Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with Karen J. Weyant

Rappahannock Review Prose Editors: “You Survived Drinking from Garden Hoses” evokes specific images of growing up in a time that no longer seems to exist, yet this piece reads in a way that’s infinitely accessible. How did you choose these moments to create a universal experience?

Karen J. Weyant: I am very much an image-driven writer so I have to admit that in the drafting process I pile on a lot of details. In fact, sometimes, I pile on so many images that the overall meaning of what I am trying to say gets lost. I am slowly learning to take a step back and try to read my work from a general audience’s point of view. I teach at a small community college in western New York and I have a variety of students (different ages, backgrounds, etc.) in my classes and I ask myself: Would they understand both the images and ideas behind a piece I am writing? I also have a small group of trusted readers who give me advice.

RR: This piece focuses on childhood as this shared experience that suddenly has a line drawn in the sand. It shifts to displaying how young women are expected to grow up fast, such as the idea of using keys defensively, but young men do not necessarily have these same pressures. Did you consciously decide to draw attention to this double standard?

KJW: This piece actually started off innocently. I was writing about all the activities I did growing up in a small Pennsylvanian town in the 1980s. Anyone who knows history knows that this was not really an idyllic time, yet it seems that I was sheltered from many of these events. When I was writing about these events, I had to take a step back and think about what I was really trying to say. I wanted to expand my narrative into a timeline from innocence to when actions were not so innocent, and somehow, this double standard came into focus. In essence, I didn’t start this piece exploring different pressures between young men and women, but it turned out that way.

RR: Most of your work is poetry, yet this piece is written as prose. What guides you to write in prose versus poetry, and what led you to write this piece in prose?

KJW: My first love will always be poetry, but I have found that prose, especially flash creative nonfiction, to be freeing as I am no longer worrying about the art of the poetic line. Still, both forms overlap in terms of attention to language and detail, which may be why so many contemporary poets also write creative nonfiction. As for this piece, I don’t believe I could have sustained a longer poem to capture all the images and the overall meaning that I wanted to include.

RR: You’ve mentioned in the past that you’re more of a reader than a writer. Do you think that what you enjoy reading influences what you write? If so, is there anything you have read that influenced this piece?

KJW: Yes, I am very influenced by what I read, but this piece started in a workshop led by one of my favorite writers, Sonja Livingston. I actually drafted this work in first-person point of view but I have been experimenting a bit with using second-person point of view. Some of the works found in the anthology You: An Anthology of Essays Dedicated to the Second Person edited by Kim Dana Kupperman, Heather G. Simmons, and James M. Chesbro definitely influenced my revision.

RR: When was the last time you drank from a garden hose? Would you do it again today?

KJW: Ha! I don’t remember the last time I drank from a garden hose. I really think I was still a child. I probably wouldn’t do it again only because I wouldn’t feel the need. I almost always have a water bottle with me (when I don’t have a coffee cup). Still, I have to admit that there are other actions that I did as a teenager such as riding the back of a pickup truck that I would still do today if given the opportunity. I am well aware of the dangers, but there’s still nothing that beats the wind through your hair and the heat from the truck on your body.

Karen J. Weyant’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.