Katie Riegel discusses poetry and upcoming book What the Mouth Was Made For

By Madiha Arsalan COMMENTARY
On June 11, 2012

Reputed around campus for her ability to convert students to what she calls the Church of Poetry, Katie Riegel recently had her second collection of poems titled What the Mouth Was Made For accepted for publication by Future Cycle Press.

Riegel has been known in the literary community since 2010, with the publication of Castaway, a poetry book about the loss of her childhood landscape, already under her belt.

In an interview with The Oracle, Riegel discusses her writing process.

The Oracle: How is What The Mouth Was Made For different in underlying themes or writing style from your first book, Castaway?
Katie Riegel: Its still about loss almost all writing is but it goes at a larger variety of subjects and tends to be more lyric, while Castaway was more narrative. And while Castaway had a recurring image of the sea,especially the prairie/sea metaphor, What the Mouth Was Made For keeps returning to the image of the mouth. Once I realized that motif tied the collection together, I had a great time finding epigraphs for each section from favorite poems, each one of which uses the image of the mouth. Incidentally, the last poem in the collection is a sort of answer to the title. Its called Apple, Word, Kiss ... I stole it from a double sestina I wrote years ago it was about my first kiss.

O: You grew up on a horse farm in White Heath, IL. Can you tell us how your Midwestern roots have shaped your writing?Does the sense of place influence your writing?
KR: One of my theories about the Midwest is that were basically friendly because we live in such open country. We can see someone coming for miles because the land is flat, and the view isnt obscured by trees. By the time a visitor gets to our door, weve had time to prepare ourselves to chat and get the iced tea made. Im not exactly sure how that translates into writing,but perhaps my work is less prone to the nooks and crannies designed to conceal than some poetry is ... I am very much an observer of the natural world, as fascinated by tiny lizards as by sea and sky. These details of place make their way into my psyche and become linked to ideas and emotions. Id say place forms the building blocks of my writing.

O: How did you come t o poetry? KR: I grew up in a house with a large home library that included poetry. My parents had heard Robert Frost read, and often quoted his poems to us. New Year celebrations might include reading favorite poems out loud. I picked up books from library shelves and read whenever I wanted, so early on I knew Frost, Dorothy Parker, Sara Teasdale (and) Rudyard Kipling. I had some familiarity with the Romantics. Reading and writing poetry made me feel quiet inside when I was a kid, like the world was somehow bigger and more mysterious than I could ever know. I still feel that way. I joke that I belong to the Church of Poetry.

O: Was it something you were always passionate about, or did you discover your love for it later in life?
KR: I wrote poetry all along, from childhood through college, though as a teen the poems manifested as folk songs, since Id picked up basic acoustic guitar chords and my family was also very musical. At the end of college I panicked, not sure what to do, so I took the LSAT and because I didnt care, Im convinced did well enough on it to get a scholarship to law school. But in my first semester of law school, I found myself writing poems during Civil Procedure class. A very wise law professor told me that I shouldnt go into law as a job. It was a profession, a career and I should love it if I was going to do it for the rest of my life. I ended up dropping out of law school and going off to get my MFA.

O: Has the Internet changed the literary world on an international level?
KR: Because even a longish poem is basically short, poetry is well suited to being read online. Video and audio versions of poems broaden the audience. Publishers, like mine, are taking advantage of print-on-demand technology as well as e-books, so they can thrive without university funding or huge advertising campaigns. Theres still no money in it, but that doesnt seem to be stopping people from writing, reading, and publishing it. Of course, my sanguine attitude may also be because I teach poetry at USF, where I am continually faced with student enthusiasm for and real need of poetry.

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