Snapshot: Kate Greenstreet

Interview by DJ Dolack

kate greenstreetThe fact that there are no real edges to the poems in the first section of the book (no titles, traditional markers, etc.) seems to be in contrast with your other art, photography, and even the films you’ve made to accompany the book. How does framing a ‘poem’ compare with framing an image?

In the case of The Last 4 Things, the frame is the book. The book contains the text and the space around the text and the blank pages.

I think that most photographers, whether they present their work full-frame or crop it, are saying something like: “What’s inside this border is what is important. This is what I saw and what I want you to see.” I’m not exactly coming from there. Sometimes I’m not even looking when I make a shot, for instance. I’m a lot more interested in seeing what I didn’t see.

One of the things I like to do when I’m on the road is to make new poems out of the material in the book. I’ll read a few lines from one page, say, then flip to another page and read the last paragraph there. Even though The Last 4 Things is a finished book–the arrangement I’ve decided on–the word-blocks can be stacked in different ways. Every rearrangement tells a different version of the story (or whatever’s being told).

I found that I could piece together nonlinear and broken narratives throughout the book, which led me to think about your writing and editing process. I wonder how you saw these poems at their birth vs. how they’ve settled on to the pages.

I’m not sure how I’d identify the moment of a poem’s birth. The first section of the book is one long poem (“The Last 4 Things”) that came to itself over the course of three years. Many versions got tacked to the studio wall during that time. The second part of the book (“56 Days”) I wrote in less than three months. While I was writing the second section, I was working on the second movie and a character began to emerge. My sense of the book’s narrative was dragged to the surface by that character. 

Can you talk about the idea of ‘fire’ as a character and a personality in the book?

I think fire predates character or personality. What’s it doing in the book? Heating things up, being set, being feared, making noise and smells–signaling violence, mortality, urgency, and maybe a level of frustration that makes a body feel like bursting into flames, destroying the container.

What the hell does the term ‘abstraction’ mean right now?

I don’t know, maybe the opposite of “no ideas but in things.” Do you find my work abstract?

What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the time between case sensitive and The Last 4 Things?

Although I care about how a poem looks on the page (and I think the look carries meaning), in the time between books I realized that the main question for me is: how do I feel when I say it? The second question seemed to be: how far would I be willing to go in order to have people hear me say it?

What do you wish you saw more of in the poetry being published today?

I like to be surprised.

[Interview conducted by e-mail in November/December 2009]


Kate Greenstreet is the author of case sensitive and The Last 4 Things, as well as numerous chapbooks, including This Is Why I Hurt You. Find out more at