As an SCC English instructor, Kara was a cheerleader for students who lacked confidence in their writing. Holding firm to the belief that writing teachers write, she is also an active pounder of the keyboard and has published work in a variety of publications – including two (soon to be three) volumes of Illuminations. Kara shares with us her view on writing as a generous and supportive act, her pride in publishing alongside students, and her continued “messy” writing process amid recent physical struggles.
Illuminations: Hi, Kara! In addition to publishing your poetry and fiction in Illuminations, you’ve published writing in a variety of other publications, including four books. As a well-published writer, what continues to attract you to publication in Illuminations?
Kara: Community is important to me. It’s important to me to write, work, and serve in the community where I live, as well as in a broader community. I always felt that if I was going to teach writing at Southeast Community College, I should be contributing to Illuminations. The first time one of my pieces appeared alongside one of my former student’s writing, I was thrilled. To me, that’s the full circle of what we do as teachers. Of all the student feedback, evaluation comments, awards, or accolades I have gotten as a teacher, nothing has been more satisfying than seeing my students’ names in Illuminations. I want to shout to the world, “Look what they did!” Students and teachers become peers in a literary magazine like this.
I: Nicely said! You emphasize community–do you think a sense of community is important for most writers, or is writing sometimes a solitary pursuit?
K: Community is VITAL for a writer. Writing involves a lot of solitary tasks, but community is an important part of a healthy writing ecology. The process of writing feels like a birthing process to me. It feels like labor, with less of the physical pain, of course. When a woman is in labor, she is the only one who can do the work (C-sections aside). She is the only one viscerally experiencing that process. That doesn’t mean she goes it alone. She has a network of people around her – family, friends, medical providers, midwives, doulas, etc. Can a woman give birth alone? Sure. Would she prefer to have a network of people supporting her? Probably. When I am writing, I am the only one who can take my particular ideas, my perspectives, my personal experiences and birth them. Along the way, I get support from the community. My community includes a generative writing group, colleagues who read and provide feedback, social writing connections where I can commiserate with other writers about the challenges of the process and connect to events and opportunities. Every single piece of work I have published happened because someone in my community told me about the call for submissions. I had to do the work of manifesting that piece of writing myself, but without community, some of those pieces may never have been born!
I: Oh, yes – your analogy rings true. You write both poetry and prose; do you prefer one over the other? Fiction over nonfiction?
K: Some people identify solely as poets or essayists or fiction writers. Not me. I’ve done all three. The different genres call to me for different reasons and purposes. That being said, I currently prefer poetry. This is a practical preference. I had a stroke in November 2012, and it changed the way my brain is able to process text as well as my ability to focus. I still have a difficult time reading and writing longer pieces of text, which makes writing fiction and nonfiction less enjoyable for me now. I have hope that my brain will recover, but in the meantime, I focus on poetry because it allows me to work in description and imagery, rhythm and form rather than sustaining a main point or plot line. I can read a poem or two and fully enjoy it rather than struggle. Someday, I hope to write a nonfiction book about my stroke, which was caused by a congenital heart defect. If my writing could help someone else, that would make me very happy!
I: I suspect your writing has done that already, Kara. How would you describe your writing process?
K: Messy. Painful. Frustrating. Irritating to family members. My students often express a belief that having to struggle to get words down on the page means that they are bad writers. I think that’s a myth. For me, struggling to get words down on the page is ALWAYS part of the process. Some people say they start with an idea and then work to get the idea clarified on the page. I don’t always know what my idea is. I am usually following a gut impulse, a drive to express “something” – but I don’t always know what that something is until I start writing. I tend to “puke on the page” and clean up later. Probably close to 75% of what I originally write gets cut. The most frustrating part comes when I know I’m close, but I just haven’t gotten it yet. Feedback is so important at this stage. I ask a colleague or writing group partner to read what I have written and tell me what they “see.” They often uncover a theme or message I hadn’t identified but turns out to be the heart of the piece. I’ve learned that I have to trust the process, give myself time, and keep working through the frustration.
I: What do you enjoy reading the most, and how does your reading life affect your writing life?
K: I’m not reading much these days because of my stroke. This is really frustrating, but it has also given me the opportunity to read in a different way – by listening. I now have an Audible account and use OverDrive to access books through the Lincoln Libraries. It’s a completely different experience listening to words on a page rather than seeing them. When I do read with eyes and not my ears, I read mostly poetry. I was recently published in an anthology of Nebraska Women Poets, “The Untidy Season.” This made me want to explore my fellow Nebraska contributors, including Marge Saiser, Lucy Adkins, Becky Breed, Sana Amoura-Patterson, Grace Bauer, Marilyn Coffey, Cat Dixon, Deirdre Evans, Twyla Hansen, Kelly Madigan, Amy Plettner, and Mary Stillwell, just to name a few. Nebraska is rich with contemporary poets, yet we so very seldom connect to the literary resources in our own backyard.
I: True. Do you enjoy participating in any other creative activities?
K: Absolutely! I love photography, knot work, gardening, and making music. I’m really interested in multi-media, too. I turned one of the poems I wrote for Illuminations, “Garlic,” into a poem-video with images and music to accompany the words.
I: Ah – that’s a great poem. Where do you see yourself as a writer in ten years?
K: Oh, boy. Not an easy question for me to answer right now. I’ve had to let go of a lot of goal-setting since the stroke and instead focus on what I am able to do today. I take note of my abilities and progress and seek to create daily routines and rituals that help me heal and grow. In ten years, I see myself writing every day. If I can do that, everything else will fall into place.
I: Are there certain subjects or themes you’re repeatedly drawn to write about?
K: Nature, land, animals. I was a farm kid, and those images of the natural world speak powerfully to me.
I: Finally, the silly question of the day – how much does your imagination weigh?
K: Hmmmmm…my imagination is not bound to time or space. Do time and space have weight? I need a physicist. But then again, weight is related to gravity, and my imagination relies on my experiences of and interpretation of the sensory world. And everything I come in contact with is part of the sensory world, or else I would not be able to experience it. So, I would have to weigh everything I have ever been in contact with, all the people, places, animals, plants and buildings. I could say my imagination equals the weight of the earth, but then, I have experienced the sun, moon, and stars, too, so maybe I have to include them. Of course, I would want to subtract the people, places, and things I have not yet experienced…. I suppose my imagination weighs everything and nothing all at once.
By Kara Gall
We have met in battle before,
On marble, on butcher block,
on eco-friendly Poly-flax cutting boards.
Your plump firm bulbs, roots still intact,
promise a pungent parliament of savory siege,
a fracas of flavor sheathed in bellicose husk.
I am not fooled by your heart-shaped armor.
I see only spoils: the sizzle in the pan,
the tang upon bread. I know the stakes.
Your allies have fallen
–onions, leeks, shallots, chives–
each of them a lost white flag beneath my knife.
Empty paper skins flutter to the floor.
Beneath my feet, the clove corpses whisper:
War is always a hunger.