It gives me great pleasure to welcome poet Karen Meadows to the Debutante Ball this week! almond, eyeless (2018, Groundhog Poetry Press) is the first book of poetry by Karen Meadows and is an SPD bestseller and recommended read. Her work has also appeared in Subtropics, Blackbird and The Hollins Critic. She was honored in March at McDaniel College as the 32nd recipient of the B. Christopher Bothe Memorial Lecture.
You can connect with Karen at her website, www.karenumeadows.com
Or on Twitter at @keumeadows.
Read on to learn a little more about this amazing author, and find details about how to enter our giveaway for a signed copy of almond, eyeless at the bottom of the post!
Welcome poet @keumeadows this week to @DebutanteBall!! Follow the Debs & RT this interview for a chance to win a copy of almond, eyeless! @MFournierWatson @LayneFargo @estefsays @KA_Doore @devislaskar #WritingCommunity #writinglife #poetry https://t.co/e0XN1o0eUS
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) November 3, 2018
What first inspired you to start writing?
The first thing I remember writing was a musical (loose term) when I was in fifth grade. I can’t for the life of me remember the plot, but I think it was an Eliza Doolittle-meets-Annie take on life as a fifth grader. Oddly, I do recall it was about 35 pages of dialogue and lyrics hand written on blue and pink ruled paper. (Seems I was more proud of that than its substance.) I have no idea where that idea came from. Our district high school was known for these very professional spring musicals. My only guess is I saw My Fair Lady, or something, and thought: I’ll take a crack at it.
The poems started coming in middle school. I had a lot of trouble moving on from the carefree days of my childhood, which I spent outside creating elaborate imaginary worlds and inside playing with dolls. Those worlds were how I dealt with the growing and undeniable intrusion of reality, and I was sensitive to the fact that those particular forms of escapism were now socially unacceptable.
Yet, I remained overwhelmed by emotions and fears and longing for life to stay put. So, I suppose, those former worlds through play made their way to paper.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
Apparently, I’ve loved books from the beginning. My parents frequently recount my holding books, invariably upside down, as a toddler and pretending to read aloud to myself in absolute gibberish.
I do remember being fascinated by the surprises of words and language. I picked out Abel’s Island at a book fair of used books when I was still learning to read. I thought: ‘Is-land’, now what could that be? My mind was pretty blown to learn that ‘s’ could be silent. There was also a very popular book to check out in the library called The Aminal, which was about a green puffball-type creature. I was struck by the creativity, the bending of the rules to create something completely unique.
Behind the Attic Walls was the first book of any real length I remember reading in elementary school. We were having a competition to see which homeroom could read the greatest number of pages. At the time, a 300-page book seemed insurmountable, but I knew if I could do it, my class could really surge ahead. I have no recollection if we won or not, but I still remember the pride I felt finishing a huge book with a terrifying cover.
And if we’re talking 80s middle school reads, we can’t ignore the elephant in my past called Sweet Valley High. I desperately wanted to be a twin. And the Wakefield sisters were blonde twins living in California, driving a FIAT Spider. Need I say more? Perhaps I viewed it as my soap-operatic world of dolls in book form. Now, I am curious to go back and read one to see just how embarrassing this admission is.
The book from the series that sticks most is the one where the new girl tries cocaine for the first time and instantly dies of a heart attack. (Thank you for saving me that life lesson, SVH!) At her funeral, someone reads Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music”. I was dumbfounded. I know, I know, say what you will about Millay. But the gravity of that poem in the midst of a teen romance series was a seminal moment in my realizing the power of a poem to transcend its surroundings. It so elegantly carried the weight of my grief. Not the grief of the story, but my personal grief.
The way a poem can possess universality yet cut straight into someone’s individual life—actually cater–that became fascinating and sealed the deal for me on exploring this art form.
Talk about one book that made an impact on you recently
These days, I can’t seem to be without Grace Period by Gary Miranda. I came across his poems while studying different forms last year and it led me to dive deeper into his work. I wish I’d found his poems sooner, but that’s the mystical way of poems—certain ones find you when you need them most. Grace Period is a positively gorgeous collection of poems, particularly the ones about his son. They do all the best things poems should do, but with a casual profundity. The uncanny and acrobatic intelligence of those poems makes it hard for me to move on.
In what fictional place would you most like to spend a day? What would you do?
Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, of course! The winners of the Golden Tickets were asked to arrive on my birthday, so I have always felt that an invitation to tour the factory is my destiny. I might have to misbehave just to get the full experience of being carried off by Oompa Loompas (while trying to gather better intel on their plight).
However, now that I am seriously considering my options, I would most likely choose Mr. Fezziwig’s Christmas party. I’m a sucker for an idealized Dickensian scene and Fezziwig threw a great party. The clothes, the reverence for a special meal, the dancing, a fiddler—sign me up. I’d even take a day in the Muppets version of A Christmas Carol. Actually, that’d be even better.
Which talent do you wish you had?
The ability to sing. To be able to really, really sing. To emotionally move people like Aretha. Or to be able to have perfect pitch when shrieking like Frank Black. I do not want shriek here to harbor any negative connotation. If you have ever heard him live, it is incredible that he can essentially be shredding his voice and you feel no need to cover your ears. It’s actually beautiful, impressive and cathartic. I’d love to be able to just belt one out to break tension. I can’t imagine anything more liberating or joyful. My husband and I constantly make up dumb lyrics about the mundane things we do, or what we imagine our dogs are thinking. It’d be nice to be able to take that to the next level without splitting any ears.
What time of day do you love best?
I’d have to say in the summer from about 5PM to 8PM. It is the time when you can feel the stronger rays of the sun fading and see shadows lengthening. And you might walk through colder pockets of air in a sudden microclimate. It is a transitional time when, if you can be free for it—take a walk, or lounge outside—you can feel everything and everyone pausing, slowing down and retreating to transition to night. That time speaks. As a mom of young kids, you dread it, because it is the time when toddlers lose their minds; and it is often stolen from the dinner makers (myself being one of them). But when I find myself available to it, no other time provides me greater security or contentment.
In her debut collection almond, eyeless, Karen Meadows weaves readers into a tapestry of rich language, surprising imagery, and distinctive voice. Each skillfully crafted poem introduces us to words we didn’t know we needed to know, in order to navigate a world that can shift from steady to sudden alarm. However unsure our footing might become, Meadows’s controlled tone and lavish sound structure guide us through both harrowing and tender ground, making us better for having braved the journey.