def.: Khara [Kair-uh]
1. Khara is a young Black woman, poet, and teacher, who is interested in all genres of writing, and who is passionate about–among other things–the act and art of writing, faith, music, reading, baseball, her family and friends, and so forth.
2. Khara is hard to define, primarily because she cares about, and is passionate about, so much that the very act of defining her seems to limit her personality; she can be at once outgoing and shy, funny and insightful, grounded and floating ten feet above your head in a cloud of her own thoughts, imaginings, hopes, and aspirations.
3. Stop daydreaming and get back to work, Khara!
This is an excerpt from Khara House’s blog, Our Lost Jungle, in mid-exercise on defining herself. Every once in awhile you’re blessed to encounter a poet whose work leaves you breathless, and feeling slightly raw – someone whose very being seems to define the word poetry. I “met” Khara just a little over three years ago, through her passionate words at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides. Her work is nothing short of stunning, and her love for the world of poetry is contagious. Today I’ve asked one of my favorite poets to dawdle from work just a little longer, to share a little more of herself with me.
Welcome, Khara. And thank you. Your blog speaks of poetry as “the place where we can let go of sense and allow words to take over, to play, to dance, to wonder.” Will you dance with us by sharing a poem or two?
Well, I’ll give it a “whirl”, wink-wink! I chose this poem to share because of your language, actually. The act of dancing through poetry (as suggested by the description of my blog) is something that really fascinates me. This poem, however, is a very different kind of “dance”—I’ll say right off the bat, it’s a little violent, but I wrote it out of an attempt to see if the violence of life (in this case, a history embedded in slavery) could reflect some of the beauty that can come from dark times, through the rhythm of language.
Strap the woman down begins the dance—
his flair for fire, the trim step, one, two, three, across her back
As her face swells like the first hot air balloon
lacing its way like a feather past the Parisian sun.
Her steps drip with sweat
Into the cup of her hems, her hair, ruffled
like the cotton doily dripped with taper wax.
He steps into each slash, this blood and water masquerade
that curls her up against her bones, fast then slow.
He loses a button—she can use it, when she finds it,
for a baby doll façade, for her daughter,
wrapped in stolen printed paper. Now they tussle,
Hers a mask of leathered silence
while he waltzes her, once, twice,
traces her head to toe,
before she unfurls.
Whew. Powerful stuff, Khara. You have such a way of bringing beauty and rhythm to language, no matter what the subject. Now, as well as a poet, you are a college educator. Do you teach poetry? What are students’ attitudes toward poetry, today?
I was honored with the opportunity to teach a poetry workshop at the university where I teach this semester, actually. We focused on both the reading and writing of poems, though primarily on writing. I think students both in and outside of poetry classes are naturally drawn to poetry. There is something in the language they connect to, whether they know it or not. In one of my Composition classes, I had students write poems about the origins of their names, and they ate it up. They wanted to do more, actually. I’m always surprised at students’ ability and eagerness to engage poetry.
How long have you been writing? Care to share a very early Khara poem?
I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. I had a kindergarten teacher who encouraged us to write poems, and from then I think I was hooked on word play. I’ve actually only “seriously” been writing poetry since I was a sophomore or junior in undergrad, so around 2009; that was when I took my first Creative Writing class. But the first poem I remember—because my family will never let me live it down—is this terrible atrocity I “composed” for Christmas when I was little:
Roses are red,
violets are blue
If I was a clown,
I would buy you a balloon
Love it! 2009 would be just about the time I fell in love with your words, during my first of Robert’s April PAD Challenges. In your blog’s “About Me,” you say of a poem in Sandra Beasley’s Theories of Falling, “there is a sting of jealousy that never goes away, and soon you begin to know that what you once thought jealousy has evolved into love.” I love this, and have honestly felt it about your work. Who else poetically fires you up with jealousy, urgency, love?
Oh, man … so many poets! Right now I am absolutely hooked on the work on Nikky Finney, who speaks to me on a level like I have never known. I love the work of Gwendolyn Brooks, as well. Kevin Young, Bob Hicok, Kim Addonizio, Terrance Hayes, Yusef Komunyakaa, Matthea Harvey … these are all poets I’ve read, studied, and/or taught recently. One of my poetry professors, Nicole Walker, also has a collection (This Noisy Egg) that currently has my jealousy-urgency-love bells ringing.
Where, when or how do you write best? Will you share a little bit of your writing process with us?
My writing process is a bit sporadic. I tend to write the most in the evening, when I can’t sleep until I scratch a writing itch. Ideas tend to come to me somewhat out of the blue; a word or a phrase that just leads me down a road. I know some poets would call this blasphemous, but I almost always write on a computer—it lets me play a little more freely, just because if I have to cross something out on the page I always feel the need to just start over. Once I start, I tend to just let the ideas flow; I try not to force it too much, and though sometimes I’m extremely unhappy with where it goes, I usually will walk away (or drift to sleep) with at least something new to play with.
Speaking of something new, you completed Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform Challenge
this past April, and your blog has been on fire with creativity and organization since then. What do you think is the most important thing you learned about promoting your own poetic platform?
