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The Habitual Poet: Janet R. Kirchheimer

Installment #39

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org. 

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A: I prefer a store, but online is easier.


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A: 65-75 books and I’ve read parts of them all. 


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A: On the subway, the bus, anywhere and anytime I can.


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A: Well, August was a slow month.  Robert Frost – North of Boston, and a whole bunch of poems printed off the internet.  I’m trying to go through the tons of poems I’ve printed off various websites.


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A: Poets and Writers, Teachers and Writers, 1st and 2nd Samuel, the September issue of Vogue, New York, and actually got to read a novel, The Help.


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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A: I write when something inspires me, or if I’m given a writing assignment.  I try to write every day, but I’m not so successful in that area.  I start in longhand in a notebook or whatever piece of paper is handy, and then usually end up on the computer.  Sitting on the bus or subway usually will inspire my writing.  And I’ve missed my stop more than a few times. 


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A: It depends on how much I’m writing that week – usually anywhere between 1-3.  In a month, hopefully twelve or more.


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A: If I’m interested in the poem, I can’t wait to revise.  I’ve been getting better though about letting a poem sit longer before I revise.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: Yikes, that’s the $24,000 question.  It just feels done, and if I mess with it any more, I’ll suck the life out of it.  Though, sometimes looking at it a few months later, I wonder what I was thinking at the time.


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  Yes.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A:  I like to read a journal first to see if I like it, if I think my work would fit the journal’s style, and sometimes I’ll see a call for submission for a particular type of poem.


Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A: Rejection.  I always hope that my work will be accepted, but know the rate of acceptances is pretty small.


Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A: I’ve been published both in print and on line.  Print is really nice to hold in your hands, but online allows for so many more people to possibly see your work.


Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A:  I received a three-page letter from an editor on what he thought was wrong with a poem I had submitted, which contained one misplaced comma and he just went on for three pages about the comma and other things he thought were off in the poem.  From another journal, I received a rejection notice two and a half years after I submitted – they said they received a lot of submissions.  The best experience with a journal was being nominated for a Pushcart.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A: I’ve received some fan mail and it’s truly gratifying to know that something I’ve written has meant something to a reader.  I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.


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Practical considerations


Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A:  I’m a teaching fellow and teach Jewish topics and the bible has been an incredible influence on my writing and studying poetry has affected the way I study the bible.


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?



Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A: Oh, yes.  Sometimes, life just interferes too much.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A:  Well, I figure I’ve pretty much broken the bank on taking classes, workshops, submitting to contests, buying books, pencils, etc.


Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A:  I’ve forgotten to eat while working on poems, I’ve missed numerous operas, music concerts, movies, lectures because of conflicts with workshops. 


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Random nonsense


Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A:  No superhuman abilities, but I am working on a superheroes series of poems.  And I’m a pretty good knitter and really fast typist. 


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____ 

A is definitely out, my mother would find me.  B wouldn’t work either – she’d find it in the deleted files on my computer.  So, I’d probably end up showing it to her.


Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

A:  I’d take off on a round-the-world trip and let my family take care of my affairs.  I’ll be dead so why would I care if I left a clean apartment or not.  No, I’m sure I’d put my affairs in order.  I’m not that mean.



Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A:   I’d be an “a” – it’s a friendly vowel.


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A: Just keep writing, everyone has something unique to say that contributes to the world. 



Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us (2007), a collection of poems about the Holocaust.  Her work has appeared in journals such as Atlanta Review, Potomac Review, Limestone, Connecticut Review, Kalliope, and on beliefnet.com.  In 2010, she was awarded Honorable Mention in the Tiferet poetry contest and was a finalist for the Rachel Wetzsteon Prize from the 92nd St. Y.  She was nominated for a 2007 Pushcart Prize. Janet is a Teaching Fellow at Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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