Interview with Katelyn Botsford Tucker
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We love how “Tomatoes” reflects on a vulnerable experience using concrete images to set the scene. How did you approach combining sensory details with the emotional aspects of the poem?
Katelyn Botsford Tucker: I think our deepest emotions and our strongest memories have this kind of connective tissue with the senses. Do you ever hear a song or catch the scent of something and all of a sudden you’re somewhere else? I have this memory of the house I grew up in and I find myself constantly going back to it. Not just revisiting it like a passing thought, rather I find myself in those memories which are somehow so vivid. It’s all very real to me, so that connection shows up in a lot of my work. I think that letting myself piece together what all those flashes of sight and sound are trying to tell me is the process that works best when I’m writing. I believe that if I can give my reader those details, they’ll find whatever meaning they’re meant to find. It’s like I’m saying, “Here, hold this, breathe this in, listen,” and from there it’s completely up to them what they do with it.
RR: The use of couplets provides a layered effect throughout the poem. What made you settle on the simplicity of this form?
KBT: It’s so funny, I must have written this poem twenty times. It started as two stanzas; the first to kind of plant my readers in one time and the next to replant them into another. That sort of worked but I kept tinkering with it. By the time I was finished slicing this and moving that, the poem had lost so much of itself. I went back and started again. I wanted to let the poem breathe a little better. I recently revisited Han VanderHart’s collection, What Pecan Light, and there was this poem about statues with a similar theme of past and present. I think that was when I decided it needed to be couplets. It just made the most sense in the end. Plenty of room to breathe.
RR: The familial interactions centered around meals change as the speaker grows up and reflects through the poem. What was your process for crafting the shift in perspective throughout the poem?
KBT: I tried to craft the shift between the periods of the poem in a way that comes all at once, because that’s how I think a lot of us feel when we reflect on childhood. All of a sudden you’re a grown adult and it can be very jarring. But in the poem there is—or I hope there is—a lingering in the past. Not a definitive line, more of a watercolor blur.
RR: We see you recently published a couple of nature poems, one with Moist Poetry Journal and one with Emerge Literary Journal. What themes are you exploring in your current work?
KBT: This is a lovely question, thank you for asking it. I’m exploring my relationship with organized religion a bit. Over the past few years, partly due to COVID and partly due to other things, I’ve felt really disconnected from church. I’m asking a lot of questions and I’m reading religious texts through a very different lens than I was before. But I’m also very much focused on loss and processing grief. There seems to be a lot of that going around right now.
RR: Do you have any favorite recipes or tomato dishes you enjoy preparing?
KBT: This past summer we planted a garden and I started baking bread. Everyone seemed to be doing that three years ago but I’m always a little late to the party. It was a family group project and we actually grew tomatoes. The little ones that I talk about in my poem. Slice up some garlic—I like a lot of garlic—and sauté together with olive oil until the tomatoes just begin to pop and split. Spread some ricotta on a thick slice of toast and top with the warm tomatoes.
Katelyn Botsford Tucker’s work appears in Issue 10.1 here: