Desiring Map–Poems by Megan Kaminski

Megan K featured

Poet Megan Kaminski explores the landscapes around us and within us in her first collection of poetry, Desiring Mapa recent addition to our library’s collection. Like many Kansas writers, Kaminski notes the influence of the Kansas landscape on her writing.

“The physical geography of Kansas certainly played a huge role in my first book,” she notes.

Kaminski has lived near one coast or another for most of her life, so Kansas was a pretty big change of scene. She now lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is a Professor of English at the University of Kansas.

desiring map“I was really overwhelmed by the land-locked-ness of the state when I first moved here,” she says.

Her exploration of the state’s natural beauty won her over, though.

“I fell in love with the oceanic expanse of the plains. The gorgeous undulations of grasses and the limestone outcroppings that punctuate them. I am fascinated by the prairie that surrounds us and the people who first occupied it.”

And it’s not just the rural landscape. Kaminski’s garden plot and growing interest in garden has had an effect, too.

“After living so much of my life in cities, gardening is a new experience for me,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed learning about heirloom varietals and figuring out what grows best in our particular part of the world. My love of gardening certainly made its way into the poems in Desiring Map, especially ‘Favored Daughter,’ the long poem that ends the book.”

Kaminski didn’t start writing poems until her second year of undergraduate education.

“I was very busy playing sports (field hockey and track) in high school and then college, and I never really considered myself a creative person,” she says.

Fortunately, Kaminski’s lifelong passion for literature caught the attention of a professor. Thanks to her urging, Kaminski signed up for a writing class.

“Somehow she saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself; she assumed that I was a poet and suggested that I take a poetry workshop in the department the following semester. I was too shy (and flattered) to tell her otherwise, so I signed up for the workshop and wrote my first poem. I’ve been writing poems ever since.”

Read on for a full, original interview with Megan Kaminski!

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When did you start writing poetry?  What authors and poets have influenced your work? 

While I have always loved reading literature—from reading Little House on the Prairie as a child to falling in love with Shakespeare and Toni Morrison in high school to studying poetry as an English lit major in college—I didn’t start writing poems until I was in my second year as an undergraduate. I was very busy playing sports (field hockey and track) in high school and then college, and I never really considered myself a creative person. That said, I’ve always been very passionate about literature, and one day in class, during a discussion of Emily Dickinson, my professor noticed that and took me aside. Somehow she saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself; she assumed that I was a poet and suggested that I take a poetry workshop in the department the following semester. I was too shy (and flattered) to tell her otherwise, so I signed up for the workshop and wrote my first poem. I’ve been writing poems ever since.

You grew up in Virginia and have lived in a number of places over the years, and your writing reflects your multiple regional perspectives. In what ways has the culture and landscape of Kansas most influenced your work?

The physical geography of Kansas certainly played a huge role in my first book, and it continues to influence my writing. Having spent most of my life in close proximity to one ocean or another, I was really overwhelmed by the land-locked-ness of the state when I first moved here. Once I started spending time in the tallgrass prairie and otherwise exploring the state, I fell in love with the oceanic expanse of the plains. The gorgeous undulations of grasses and the limestone outcroppings that punctuate them. I am fascinated by the prairie that surrounds us and the people who first occupied it.

Besides writing, what do you enjoy doing?  Do your hobbies influence or inspire your writing?

Well, I was definitely gardening a lot when I was writing my first book. My little house in Lawrence has a beautiful garden plot out back. After living so much of my life in cities, gardening is a new experience for me. I’ve really enjoyed learning about heirloom varietals and figuring out what grows best in our particular part of the world. My love of gardening certainly made its way into the poems in Desiring Map, especially “Favored Daughter,” the long poem that ends the book.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you draft by hand or on the computer? Do your poems go through many revisions?

While I certainly jot down thoughts throughout the day in my notebook, I mostly compose my poems on the computer. I care about how my poems look on the page when they enter the larger world in literary journals and books, so using a computer makes the most sense. And, yes, I am constantly revising. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it typically takes months, and sometimes years, before I feel like a poem is ready to meet the outside world.

You’re a Professor at the University of Kansas, where you teach in the English department. What classes do you enjoy teaching the most? Does teaching fuel your creativity?

I love teaching undergraduate poetry workshops. There is something distinctly wonderful about helping young writers find the voice to express their thoughts and experiences. I think of poetry as a particular mode of thinking about and interacting with the world, and it makes me happy to help students participate in that sort of intellectual and creative engagement. I’ve also learned a lot about Kansas from my students and their writing.

Your faculty profile notes that your manuscript in progress, “Gentlewomen,” explores gender and the feral through allegory. I’m intrigued! Can you tell us a little more about the project?
The poems of “Gentlewomen” explore gender constructions, especially as related to issues of class and social justice, through a revision of gendered domesticity and a re-imagining of the voices of female allegorical figures, specifically Natura, Providentia, and Fortuna. I am interested in wildness and incivility as resistance—particularly the ways in which challenging social norms might lead to a more just and compassionate world. It is important to remember that in the past (and even now) very basic things, such as the rights to vote, to be educated, and to be able to walk into a restaurant and be served dinner, have been considered challenges to cultural and societal standards. The women and men who fought for these basic civil rights were decried as rude and uncivil. The title of the work lays out one of the central issues in the project—the tension between gentility and actual gentleness.

How can readers find out more about you and follow your work?

I have a website with information about my books and other projects, links to published work, upcoming appearances, and my blog: http://www.megankaminski.com/

–Miranda Ericsson interviewed Megan Kaminski via email in April, 2015

Miranda is your Readers Librarian. She loves to talk about books and help readers discover new stories. Miranda hosts author visits, facilitates the TALK Book Discussion Group, co-leads the Racial Justice Book Group, and serves as a member of the library's Top City Reads Together team.