Evans is the author of a poetry collection , Like
All We Love(Q Press) and a book about lesbian
and gay teachers, Negotiating the Self (Routledge).
Her poetry, stories and essays have appeared in
more than 40 publications, including the North
American Review, Seattle Review, Cream City Review,
and Santa Monica Review. She has been nominated
for the L.A. Times Book Prize, a Lambda Literary
Award, and Pushcart Prizes in fiction and creative
nonfiction. Currently she is working on a novel.
She lives in San Jose, California by way of Seattle,
Santa Cruz, and Yokohama, Japan. (www.kate-evans.com,
In former issues of thanalonline you may find
more details about interviewer :Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi
who is a poet and translator from Iran. There
is also her photo in the latest issue.
So let us introduce Thanalonline's raeders to
a painting by an Iranian famous painter: Master
Shakiba whose paintings show Iranian women in
the first decades of 20 century.
This interview is from the booK: Eternal voices,interviews
with poets from all around the word Which will
appear in the next year.
To know why Farideh hassanzadeh has choosen Kate
Evans to interview with her please read the introduction.
The reasons for my interview with Kate Evans :
1- I like her sincerity as a poet.
She doesn't enforce herself to write poems , essays
and novels to show herself as an important academic
person. She writes only for a simple reason :
to share her experiences with the words to find
a meaning for her life.And when others find meaning
in her words to enrich their experiences, she
appreciate herself as a simple woman; a human.
2- As a teacher she is a real follower of Walt
Whitman ; doing her best so that her students
Listening to others, considering well what they
Pausing , searching , receiving, contemplating,
She doesn't assume teaching as a duty only for
earning money. She goes beyond text books. She
introduced me and my daughter to her students
for exchanging ideas and Information between American
and Iranian culture , simply because her kind
heart hates politicians' exchanging of weapons.
3- Love is not only a word for her to write or
to speak about it. To respect the roots of love
she appreciate her parents by devoting to them
the most precious thing she need: her time.
In one of her letters to me she wrote:
" I've been so busy with my new job, running
the literary speakers' series. I'm kind of behind
in many things." And yet : " I have
been spending a lot of time with my mother .We
are going out together to lunch tomorrow. She's
always so happy to see me--her whole face lights
And in Kate's blog one may see a beautiful picture
of her father and not only pictures of her great
4- She knows what she is doing with her life
" Before death's knife provides the answer
,ultimate and appropriate":
"One of the poems I've attached is about,
in part, reading about war in the news. And it
makes me almost crazy to realize that I write
about it as something I read about in the paper,
while there are people in the world who write
about it as something they have to experience.
The inhumanity of people to one another in this
world is a form of insanity. Thus, connections
like the one we are having right now are a state
F: " What is the good poem in your idea
?And how can a poet become a better poet?"
K: There are so many reasons a poem can be "good"--but
I guess the core "goodness" of a poem
to me connects to Sam Hamill 's quote: a good
poem moves me. Maybe it moves me because of its
humanity, or its acknowledgement of life's beauty
or pain, or because it surprises me with its humor
or horror or both. Most poems I love strike to
the depths quickly through the economy of words.
Also, many poems I love use a personal experience
to connect more broadly to others. There is an
empathic gesture in many good poems.
How can someone become a better poet? Read poetry.
Observe the world. Observe the self's response
to the world. Ask why. Ask questions that have
no answers. Listen a lot. Honor ambiguity. Love
language. Revel in contradiction. Embrace human
error. Embrace possibility.
F: What is your interpretation of this statement:
"Egocentricity is a normal characteristic
K: I think egocentricity is one side of the coin.
The other side is universality or humanitarianism.
So I think poets, in a way, foster a bit of both.
The egocentricity--or perhaps, a better way for
me to say this is subjectivity--is part of the
poet's work because she filters all life experience
through herself in order to put it on the page.
But to make a piece a poem (as opposed to a journal
entry), it has to transcend the individual and
speak to the human condition. Here's the paradox:
The poet gets to the universal through the specific.
The poet uses the self to speak to the human condition.
