An Interview with Maureen Kingston

Today, we’re talking to the fabulous Maureen Kingtson.  Maureen has nailed the prose poem. Her work always packs a punch. It’s been our pleasure to showcase some of that work here at Unbroken. Be sure to check out Maureen’s After His Father’s Funeral pieces, and also her Fired, which was one of our nominees for the 2015 Best of the Net anthology.

RLB: Maureen, thanks so much for joining us. We love your writing, and we’re dying to know how you do it. Let’s start with what attracted you to prose poetry? What does it do for you?

MK: Poetry and Prose in the ring, bare-knuckle boxing. My writing synapses are on high alert, firing. The entire arena of my mind is lit up like Times Square. Which form will land the first punch? Which will go the distance? Not knowing what will happen next is a tremendous thrill for me. I have a hard time creating art if my brain isn’t in this heightened state of being. The tension of the competing forms excites my imagination and (hopefully) enhances my final prose-poem product.

RLB: So how does your process go, once you’re in the ring? Do you start with an idea, a feeling, an emotion, a title? Maybe a prompt of some sort?

MK: All of my writing begins in image: a scene, a moment, an object. Right now MINT is hounding me—its jagged leaves, the scent of it crushed between my thumb and forefinger. My rational self has been rolling its eyes at the image for weeks. I know it’s a subconscious prompt of some kind. Consciously, though, I’m fighting it. I have zero interest in the idea, feeling, or emotion of MINT. Who would want to read about MINT?

I’d prefer to write about a friend’s recent visit to an active steel plant. The fabrication process fascinates me. So, too, the possible historical resonances. And the danger? Ooh-la-la. Yet when I sit down to write about steel, only MINT shows up. Ugh. It’s clear I’ll have to pursue MINT soon because I won’t be able (allowed?) to write about anything else until I do.

Will MINT become a prose poem? I don’t know. I always concern myself with the filling first. The correct shell, or pie crust, is designated deep into the process. In general, though, I’m drawn to the prose poem’s rectangular form because it’s a perfect receptacle for scenes, snatched moments, poetic image-stacking. It’s an invitational space, too. My mother used to tell me about how gracious my grandmother was. She had seven children and, as you can imagine, the chores never ended. Still, when any neighbor dropped by, my grandmother would grandly invite them into her chaos. She’d sweep a spot clean on her mounded kitchen table and treat the guest to a special cup of tea and her undivided attention. I aspire to my grandmother’s welcoming nature. The prose poem for me is an open door, a clearing where writer and reader might meet and enjoy one another’s company.

RLB: And if MINT were to become a prose poem, what is it that would make you decide that’s what it needs to be, rather than a lined piece of poetry?

MK: It’s a cliché, I know, but form follows function. Sometimes a poem’s subject demands the lyric “I” and lineation, sometimes not. I appreciate prose poems for their sideways, indirect approaches. A lineated poem makes me tense, makes me sit up straighter in my chair. I wonder if I’ve drunk enough coffee. If not I might miss the clever enjambment, the sly reference with multiple meanings.

Prose poems often have the opposite effect on me. They put me at ease. I even arrogantly assume I know where a prose poem’s going from its opening gambit. You can’t fool me, I think. Then, wham—the writer flattens me with surprise and multiple resonances and content meat that I’m still chewing on weeks later. God help me, I love the seduction and the surprise.

There also seem to be fewer subject or genre restrictions to prose poems. Murder mystery, politics, philosophy—all are welcome to cross the prose poem’s threshold. Not so with lineated poetry. If I had a dollar for every editor (and before that, professor) who scolded me for wading into politics or economics in my poems. I got fed up with wagging fingers and decided to find a new jewelry box to dance in.

RLB: Do you have any tips for someone new to the form who would like to give it a shot?

MK: Read as much of the form as you can. Gorge on it. Keep an open mind. Ask yourself: Does my content fit this form? If it doesn’t, move on.

RLB: Awesome! And what are you working on now? What will we be seeing from you in the near future?

MK: Micro-poetic-essays. The love child of George Orwell’s essays and Studs Terkel’s Hard Times. Stay tuned.

RLB: Sounds fun! We’ll be watching. A huge thank you for sharing your magic with us—you rock! We wish you tons of happiness and success in your writing.

Maureen Kingston’s flash fiction, essays, and hybrid prose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Apocrypha and Abstractions, CHEAP POP, Gargoyle, Gone Lawn, Gravel, The Legendary, and Stoneboat Literary Journal. A few of her prose pieces have also been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards.