Contributor Interview: Leah Claire Kaminski

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.


Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts: what inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

“There’s that red light over there.” began as a much longer poem about craving a cigarette after quitting. When I chipped that away, what emerged was this poem about another kind of craving — for childhood and a place that’s now gone to the speaker.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

The lines describing my sister and me, our faces to the backseat car window, transport me back to nights in Homestead, Florida (“when my breath and my sister’s on the glass were swept/ into the strange scented air that took me in,// brought me in line, effaced me into// the towers and the night”).

I’m also a fan of my cat in her meerkat pose, peeing while staring at the wall; it looks so silly, but she’s so serious and I envy her focus.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Identify the internal rewards, and keep facing them, turning yourself back to face them, no matter the external rejections (or acclaim). It’s a competitive field and it seems that’s becoming an even bigger part of it for young writers, earlier on. If you don’t maintain some pure love for the art (and for your community), it can feel pretty grim when you’re putting work out there to polite NOs for a long time. And conversely, even the successes never seem to warm you for as long, if that’s all you’re focused on.

Also, don’t be too afraid of fallow periods: sometimes they’re necessary and good (though sometimes it’s just laziness or fear, so try to figure out the difference).

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

It’s not the first thing you’d guess about me if you met me now and it’s a little embarrassing, but I ran away from college at 19 to hitchhike around Southern Europe, sleeping on beaches and paying my way by busking; I played a pennywhistle to accompany my travel partner on the Diablo. I tried to sew jaunty patchwork pants to wear for the performances but I had no sewing experience, so now I have these lopsided “pants” with no waist languishing in a box somewhere. I have that girl still in me somewhere, too—she doesn’t languish, but she bides her time.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

Later this year, after a few poems come out in Prairie Schooner and Bennington Review, Dancing Girl Press will release my chapbook Peninsular Scar (it’s set mostly in Florida, as my poem for Nimrod is, but it reckons more directly with things this poem only hints at—hurricane, wildfire, and other disasters collective and personal). I’m also actively looking for a home for my debut full-length manuscript Live oak nearly on fire.

Leah Claire Kaminski’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Bennington Review, Fence, Vinyl, Witness, and Zyzzyva. Her first book has recently been shortlisted with Tupelo Press and Sundress Publications, and she will soon serve as an Artist-in-Residence at Everglades National Park. She teaches writing at UC Irvine and is assistant editor at The Rise Up Review.

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