An interview with semi-finalist Kate Angus

We recently released our list of 2015 Negative Capability Press Book Competition semi-finalists. During May we'll be posting interviews with each of the candidates.

Kate Angus

Kate Angus is the founding editor of Augury Books. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, Subtropics, Court Green, The Awl, The Millions, Verse Daily, The Rumpus, Gulf Coast, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014, among other places. She is the recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation’s “Orlando” Prize, The Southeast Review’s Narrative Nonfiction prize and an Artist’s Residency on the Wildfjords trail in Iceland. A former Writer in Residence at Interlochen Arts Academy, she currently lives in New York where she teaches at Gotham Writers Workshop, LIM College, and privately. She serves as the Creative Writing Advisor for The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities and is a guest literary curator for Pen and Brush.



SW:  Kate, I’m going to begin by printing the title poem of your manuscript.  Then we can talk about it.


That everyone left before you arrived.  Only a few
stragglers to share champagne dregs

with you: sweet little shards
collecting in the back of your throat, swarming

like insects in a hive. Now, there goes
that thing you shouldn’t

have said, buzzing
like a fat summer bee. All these

inappropriate comments and eer other life
you couldn’t have led: sad astronaut,

dictator, mother—oh, go ahead and try to lasso
anyone around to tell them your theories

of The Impossible Future Made Manifest, Ghost Voices
You Hear Under Water, Or How Frequently

The Past Flies Back To Us
Like Migrating Birds. It’s no wonder

You’ll wander home feral
at the end of the night; cake crumbs honeying

your lip corners.

Let’s talk about your manuscript a little bit, So Late to the Party.  I don’t need to say that it is an impressive collection since it is one of ten semifinalists chosen by Negative Capability Press.  But, if you will, I would like to ask you about the title – a part of any work that intrigues me.  What about that “So” that prefaces “Late to the Party.”  You might have titled your manuscript Late to the Party.  What function does “So” serve?  Why is that one word meaningful?  

KA:  Thank you for saying that, that’s very kind of you

SW:  It seems to me that the past walks into the present in this poem – “inappropriate comments” in conjunction with lives the “you” persona might have lived.”  And the final line that breaks the pattern of couplets emphasizes “the lip corners.”  The final word “corners” adds to the intrigue of this poem.  We “corner” people and things”  as if we want to put them into a situation where we find out something we want to know.  Here, it is the lip that “corners” the crumbs “honeying.”  I think “honeying” is a gerund,” right?  This poem is rich with linguistic coupling – the fact that “crumbs” resonates.  Seems to me that what is left after most of the party guests have gone home could – in some sense – be the “honeyed cake crumbs.”  Crumbs. Honeying Lip (makes me think of “don’t give me no lip” – which takes me to the ”inappropriate comments.”  What a poem, Kate.  I do wish we were having toast and tea with our conversation.

KA:  The word “so” in the title is there to serve two functions, both for the sake of the poem that shares that title and for the manuscript / my life as a whole. Within the poem, the “So” allows the title to enjamb down into the first line in a way that wouldn’t work at all if it were called “Late to the Party.” But in a more intuitive less rational way, that “so” has a lot to do with the process of writing and revising and living with this manuscript. About half the poems in the book are from an earlier draft which was, at that point, called Distant Satellite—a title that resonated more to me in terms of the relationships alluded to within, a sort of sense of myself as isolated out there in the cosmos, sending weird little blips (these poems!) back to the earth and people there who I loved and missed. But, my god, that version of my manuscript was so long ago—five years at least. Distant Satellite went the usual rounds of being a finalist hither and yon, at some really lovely presses, while all the while I watched other friends publish book after book as I collected gracious rejections. In graduate school and immediately after, I’d become used to being pretty ahead of the game with individual publications in literary magazines and anthologies and teaching fellowships and such, so it was difficult to have my book nudge up so close to being selected so often but not find a home. This experience, though painful and humbling, has also been very good for me: I’ve had to swap in new poems and swap out old ones and revise and reorder—all of which has made So Late to the Party a much stronger manuscript than Distant Satellite was. And, of course, all these rejections have—I hope!—forced me to become far less of an arrogant entitled prick than I used to be. So it’s probably helped my social life quite a bit too.

