With rollout of the new webpage, we’re going to be featuring the work of a few of the contributors from each issue. We begin with Karen Craigo, author of the poem “ Total Knee Replacement”
- Can you tell us a bit about where the poem came from? Is it part of a larger series or theme, or did it arrive unexpectedly?
This poem is a special one for me. My sister recently had total knee replacement surgery, and I wasn’t really able to help her during the difficult recovery period since we live far apart. I wrote this for her because it was simply the best I had to offer (and let’s face it—it ain’t much). Part of the rehab after the surgery is to use a machine that keeps your knee in motion and sort of trains it to do what knees do. It’s called a CPM machine, or a “continuous passive motion” machine—and that speaks to me. In some ways, writing a poem is a process of continuous passive motion. Poetry works best when it moves via muscle memory. Forcing it is risky. You don’t want to strain or overextend.
- What are some of the important things you’ve learned about poetry– about your poetry? Tell us about the best writing advice you’ve ever been given. Who have you been your most significant teachers?
Writing poetry well is a matter of being innovative while remaining down to earth. That’s quite a party trick, isn’t it? Innovation is a matter of boldness; humility requires you to be quiet. I write a very serviceable humble poem; I’m less nimble when it comes to linguistic or imagistic innovation. The better poems offer a little from Column A and a little from Column B. I guess I’m only halfway through this life of worn-down graphite and daily frustration. I’ll figure it out one day or (and?) die trying.
I have two very dear teacers. Michelle Boisseau started me on my poetic path. She grabbed me by the scruff of the neck when I was a first-year undergrad and rubbed my nose in a big pile of cliché on the carpet. (Actually, she taught me to laugh at my mistakes and to see that something big and shaggy might be peering at me around the corner of the page. I have been tracking that yeti ever since.) My other special teacher was George Looney, who modeled good habits of both mind and heart. George “goes there” in his poetry, again and again; he chases a notion, and he isn’t afraid to wrestle the same alligator time after time. His books are intricate, deep, brilliant meditations on love and loss, and I’d like to do that, too—to contribute a new sort of understanding.
- What poets do you read when you have a minute?
I really love first books, and that’s what I reach for, more often than not. Of course I have enduring favorites—loads of them—but I absolutely love new releases. There’s no pleasure like sitting down with a new voice and hearing it out from front cover to back, all in one sitting.
With all of that being said, I’m currently reading the latest by the well-published poet Rebecca Foust, Paradise Drive, a book-length sonnet sequence — and it’s marvelous! And I just finished a chapbook by Jenny Drai, The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow, which is as beautiful and moving as the title suggests it would be.
- Tell me about your new business, Paper Crane Writing Services. Where did the idea come from? What do you offer?
My brilliant friend Karen Babine came up with the idea of an educational partnership, Paper Crane Writing Services. I was doing some daily prompts for a few clients (I love making up prompts—they make me feel creative!), and she was interested in teaching a class or two, and our other partner, Michael Czyzniejewski, is well known as a brilliant workshopper, so we figured why not make something of this. We all worked together previously at the helm of Mid-American Review and the Winter Wheat Writing Festival, and we seem to do really well together. It just sounded like fun, you know?
We went with “Paper Crane” because we liked the phrase and the symbol and even the look of the little origami pieces. (Karen Babine went to a wedding for which the bride had made hundreds of these things, and she took the beautiful paper crane pics on the website.) Origami is something everyone learns from childhood in Japan, and I like that—most people can do a basic origami design with practice, and a crane is one of the most basic designs there is. Writing is like this—teachable. Learnable. Additionally, paper is inexpensive and pliable and portable, good for drafting, an acceptable medium for making mistakes. Cranes, on the other hand, are winged and awkward and beautiful, and love makes them dance. But also, they’re a machine for lifting, and our service is intended to lift/elevate the efforts of writers. (Maybe I’m overthinking this. I think it’s a good name, though.)
Anyhow, we cover poetry (me), fiction (Mike), and nonfiction (Karen Babine), and we really just envision the business as our playground—a place where we can have fun with others and be a little bossy in the process.
- The PR has a staff tradition of catered lunch (sandwiches) at our weekly staff meetings, so let me ask you–if you were joining us for lunch, what would you order?
That’s easy. I’m a total carnivore, but I’d get the veggie sub, just to make people wonder. I’d want it slathered with extra avocado, because yum. Oh, and I’d surreptitiously flick off the sprouts once the ruse has been accepted by all present. By the time lunch was over, I’d have completed the fantasy that anyone gives a shit what I eat for lunch, and that I’ve gotten away with something a wee bit naughty. That’s what the poetry is all about, so why not replicate that whole process with lunch?