Kate Hargreaves (she/her) is the author of the poetry books tend (Book*hug 2022) and Leak (Book*hug 2014), as well as the children’s novel Jammer Star (Orca 2019), and the prose collection Talking Derby (Black Moss 2013). Her writing has appeared in journals across Canada, the US, and the UK, and her book designs, under the name CorusKate Design, have been recognized by the Alcuin Awards, the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, Quill & Quire, and the CBC Bookies. Find her work at CorusKate.com.
Sharon Berg: Hello Kate, and thank you for agreeing to this interview about your new poetry book, tend. Reading through, I’ve observed you use images of various things (dog, lamp, cactus, coffee cup) in a way that convinces the reader they are simple objects. Then, part way through a poem there’s a shift in their representation, so they’re no longer what they first appeared to be. This causes the reader to challenge their own perceptions and I wonder – in the moment you’re writing – are you creating poems for the reader’s journey or challenging your own perceptions? Would those two goals be combined?
Kate Hargreaves: I think that in the moment of writing, I’m doing a bit of both, as you suggest. I have an interest in exploring objects that might be considered mundane or overlooked and seeing the unexpected in them, including their unexpected beauty especially when they are worn or ‘broken’ in some way. This act of re-valuing starts with my own perceptions, but I think I also want to challenge the reader’s pre-conceptions of these objects as well, to have them look at a broken screen door a little differently the next time they see one or the dust catching in the sunlight. For me, those tangible objects that we overlook are a large part of my poetic focus.
SB: In his blog ‘periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics’ (2022-09-03) rob mclennan writes: “In many ways, tend is an optimistic and occasionally joyful collection of dark complexities, centred around care, from self-care to gardening, and the ways in which we wish to interact with the wonderfully complex and convoluted worlds of nature, other humans, poems and ourselves.” However, in the first half of the book it’s my observation that while you have a focus on the natural world through its flora and fauna, you’re not only writing about our human place within nature’s abundance, but also in recognition of the natural world’s mess and menace. Can both of our observations be true?
KH: Part of what I was hoping to do in tend is explore ideas that can exist simultaneously while seeming to contradict one another, such as the notion of being both safe and comfortable in a place while at once feeling trapped and isolated. In terms of the engagement with the natural world, in the poems it is at once a place of comfort and of joy while recognizing and respecting its sharp edges. Like with the notion of re-valuing the mundane objects in our lives, I also enjoy taking that perspective on mess, for example with the idea of weeds and what makes a weed a weed, which comes up a couple times in the poems. If weeds can be both messy and beneficial, than perhaps other types of mess or less curated experiences can also be valuable.
SB: You are also known as a book designer and, in fact, developed the cover design for tend. How much influence did you have with the inner design of this book?
KH: The typesetting for the book was done by Gareth Lind, and it is absolutely lovely. In terms of my influence, that only goes as far as the way the poems flow on the page. As a designer, I am cognizant of the difficulties of typesetting poetry specifically as it is often written on 8.5 x 11 standard letter-size documents and then has to be translated to a smaller format, more like 6 x 9. In my design work, I’ve had struggles sometimes adjusting other people’s poetry to fit that format so that it still reflects their vision. Because of this, I actually wrote the poems on a word processor that was formatted for a smaller page size so that I could be sure I knew that the line breaks and layout across the page could feasibly fit. With online journals, you have a bit more freedom to lay out poetry in ways that go beyond the edges of a physical page, but in considering the prospect of the poems hopefully being published in book form or even in print journals, this helped shape their structure.
SB: In terms of audience for tend there is a group who are naturally drawn to reading it, and others that will resist reading it. How are those two groups different? Can you state why you think the resisting group should read tend?
KH: This perhaps speaks to poetry more generally, but there still seems to be a common impression that poetry is scary or inaccessible, just for academics, or only something that had value in the past. While people who also write poetry are often the readers of poetry, I’d like to think that a work like tend, which I would consider to be accessible at many levels, might be an entry point for folks who do not think poetry can be for them. As a reader, I am drawn to work that is tangible and doesn’t dwell on abstract concepts but instead grounds them in images that speak to the physical engagement with environments, and that is what I try to reflect in my own work.
SB: Can you offer readers an idea of the literary surrounds for this work? As in, what books were you most impressed with reading while you worked on it? And what live performances, if any, did you attend that you feel influenced the book you produced?
KH: While I was writing much of tend, not only were we in COVID-19 lockdown, but I was additionally isolated by the effects of an injury that left me unable to walk as well as being in and out of hospital for surgeries/check-ups, etc. Because of this, I wasn’t able to get out and experience public art, poetry, or music performances. However, in place of those experiences, I was at home reading and, when I was able to do so, getting outside, which were both incredibly important to my mental health as well as influential on my writing. One of the books that struck me during the writing process was Brute by Emily Skaja, which I picked up just before the pandemic at a bookshop in New Orleans. The timeless quality of the poems, and the combination of their softness and sharpness at once was something that drew me in, and I think that this influence can be seen in tend at least to a degree.