F: In his essay :" Fear of feeling",
Dr. Samuel Hazo says:
There have been numerous poets who have literally
" spilled their guts " on the page ,
yet unable of expressing of feeling. There is
a world of difference between the expression of
private as opposed to personal feeling . Personal
feelings involve all of us whereas private feelings
are limited to the person who is expressing them
How do you see your own poetry regarding this
K: I fully agree with the statement--in fact,
I think private sentiment constitutes a journal
entry, whereas personal feelings that touch on
emotion at the human level (that reach beyond
the individual) are essential to poems.
And the paradox is that the more specific the
images in the poem, or the more specific the story
told, the more likelihood that the piece will
transcend the private. It seems counter-intuitive.
It seems that one would have to speak in sweeping,
grand generalizations in order to be universal.
It's hard to get my students to understand this.
They want to write using lots of abstractions
and generalities. But it's more often the specificity
of image, of concrete language, that evokes emotion.
I definitely work to get at this in my own poetry,
although I'm certainly not always successful.
I struggle sometimes to find the poem in the experience,
as Ellen Bass puts it. That's what we must do:
not just put down the experience, but find the
core of poetry within it.
F: How does teaching influence your writing?
K: Teaching keeps me from writing as
much as I'd like to! But at the same time, it
keeps my writing fresh. The students constantly
offer me new insights into what we read and write
about. They don't have many literary "should
s" embedded in their minds, thus much of
their writing has a sense of freedom to it that
Because I want to be able to give as much as I
can to my students, I feel an obligation to keep
as current as possible on what's new in the literary
world. This keeps me as multi-faceted as possible,
especially since I teach all genres (poetry, fiction
and creative nonfiction).
F: All over the world, there is a gap between
artists and politicians. They are vastly different
in their ideals. It seems in the U.S. this gap
is widening. How do you feel about America's big-stick
policy toward third-world countries?
K: I have been greatly grieved
by America's big-stick policy. All the money spent
on bombing and killing could be spent on humanitarian
efforts in the U.S. and abroad--for health care,
education, food. To think we spend money to kill
instead of to help and to heal almost makes me
crazy. Most U.S. artists I know feel the same--so
I agree that there is a gap between many artists
and politicians. In fact, California's poet laureate,
Al Young, has said that it is the responsibility
of poets to take back language that politicians
use to manipulate us.
F: One of American poets with whom I had an interview
, told me he fears of replying to my political
answers for , Bush's government , is not indifference
to the writers who criticize him and his policy
and deprive them of their rights for teaching
or publishing or etc.... Please tell me how do
you interpret his word?
K: His words point out how this current U.S.
administration thrives on fear-based politics.
It's very Orwellian, actually. In our "free"
country, our emails and phone calls are tapped
by our government. People are "disappeared"--only
to be shipped to other countries where they are
tortured. Guantanamo is a nightmare. In the name
of "peace" our country bombs and kills.
What happens, then, is that if our country of
"free speech," people become afraid
to dissent for fear of real or imagined reprisals.
And speaking about our political men, I'm curious
how do you feel about the Iranian President saying
that there are no homosexuals in Iran?
F: Thank you very much for this interesting answer.
As for your question regarding homosexuality in
Iran ,I must explain: In Iran this case is not
very serious. For example me , myself , have been
a very active woman. I have worked in high schools,
universities, various cities as teacher, librarian
and freelance journalist, and I have never seen
two lezbian or homosexual in my life. Of course
I have heard about it but personally ,I have not
seen. Maybe it is unbelievable for you and other
Americans but it is true. At the same time the
translations of works by homosexual or lesbian
poets and writers are published in Iran without
prohibition. I have published Lorca's biography
,full of scenes on his homosexual relationships
or Cavafi 's poetry have published for many many
times . And others without any prohibition. Believe
K: Thank you for this, Farideh. It's so interesting
how perhaps not many people are "out of the
closet" in Iran--and yet it sounds like things
are very open when it comes to literature. And
no, I don't find it unbelievable. Not too long
ago here in the U.S., gays and lesbians were much
less open than they are now. Our gay rights movement
sparked a lot of change that is still evolving
to this day. Of course, our federal government
isn't very supportive--they are trying to block
In our news here it claims that homosexuals get
put to death in Iran. Have you heard this? Of
course, here, it can be dangerous to be an out
gay person in some places in the U.S. because
there are homophobic, angry people who do hurt
some gay people (like Matthew Shepard).
