Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life of a Poet - Shawnacy Kiker

Kids, today we're visiting a poet I have long been curious about, Ms. Shawnacy Kiker at  Guts and Juice. Shawnacy describes herself as a "slightly reluctant member of the human race."  She and her "mighty clan" reside in Southern California. I have long been drawn by her wonderful poetry, and wanted a peek into what I knew would be an interesting life story. Get ready to be entertained, kids. She does not disappoint!

Poets United: Shawnacy, you are a very talented girl. Did you, like so many other gifted poets, write as a child? When did you first know you are a writer? 

Shawnacy: Thank you so much, Sherry. I so appreciate you as a poet and friend. The warmth of your spirit, your passion, is one of my favorite things about your poetry, and your support has been invaluable to me.

I did write as a child. My first short story was self-published in my bedroom at the age of four: a fully illustrated work of fiction featuring the witty hijinks of Donald Duck and a particularly devilish hairbrush that kept eluding discovery (…it was on Donald’s head the whole time… the rascal). Some might argue that my work has gone downhill from there.

I was somewhat shy (read: terrified) of showing my creative work to people when I was younger (post-Donald Duck, that is), so it is entirely my own fault that I didn’t get a whole lot better a whole lot sooner. I have one very great friend who I credit with giving me ‘permission’ to write creatively as an adult.

Poets United: Was there a book that especially spoke to you in childhood, that left an impact? (For me, it was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which made me feel I wasn’t the only kid living with an alcoholic father. And Wuthering Heights, because I have always been a romantic. Unsuccessfully, I might add.)

Shawnacy: I love that you asked this question. One of my favorite questions to ask people who I care to know something about is: What was the first book that ripped the sky open for you, and how old were you when that happened?

I grew up on books, preferring them to almost everything (and everyone) else through the length and breadth of my horrifically introverted youth. As a result, I had many best-friend books as a kid, but I think the first real sky-altering read came at 14, when I happened upon half of a paperback (the last half, to be precise) version of Rilke’s poetry that I found one day in a box of hand-me-downs. The pages were held together by the merest suggestion, and every time I turned one, it came loose in my hand. The fragility of the pages, I’m sure, had much to do with the mythic quality of my experience. I held them like they were sacred text. Gathered them together in a binder clip and kept them in a large envelope that had once contained invoices from my dad’s tool business. I hid them in a drawer. Took them out when I was alone and melted into the black-ink light that lived on those dust-smelling, half-crumbled, half-missing sheets of paper. 

Rilke could do things with words that I had never dreamed before. He could (and still can, I might add) witch my soul from its comfortable home and hold it in the palm of a sustained thought. He could take five words and use them to fell the world, and build a new one in its place.  I fell in love with stories in the cradle, but I think I didn’t really fall in love with language until I met Rilke.

(ps. Non-sequitur re: the elusiveness of romance: The band Dawes has a song that contains this line, which doesn’t give much hope, but rings too true for me to ignore: ‘True lovers always end up lonely, ‘cause they know how good it can be’)

Poets United: Wow.  Even your interview responses read like sheer brilliant poetry. (See what I mean, kids?)  You mention your “mighty clan”. Big family?  

The Clan - with my aunt, 
who is so dear to us

Shawnacy: I do indeed have a mighty clan. Seven children, to be precise. Four of my own, and three steps belonging to my ex-husband. I also live-in with, and help take care of my mother, who has advanced Multiple Sclerosis. It’s complicated and a little mad, but I tend to gravitate toward chaos. Call it personal entropy, or some such like.

We have a rescue dog, two guinea pigs, and are currently mourning our goldfish, Friedrich. 

Poets United: Whoosh! I had no idea!  I’ll bet your mom enjoys being in the middle of all that teeming life! How do you fit writing in?

Shawnacy: I don’t sleep much.

Poets United: You say on your profile that you might like to live somewhere else one day. Where might that Somewhere Else be?

Shawnacy: Grab a map. Throw a dart at it. I want to go there.

Poets United: As you write both poetry and prose, your thoughts on both?

Shawnacy: Both are important to me. And, for me, they have different functions. Novels allow an in depth exploration of an idea. I feel like noveling is the ‘real’ work (mostly just because it’s so damn hard and represents years of crafting), while poetry is more open space. Quicker. A short burst of light, rather than a long flame. I think of poems as run-off.

I kind of hate this question, because it seems like I’m devaluing poetry. I’m not. At all. I love the language of poetry, the way imagery can lie on a page, unexplained. No need for extra words, plot, background… pure ideas netted and pinned to the universe. I try to bring that same feel to prose as well, not to lose the beauty for the function of story and narrative… to greater and lesser degrees of success. Prose poems and flash fiction are a good way to explore that kind of writing, I’ve found.

Poets United: Do you have a process you follow in writing a poem to completion or, as I suspect, does it flow out in a white, inspired heat, like lava, and not need a single word changed? (sound of gnashing teeth)

Shawnacy: Oh, they always need work. I obsess over them for days, reading them out loud to myself, switching phrasing around (‘what might, someday, become’ or ‘what might become, someday’…?), agonizing over word choice (‘whole’ or ‘entire’?), going mad over line breaks… sometimes never getting them into a shape that I like. The file of unfinished poems on my hard drive is idiotically large. I’ve gotten into the habit lately of forcing myself to sleep on a poem (not literally… though… there may come a time when I’m desperate enough to try that).