SB: Titles are often difficult to come up with, though some authors seem to begin there. What was your experience in developing a title for tend?
KH: The title for tend came late into its writing when I was in the editing process with the wonderful Jennifer LoveGrove. Originally, I had titled it The Young Ones after the first poem in the collection, but I quickly began to realize that the generational issues explored by that poem didn’t resonate entirely with the rest of the collection. The poem “tend” was actually written after the book was titled, so it wasn’t based on that piece in particular; rather, the idea of tending to things kept coming up for me, tending to our wounds, to gardens, to relationships, as well as the idea of being tender and allowing ourselves that grace. The word tend also feels wonderful to say in an almost cozy way, and the way that poems sound out loud is important to me, so it felt like a natural fit. When I wrote the poem “tend,” this aspect of how the words sound reading it out loud was a major factor in constructing that piece. The collection title tend also fit nicely with my prior monosyllabic poetry collection title Leak, so overall it felt like a natural fit.
SB: Something that often interests readers is knowing how much a certain work is invented and how much is autobiographical. Would you care to share your approach/thoughts on this aspect of your readers’ curiousity?
KH: When I speak at university classes, I often get asked, at least regarding my prior poetry collection Leak, how much of the work is autobiographical, which initially had me taken aback especially due to that work’s dive into neurodivergence, disordered eating, and mental illness. In terms of tend, one of the major aspects of autobiography that made its way into the work is the impact of a severe injury I sustained that changed the trajectory of the writing. Mid-way through writing the manuscript, I broke my shin badly and dealt with a lot of physical and psychological trauma, so that certainly worked its way into many of the poems, especially in the ‘Other Snaps’ section. It took me many months to even want to try addressing that experience through writing as the pain was too close initially, but eventually I felt prepared to dive into it, and using the plants, gardens, and weeds imagery was an entry point to accessing those feelings.
SB: If your book were to be chosen for the list in a graduate course, what discipline would it fit into: history, politics, social change, philosophy? Or would it be used to describe a particular taste in writing, a genre, a literary style or ___?
KH: I’ve had the honour of having my first poetry book taught in undergraduate Gender & Literature courses, which was a wonderful experience as I was able to do readings and Q & As with the students and engage with them about the work. If tend were to be taught in a course, I could see it fitting well into that same framework, as gender certainly has a role to play in the lived experience of the speakers of the poems as well as the re-valuing of the domestic sphere, often coded as feminine and less than.
SB: Please describe the central idea that links all of the parts in this collection and why you felt it was important to address this in contemporary times.
KH: With poetry, so often a central connecting thread is difficult to pull out of a collection except for perhaps the mood or tone of the work. I thought, when I was in the editing process of tend, with poems written years before and in a different head space, that there was no possible way that a throughline would emerge, but I think, considering it as a whole, it did in an organic way. I suppose it has to do with my existing preoccupations, with the body, with re-valuing what we may not value, with the relationships of the mental and the physical, and in this collection with memory and how it is tied to place. I was struck, upon working with my editor, about how the collection came together despite what felt like many disparate parts, and created a cohesive whole that, in tone at least, feels like it flows and has some sort of trajectory.
SB: How does this book fit it the stream of all of your literary works? Is there some fundamental difference between tend and your prior work?
KH: Comparing tend to my prior poetry collection Leak, they are quite different, to the point that I was nervous about potentially coming across as too earnest in this recent collection and losing the playfulness of Leak. However, I think that the move has been one of allowing myself to be a bit more sincere and vulnerable, and not putting up as many walls, of puns and word play, as well as of body horror, although these still make their way into tend. When I wrote Leak, I was 22, in graduate school for the first time, and trying to find a way to write through the various ways we inhabit our bodies and relate to the mind/body connection. In many ways, tend is doing the same thing, but I tried to push my comfort zone on allowing a bit more vulnerability into these poems, without spilling over into sentimentality, and still being playful at the same time.
SB: Well, thank you for offering these insights into your work, Kate, and best wishes for all that you do in the future.
Canadian author Sharon Berg works in multiple genres. Her work has appeared across Canada, in the USA, Mexico, the U.K., the Netherlands, India, Singapore, and Australia. She's conducted Poetry Interviews Editor for Artisanal Writer, /tEmz/ Review, The Miramichi Reader, Event and Freefall magazines and wrote articles and book reviews for a variety of periodicals. Sharon's third poetry book, 'Stars in the Junkyard' (Cyberwit, 2020), was a finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards and she placed 2nd in the 2016 GritLit Poetry Contest. Her cross genre history, 'The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School' (Big Pond Rumour Press, 2019), won a 2020 IPPY Award for Regional Nonfiction. Her debut collection of short fiction, 'Naming the Shadows' (Porcupine's Quill, 2019) is being followed by a 2nd collection, a novel, and a 4th book of poetry. She lives in the hamlet of Charlottetown, Newfoundland, Canada, in Terra Nova National Park, where she runs Oceanview Writers Retreat since 2022.