Poetry on Paper / Poetry on Canvas: an interview with Donna Kuhn
by Patricia Gomes
A graduate of Sonoma State University, Donna Kuhn, writer, artist, and dancer has over 250 poems in print, online
journals, and anthologies including: Poethia, Aught, Big Bridge, Generator Press, Over the
Transom, Red Dirt, Unlikely Stories, Sidereality, Xstream, 5-trope, Dallas Review,
Sonoma Review, and Fusebox.
Armed with a BA in Creative Writing, Kuhn continued her education, obtaining credentials in Adult Ed. She has taught classes in writing, movement, and arts at retirement centers and nursing homes in northern
Her poetry has been choreographed by the Natica Angillys Poetic Dance Theater, and she has collaborated with the Sad but Fun Duo, giving poetry readings accompanied
by improvisational music in the Bay area. Kuhn has also performed in Colorado and Maryland.
Her experimental multi-media videos have been shown at film and video festivals, on cable access television, and online.
Her e-chapbooks are no bird on yr arm, published by Tamaphyr Mountain Press, and red plastic mystic fish ladle published by xPress(ed). Three mini-chapbooks were published by Poems-For-All in 2003. when yr eyes snow is her first print
chapbook (Foothills Publishing, 2003). up bluen, her newest print chapbook
(Furniture Press, 2004) includes 25 limited-edition, perfect bound books. Later this year, purse no birds
will be published and released by Chapultepec Press.
poet, dancer. Tell me about morning's Donna: when you hop out of bed, is your
very first daily instinct to pick up the brush, the pen, or turn the stereo on?
DK: My very first instinct
is to head for the cappuccino machine and nobody better get in my way. Then I
try not to answer e-mails, erase spam etc. I write; pen or computer, either works for me.
PG: You grew up in New York and you hated it;
in your own words, at nineteen, you "got on a Greyhound with a $300 one-way ticket and headed west." What was it about NY; did you feel as if your creativity was stifled there—in a place many artists
consider a Mecca for their muse?
DK: I grew up in Queens, and just knew I didn't belong there …dreamt of leaving my whole childhood. I was just old enough to start exploring Manhattan, but I left for college in Upstate
New York when I was 17. It was beautiful, but freezing; I've never liked the
cold. And I didn't feel the pull of Manhattan as an artist. Even though I took
art and piano lessons, wrote, wanted to be an actress, I wasn't focused at that point and just wanted to be somewhere beautiful,
preferably in the country. It felt like my soul was stifled. I
moved to San Francisco for awhile but I've lived in less urban parts of the Bay Area for more than twenty years now.
PG: You've always wanted to go to Paris; have you changed your mind considering the current state
of tension between the US and France due to the Iraq situation?
DK: I have absolutely no
desire to go to Paris whatsoever anymore! Or even any part of Europe for that
matter. I've always been interested in Australia.
I like New Mexico. I haven't been out of Santa Cruz for four years.
I travel in my art.
PG: Tell us about your
first time reading your own work in public: were you terrified? Did you spend
days planning your outfit? Did you rehearse a hundred times before hitting the stage?
DK: I used to move around
so much, it's hard to remember the first reading. I think I had to take buses
for two hours because I had no car. I won a contest to be in a anthology published by JFK University. I got up to read a very short poem. I think I was very nervous; it wasn't like reading in a funky cafe.
It was very professional and academic, intimidating but exciting. I love
being on the stage, and yet, I have terrible stagefright at times.
PG: Of which poem are you most proud to have written?
DK: That's hard—I'm
prolific. I'll say white peaches because you and Michael Ladanyi (fellow
poet, writer, and the editor of Adagio Verse Quarterly) like it so much. He quoted from it in one of his poems
and that was a first for me; I was honored.
PG: Oh, yeah—I have
to ask about white peaches because it's my personal favorite: the opening lines are "go sharpen some clouds/city u
could turn the sky …" It has a 60's feel to it, very hippie-Hendrix. Do
you remember what brought this gem on?
DK: No, I honestly can't
remember. I don't really wait for inspiration; I don't even remember writing it.