Even after I’ve done all the picky work of reading and rereading and fiddling – when it’s in some kind of decent shape – I make myself sleep on it before I decide to share. I find I always have better clarity after I’ve let my subconscious work through the questions without my interference.

Poets United: I found your recent Rave On, Beautiful Girl so remarkable. And your How to Succeed at Being Alive. (Check them out, kids. You'll be blown away.)  Is  there a poem you have written  that you’d like to feature as an example of your work??

Shawnacy: At the moment, I’m partial to the ‘only a road’ one...… but it’s being submitted at a few places. “Ataro[s] at Night”  was recently published in decomPmagazinE. It’s a fair example, and it would be a good way to plug a great literary magazine.

Poets United: I LOVED Only a Road!  And "Ataro[s]at Night" is also a fabulous read. How regularly do you submit?  Do you actively seek publication, or is it rather random?

Shawnacy: This year is the first time I've seriously looked at publication. I try to submit continually, just to keep the machine running. It was really intimidating at first, but it's been an exceptionally good experience for me, so far. 

Poets United: Good for you, kiddo. Keep submitting. What are your writing goals for the years ahead? Do you have a novel in the works, or might you attempt one one day? 

Shawnacy: As far as goals go, mine are always astronomical. I do have a novel that's in the second draft stage, (and two others that I don't talk about... that are not good for much more than collecting digital dust on my hard drive) and I hope to have it finished this fall. I'm starting my first fiction workshop class this week through the UCLA extension program, and am excited to continue learning and growing as a writer and teller of stories. 

Poets United: You will love the fiction workshop. Taking a class with other writers is very stimulating. Have you ever lived a great adventure?

Shawnacy: The answer I want to give to this is far too long. The abbreviated version is that for lack of opportunity, big adventures are often not possible for me. Which leaves me to my own devices. I do my best to create the possibility for adventure everywhere. Like hill surfing in the rain with my kids last night, or turning our living room into an undersea movie shoot…

My daughter, after hill surfing in the rain.
She is a total Mud Princess

Poets United: And a totally cute Mud Princess, too! Question: how does one turn one’s living room into an undersea movie shoot? Your kids must think you’re the coolest mom ever!

Shawnacy: We laid some blue sheets down on the floor, and used other fabric (sheets, clothes, etc) to shape things like algae and kelp. We had some plastic fish sand toys and things, so we made a nifty little scene on the ground. Then the kids got all decked out in their bathing suits, flippers, diving masks, snorkels, and they laid down on top of the scene we'd made, and pretended to 'swim' and find buried treasure and cut all kinds of capers. About halfway through, someone came up with the idea of shooting through a fish tank, which was pretty genius. 

Zombie Mama and Pig Girl - 
just being everyday silly

Just yesterday, going buggy with everyone home from school for the summer, and me having no time to work, I gave the tribe free reign to re-arrange all the furniture in the living room. We ended up with the couch sitting dead in front of the door to the bedrooms (what's one more hurdle, right?), three coffee tables smashed together in a line (perfect for "playing play-doh... or ANYTHING" I'm told), and everyone claiming a corner as "their own," marking their territory with a personal blanket fort. ... It doesn't get dull around here. 

When we decided to make gatorade posters....or, if you prefer, 
'find your inner Bono' posters

Poets United: Oh my goodness. So much fun! I want to come stay at your place for about a week. Then come home and take a very long nap!!!!!!!

 Shawnacy: Recently,however, I was able to take my first vacation in 12 years . I went on a small solo cycling trip up the California coast. It was bloody glorious.
Writing down directions where I wouldnt lose them
Poets United: I’ll bet it was, given the scenery, the freedom, the open road, and let’s not forget the SOLO part. Tell us more?

Shawnacy: Bike trip stats: Days on the road: 3. Miles biked: 88. Miles hiked: 24. Total elevation gain: over 2,800 ft. Broken shoes: 1. Flat tires: 1. Interesting people, randomly met: 6. 

Just about to hop on the 101 freeway...on a bike

Poets United: You travel light! Where is your favorite place in the world?

I got to the top of a pretty huge hill and laid down 
under this yarrow for about 100 years

Shawnacy: The truest answer to this for me is always ‘on the road.’ Other than that, the answer to this varies from day to day. At the present moment, my favorite place in the world is around the fire pit in the backyard, early in the morning, when it’s still cool, and the birds are just waking. The smell of wood-smoke goes well  with coffee, pen and paper.

One of the many great overlook spots 
I got to see in Santa Barbara

Poets United: Any causes that are dear to your heart?

Shawnacy:  So many. I’ll mention one in particular. Some family members of mine have a nonprofit called Andando, based in Senegal, Africa. They work toward alleviating poverty through micro development. Check out their Facebook page ( ) and website ( .

