Keetje Kuipers’ Pushcart-nominated poetry doesn’t muddle around. Her words are carefully selected, clear and strong. There is an immediate intimacy between her and her reader as she distills her subjects of desire and loss. But don’t call her work accessible.
Says Kuipers, “In poetry the term ‘accessibility’ has become quite loaded; in fact, many poets consider it a bit of a dirty word. I don’t often use it to describe poems that I do or don’t enjoy because I think it carries such varied connotations for different schools of poetry at this point.”
Accessible or not, Kuipers’ poetry has resonated deeply with readers all over the world. Born in Pullman, Washington and an MFA graduate of the University of Oregon, Kuipers still feels a bond with Oregon. “I adored the time I spent on the Rogue River, and feel as though that part of Oregon will always be a sort of home to me, a place of deep comfort and mutual recognition, where I learned to chop wood and catch steelhead and be at peace in the rain.”
She has been the recipient of many fellowships and awards for her work, and has been published in leading journals. Her collection, “Beautiful in the Mouth,” was the winner of the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Her acclaim is evidence of how deeply her work resonates with other people. This relationship is a vital part of poetry for Kuipers.
“’Opaque’ is a word that I use to describe poems that I cannot enter, that offer absolutely no point of entry for any of their readers. I don’t think a poem needs to have its front door flung open, so to speak, but it should have a way in for the reader. I believe that we write because we have a great desire to connect, to communicate, to make a bridge with language. If a poem doesn’t do that for anyone but the person writing it, then why not just write it in your diary and leave it there?”
Clarity, while important in Kuipers’ work, is nonetheless interpretive. “Most of my poems are an attempt to communicate not a story, but a feeling–they’re lyric poems, and they dwell in a particular emotional place, rather than a literal one. In those instances, it is less important to me that a reader understands the exact intent of each word I’ve chosen and more important that they simply walk away from the poem having experienced a sensation of significance, that they’ve been overwhelmed by feeling, as imprecise as that feeling may have been.”
Her upcoming projects include both poetry and non-fiction explorations. “I’m currently working on a manuscript entitled “The Keys to the Jail.” These new poems look at loss from a new perspective, one that is looking to lay blame.”
Kuipers is also completing a manuscript about her time as the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident. “The book weaves together the seven months of solitude I spent as a poet-in-residence in a wilderness cabin completely off the grid on the Rogue River with the story of the woman who built the cabin. It’s very much an examination of what it means to be a woman alone in the woods, both literally and metaphorically, and how the experience allowed us each to grow into ourselves, and into our lives as adult women, in a very particular way.”
In the end, Kuipers’ work is about the beauty and pain of human connection. “I hope that my readers come away from my work with a sense of solace, the sort that comes from recognizing you’re not alone, that someone else has traveled those same roads of sadness and beauty, desperation and loneliness, joy and consolation. I also hope that they come away from my work feeling excited about language and its musicality – I hope they read my poems aloud and hear the songs I’m trying to write underneath them.”
Fittingly, her advice for other poets is both lyrical and sensible. “Push your own envelope. Revise, revise, revise. Don’t be afraid to slash and burn your work, to destroy a poem in order to make another one. Read as much as you can and as widely as possible. When you encounter the work of a poet that you don’t like, find someone who does and ask them to explain why. Memorize poems and recite them to yourself while walking or waiting for the train or rocking your child to sleep. Keep your eyes open and remember that poems take place in the midst of ugliness just as often as they’re born out of beauty.”
“Beautiful in the Mouth” is available at Amazon. Learn more about Keetje Kuipers at keetjekuipers.com.