Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March Madness Inklings Book Giveaway: Fault Line

April is National Poetry Month.

What better way than to have the final Inkling giveaway be a book of poetry?

And not just any book of poetry. This week's giveaway is Karen Coody Coopers's Fault Line: Vulnerable Landscapes. It was a finalist for the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award and won Best Book of Poetry at Oklahoma Writers' Federation's 2011 ceremony.

If you'd like to win a copy, simply make a comment below.  If you'd like to have two entries, comment and follow my blog. 

Here is an interview with Karen:

You lead a busy life as an artist and director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. Still, you are always submitting and publishing.  What's your secret to keeping all the balls in the air? Do you have advice for those of us who are juggling?

I’m extremely motivated, but I also “waste” time doing crosswords or reading magazines. I try to remember it is valuable to have a mixture of things in life, including physical exercise. I’m old enough (65) to have learned that life is give and take (I didn’t get much creative writing accomplished in the early years of raising my children or when earning my masters degree while working). I used to get very frustrated when I wasn’t meeting personal goals (I thought I’d have a Pulitzer by now!). To find some evening and weekend time for writing, I hardly watch TV, limit how many organizations I join, limit my responsibilities (avoid being an officer or chair), minimize socializing and social media time, and try to be efficient in every thing I do. Many years passed before I had a “room of my own” for writing. Patience is valuable. If you’re not wealthy, you can’t have everything you’d like, so you have to choose what you will sacrifice and what is essential.

How do you go about finding places to submit?  Do you have favorite sources?

Poets and Writers Magazine is the best source for me right now. In the past I’ve bought those huge Writer’s Market books, but too often by the time I got around to using them they were outdated. Instead, a magazine is up to date and inspires you to try a submission quickly. I also search the Internet for markets for certain genres I’m writing. And, I look to local places and publications for opportunities.

You write about sensitive topics, including family.  Is anything off limits? How does your family react?

When my daughter was a teen in the 80s I wrote a lot about her, and she has generously allowed me to use the material. I have an aunt who is sensitive about things I write concerning my mother or grandparents, so I try to keep her concerns in my head when I’m writing or placing those works. When my parents were alive, I used stories and poetry as a way to explore our relationships and to communicate with them. We don’t have any dark secrets in our family, just the normal range of human life where we might have acted rashly and regretted and apologized for it later. The things that are not secret are situations I feel free to say what I think about them. I’m working on a memoir of my mother and how our family dealt with her having Alzheimer’s. In the memoir, I focus on how rich her life had been and focus mostly on my dilemmas in caring for my mother.

Have you always considered yourself an artist?

I always regretted that my small town high school didn’t offer art. I had no opportunity for learning to make art. My parents did take me to lots of museums and I watched a few art programs on 60s television. I entered some pastels in local fairs and won a few prizes. In the 1980s I had the opportunity to learn a rare craft called finger weaving and I have mastered it. I occasionally do a concept art piece. My poetry was published locally when I was in high school and teachers complimented my writing, so I have mainly pursued writing as my art.

You've worked a lot in museums.  How does that field contribute to your life as a writer?

I originally studied journalism. I thought it was the only kind of writing I could do and not starve. I married before finishing college and began a family. Occasionally I worked part-time as a news gather. Then a museum on American Indian life opened in the Connecticut town where I was living and I remembered all the joy I’d had in museums and found a career. Some of the museums I worked for welcomed my writing for newsletters and exhibit labels, and I began offering pieces to museum journals and magazines as well. My first poetry reading occurred in one of the museums I worked at. Museums are creative places so I found them compatible for my creative initiatives.

What's the difference between writing prose and fiction?  Do you have to go to a different place?

I like writing short stories and poetry equally. They’re compact and doable in less time. Poems are actually creative non-fiction while my short stories are fiction (I also do essays). If something real happens that I want to capture in a poignant way, that’s a poem. My short stories are imagined but contain tiny parts of me. Non-fiction, like my Spirited Encounters: American Indians Protest Museum Policies and Practices is the hardest work because I had to back up everything I said with facts, so a lot of time was spent seeking and recording those facts. Memoir is a challenge because you are talking about specifics and have to get it right even though you are emotionally biased. My novel manuscript fell far short of Faulkner or Dickens and I’m going to re-write it since it seems to be percolating in my head at lot. As for writing in any of these genres, I don’t feel I have to change a mindset although I do know each of their boundaries. It all feels creative to me and I’m just trying to make it flow, make it sensible, bring it to life, and create an enjoyable read. I’m always trying to bring a lesson to the reader. There’s an instinctual teacher in me.

Tell about your self publishing journey.  What made it the right choice for you?
My style of poetry is not elegant. Rarely will a single poem of mine get selected for an award and they have never been accepted in prestigious journals. But I value them and what they say and thought they’d make an interesting collection. I wanted to write more poetry, but all my unpublished poems seemed like a heavy weight of rejection. I decided if I liberated them, I would feel liberated, too, and could continue writing. I drew a simple cover, my husband got an easy layout program, and I simply took it to Kinko’s and had them print 200 copies of my selection of 48 poems, some of them previously published and most of them never published. I submitted it to two statewide contests and was a finalist in one, and the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. chose it as 2010 Best Book of Poetry. Oklahoma Today magazine then contacted me to write an original poem for them, and when I reported my success to the National Museum of the American Indian, they paid for a submission to their magazine. I’ve done a few readings from the book, a couple of workshops, and gained the confidence to offer to co-edit an anthology of Cherokee writers. I didn’t get on NPR (yet), but self-publishing was what I needed to do at that juncture of my life. And I’m going to realize a little bit of a profit from it, too (or maybe it’s really just breaking even).

As a finalist in the 2011 Oklahoma Book Awards, you obviously know a thing or two about poetry.  What makes a good poem?

I like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence, Rod McKuen’s Listen to the Warm, everything by Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes’ Dreams, and Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses. A poem has to touch me. I like some frantic quality to them, and that’s what most of my poems have in common. For a long while I wanted my life to be less frantic, more idyllic, but after a dozen years I realized that the works of mine I liked best were written due to tension. Whenever I had spans of contentedness, very little was created by me. Beyond that insight, I like sounds of words and use alliteration or repetition of sounds, I like to capture the nugget of a message and lay it precisely into the hands of the reader. I’m not trying to obscure the message and make the reader puzzle it out. I’m trying to reveal something. Sometimes I treat a poem like a short story with beginning, middle, and end. At other times it’s like I’m painting something, building it stroke by stroke, working on an image. Most importantly, a good poem will just sound tight and perfect and leave you feeling enhanced.


  1. Karen's poetry definitely meets her definition of a good poem: "tight and perfect and leave you feeling enhanced." In fact, those qualities apply to all of her writing--even her Christmas newsletter!