Interview with Katelynn Bishop

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We were struck by the formatting of “Empty Sac,” specifically the use of caesura and white space in the poem. Can you tell us about your process? How did you decide where you wanted to put those spaces?

Katelynn Bishop: The spacing in this poem came intuitively. I had been playing with spacing in a poetry workshop, and felt drawn to this format as a way of capturing the nature of both time and space during this experience. So I kind of felt out each particular space, allowing longer gaps to linger within lines to emphasize moments that felt somehow both stretching and constricting, and creating shorter, frequent gaps to invoke the starts and stops characterizing the physicality of the loss. The poem has evolved in several other ways over many drafts, though the spacing has remained close to its original version.

RR: The poem’s theme of miscarriage and loss is extremely potent; how do you approach writing about such a personal subject in a poem?

KB: I wrote the first draft of this piece several months after the loss it describes. While I’m frequently jotting down bits of imagery and sensation that feel present and pressing, I’m often not able to finish a piece about an intense experience until I’ve gotten some distance from it, temporally and emotionally. Feedback helps with finding some distance too, and this piece has benefitted from that! As far as putting deeply personal writing into the world, that can be daunting. But I try to keep in mind that the speaker in a poem is not the same as the poet, and to trust the speaker and allow her space. At the same time, I’m grateful to other writers who have been generous enough to put their writing about this topic and other difficult experiences into the world, and that emboldens me to be open as well.

RR: Has your background in sociology influenced your writing, either personally or professionally?

KB: My background as a sociologist absolutely influences my writing. Particularly when writing about topics related to the body, my training in feminist theory (one of my areas of specialization) is always in the back of my mind. Feminist theory helps me to grapple with what it means to be (in) a body, how cultural meanings are mapped on to the body, how relationships of power are inscribed in bodies, and so on. One thread in feminist theories of embodiment focuses on how we can account for the way the body is molded by culture, while also acknowledging the body as subject, as an agentic material force that exceeds the confines of the cultural narratives projected onto it. That idea underlies my musings about the body in this poem.

It was inspired by my experience with what is often called a “missed miscarriage.” At the time, I noticed how the medicalized language around this type of loss, like other features of feminine embodiment, invokes failure—implying, for instance, that the body “missed” the signs of loss. Unsurprisingly, it was easy to lean into a feeling of frustration with my body at the time. I wanted to push against this impulse and interpretation and consider whether there was some wisdom in how the body took its time letting go.

RR: We’re interested in knowing how your experience as a mother influences the topics you write about; how often do you find yourself gravitating towards topics relating to motherhood or other personal identities or experiences?

KB: While I have written a lot about miscarriage, pregnancy, and birth, I think I’m still figuring out how to write about motherhood itself. For me, it can feel more vulnerable to write about the messy emotions that come with raising a human, as opposed to the desire to have a child and the embodied aspects of reproduction. And I’m often too exhausted to think, let alone write! But there are many topics related to motherhood that I’d like to explore more (like breastfeeding, the healing process postpartum, the endless challenges of infant sleep); other topics I was interested in writing about before that now feel deeply interconnected with motherhood (like mental health); and some other topics that are a bit less connected that I’d like to write about one day when I have energy (like artificial intelligence and the dread I feel about the influx of robot-generated text in the world, both as an educator and a writer!).

RR: Could you tell us a bit about any other writing projects you’re currently working on?

KB: This piece is part of a chapbook project centering on miscarriage, pregnancy, and birth. I have several in-progress poems related to mental health, though I’m not sure what direction that project will take. And I’d like to dive into some creative nonfiction soon, including blending sociological analysis and personal narrative on some of the topics mentioned above. I’m pretty new to the world of creative writing, so my main project is to keep writing, learning, and finding writing community—and I’m grateful when I can create a bit of space for those things in my life.

Read “Empty Sac” by Katelynn Bishop in Issue 11.2