Open Alphabet welcomes Kate Angus and her new book So Late to the Party,
published by Negative Capability Press (ISBN 978-0-942544-36-7).

Kate Angus

Kate Angus is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Tin House, Barrow Street, Mid-American Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, and twice in the Best New Poets series.

Kate is the founding editor of Augury Books and is the creative writing advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College. She holds an MFA from The New School and is on the faculty at Gotham Writers in New York, where she lives.

... It's time to erase

any patterns we've inscribed.
We'll chant that children's rhyme
where you count backwards

and thus categorically
make untouched each other's
skin. ...

— from "Now Let's Return To Stasis"

Open Alphabet: Do you remember when you started writing poetry? Can you describe that moment? So Late to the Party

Kate Angus: Family lore claims that I wrote my first poem when I was four or five: “Moon, moon, / give me a prune” — clearly nowhere to go but up after. I don’t remember that, but I do vividly remember how integral poetry was to my childhood. My dad would often recite Theodore Roethke’s "The Kitty-Cat Bird" to us and my mom would read poems like William Blake’s "The Tyger" aloud. My parents really made sure that poetry was a natural part of our lives.

OA: How did So Late to the Party find Negative Capability Press?

KA: The usual way most poetry books find a home these days I think: I submitted it to their open reading period and it was one of the books they selected.

OA: You are one of the founding editors of Augury Books, so you have experience as both a publisher and a published author. Was there anything that surprised you in bringing your own book to publication?

KA: I developed a greater understanding of the urgency and helplessness that authors sometimes feel; I’d always imagined that when my book was published I’d feel only exhilaration, but a much more complicated set of emotions accompany book publication than that. In many ways, having my own book come out has — I think, I hope — made me a much better editor, one who is more thoughtful of how vulnerable the process can feel.

OA: So Late to the Party is also the title of one of your poems. How did that particular poem earn that distinction?

KA: Ah, well, this manuscript was bouncing around in different iterations for quite a while. The working title used to be "Distant Satellite" (for a long time) and then (briefly) "Fresh Hells" and then I thought about how many friends and colleagues had published books while I was still working on this one and I thought "So Late to the Party" felt more true to my experience of working on the book — writing it, revising poems, swapping in new ones for old ones and then replacing some new with ones that were older, sending it out, reworking it, going away from it for a long time so it could gestate further, etc. I felt like the book itself was late to the party, that the party had started quite a long time ago and it was time for me to show up already.

OA: Speaking of titles, your poem titles do a lot of work, for example, "I Have Not Yet Composed A Lullaby For The Fretful Baby In Her Stroller On The Street But I Did Write A Tiny Love Song For You, American Dictionary" and "The Problem Is Not That God Does Not Exist So Much as that He Will Not Bargain With You". Even the deceptively simple title "Dear Friend" leads to a contemplation of the boudoir and the abattoir. Can you say something about how you choose titles and how they operate for your poems?

KA: I tend to look at titles as a place where I can both convey a lot of crucial expository information about the poem and also have fun. Rather than thinking of my titles as ways of naming or classifying my poems, I think of them more as secret first lines; that the poems truly begin with the first word of each title.

OA: In moving from poem to poem I sense a subtle sensory ululation. Images appear in adjacent poems and then recede. Sounds harmonize across a number of pages and then are replaced. What ordering and selection criteria are important to you in pulling a collection together?

KA: I ordered and reordered this collection so many times. I wanted the individual poems to cohere into an unified whole, but I also didn’t want to feel tied to a specific narrative of events or chronology. So I printed out all the poems that I wanted to include in the collection and placed them on my floor. Then I knelt down among all those loose sheets of paper and pushed them around into different orders until I found something that made a kind of intuitive sense to me. That intuitive sense had a lot to do with a kind of recursive internal logic where certain images, sounds, and devices occurred, receded, and returned so thank you for noticing that.

OA: Do you have a structured writing practice — a preferred time or place? Did it change with the publication of So Late to the Party? desk

KA: I almost always write at my desk in my apartment, but I don’t have a preferred time of day or a daily practice. I’ll go for long stretches of time where I don’t write at all, or write only sporadically, or write only in a different genre, and suddenly I’m writing a new poem or two every day. It’s unpredictable to me when I’ll tap in to a creative vein and I do wish I could control it more, but I’ve found I can’t force it — I can really just make sure I give myself the space and solitude to be open when it comes.

OA: Among your poet ancestors, who would you like to meet for coffee? What one question would you like to ask of that person?

KA: Only one person? Ah, that’s a hard choice. Rilke, I think, above all others to say “Thank you” and simply to ask—even though he already tried to tell us in his Letters to a Young Poet — “How? How did you do it? How did you so consistently make things so beautiful?”

OA: Who are you reading right now? What is on your desk?

KA: Right now on my desk, I have Jamaal May’s Hum, Love the Stranger by Jay Deshpande, Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song, Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World, Russell Banks’ novel Lost Memory of Skin, Ed Skoog’s Run the Red Lights, and Carnal Acts, which is a collection of essays by Nancy Mairs. So those are the books I’m reading right now. I’m clearly a polyamorous reader.

OA: Can you give us a hint at what we can expect in your future work? Is there another book in the works?

KA: I’m working on a couple of different projects. One is a nonfiction collection which I’m about halfway through — the essays pair my personal experience with tropes from folklore, for example an essay about my bouts of sleep paralysis that also examines the "night hag" phenomenon which is common in folk tales across the world. And I’m in the early stages of working on a novel that’s a lightly fictionalized version of the life of one of my cousins. And I know I’ll be writing poems in the midst of both of these projects, but I don’t know what shape those poems will take yet.