Interview with Issue 67 Essayist, Kat Moore
1. One aspect of "The Wounds" that I love, so much, is the structure. Did you go into the piece with the structure planned or was it something that came out during the writing process?
I started writing the essay shortly after Kate (who is a large part of the essay) died. I think I was writing because I didn’t know how else to deal with it. It was too much. I didn’t even see it as an actual essay. I remember that as I typed, there was this chaotic but steady drumbeat pounding in my head. It seemed to make sense to write in short vignettes because that was what my mind was doing. So many scenes filled with images were passing through my head as I wrote. The structure was just there. Also, my memories and thoughts are never linear but are more associative. I rarely write linear narratives. One memory folds into another that may be from a different time and space. I don’t ever plan the structure. It usually just happens as I keep writing. The few times I have tried to plan the form, it ends up stifling the content. During revision, I may shape the essay up and move sections around. That’s what happened with “The Wounds.”
2. Similarly, there are many narrative layers in the piece. Could you talk a moment about how you came to include each layer and perhaps even how they relate within the overall narrative.
The first draft did not have anything about Albert Camus in it. I had taken a class on existentialism in college. Something about Camus and what he described as encountering the absurd really resonated. Especially this idea of revolt. I love the word revolt. But it wasn’t until revision that I really started to see that his idea of revolt was kind of boring. I mean, imagine Sisyphus happy? So people in pain and oppression are supposed to just embrace it and be happy? But Camus didn’t mean it that simply either. But I sort of spun out thinking about it and overanalyzing it. Then getting really mad.
The other layers were just there. I was in the middle of my obsession with the ocean (which I still have). These scenes were all overlapping in reality. I was also having talks with my best friend, Amie, who is this amazing poet—every single poem she writes is like this calling on the deep wound inside the body that all of us have (the absurd as Camus would call it) but mixed with the magic of mystics like St Teresa of Avila. So I was constantly telling her about God being in the water, in the ocean, and she was the only person that seemed to understand. And I was also on my way to Pensacola because I believed the ocean was going to heal my legs from arthritis and autoimmune disorders. And then I got the call about a friend committing suicide. All of the layers were already connecting in real life. I just needed to look at them and put them on paper. It was like a purge or a confession. Which is why I bring that up in the essay.
Confessional writing gets such bad a rap but I also think people don’t understand that confessional writing isn’t just a regurgitation of events or of even shocking events. It is actually a questioning of the events as well as of yourself, your interior life. This component makes it an essay and not gratuitous. So I think people need to re-evaluate confessional writing and see its spiritual and philosophical implications. I love essays because of this, this vulnerable questioning of what it’s like to be human along with our inter-relationships.
3. The essay is both staggeringly lovely and sad and so personal, but it's also about your friend and these specific moments in both your lives. As a writer of essays, myself, I often worry about how my friends and family will react when they read one of my essays, even as I'm in the process of writing it. Did you ever have similar fears either during the process or after you were accepted for the issue? If so, how did you handle/overcome these worries?
Yes. I have worried. Most of the people I write about are dead and their families aren’t really readers or even know who I am so I use that as a justification. But for the living, I change names. I usually use middle names or a name they once told me they were fond of. An ex-boyfriend of mine didn’t like the way I would be so public about stuff during the days of MySpace. He died of a drug overdose a few years ago (it had been a couple of years since I had had contact with him). Even though he is now dead, I change his name out of respect for his feelings. Even with Kate, the things she told me that I swore to never tell, I won’t ever tell, not even if it would make a great essay.
As for my own family, I only mention my mom in bits and I never reveal her secrets. She and I are really close and I can’t betray the things she told me in confidence. I also don’t ever want to hurt her. I wasn’t the best daughter in my past and I don’t want to ever cause her pain again. My sister and I are close too. She has actually given me permission to write about her however I wish. She understands art. Also, she once withdrew a novel she’d written from the final round of a major contest because it was a bit autobiographical and she was worried about the effect it would have on me and also my mom. I was in my late teens or early twenties when that happened and she didn’t tell me about until a few years ago. I feel bad about that and wish she had kept in the contest. I have read it and it’s amazing. It should be published. It should be out in the world. I think sometimes that the need for certain things to be out in the world for the greater good is the justification.
4. Are there any specific writers who you feel influenced the essay or your work, in general?
Claudia Rankine, specifically Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. The murky dreamy quality pulled me deep into reading those vignettes and into my interior self where I found my narrative voice. Alice Notley. Her collection of poems, In the Pines, is this masterpiece of a disjointed feminine voice that I completely understood and even tried to imitate a little.
And like a lot of women these days, Maggie Nelson. I read Bluets and enrolled in my first CNF workshop ever. I read it the week before starting an MFA program as a fiction writer. My first semester, I didn’t even take a fiction workshop and by the end of my first year, I had transferred into the CNF program. So yes, yes, yes, to Maggie Nelson. I met her at AWP in 2015. She took a selfie with me and was so amazingly nice and warm. I told her I was a “post-shame writer” like her. She gave me a high five. There’s something about her narrative voice. It’s elusive but so comforting. After reading Bluets, I read everything else she had written. She truly gave me permission to write about whatever the fuck I wanted.
5. What are you currently reading? And do you have any good summer-read suggestions?
I am reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander which I think is important and that everyone should read it. I am really passionate about dismantling the school to prison pipeline and juvenile justice. But as far as literary reads, I am reading When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy and her book Academonia is next on my list. When the Sick Rule the World opens with an essay about whistling and equates Snow White whistling with the Dwarfs to a bacchanalian orgy. Bellamy is part of the New Narrative Movement which originated from the gay community in San Francisco. It is confessional and smart and a bit punk rock. Perhaps an earlier version of post-shame.
6. Are you currently working on anything?
I am still revising and sending out my first collection of essays. But I have also started working on a chapbook of disjointed hybrids that deal with the female body as a commodity and mixes memoir with prose poems. I haven’t decided what my next big project will be. I have quite a few ideas and haven’t figured out which one to do first. I think my writing will just show me what I’m doing rather than me making a conscious decision.
7. If you could be trapped in an elevator with one writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why? Give us one question you would ask him/her.
Nick Flynn. I think he and I could have a really great conversation. Most people would only make awkward small talk but I think he would jump right in to the real stuff. I love his poetry. I’ve read every single collection he has published. I also really enjoyed his memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. But his poetry…I love the emotional honesty and the light he shines into his dark past. I think he and I could talk about that on the elevator. We could compare stories of wildness, grief, and loss, but also of redemption—I don’t really know about redemption. Maybe reprieve is a better word. In reality, I'd probably just ask him his favorite color.
Kat Moore has essays in Hippocampus, Blunderbuss, Yemassee, Salt Hill, New South, Pithead Chapel, Whiskey Island, and others. Her poetry and fiction can be found respectively in decomP, Maudlin House, Souvenir Lit, Cheap Pop Lit, and others. Her essay collection, In the Non-Light, was a semifinalist in CSU Poetry Press's 2016 Essay Collection Contest, but is still looking for a home. She is a middle school writing teacher and holds writing workshops in the local juvenile jail.