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E. Kristin Anderson ’05 talks about the power of poetry, the erasure poetry technique and how popular culture informs her work.
By Timothy Stevens ’03
. Kristin Anderson ’05 seemed poised to pursue a career as a journalist. Sixteen years later, she achieved a byline in The New York Times. However, there’s a twist. Anderson jumped off the journalism track some time ago, deciding to expand and diversify her literary pursuits. As a result, The New York Times came calling not because Anderson had a hot scoop or a new expose, but because she had a delicious command of the written word. Using the newspaper’s own words, she created a work of blackout, or erasure, poetry and provided a brief instructional guide on how others could follow.
Timothy Stevens: Why did you, someone who started out in journalism, begin to focus on poetry?
E. Kristin Anderson: I think part of what works for me with poetry is that I’m not a very linear thinker. Especially as I’m getting older and my brain has been changing. Poetry comes in short bursts, and while I often can’t concentrate for very long to work on long-form writing these days, I can park myself at a café, put on my headphones, and get a poem onto the page in maybe an hour. I usually have a running text thread with myself that’s all notes—thoughts, phrases that sound nice or weird, facts I picked up from a podcast—and I use that hour to put a first draft together like a puzzle before I space out and get distracted.
TS: While you’ve been writing poetry for some time now, earlier this year you achieved something of a milestone, being published in The New York Times. How did that happen?
EKA: Honestly? I think part of it is that I keep my DMs open on Twitter. Which can be risky—being a woman in public means sometimes the DMs that come through are less than pleasant. But sometimes it’s a young writer who needs help with a tough situation, and sometimes it’s an editor with The New York Times who is looking for something of an expert in the field of erasure poetry and maybe heard you’re cool.
TS: Was being published in The New York Times ever a personal or professional goal of yours?
EKA: The year after I graduated from Conn, I actually interviewed for a position at The Times—on my flip phone in a hotel bathroom, because nowhere else in the building seemed to have reception. There was a time when I wanted to be a journalist, but that wasn’t my path. I am very proud to have been in The Times, and it felt really fantastic, but it’s truly more of a happy surprise that I had the opportunity to write for the paper.
TS: Now that you have topped that peak, do you have your eyes on any other proverbial mountains?
EKA: I have like eight novels on my hard drive, and every year
I’m like, this is the year I’m going to revise one of these and start sending it out again, and then I get some weird idea like writing an entire collection about trauma and The X-Files, and there goes six months. So my primary goal is getting a full-length collection out there. I have several chapbooks to my name, and I love the format of the chapbook and the excellent editors I’ve worked with, but this is a next step for me.
TS: Your published poem was a very specific form of poetry called erasure poetry. What is erasure poetry, and how does it work?
EKA: Erasure is a technique where you use an existing text to write a poem by removing part of the text and leaving a select series of words that become a poem. Some writers use a visual format, blacking out the words they’re not using with a Sharpie or even illustrating the page or collaging around the poem.
I did a blackout poem for The Times on request, but I draft most of my poems using words in the order that they appear in the source text and then type the draft into a Word document so it can look very much like a traditional poem—it just has a source citation at the bottom.
I’ve worked a lot with Stephen King novels over the past few years, which has been fascinating as a woman who grew up in Maine. I’ve also mostly been approaching his most problematic books with the intention of flipping some of his sexist tropes on their heads.
TS: You utilize pop culture as the inspiration for your work. In addition to Stephen King, the artists or works that have inspired many of your poems include the musician Prince and the television show The X-Files. What do you find artistically inspiring and fulfilling about drawing from pop culture?
EKA: I think that pop culture is a through line for all of us. We don’t all grow up with access to MoMA, but most of us have read a comic book or seen an episode of “Law & Order.” Most of us have heard a song by Prince or Sheryl Crow. I think these parts of culture are just as important as any other thing we can write about.
And often these pop culture moments can be a point of entry—for both reader and writer—to more intense or difficult stories. My Scully (a character on The X-Files) poems were largely informed by my experiences with medical trauma, abuse and misogyny. Scully’s journey through cancer, through being a highly qualified woman in a boys’ club, through the paranormal—it all provides a grounding mechanism for my stories. If you know Scully, in a way, you know me.
TS: In general, are you a writer who needs to lock herself in and write during specific times, or do you find yourself more comfortable with only writing when the moment seizes you?
EKA: There was a time when I could write wherever, whenever. At the end of 2015, I was hospitalized with kidney failure and found out I had a rare autoimmune disorder. The treatments were difficult, and my brain never really recovered from being on chemo and prednisone. PTSD affects me every day. And the only way I’ve been able to keep writing is to create time and space for it.
I have a routine. I go to my Starbucks, I decide what I want to achieve for the day (like draft one new poem, or set a word count), and I put a certain amount of time into it. This past year has been particularly hard, though patio seating has helped. But without routine and this sort of specific focus (often with a reward—like, you can go home and watch your show when you finish writing for the day), I don’t know that I’d ever get much done these days.
TS: What are you currently working on?
EKA: Right now, I’m actually in the middle of a group project I do with a bunch of poets twice a year called the Poeming. In October, for spooky season, we take the entire catalog of one horror or thriller author and divvy up the books and every participating writer makes 31 poems using their assigned book and found poetry techniques. In April, for National Poetry Writing Month, we all use the same book. This year, it’s The Silence of the Lambs, and it’s getting really weird.
I’m also working on finishing up a manuscript of response poems written after songs by women artists—Aimee Mann, Tori Amos, Jenny Lewis, Taylor Swift, Kesha. I’m sort of bouncing political issues and personal traumas and experiences off the songs—maybe a way of singing along, maybe a poet’s version of a cover. But they seem to be resonating with folks, and they’re finding homes in magazines, many online. Online magazines have been such a gift for poetry. Literary journals can be hard to access, but all you need to read an online mag is an internet connection.
TS: For those who want to read more of your work, where should they go? Do you have any kind of social media presence people can keep up with to stay current on your work?
EKA: I’m very much a Twitter person—you can find me at @ek_anderson. My Instagram is @ekristinanderson, but mostly I just post pictures of the masks I’ve been making for friends and essential workers. Twitter is where I post about writing, recent publications and, lately, hot takes about Star Wars. Don’t even try to tell me that R2-D2 doesn’t have badass auntie energy.
TS: Finally, I have to ask about the pen name “E. Kristin Anderson.” I’m not wrong that it is a play on Hans Christian Andersen, right? What about the Danish writer most famous for fairy tales appealed to you, if he did at all?
EKA: It’s actually mostly my name. Kristin is my middle name, and Anderson is my grandmother’s middle name. She and I are very close, so it’s kind of a nod to her. But my legal name is common, and I wanted something that was googleable and memorable—the Danish author helped with the latter. But it’s also been good for safety, keeping a little of my name to myself.
Timothy Stevens ’03 is a staff writer and social media manager at The Spool.
By E. Kristin Anderson
I was fine—right up to the moment
I survived, the heart as clumsy
as floodlights in the morning.
I saw that tree, that chaos twisted
on the surface of the water and
I was living in telephones.
Silver, I’m turning the camera now,
rising, a weapon awakened
by hissing static. It was
my mouth, sharp and warm and
sideways—you know the danger
I feel the weight of, the way
I went down into the basement
and shut off memory and memory—
This is an erasure poem. Source material: Crichton, Michael. “Jurassic Park.” Mass Market ed. Ballantine, 2015. 271-285. Print.