The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers who are in town to read from their books, either at Prairie Lights Bookstore or on campus. We ask authors about their work, their process and their descriptions of process.
Today were are talking with Christopher Kondrich, author of the National Poetry Series winner Valuing, who will be reading with Lauren Haldeman at Prairie Lights Bookstore on Tuesday Sept 24th at 7pm.
Hello Christopher! Could you describe a few of the driving forces/themes behind your collection Valuing?
Valuing began to take shape as a collection when I encountered an essay by Allen Grossman who equated valuing to loving. The poems are an attempt to love, and see this as something that one must undertake daily. Putting love into the world once doesn’t excuse you from putting love into the world the next day, the day after that, and so on. Though, as I wrote, variations on the concept of value crept in—notions of debt, money, spirituality, mortality—so the collection also became an attempt to find solace amidst this, to push back against love’s impingements.
How long did this collection take to come into fruition?
The poems were written over a span of five years. The first three of those years were as a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver where I became enamored with the work of Susan Howe, Inger Christensen, Srikanth Reddy and Etel Adnan, among many others, and these amazing poets inspired me to write into unexpected terrain. And after I defended my dissertation, which included about half of what would eventually end up in Valuing, my daughter was born and I had a new beacon to follow. The last two of those five years were spent in a highly-caffeinated delirium of love and fatigue that completely unspooled me, that reoriented my relationship to language and syntax. Though I didn’t set out to write differently, the poems that emerged—“Division of Labor,” “Placeholder,” and others—reflect this and really surprised me.
Valuing won the prestigious National Poetry Series award. Congratulations! What has the editing and publishing experience been like?
Thank you so much. Jericho Brown, who selected the collection for the National Poetry Series, gave me the gift of his incredible editorial council. He helped me envision the book in its truest iteration with, for example, “Asylum” as the opening poem instead of “Bellfounding,” which originally opened the book. The collection feels so much more grounded after working with him. I didn’t realize how calcified I had become over the years of sending the manuscript around. I had to appreciate this before I could do the necessary work of seeing the collection through someone else’s eyes. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the talented folks at the University of Georgia Press who produced a physical book that I’m very lucky to call my own.
Do you have a specific "set list" of excerpts or sections that you will read at Prairie Lights? How do you decide what to read for an audience?
Certainly there are poems I feel the most proud of—“Definite Article” and “Geometry of Echo,” for example—and that I always want to read, but, since the poems in Valuing are, to me at least, varied in form and style, I’ll try to provide a varied selection, a selection that shows where I tried to push the collection and where things got pretty unwieldy as a result. “Previously Forgotten,” the longest poem in the book, was a thought experiment about writing something that would already be a relic immediately upon publication that got out-of-hand. I’m happy with how the poem turned out, but it feels so different to me from, say, “Map of Belonging,” one of the prose poems, which, I think, is why it’s a good idea to read them both.
What is one thing that the audience should know about your work before they attend the reading?
My work comes from a place of reverence and gratitude, a place that recognizes that “everything without exception which is of value in me,” as Simone Weil writes, “comes from somewhere other than myself, not as a gift but as a loan which must be ceaselessly renewed.” Valuing is an attempt at this renewal.
Thank you Christopher!
Christopher Kondrich will be reading from Valuing with Lauren Haldeman at Prairie Lights Bookstore on September 24th at 7pm. Come hear him read!