Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Kae Bucher
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The two poems “Wisteria” and “Somewhere beyond the yolk of my eyes” incorporate botanical and natural imagery. Do you have a particular background that has led you to that kind of image?
Kae Bucher: That’s a thought-provoking question for me, because, actually I’m not a botanist. I do love nature, but my background with it is more spiritual than professional. From a faith-based perspective, I believe that the world is an incredible entrustment from a good God. My response is to walk barefoot and listen to the heartbeat of the earth under my toes.
Like Lucy Maude Montgomery, my strongest poetic inspiration, I love to write about nature. Nature is a recurring image in my poetry, because of its twofold symbolic functions. Flowers, in particular, represent hope to me. I love seeing their “faces” lift for the first time in spring. Seeds fall to the ground, and then they bloom! I believe that well-rounded poetry observes life objectively: the bad and the good. And for me, flowers are one of the most profound reminders of the good.
Within my poetry, nature also symbolizes freedom. A glance out my kitchen window tells me that nature is unrestrained. The trees and flowers aren’t concerned with keeping up appearances or even keeping to their own plots of land.
We humans are different. We try to tame the land—and each other. Like children stuffing school supplies into an overflowing pencil box, we try to fit one another (and often ourselves) into confining containers. In doing so, we restrict ourselves to certain social classifications, classifications which are at best limiting and at worst entirely false.
Both “Wisteria” and “Somewhere beyond the yolk of my eyes” convey my experience of frustration with our “pencil box” culture. The poems use nature as a vehicle to communicate that the world is far bigger than a pencil box. Specifically, I chose wisteria to emphasize the power of vining, twining things, and of life itself. I believe that just as grass grows through sidewalks, people have the power to unlatch the metaphorical pencil box.
RR: We’re interested in the fragmentation and ambiguity created by lack of punctuation. How do you approach crafting the voice in your poems?
KB: Seminal American poet W.S. Merwin observes that punctuation “staple[s] the poem to the page,” whereas removing the punctuation gives the poem “a sense of integrity and liberation that it did not have before.” While “Wisteria” and “Somewhere beyond the yolk of my eyes” are not devoid of punctuation, I do believe they capture some of that “integrity and liberation.”
Both in content and in punctuation, my poems stress resistance of the conventional, subscribing to the Transcendentalist school of thought. I concur with thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who subverted societal expectations while emphasizing the role of the natural world.
I believe we need to live within the natural. We try to cram life into a child’s pencil box, instead of allowing ourselves to live and breathe. I leave the punctuation in the “pencil box” when I write poems like “Wisteria,” because so many of us cannot fit into society’s tidy containers. Some of the people I most admire are those who defy expectations: those who value generosity over money-grubbing, being over busyness.
I don’t fit in any boxes, either. My mother was white, my father was dark. I’m an educator who believes that the best education is rooted in faith. I’m a Christian who would like to go barefoot to church and who sleeps in a hammock. I am part Jewish, but I believe in Jesus. I attend a Protestant church, but my heartbeat is Catholic. And I believe that God talks to us through the flowers of the field.
RR: Can you elaborate on your term “personal cosmos”? What does it mean to you and how did it inspire these poems?
KB: Just as the term “Cosmos” refers to the world or Universe, the term “personal cosmos” describes an individual’s world or universe. A personal cosmos is distinct from the Cosmos, because it is confined to an individual’s sphere of experience. (Throughout, I’ll distinguish between the two by capitalizing the latter.) This cosmos encompasses a person’s ideologies, emotions and influences, and includes social factors such as communal beliefs and familial relationships. A good synonym for personal cosmos would be perspective.
Although “personal cosmos” wasn’t a term I had in mind when I composed “Wisteria” and “Somewhere beyond the yolk of my eyes,” both poems are glimpses into my experience as a struggling poet. Like my lack of punctuation, the personal cosmos approach demonstrates a resistance to the “let’s-cram-everyone-into-a-pencil-box” culture. “Wisteria” and “Somewhere beyond the yolk of my eyes” are written from personal experience, as the speakers grapple with societal expectations. I desire to be as successful as my narrators in rising above society’s demands.
Although my poems are products of my cosmos, they relay a universal theme. After all, it’s common to feel like an outsider within society. There is a lot of depression in our world because people are focusing on how much they don’t measure up within the “pencil box” system. Ultimately, life isn’t about whether we meet or fail expectations. My hope is that, as my poems convey a relatable emotional experience, the reader can filter my words through the lens of his own perspective and discover freedom from society’s expectations.
RR: How has your work as the co-editor of the literary journal Jordan Journal affected your own writing? And has it influenced your process or choices in submitting your work to other journals?
KB: Sensitivity is the commonality between my experience as editor and as poet. Jordan Journal is a faith-based publication that gathers a range of voices from various Judeo-Christian perspectives. Being a Messianic Jew, I believe that there’s fundamental truth inherent in Christianity. At the same time, however, I also recognize Christianity as a contemporary culture. Certain poems appeal more to the culture of Christianity than others. Thus, selecting poetry for Jordan Journal is a matter of sensitivity: choosing works that would appeal to a Christian audience.
That same carefulness comes into play when I’m submitting my own work to publications. I believe that there are transcendent truths that we’re all discovering, and I do infuse these messages into my submissions. My goal is to share these ideas in ways that resonate with diverse audiences. As a poet, I’m part of a larger community of creative minds, and I try to be sensitive to what I believe different publishers are looking for. I’m an emerging writer just trying to find my niche.
RR: We see on your website that you are also a teacher. How do you balance your writing with your teaching?
KB: To clarify, I’m not currently teaching in the traditional sense, but I would say that my teaching methods and messages have carried over into my poetry. Like Wordsworth, I believe that Nature is a teacher, and I consider myself a student of life.
For this reason, I generally taught about things that excited me, and I investigated subject matter alongside my students. Montessori believed that children learn through their environment and experiences, and I used his approach to fuel wonder and curiosity—in and out of the classroom.
As a teacher, I also encouraged students to love themselves a little more, and to love this life a little more. Whether I was teaching juvenile hall, RSP, or emotionally-disturbed students, I was constantly discovering brilliant children in classes where they didn’t belong. My students were labeled and stuffed into “pencil boxes” where they couldn’t grow and breathe, much like the protagonists in my poems. They were marked as outsiders, not in spite of, but because of, their giftings. I tried to help my students unlatch the “pencil box” to overcome societal obstacles. Like myself, my students are associative thinkers, and they are some of the most creative minds I’ve ever met. They were also amongst the most selfless, loving people I know.
So in terms of how I balance teaching and poetry, I’d like to flip the question, because, really, teaching has balanced me as a poet. Teaching has given me a passion for social justice and has strongly informed my world view. There’s a lot of beauty in hurting people, and I believe that beauty can be forged in pain. Some of the most loving and generous people I have encountered have experienced immense hardship in their lives. This past summer, a man without a home offered me a pair of shoes. Several Thanksgivings ago, a woman that society would call needy wanted to share her few dollars with me. These people, like some of my students, know that life is about love, not limitations.
Kae Bucher’s work appears in Issue 5.3 here.