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Interview with 2017 Poetry Prize Winner: Kristen Steenbeeke


The 2018 Poetry Prize is open until March 31st. In this interview, 2017 Poetry Prize winner Kristen Steenbeeke shares her process for writing “Apocalypse Dream Again” and a few of the themes explored in her work-in-progress. We close with a link to her visual work and an uttered image of fractured selves.


Kristen Steenbeeke is an MFA candidate in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellowship. She’s had work in Pleiades, Tin House, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Poetry Northwest, and others. She was recently a finalist in Mid-American Review‘s Fineline Competition and Third Coast‘s Poetry Contest.


Indiana Review: What’s a poem you’ve read recently that has been haunting you? What do you love about this poem?

Kristen Steenbeeke: I just finished Emily Skillings’s Fort Not, and the poem “Fort Something” is quite literally haunted—it describes the evolution of a spot of land from a fort to a family park, everything seeming to happen simultaneously in time. It’s a poem you have to read at least twice (well, you should read all poems at least twice) in order to truly live in it. It’s a concise historical drudging, a sly prodding, a rushing towards our singular moment. It shows the sedimentary layers of human planning and construction, each layer changing as those new humans enact new plans. Just read it! I linked it up there!


IR: What was the writing and editing process like for your prize-winning poem? Do you have a typical process or does it differ a lot from poem to poem? 

KS: My process is usually to take notes on things I hear and see and think about, for weeks at a time not writing any poems. Then all of a sudden I’ll get a spark for the structure or first line of a poem, sit down very quickly so it doesn’t go away, then associatively weave in little notes until it creates somewhat of a web of the weeks’ thoughts (or also thoughts from many weeks ago).

This one was a bit different. The associations and language came to me soundwise, and the images came from some amalgamation of apocalypse tropes in books and film. Also, I think a lot about my hypothetical future children having to trek through endless desert and scrounge for food and fight the water wars. I’m being dramatic but only a little. I’m a really positive person! I swear!


IR: If you’re working on a manuscript, would you like to share some of the prominent themes or images that arise?

KS: I am! My thesis at Iowa will be a manuscript of poems, currently and hesitantly titled Projectionist. I vacillate between writing poems very grounded in reality and poems that trip through some other dimension. I’m interested in quantum physics/entanglement, though my interest in scientific accuracy probably leaves something to be desired. For example, last night I was attempting to comprehend spacetime via Wikipedia. I’ll regret admitting that later. Anyway, there’s a series of poems titled “Parallel Universe,” all thinking about a fracturing of self. A series of poems dedicated to people who applied to take a one-way trip to Mars. A series of little plays. Lots about motherhood, though purely hypothetical. I’m interested in the weird marriage of sci-fi and the domestic.


IR: And lastly, is the answer to making room for a guest when you don’t have a guest adding mirrors? I’m thinking about a collage of yours and about how much lonelier I’d be in a space with seventeen mirrors because I’d be surrounded by myself but isn’t that the point. . . .

KS: Sometimes I like to sleep in the living room and be my own guest. The house takes on a new sheen.