You know, I think more than anything I learned that it’s important to know what I want. There are so many things about poetry and life that I want to talk about and share. I never wanted my blog to be just an online journal; I also never wanted it to be just a place to share my poems. But what I came to realize through Robert’s Platform Challenge is that what I want to do is share some of the things I’ve been thinking about … but more than that, things that I think are weighing heavy in the “poetry world.” These past two weeks I’ve been writing on doubts and self-doubts, not just because I’m dealing with them, but also because I think they’re things that a lot of poets are dealing with—I’m hoping some of the things I put on my blog will just inspire some folks, and give them hope in knowing that what they’re feeling, they’re not feeling alone.
All self-doubt aside, you’ve had a good degree of success in finding markets for your amazing work. I know many of us struggle to untangle the world of submissions, and I have so appreciated some of your recent posts on this subject. Will you share with us a tip or two about placing your poems?
I have actually just been extremely lucky lately, and I want to encourage folks: for every “yes” I’ve gotten lately, I’ve gotten about ten “no”s. The best advice I can give is the best advice I was given: get to know the places you’re submitting. For a few places I’ve been accepted, I have personal connections—either a friend of an editor, or the editor him/herself recommended I submit there. Other places, I wooed for a good long while; reading past editions, commenting on blogs, familiarizing myself with the work the journal publishes (and sometimes the work of the editors). Maybe the best advice I can give is be a wooer. The only other word I can think of is “stalker,” but I think wooer speaks more to the romance of writing (and, let’s face it, is less creepy).
Who do you think has most influenced your writing? Who’s the biggest cheerleader and champion of your work?
There are so many different answers I can give for this. Right now my biggest cheerleader is my dad. Even when it’s not specific to poetry, he has always been a great encourager for my writing, and always makes me believe that I can achieve great things. In the past year, Nicole Walker—who was my poetry professor, academic advisor, and chair of my thesis committee—has also been extremely encouraging; she’s given me so much invaluable advice, and continues to be an ally even after my graduation. In terms of influencing my writing, probably the biggest one has been my mother. My family and I have been dealing with the loss of her, and I’ve found that writing has been my refuge. Writing out many of the feelings I’ve had surrounding her death has also unleashed a virtual torrent of other emotions, themes, and subjects that I’ve been writing out for the past several months.
Yes, some of us who also know and love you from Facebook have followed you through that this past year, with our love and prayers. I want to offer mine again now, as well as gratitude for the beauty of your healing words that have come from this difficult time.
What else is going on in your life right now?
Right now I’m coming to the end of a year of teaching at the university level, so these days I’m knee deep in applications! Beyond that, I’m doing a lot of reading to inspire and improve my writing. My main focus at this point, beyond finding employment for next year, is my writing: I’ve got a few projects I’m working in, though I can’t say much about them until I’ve got a more solid idea of them. One thing I’m working on is the possibility of a poetry collection or chapbook. But I’d like to get some more lit journal publication credits under my belt before I get too deep into that plan!
Don’t wait too long, Khara. Some of us fans have already been waiting three years. 😉
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Since I’ve been perusing your blog, and stalking…I mean wooing…you on Facebook for awhile now, I have to ask: something about Zombies, perhaps?
Zombies have more to say to our experience as humans than I think they’re given credit for! I just had a long, long chat with a friend about a zombie novel I wrote; although it’s a “zombie narrative,” zombies don’t figure all that prominently, because I think what zombies have to offer us is actually insight into what makes us human, and how fragile our humanity can be. So my last words to anyone reading have to be: Keep writing. Stay strong as poets and fictioners and prose-lovers. If it’s in your blood, it’s what keeps you human. Without it … you’d just be zombies( —and if you’re a zombie, I have a foolproof plan to survive you).
There you have it. Khara House. A poet. A teacher. A friend. A zombie lover. And somebody I desperately want to have a cup of coffee with, one day. Thank you, Khara.
I will leave you Khara’s last poem for this past April’s Poem A Day Challenge. Breathtaking.
Follow the drinking gourd
And when you fall into the heat of day
you will trace your little river of blood,
trickling you to the sudden peace
that takes you back–back to when
your bones were new and known, back
to where your mother’s bones rock you,
back to where your ancestors call.
You will feel their pain run through you,
over you, under you, pulling you into tears
as salty as your nana’s hands when she
kneaded the spice and cayenne and cornmeal
into a thin sliced fillet of catfish, dancing
your heart with her gentle hums
as she set the fish to flake and sizzle.
You will feel the pain of a thousand souls
singing you to sleep by drinking gourd,
a north star song, rocking you like you
rock yourself to your knees, slowing
coming and going, coming and going,
Be sure to head over to Khara’s house, Our Lost Jungle to read her incredible poetry, and to explore new insights on writing and life. You can see her fabulous new full editorial calendar here.
Khara House is a poet, educator, and freelance writer from Pennsylvania. She currently lives in northern Arizona, where she teaches First-Year Composition and Poetry at Northern Arizona University. Khara’s poems have been published, or are forthcoming, in journals including The Minnemingo Review, The Cedarville Review, Four Ties, The Atomy, and Bluestem. She writes regularly on poetry and other writing-related topics on her blog, Our Lost Jungle. You may also keep up with Khara and her latest ventures on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.