Vernon’s Kerry Gilbert is launching her new book of prose poetry at the Vernon library Thursday

Vernon’s Kerry Gilbert is launching her new book of prose poetry at the Vernon library Thursday

Vernon poet walks a fine line

April is poetry month and to celebrate The Morning Star has conducted a Q&A with Kerry Gilbert, who is launching her new book Tight Wire.

Kerry Gilbert grew up in Vernon.

She lived on Vancouver Island, in South Korea, and in Australia before moving back to Vernon, where she now raises her three children and teaches in the writing department at Okanagan College.

Gilbert’s first book (kerplnk), a verse novel of development, was published in 2005. Her second book, Tight Wire, a collection of prose poems, is being released this month on Mother Tongue Publishing.

MS: The title of your book, Tight Wire, has many connotations. As observed on the cover, there’s the act of tightrope walking, also known as funambulism (mentioned in one of your poems), with its circus-carnivalesque themes of tension, risk, and display. Were these themes in your mind as you started writing, and why?

KG: I wrote the first poem of this collection without realizing the theme of the whole, but rather responding to some deep frustration/tension/exhaustion. At the time I was trying to examine what I was feeling but couldn’t quite name. The theme of “life is circus” surfaced and the beautifully grotesque images of “trying to balance it all” fit perfectly. The many voices/stories within the book collected from that place.

MS: Although told in a feminine voice, some of your poems are not in what could be deemed a “pretty” aesthetic. There is some shedding of skin, revealing a raw honesty, sometimes a dark and sinister interior. How hard was it to reach into a place that some would fear to expose?

KG: It was easy to reach that place and to speak through poetry because that is a safe space for me to voice all sides/aspects of myself (“pretty,” “sinister” and everything in between). It is not a political space. It’s a free one—like allowing complete honesty to myself. Having others read and respond to this act of shedding is as vulnerable and as necessary as it gets.

MS: Retired Okanagan College regional dean, former writing professor and author/poet John Lent describes you envisioning a new kind of June Cleaver in Tight Wire: a woman, mother and lover just as restricted as her famous mid-’50s North American prototype, but strangely new too. Who is this new woman in your opinion? Does she still have any of the restrictions of her ‘50s counterpart? Is she still hiding something?

KG: In the documentary Miss Representation, Jennifer Pozner says about women these days that: “they’re expected to look like Miss U.S.A., have sex like Samantha on Sex and the City and think like June Cleaver.” To add to that “balancing act,” there is the economic pressure for all genders in that we can’t afford to be the Cleavers. These are confusing expectations/times for both men and women. I think the hiding comes in how messy things look behind the scenes of trying to hold this all together.

MS: What are some words of advice you give to your students when they say they want to explore poetry as their main writing experience?

KG: My advice to anyone who wants to explore any kind of writing is to spend the rest of your life learning as much as you possibly can about writing and about writers, but to never lose touch with your natural instincts—they are what make your art/your voice unique.

MS: And finally, April is poetry month. How are you planning on celebrating?

KG: It is my pleasure to be involved with an event called Authors for Indies that happens every year, where authors support the independent bookstores that support authors. This year it falls on Saturday, April 30. A bunch of local authors will be spending parts of the day at (Vernon book store) Expressions of Time, signing books and having one-on-one conversations about writing with patrons. I will be there between 1 and 3 p.m. For more information and a list of other writers involved for that day, please visit: www.authorsforindies.com.

The official launch of Gilbert’s Tight Wire takes place Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Gilbert and some invited guests will be reading from Tight Wire.