F: To tell the truth I have heard such news only
from Immigrant Iranians with British or American
citizenship. In their feelings towards Iran they
are like stepmothers who prefer to find only bad
and ugly aspects in their step children and if
they can't find they simply fabricate lies . They
are blind to good aspects of this innocent child:
Let me ask please my next question: In 1949, Muriel
Rukeyser wrote : "Poetry is foreign to us
,we don't let it enter our daily "lives."
Does poetry have an acknowleged place in American
life today ?
K: I think poetry has a place in the U.S. in a
variety of ways. The most visible way right now
is spoken word poetry and performance poetry,
which are closely connected to the hip hop scene.
This is one way young people, in particular, are
being brought into the world of poetic expression.
Some of our state and national poet laureates--like
Billy Collins, Ted Kooser and Al Young--have done
a great job bringing poetry alive to more people,
through a variety of poetry projects. I'd love
to see more women in these positions, however.
To me, Rukeyser was referring not only to poetry
literally, but also to poetic sensibilities. I
do think that our culture is dominated by capitalist
impulses and images of sanctified violence. In
such an environment, it can be difficult to find
a place for "poetic logic"--that which
might question those in power, and would privilege
human relationships, the heart, and peace.
F: What is your interpretation of this line by
Delmore Schwartz :
"The poet must be both Casanova and St. Anthony"
K: It makes complete sense--that our poetry must
both seduce people and feed them! And in that
order. First the seduction to draw people close
--and then the devouring. The devouring must be
nourishing, however, or people will not be sustained
by the work.
F: " What is behind this outpouring of polished
vacuity? Why does a poet like John Ashbery occupy
such a central place in the contemporary pantheon
of American poetry(and who created such an anointing
in the first place ?) while beter poets such as
Louis Simpson and Philip Booth receive nowhere
near the attention they merit?"
May I know your answer to this question by Professor
Samuel Hazo in his essay on poetry ?
K: It’s kind of a mystery to me why certain
poets get attention over others. I know there
are many possible explanations related to poetics,
luck, politics, favoritism, skill, gender bias
and other biases, academia’s influence…
I think (hope?) there is room for everyone, for
all types of poetry. I love Louis Simpson’s
work, for instance—and I have an appreciation
for much of John Ashbery’s work because
I do like the way he makes language slippery.
I do think, though, that academia tends to support
poets who are write more densely. Such poetry
gives academics jobs—because people rely
on “experts” to explain that poetry
F: "poets are not obliged to address the
burning issues of the day, only to work with the
language as well as they can, and if Billy Collins
feels no compunction to make statements about
American foreign policy, so be it. (Indeed given
the marginal place that poets hold in our society
it is a wonder that any poet ever feels the need
to speak about anything at all.) Let us be grateful
to him for his quirky poems, which do add to the
fabric of our time here below, and let others
raise their voices."
This is Christopher Merrill's idea .He is a poet
who attended Balkan war as a journalist. Please
let me know your comment on his statement.
K: I love the generosity in what Merrill says,
and I completely agree. I think no topic should
be "required" of any poet. At the same
time, I would hope that poets don't avoid topics
out of fear or political favor. I believe the
best poetry is fearless. I don't think silence
is ever the answer when it comes to objecting
to war...unless one is talking about the "negative
space" in a poem where the richness is achieved
by what is not said.
F: How do you see lady death?!
K: I see Lady Death as immensely
personal. She belongs to each one of us. People
who don't want to accept this fact spend a lot
of time trying to make death belong to other people.
Perhaps I do see violence in our world as lodged
in a deeply psychic space. Those in power who
think nothing of dropping a bomb to kill others
are in denial about their own mortality.
I also see her as a being who propels creativity.
At some level, most creativity is inspired by
mortality, I think. We make things because we
know at some level our time is limited. Mortality
is essential to the creative impulse. And unfortunately,
it's also essential to the destructive impulse.
That's a conundrum I want to think more about.
It's not one to be solved, only to be grappled