Interviews

Four Questions with Kat Lehmann ( @songsofkat )

Kat Lehmann

Avi with two books - March2018.jpg

1. Tell us about you, and your writing ( themes, influences etc. )

My writing sits at the intersect of poetry, meditation, inspirational self-help, memoir. Basically, I write what I need to read, and I express it as beautifully and simply as I can. I am a scientist by training, but while I was in graduate school I became an obsessive reader of poetry. After a long day in the lab, I would happily spend an evening dissecting the perfection of a Louise Bogan poem or sinking into the yearning of the early confessional poets. I have too many influences to count, but I would include Lucile Clifton, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, ee cummings, and Emily Dickinson. I’m currently being mesmerized by Ocean Vuong and enjoying the touchstones of Thich Nhat Hanh. I also like the whimsy of children’s books and what I call “children’s books for adults”.
Thematically, my primary influence is my own experiences in surviving the cycles of loss and renewal to find a deeper happiness. My first book, Moon Full of Moons, shares this cycle in a somewhat raw and bleeding (poetic) way. My forthcoming memoir-essay manuscript takes a philosophical slant to the ways we lose and regain a sense of self when faced with ongoing loss. We find a way to reinvent our lives. I always try to go deep enough into the emotions to find the common thread that ties our tapestries together so that others can connect the words to their own feelings. And they do – a common comment I receive is “How did you know this feeling I’ve always felt but could not name?” To me, that is the best comment an author can receive. I think craft and technique can go only so far if the content is not informed by authentic life experiences. Otherwise, we’re just admiring the perfection of a sphere is rather than how beautiful a uniquely-pocketed, cratered moon is, shadows and all.
Part of making a beautiful book is wrapping the words in a beautiful package, and I’m thankful that Subhashini Chandramani, who creates lush Garden Art from flowers, has provided cover art for Small Stones from the River.

A little more about me: I’m a mom, wife, active in my church, and am a Ph.D. biochemist who does regulatory work and manages clinical trials for kidney patients. And I swoon over a special river, tree, or a good moon.

2. What are some of the ways in which you promote your work, and do you find these add, or eat into, your time writing?

I would love to spend days tucked away writing and doing wonderful inward-facing deep-dives into my thoughts. I also love seeing my writing as a conversation with the reader, and this urges me back to the surface in an outward-facing way. I think I know what I’ve created, but sometimes a reader will think of a new use for a book. For example, Small Stones from the River is being used in yoga classes as meditations during savasana, and I did not anticipate that use (although I treasure that the words are being like this). Communication with readers is the fun, outward-facing part about writing. The not-at-all fun part is marketing. I would say I’m terrible at marketing, and I’m okay with being terrible at it. In the end, a book will sail or sink on its own merits, not based on a promotion.
I get pretty excited about my books and the responses from readers, so I share that excitement on social media in the form of excerpts. I have given away a good number of books around the United States as part of my Ripples of Kindness project. I try to put good things into the world in a simple way that is accessible to everyone. I stay active locally and am involved in local events. Recently, an article in the local paper about my projects led me being invited to read my poetry at a local event celebrating movement. We exist in a web that tugs in different ways, so providing nourishment to others, and to the web as a whole, is not so different from providing nourishment to ourselves. Everything is connected.

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3. What projects are you working on at present?

I have three active projects at the moment. The first is my first collection of prose, which will focus on rediscovering childhood and finding a sense of home as an adult. The second is a poetry chapbook that is, basically, a love letter to the body. The third collection is a sequel to Small Stones from the River, although it has a twist! Small Stones from the River contains haiku, tanka, and short, meditative free verse poems. The “small stones” sequel is a contemporary interpretation of a Japanese form of poetry called haibun. I always knew there would be a sequel to Small Stones from the River (I have enough “small stone” poems for a few books!), and expanding these poems into longer haibun pieces has been really fun. There has been an highly positive response from readers to the first volume, and the sequel will be done in a way to keep the offerings fresh. Those three projects are the forerunners, and I anticipate at least one of them will be finished in 2018.

4. What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is a way to use words to describe what is beyond words. Emotion and memory are great examples of this. Emotions are too complicated to be represented by letters on a page, but a poem can transmit that feeling to the reader. Memory is the same way. Many memories come to my mind in flashes of scenes, and this is a way poetry can transmit an image. My favorite poems leave enough space so that the meaning is like an impressionistic painting in which the viewer must back up a bit to see the picture. I also love the elegant economy of short poems. Writing haiku has been great for me in developing this skill, and I’m at the point where I’ve been honored several times as a haiku master finalist in writing competitions. Haiku, tanka, and writing on Twitter challenge me to pack layered meaning into a handful of words. What can we do with language to communicate on a basic human level that speaks across cultures and speaks between the lines? In Small Stones from the River, I decided to remove punctuation and replace it with consistently-used line breaks and spaces. Most people don’t notice that punctuation isn’t there, because it is not needed. How primal and deep can we go? Poetry is an experiment with language to communicate what cannot otherwise be communicated.

forgive - you can take back your pain if you need it

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Small Stones from the River is a 2017 Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards Finalist, and Moon Full of Moons is a Winner of the 2016 Royal Dragonfly Book Award.

“Kat Lehmann’s original poetry shows an advanced understanding of the human condition.” -The Rebecca Review
“I am a tough reviewer. Lehmann is a very fine poet. Put up beside Robert Frost (The Lovely Shall Be Choosers), e.e.cummings (Tumbling hair; O purple finch), H.D. (The Helmsman), Margaret Atwood (Projected Slide of an Unknown Soldier), Lehmann is indeed ‘roughly equal to best in genre.’” -The Kindle Book Review

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