But as far as the title goes, I really have begun to see book publication as a party that everyone else is invited to and I’m just standing outside, peering through the window, watching them drink champagne and laugh and flirt. In that sense, the title So Late to the Party is much more about the book itself—and it’s both aspirational and rueful. I don’t really know when my book will find a home, although I have to believe it will someday. Eventually, I suppose, I’ll get to that party, but it’s taken so long now that I’m not just “late,” I’m “so late”—it’s like checking your watch when you’re out at the bar and it’s not even midnight, it’s three a.m.

KA:  [I also wish we were having toast and tea with this conversation. Or coffee and pulla, which is a Finnish cardamon cake I make for my family every time I’m visiting them in Michigan—it’s a perfect coffee / tea cake. Just slightly sweet, but not too sweet ].

SW:  I notice a number of poems of your poems are written in couplets – some with a lost last line.  Would you say a few words about couplets?  

KA: I love couplets; they seem to be my default setting for stanzas. Perhaps I’m a closet romantic—there’s something I love very much about the coupling of couplets, and within any series of linked pairings, when you depart from the pattern with an isolated line, that line has a different sharper music.

SW:  I also notice a number of wolves in your poems, i.e. “You Keep On Working And I Will Continue Thinking About Wolves.”  Comment?

KA:  Why do wolves speak to me so much? I have no idea. I’ve never seen one in real life. It would make more sense for me to write about foxes or dogs or cats or, since I live in New York, rats and pigeons. I suppose because I’m so urban and anxious, theirs is a version of wildness that I find particularly appealing; wolves are what, on many days, I would rather be. They don’t overthink and get neurotic, they don’t worry about how how other wolves see them or if they are loved or successful or not; they just act on instinct. They hunt and mate and mark territory. And their howling is beautiful—it’s a kind of wilderness song.

SW:  Also doors appear frequently in your poems

KA:  I love doors and I frequently feel on the wrong side of them. When I was growing up, whenever one of our dogs was barking to be let in or out, my dad would refer to it as a “wrong-side Cairn” (we had Cairn terriers, those little Wizard of Oz Toto dogs). I feel like a wrong-side terrier quite frequently! On the wrong side of the door, yapping to be let inside or outside. Doors are powerful. They’re both passageway and barrier; by definition, liminal space, the threshold of things—and so, eternal possibility.

SW:  Who are some of your poetic influences?

KA:  I have so many I’m sure I’ll forget and leave a few favorites off the list and then kick myself when I think of their names later! But, off the top of my head: Mary Ruefle, Richard Siken, Rainer Maria Rilke, Kevin Prufer, T.S. Eliot, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, John Berryman & Lynda Hull.

SW:  Do you write fiction, non-fiction, plays as well as poetry?

KA: I started writing non-fiction two years ago and have absolutely fallen in love with the form. I love writing essays; it feels like a natural extension of my poetry.

SW:  Would you please give a little writing assignment to our readers?

KA:  I’ve stolen tons of writing assignments over the years—from teachers and from friends. This one I think I stole from Matthew Zapruder:

First, pick a sentence from a book at random. Then, figure out the action or principle underlying the sentence, and begin the poem by saying you (or someone) is NOT doing that action or doesn’t believe in that principle, thereby negating the premise. The book isn’t important, though probably it’s best if it’s not a book of poems. Prose is better. Here are two examples:

1. “In the mail, in advertisements, in the news--everywhere one looked, it seemed--there was Frank B. Robinson.” (from Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, a book subtitled “The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation”).

2. “Think about America today.” (from the For Discussion and Writing section of 50 Great Essays).

1.    Never have I seen Frank B. Robinson,
      not even the last traces of him! Neither thumbing
      his book on the train
      nor blown down my street, his empty suit
      an envelope for wind and rain.

2.    No one thinks
      about America today; all the dioramas
      wear a dust coat in the dark classrooms.

Begin your poem by negating the lines you chose (you may use the sentence you respond to as an epigram if you wish, but you may also entirely abandon it) and then see where the poem takes you. Try to write about 15 lines.