PictureRegarding, or Disregarding, the Non-Human World: An Interview with Melissa Kwasny 

Interview conducted by Stevie Edwards

Melissa Kwasny is the author of five books of poetry: Pictograph, The Nine SensesReading Novalis in Montana (all from Milkweed Editions), Thistle (Lost Horse Press), and The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press). Reading Novalis in Montana was named in The Huffington Post as one of the top ten books of 2009, and Thistle won the Idaho Prize. Her collection of essays, Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision, was published by Lynx House Press in 2013. Kwasny also has made substantial contributions to the field as the editor of the anthology Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800-1950 (Wesleyan University Press) and co-editor, with M.L. Smoker of an anthology of poems in defense of human rights, I Go to the Ruined Place.  

Kwasny’s poetry shows exceptional formal range and mastery. While the tightly controlled lines of her early collections demonstrate a keen knowledge of craft, her latest two collections, The Nine Senses and Pictograph, take on a more fluid prose form. This push against the traditional boundaries of the poetic line provides her a wider canvas to explore the ideas held within her dazzling imagery. It’s hard to imagine a writer more gifted with imagery than Kwasny, who deftly immerses readers within the physicality of her poems and then invites us to look around from many angles. Her poems manage to be both gorgeously visceral and intellectually curious, even philosophical, achieving a sophisticated balance between what is felt and what is thought. With Pictograph, Kwasny turns toward the etched images in caves (our earliest recordings of written language) to help open fundamental questions about what it means to be human, how we relate to those who have come before us, and how we relate to land and place.

Much of Kwasny’s place-driven writing is inextricably linked to the landscape, peoples, and histories that make up Montana, where she is a resident. Kwasny teaches at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, and is currently a visiting writer in the University of Montana’s MFA program. We were very lucky to have Kwasny take the time to visit the University of North Texas this March as a part of our Visiting Writers Series. 

Stevie Edwards: In your most recent poetry collection, Pictograph (and also, in your second-most recent collection, The Nine Senses), you’ve chosen to write each piece as a prose poem. Can you talk a bit about why you were drawn to that form? Did you set out to write a book of prose poems, or did something in the process draw you toward the form?

Melissa Kwasny: In my third book of poems, Reading Novalis in Montana, I began experimenting with a line longer and freer than I had used in my two previous books, The Archival Birds and Thistle, which were written in tightly controlled, Imagist-influenced couplets, tercets, and quatrains. Although I do believe that, a