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An Interview with Kathleen Rooney

This Saturday, March 29th, we’re hosting the fourth Blue Light Reading Series! Kathleen Rooney, one of our featured readers answered a few questions for us about her work.

IR: How much of yourself, if any, is reflected in the protagonist of your latest work, a novel, O, Democracy?

KR: The protagonist, Colleen, is pretty close to my sensibility, but in the book she makes some terrible decisions, because bad decisions make good fiction. One of the reasons I chose to tell the story from the omniscient perspective of the dead Founding Fathers and not a close first-person through Colleen is that I wanted to maintain enough distance from the character to see her clearly and not uncritically. So the character of Colleen reflects me, of course, but so too do the characters of the Chief of Staff, the Senator, and the all rest.


IR: In your book of poetry titled Robinson Alone you explore the mysterious life and disappearance of poet Weldon Kees. What sparked your interest in Kees?

KR: Kees is a quintessentially American and a specifically Midwestern poet, but strangely enough, I didn’t learn about him or his writing until I was studying in the UK, where the work of the poet Simon Armitage brought Kees’ existence to my attention. The fact that back then, around 2000-2001, Kees’ work was still relatively tricky to come by just made me want to read it more, and when I finally did get my hands on a copy of his Collected Poems, I was blown away by the humor, darkness, anger, and humanity of his work. The fact that his life was so fascinating, too, and that it was punctuated by a mysterious disappearance–a question mark following his supposed death date–just made me even more intrigued.


IR: Your poems interact with both a fictional character (Robinson) and a real character (Kees). How would you describe your relationship with the two? What made you want to adopt these previously existing characters instead of inventing your own? What kind of research did you do in preparation? Do you have your own alter-ego?

KR: Robinson is Kees’ own alter ego, appearing in four poems from the mid-twentieth century which appeared in the New Yorker. The fact that Kees wrote just four of them as opposed to a whole series or an entire book of Robinson poems of his own seemed to be almost an invitation to step in and continue his project, so that’s what I did. (And other writers before me have done the same thing, though not to such a full-length extent.) As far as research, I worked on the project (on and off, including working on other books, too) for about 10 years, so I read widely both about and–even more importantly–in the mid-century time period to try to get the texture and mindset of the character right. As for having my own alter ego, not exactly–every project of mine, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, has a lot of “me” in it, but whatever book I’m working on usually feels more like a ghost–like it haunts me; it’s always in the back of my mind or the corner of my eye–than a straight-up alter ego style projection of “self.”


IR: On your Rose Metal Press website I read that Rose Metal supports hybrid genres. What kind of hybrid genres do you foresee as up and coming?

KR: We are especially excited about the genre of the novella-in-flash. We published Kelcey Parker’s full-length novella-in-flash focused on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Liliane’s Balcony last fall, and this coming fall, we’re putting out an anthology of what we’re calling mini-novellas-in-flash–five individual flash-novella collections, including reissues of our previous chapbook contest winners Betty Superman by Tiff Holland and Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel, as well as The Family Dogs by Chris Bower, Bell and Bargain by Margaret Chapman and Here, Where We Live by Meg Pokrass. We are also excited about image-and-text works like our just released All Movies Love the Moon: Prose Poems on Silent Film in which the author, Gregory Robinson, has included tweaked and altered title cards to go along with his prose poems.


Many thanks to Kathleen Rooney! Be sure to make it to her reading this Saturday at 8 p.m.!

Watch this awesome book trailer for Rooney’s Robinson Alone


Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. Her first novel O Democracy is forthcoming from Fifth Star Press in 2014. She is the author of six books of poetry and nonfiction including, the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press), based on the life and work of Weldon Kees, the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010), and the art modeling memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (University of Arkansas Press, 2009). Her first book is Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (University of Arkansas Press, 2005), and her first poetry collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from the feminist publisher Switchback Books. With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008) and the chapbook The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). She lives in Chicago where she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at DePaul University. Her essay “An Open Letter to World War I Soldier Alexander Bradley Burns . . .” appeared in Indiana Review, Summer 2013.