With all the attention it's gotten, I wish I could.
go sharpen some clouds
city u could turn the
city tracking the wind
with this peach by
I can feel yr white peaches
the sheer thrill of it
there were no watermelons
I was thinking about birds
nothing for black
fine, go; I can feel yr skills
I can feel yr clouds, pencils
I can feel yr
clouds way beautiful up
there was no city u cd turn
there was no other city tracking the wind
kind of weird with this peach
we live with white peaches
— © 2004 Donna Kuhn / Foothills Publishing, Kanona. New York 14856
PG: You've been compared to the Black Mountain Poets; have any of them been a source of
inspiration for you? Which poet(s) have been your strongest inspiration(s)?
Well, you got me to look at Robert Creeley again and I was surprised to see the connection there. I've been strongly influenced by Anne Waldman and most of the Beat writers.
I studied with David Bromige and was considering quitting writing for dance when he suggested I cut up my work. Then I became interested in the Language/Experimental poets as well.
Name one subject you'll never write about.
PG: Has the ongoing war
affected your writing? Have you written, even metaphorically, of war?
DK: I use cut-up technique for almost everything I write so the old is blended with the new—including
e-mails and dreams. War and politics are part of the brew, but not consciously. One reviewer said, " …she doesn't just write about nature, she writes about
war…" So I guess I write of war and it affects me and my writing. I have
written consciously of the Holocaust and 9/11 where the poems came out whole and complete like they used to.
PG: You use color quite
often in your poems; do you think that being a painter causes this rainbow-mirroring?
DK: It probably does; I
find colors very soothing or stimulating. If I haven't done any art in awhile
I really start needing paper and color. I think it's the only time I'm meditating. I'm
very aware of what surrounds me and how it makes me feel, including color. I wasn't consciously aware I was using color
in my poems but since you mentioned it I started noticing it a lot.
PG: A little free association? I'll name a color, you
give me whatever comes to mind. Brick red:
DK: Ugly apartments in Queens
PG: Daffodil yellow:
DK: I want to draw with colored pencils
and only colored pencils will do
PG: Robin's egg blue:
DK: It's a relief when winter's over and its spring again!
PG: Forest green:
DK: It smells clean. I don't have a sinus infection and I want to be in the trees.
Picasso taught me that arcs bring forth bulls; who's your painting god:
DK: Pablo Picasso. You guessed right!
PG: Name your writing god(s), and don't limit yourself to just poets.
DK: Anne Waldman.
PG: Finish this sentence: "I hate editors who _______!"
I hate editors who scold me!
PG: You've a thousand irons in the fire; what are you
working on right now?
DK: I am
looking for a book publisher, writing everyday. I've been obsessed with altered
books for months and am painting canvases rather than the usual mixed-media works
PG: Do you see yourself writing ten years
from now, and if you can answer yes, do you think you'll ever write a memoir?
Yes, I think I'll probably write for the rest of my life, but I don't think I'll write a memoir; I'm not linear enough to
write a short story.
PG: Best advice you have for novice poets:
DK: Write something every
day, even if it's scribbling in a journal. Don't wait for inspiration—work!
PG: Last question, Donna. Which is more important to you as a poet: that you make the reader feel or that you make him think?
It is more important to me to make the reader feel.
u have driven the horses below the horse
sit in the aisles, im wearing a star
now eyes that would hate me
pleasure something, come home,
its weird, words appear in my laundry
other words appear, beautiful
mouth gift; i try to figure out what it is
blue walls and what
how its made, take my ice, it falls apart
there are others
in her craft things
to make little laundry below her horse
i cant get the pieces
back, your eyes
i dont understand how things work
keep dancing, i didnt dream
— © 2003 Donna Kuhn anywhere first appeared in Fusebox/Rattapallax
Donna Kuhn currently paints and pens in Aptos, California. Visit her on the web at: http://www.onlinewebart.com/donna/.
the chapbook, "Stroking Castro's Beard," Patricia Gomes was named the First Place Winner in iVillage's Annual Poetry Slam
in 2002 and 2003. She was awarded second Place in 2004. Recent works appear in EOTU, House of Pain, Literary Potpourri, The Bohemian Rag, Shadow Keep Magazine,
Boston Poet, Dark Krypt, Gaea's Cauldron, and Lily. Last fall, her short story,
"Illegal Aliens" was included in the anthology "Other Worlds: Alien Alerts."
of the Octologue, an eight-line, syllabic form of poetry, Ms. Gomes is a regular columnist for Lil's Experimental Ezine, senior community leader of iVillage's Poets Workshop, and was recently named Assistant Editor of Adagio Verse Quarterly.