Writing Poetry and Climbing Mountains: A Conversation with Kara Knickerbocker
Poetry can allow readers to open their eyes to see things afresh, to virtually move them to new places. As a poet and traveler, Kara Knickerbocker explores how visiting new places helps us learn about ourselves and the world. Kara’s Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press, 2017) focuses on three main themes: the human body (specifically her pacemaker surgery), love, and travel. Her forthcoming The Shedding Before the Swell (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) also contains the underlying theme of the body and the human condition, but contains more about family relationships and nature imagery. We had the pleasure of speaking with Kara about her poetry collections and writing process.
The body plays a big role in Next to Everything that is Breakable; could you speak to this?
I’ve always been fascinated by the human body. How strong it is, yet how vulnerable and mysterious. How visceral. I loved the intimacy of writing about it. However, when I was having heart issues in 2016, it became even more personal to me. I was in the best shape of my life and training for my first marathon, so to be told that I needed a pacemaker came as quite the shock. You can sense that in several of the poems in this collection.
How do your travels inspire your poems?
There is no way this couldn’t influence my writing. The cities I’ve loved, the mountains I’ve climbed, and the people I’ve met along the way have no doubt influenced my writing, and my life.
After my first international trip, I returned to the States feeling forever changed by my experience. I was on foreign land, eating all these different and strange foods, unable to speak the language of the people around me, and yet I felt an overwhelming connection to a place and its people like I’d never known before. Traveling (especially alone, and as a woman) has given me so much confidence. It takes guts to follow your heart and venture out from what is familiar, but the reward is indescribable. I continue to discover more of myself and the world we live every time I leave my comfort zone behind. I hope my story and experience encourages others to pursue what else is out there, waiting for them.
Which places in particular have inspired you to write, and in what ways?
I write for many reasons, and one of them is to remember. When I spent six months traveling Europe, I tried to journal regularly, even if it was to write down the names of the cafes I went to or the weather, or what I was thinking that particular day. From the natural landscapes of Iceland to the mountains in Switzerland, to the bustling streets of Bangkok and the beaches in Belize, it is hard to capture. How can you write about a night in Spain when your life changed because you overcame language barriers to sit on the street corner all night talking to three people you just met, connecting with them in a way you haven’t, and might not ever, connect with anyone again?
I believe every place I’ve been, every person I’ve met, becomes a part of me. When I write, it is all of me. Everything is an influence on what comes out.
Peru had a particular influence on you.
Because I traveled to Peru right after having my surgery, climbing Machu Picchu and hiking in high altitudes was so much more than just a physical challenge–it was an incredibly emotional journey for me as well. I also had an unfortunate experience with a taxi driver which made me feel violated, afraid, and alone. Traveling solo, especially as a woman, can come with its own potential difficulties, and I had to rely on my own strength in many ways. Writing about it was not simply therapeutic for me, it was necessary. The writing I did in Peru contained a multitude of emotions, but I wrote through it. I had a story to tell.
Where do you write most effectively?
Between working full time, being a full-time graduate student, and traveling as often as I can, I stay on the go. I use the “notes” section on my phone to write down images, words, or ideas that come to mind so I can focus on it later when I do have the time to devote my full attention to crafting a poem. I’m always taking note of what captivates or stirs me. Although I am inspired by music and busy city scenes, I have to write in a quiet space.
Any tips for women who are passionate about poetry, traveling, and blogging?
Just do it! Go. Travel as often as you can. Write your way through it all. I spent so much of my life thinking, “I wish I could go there,” “I wish I had a book,” etc. It is not enough to simply just want something. I kept waiting for the right time to travel, waiting until I had more money, waiting for someone to go with me. Waiting for a book to just “happen.”
I would’ve spent my entire life waiting if I hadn’t gotten to the point where I wanted to risk everything more than I wanted to stay in the same place. Do not wait for anyone or let anyone hold you back. You will be told time and again that you are too young, too old, that it is too scary to travel alone, that it is dangerous because you are a woman. Do your research, take care of yourself, and be smart. But do not let the fear of the unknown hold you back from adventure.
For poetry: read and write as often as you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers you admire. The same goes with blogging. I had no idea where to start, so I reached out to others that I aspired to be like.
Check out more of Kara’s writing here.