In Conversation with Kallie Fallandays
Katherine Hoerth is the author of two poetry books, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots (Lamar University Press, 2014) and The Garden Uprooted (Slough Press, 2012). In 2015, the Texas Institute of Letters awarded her the Helen C. Smith Prize for the best book of poetry. Her work has been included in journals such as Pleiades, Concho River Review, and the Texas Poetry Calendar. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and serves as poetry editor of Amarillo Bay. She lives in Deep South Texas with her love, Bruno, and their pride of lazy house cats. Below, she discusses her publication journey and advice for writers just starting out.
Kallie Falandays: Your book, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots, was published by Lamar University Press. What was that process like for you? How much time passed from when you completed the manuscript to when it was published?
Katherine Hoerth: I think I have been very fortunate to work with Jerry Craven and Lamar University Press. I knew a few other authors who had published with them and had great experiences, so I thought I would give them a try, too.
The question of timing is very interesting. You see, I THOUGHT I was done writing the book a year before it actually got published. I began shopping Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots around to different publishers, but never got a positive result. It wasn't until I submitted to Lamar that I actually figured out why. Jerry was kind enough to tell me that while he saw a lot of promise in my poems, the collection just wasn't there yet, to go back, revise, and resubmit when I was ready. It needed more development, more of an arch. And while that was difficult to hear, it was invaluable. He was absolutely right.
So, this past summer, I spent just about every ounce of my time working on the book. The finished product is something I'm incredibly proud of. Once Lamar officially accepted my manuscript, the process was eerily smooth! I immediately fell in love with the cover concept and the book design. It was really just a matter of proofreading and tying up any loose ends at that point.
Long story short—from the time I thought the book was finished to publication was a year. From when I actually finished to when it was published, it was just a couple of months!
KF: What advice do you have for poets who are sending out their first or second collections?
KH: This book taught me two things:
1. That good writing takes time, and it's not something I can rush. Revising is immensely important, and I think it's best to focus on the process over the product. I ALMOST made that mistake with this book, but I'm glad my publisher was there to help me along the way.
2. The importance of participating in a poetry community. That's where you learn, foster connections, network, and essentially grow as a poet. When I was writing my first book of poems, I was a part of an MFA program and had that community built in. This time, I had to be a little more proactive to be a part of a community of poets, both online and locally here (in Deep South Texas, believe it or not, we have a fantastic group of poets!). I can't even begin to count all of the people who've helped me along the way with this project -- through encouragement, feedback, advice, connections, inspiration, or just plain conversation.
KF: How did you come up with the title for your book? What inspired you to write this collection?
KH: In the poems, there's a central character, a persona, of "The Goddess," a woman who could really be anyone, though sometimes she does some strangely magical things, like creating the universe while baking a batch of cookies, or destroying the world while watering her yard. The cowboy boots are a quintessential and clichéd image of what it means to be a Texan, which the book pokes fun at and interrogates. As I wrote the book, I was inspired by a lot of things—the landscape, the culture, and the unique language that exists in Deep South Texas.
KF: If you had to explain your book in under two sentences, what would you say?
KH: My book is a feminist re-imagining of myths, legends, and folktales from a contemporary perspective and set in Deep South Texas.
KF: What was the first poem that you wrote in this collection? What were you reading, writing, and thinking about when you wrote?
KH: The first poem I wrote was "The Goddess Sweeps Her Porch," which is a part of a series called "First Night in El Rancho." The poem is about a woman on her back porch at night, sweeping her porch, making mountains of mud bow, parting seas of dust, and reshaping the world we live in with her broom.
I was rereading Ovid's Metamorphoses when I began writing this book, and I was heavily inspired by both that and feminist thought, particularly in regard to the current conversations about rape culture. You see, I think the way we talk and think about our lives as women is influenced by the stories we grow up hearing and they're so ingrained within our understandings of our identity. My book works to challenge that, in a lighthearted and sometimes silly sort of way. This was heavily on my mind because at the time I was designing (and then teaching) a feminist rhetoric course, reading both academic and nonacademic texts about contemporary issues, like Feministing and Ms. Magazine.
KF: I think there's a myth that publishing is going to change people's lives in huge ways. How was your life changed with the publishing of this book?
KH: It hasn't really changed my life hugely, to be honest, except that now I'm free to work on new writing projects. I don't have to be so focused on the goal of getting this book out there. It's both freeing and terrifying.
KF: If you could only re-write one myth for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
KH: Eve is my muse. She always has been and always will be. I love rewriting the story of Adam and Eve in different contexts. My first book was all about this myth, and I thought I'd gotten Eve out of my system, but no, no, I just can't stop re-imagining Eve.
KF: What is the best poetry related advice you have ever heard?
KH: Lie to tell the greater truth.
That's actually the advice I often give when I conduct workshops to poets, and while the wording is mine (I think!), the idea comes from Richard Hugo's Triggering Town. That book completely changed the way I approached writing. When I started out, like most poets, I think, I wrote about my own life and experiences, but in order to tell the emotional truths, I had to feel free to change details, circumstances, experiences and create my own "triggering town."
KF: Fill in the blank. At poetry readings, people should never ____________.
KH: feel alone! Poetry has this incredible power to make us feel connected to one another, to communicate that which would otherwise be silenced. And there's something wonderfully kindred about that experience. When at a reading, I can never help but feel as though I am amongst family and friends.
KF: What are you currently working on?
KH: A bunch of messy projects that haven't really taken shape yet! I'm going through some health troubles right now, which is making writing a little easier because I spend a majority of my day horizontal. The poetry I've been writing has been related to the experience of being ill, coping with pain, and the guilt that comes with being dependent on others, but there's too much chaos to make sense of a solid project yet. It might just amount to being a personal path to healing for me, or maybe I'll be able to make something useful out of it al.