Poets United: I am stoked about that. I truly think micro-lending is more immediately effective, has a quicker and more direct impact, than donating to a big organization.  I do a bit of micro-helping in Africa as well. 

image from the Andando site

Shawnacy: The Andando Foundation is run by my Aunt and Uncle who live in Oregon. I have helped here and there, but can't wait to make a trip with them to Africa. Four of my cousins are in various African countries at the moment, working and helping out. I'd love to take the kids and do an extended stay..... Someday. 

Poets United: Way to be a human being, Shawnacy. Wouldn't it be great to show the kids the reality of the world we live in? In a way that inspires them to pitch in and help? I hope you make it. 

There is often a connection with music, for poets. Do you play an instrument?  Do you listen as you write, or do you need quiet?

Shawnacy: I have a major music dependency. It’s indispensable. If I had to choose between music and coffee, I’d choose music. Between music and one of my children… well, I’d pick the kid, but I’d be resentful, and do nothing for the rest of my life but write secret love letters to lost music and hang them from the telephone poles of the world. I play rhythm guitar fantastically poorly.

Poets United: Do you have a favorite spot you use for writing,  or do you write anywhere?

where the magic happens

Shawnacy: I write mostly at night, when everyone is asleep, which limits my ability to roam and write. I have a desk area. It’s fairly cluttered and mundane.

Poets United: It looks intriguing to me. What advice would you give to a beginning writer?

Shawnacy: Read.

Poets United: Oh, that is GREAT advice! Would you like to give a shout-out to a few blogging pals?

Shawnacy: I’m unspeakably grateful to my writing friends. Their support through some pretty gnarly growing pains, and continued inspiration to keep on has meant everything. Here are just a few of the unlistable many (poets, authors, essayists, philosophers) whose smoking words and luminous friendship I value more and more each day. If you’re not familiar with them… become so

Jeff Loquist, Kerry O’Connor,  Ed Hart Corey Rowley, Isadora Gruye, WK Kortas, Daniel Romo, Kenia Cris, Marian Kent, Grace O’Malley, Woodrow Phillips, Mandy Steward, Rain, Mark Robertson, Kit Johnson, Rhina Ju, Robin Amaral, and Tessa Zeng.

Poets United: What a blogroll of goodies this list is!  Shawnacy, thanks for this visit. And for being part of this wonderful community of poets. We look forward to reading much more of your work.

Well, kids, there you have it: another wonderfully talented poet and her extremely interesting and energetic life. Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I cannot tell you how much I love the beauty of this wonderful woman - it shines all the way over here in Africa, and dazzles me. I'm moved to tears with pride to see her featured on PU.

  3. "Rave On, Beautiful Girl" is simply one of the best things I have ever read.

  4. Thanks so much, Sherry, and PU, for having me. Such a fun experience. Sherry, I'd love to sit with you someday over your beverage of choice and hash through our lives. You are a treasure.

  5. Oh, kiddo, the pleasure is all mine! Come back later, more peeps will come after they get home from work........I agree with Shay, Rave On, Beautiful Girl is one of the best things I've ever read, too. And if any of you are ever in my neck of the woods, you have an open invitation:)

  6. It's a delight to meet you, Shawnacy! Love the antics you get up to with your kids. Clearly creativity doesn't reside only in your live it every day! There are so many things in here that I identify with...a love of reading, a lack of sleep, (because I stay up late reading!)and the hand held out to help in Africa. After visiting a few years ago, I'm desperate to ease even a portion of the need I say everywhere I went.

    Will definitely check out your blog, and look into a few of those writers you've to find new authors!

    Stellar interview as usual, Sherry, although they don't read as an interviews...more like two friends having a long heart-to-heart chat over tea. This one was great fun....:)

  7. Sherry, this is a wonderful interview. You always know the best questions that will really expose the strengths of the poet.

    Shawnacy, I will be visiting your blog. You are such a remarkable person. I can't even imagine raising that many children, as creatively as you're doing, and still making time for writing, as creatively as you're doing. You seem like such a loving free spirit. So nice to meet you.

  8. I wish I was a better writer and a rambler and had space to write the million and forty-seven good things I could say about this wonderful writer and person. This is a great interview.

  9. Thanks, Sherry, what a great interview...I don't think I've visited Shawnacy's blog before but I will now. Shawnacy, your household sounds like the way I grew up with six kids(the fun part that you describe with your children) and an alcoholic father too...the not so fun part. Thanks for sharing.

  10. This is a great interview! I really enjoyed reading this.

  11. Great interview~ I love your view of the world and making fun out of what is on hand~ I grew up that way~ What magic you have instilled in your family! I am glad you had a chance to do something for you~
    It is important to recharge one's batteries~ So nice to learn more about you! Wonderful job, both of you!

  12. Another great interview Sherry. You do this so well. Ask the best questions to get the best in-depth answers.
    Shawnacy, it was a pleasure to read about your hectic, loving family life. I was one of six kids in our house, so the chaos was all too familiar I love your casual-don't-stress, outlook on life and you love of your fellow man and, will be over to read you.
    Great interview :)

  13. Oh how I adore this post. Thank you for this interview. Shawnancy has been a favorite of mine for quite some time. It's great to peek inside her life a little bit more.


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