Intimate Conversation with Kim Roberts

KIM ROBERTS  is the author of three books of poems, Animal Magnetism (Pearl Editions, 2011), The Kimnama (Vrzhu Press, 2007), and The Wishbone Galaxy (WWPH, 1994). In 2000, she founded the acclaimed online journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly. She edited the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B, 2010), and wrote the nonfiction chapbook Lip Smack: A History of Spoken Word Poetry in DC (Beltway Books, 2010). Roberts is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the DC Commission on the Arts, and the Humanities Council of Washington. She has been awarded writers’ residencies from twelve artist colonies. Her website: http://www.kimroberts.org/.


BPM:  Introduce us to your book, Full Moon On K Street.Full Moon On K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, edited by Kim Roberts. The anthology includes 101 poems, written by current and former residents of the city between 1950 and the present. All poems are set in Washington, DC and environs, and mention specific places (neighborhoods, streets, businesses, monuments, museums, and more). The book captures DC's unique sense of place, from monuments to parks, from lawyers to bus stations, from go-go music to chili half-smokes. The anthology captures the city's many moods: celebratory, angry, and fiercely political.

Contributors include: two-time US Poet Laureate Reed Whittemore; DC's first Poet Laureate, Sterling A. Brown; senator and five-time presidential candidate Eugene J. McCarthy; Cervantes prize winner for lifetime achievement in Spanish-language literature, Jose Emilio Pacheco; renowned gay rights activist Essex Hemphill; and President Obama's official inauguration poet, Elizabeth Alexander.
 
BPM: Where do you find your inspiration today?
From reading. Nothing spurs my imagination and fires my intellect more than reading. I try to read as widely and eclectically as I possibly can. I read poetry, of course, but also lots of history, novels, travel books. I also love museums, and often visit collections for inspiration.

BPM: Introduce us to your latest published work. What style is it?
Editing an anthology of poems is an act of passion. The anthology is an overlapping of my several obsessions: poetry, of course, but also literary history, and the built environment. I love cities--their architecture, their grid, the way large groups of people use the space--and I love DC especially. I've looked at a lot of other anthologies, and nothing like this exists--a portrait of the city from 1950 to the present, and the places within the city that have meant something special to these authors.

It's also a huge amount of work--more work than most of us can possibly realize before starting such a project. (Would any of us really create anthologies if we knew?) Because my anthology includes a number of poets who have passed away, I spent a lot of time researching, then searching for next of kin to secure permissions. There were some poems I couldn't include because I never secured permission. There were also lots of authors I knew I wanted to include, poets associated with the city, and I looked back over their work, and was surprised to see that many never wrote poems set in DC. That includes such authors as wide ranging as Larry Neal, Archibald MacLeish, Owen Dodson, and Anthony Hecht.

But there were lots of wonderful coups as well. I spoke to the next-of-kin of many authors who have passed away who were enthusiastic about the project. Some, like Ed Cox's family, were thrilled to be reminded that their loved ones are still read and loved by the larger literary community. I am so grateful to them (as well as the families of Hilary Tham, Ann Darr, Betty Parry, and others) for the warm responses they gave.

I was also gratified by the poets who--like Myra Sklarew and Regie Cabico--decided to write poems specifically for this anthology. And I was pleased to be able to track down so many authors who once lived in DC and have since moved away, such as Michael Lally, Gray Jacobik, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Sharan Strange.

There are also poets included who I think should be better known to readers. I was able to get permission to reprint a poem by Essex Hemphill, the pioneering African-American gay rights activist whose poetry is a revelation, but whose work was long kept out of circulation by family members wanting to preserve their privacy. There are poems by Percy Johnston, a leader of the Howard Poets of the 1970s, and Eugene McCarthy, best remembered as a Senator and five-time US Presidential candidate. Their poems, different as they are, show great humor and an deep engagement with the world around them. Jose Emilio Pacheco, little known here, is widely considered Mexico's greatest living poet. He taught at the University of Maryland for one semester a year for many years, and his poem about Sligo Creek is a terrific addition to the book. He was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the highest honor for Spanish-language literature, just as the book was going to press. And Gaston Neal, who published so little during his lifetime but was a mentor to so many, is included with a tribute poem to Sterling Brown.

BPM: What literary legacy do you leave our future readers and leaders?
An anthology is a powerful way to reach into the future, and I think I am more proud of this book than anything else I've done. Libraries tend to hang onto anthologies, and I know I've found many writers I love by reading their work first in an anthology. What this book tries to do is to capture not only the work of individuals, but to present them as a community, to capture the literary community of a particular place, Washington, DC, at a particular time, from 1950 to 2010.

BPM: Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases.
I have two new books. Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize, is my third book of poems, forthcoming from Pearl Editions in 2011. The book contains two sequences--a series of poems about items collected in medical museums (which I began visiting when I was being treated for cancer), and a series called My Imaginary Husband. The other book, released in September 2010, is my first nonfiction book, called Lip Smack: A History of Spoken Word Poetry in DC. That book was commissioned by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, and is published in conjunction with the Council's thirtieth anniversary.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly hosts the panel, "Portraits of a City: Writing About the Urban Experience," moderated by Kim Roberts, and featuring Kenneth Carroll, Fred Joiner, and stevenallenmay. Presented in conjunction with the publication of the anthology, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010).

BPM: How can our readers reach you online? I have an author website, with information about my publications, readings, literary walking tours, and more. Please see  http://www.kimroberts.org/.


Kim Roberts, Beltway Poetry Quarterly
http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/


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