literature that seemed to decline with the emergence of technology.
You’ve stated that your poetry looks at the ‘divine and undivine feminine’ and let’s face it, the feminine can often be messy and terrifying! How do you approach writing about the ‘undivine’ side?
RK: There is divinity in the undivine—there is magic in the humanity of femaleness. It is one of my favourite things to explore in my writing—I write about my body as I know it to be—as beautiful, as ugly, as human, as animal, as disgusting and divine. Growing up, I was never really a “girly girl”, but I have always felt a strong connection with my own femininity in a very raw, spiritual sense. I see the magic in the way my period coincides with the moon’s cycles. I see the magic in the valleys of my flesh, although I have struggled for most of my life to love my body. Exploring every facet of the feminine identity as I’ve come to know it is so intriguing to me.
What is your creative process?
RK: Oh, it’s always changing! In terms of my writing process, I used to write primarily in the Notes app on my phone. I have hundreds of “notes” in the cloud. It’s kind of terrifying, as I know technology can be so unreliable. Recently, I’ve gone back to pen and paper for my first drafts. The secret to that is having a good pen, I feel. I like the fine-tip Sharpie pens. In terms of inspiration…I try to find poetry in everything. I believe the cure for writer’s block is simply observation. It’s easy to get trapped in your own head and forget that your senses are always experiencing poetry. How the weather feels on your skin that day. Is it like a kiss? Is it oppressive? That’s a poem waiting to happen. Most of my poems are inspired by nature. Nature is consistent.
Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?
RK: This is a tough one! Does it sound weird and self-involved to say that I put myself first as my greatest inspiration? I just feel that no one understands your experiences and the way you take everything in other than yourself. I like to live through my senses. I like to take note of moments that feel like magic. I’m a sponge. I wring out poetry. That being said, my style shapeshifts a little bit with every new book I read. I’m intrigued by the ways other writers shape the way my mind works. I think a huge turning point in writing poetry for me was the first time I read poetry by Sharon Olds my junior year in college. I was like “oh wow, I want to be this honest with myself and with my readers.” I didn’t want to hold anything back anymore.
You discuss some heavy concepts in your work including trauma and mental illness. What advice do you have for other writers who want to tackle these concepts?
RK: Everyone is going to say it helps to write through trauma, and I agree wholeheartedly. That being said, it won’t always be good writing, it won’t always be some mind-blowing catharsis, and it won’t always feel refreshing. Sometimes it will just be a directionless rant, sometimes you’ll step away still wanting an answer you didn’t find, but the beautiful thing about it is that you will learn things about yourself. You will understand yourself and you will understand that there is no “secret” to healing. You’re surviving, you’re creating, therefore, you’re healing. It took me a long time to face things in my writing such as sexual assault, abusive relationships, my eating disorder, and my father’s death. But to lay myself bare on the page in that way—I can’t say it “freed” me, but I can say that it felt right.
What is your greatest challenge when writing and how do you overcome it?
RK: In most aspects of my life, I would say my greatest challenge is that I hinder my own progress through comparing myself to others, and the same goes for writing. I can’t say I have an answer for how to overcome this, but it helps to remind myself that the success of others does not equate to my own failure.
So, what’s next for Rebecca Kokitus?
RK: Well, I’d really like to publish my first chapbook. That’s my main focus right now—I have manuscripts out in the world, but I am constantly perfectly them. I have upcoming readings in the fall, I have upcoming journal publications in the fall and winter, and I have three amazing journals I am working with as a reader and editor. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I couldn’t be happier. At this time last year, I had no published work and no motivation. I never would’ve guessed I would be living the life I am now.
Rebecca Kokitus is a poet residing in the Philadelphia area. She is a student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she studies English with a concentration in Writing. She is also a contributing reader for Awkward Mermaid Lit Mag, a literary magazine dedicated to published work about mental health. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in over a dozen literary journals. Some of her most recent publications include poems in Crooked Arrow Press, Pulp Poets Press, and Philosophical Idiot. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @rxbxcca_anna, and you can read more of her writing on her website: https://rebeccakokitus.wixsite.com/rebeccakokitus.
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.