Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poetry Salon: Karla Huston

I first met Wisconsin poet Karla Huston online in a poetry listserv we both belong to. I later had the pleasure of meeting her at the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival. We've met at each festival since that first meeting. I feel particularly excited about hosting this salon for Karla's first full-length collection as I had an opportunity to read and critique it a few years before it found a publisher. Although A Theory of Lipstick is Karla's first full-length collection, she has previously published six chapbooks.

Let's hear what Karla has to say about her book.

Diane: Tell us how you went about writing these poems and assembling them into a collection.

Karla: The poems were written over a long period of time—more than ten years for some. Others are more recent. I struggled assembling it, even though I have published lots of chapbooks. Maybe because this was my first full-length book, I wanted perfection, a big “yowza” of a book. I started with more than 100 poems. I read and reread them hoping for magic. I read about organizing manuscripts. I even tried Billy Collins' method of organization: throwing the poems on the floor and walking around in them in my stocking feet, picking them up to form an order

I also depended on the kindness of friends, especially Diane Lockward, who offered to take a look, finally giving the book sense and shape. Her suggestions were invaluable.

After it lingered for another couple of years, I finally took a new look, took courage and sent it to Scott Douglass, editor and publisher of Main Street Rag Publishing. Because I’d won his 2003 chapbook contest, he agreed to read it. To my great pleasure, he accepted it and suddenly, I had a book contract in my hands. 

Diane: Tell us the story behind your cover.

Karla: The cover art was a simple matter of Googling images with lipstick; the art of German artist Christine Dumbsky came up in the queue. She loves poetry and was pleased to work with me. What I appreciate most about the cover is the image of the world painted inside the strawberry.

Diane: How did you select the title for your book?

Karla: The book should have been called Still Waiting for as long as sat in a drawer. But Chuck Rybak, UW Green Bay professor and friend, suggested the title from a poem in the manuscript. The poem, “Theory of Lipstick,” was a Pushcart Prize winner in 2011. I have several poems about lipstick in the manuscript so Chuck’s suggestion was perfect.

Diane: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Karla: A Theory of Lipstick is about desire, about pop culture, about women and aging—dog catcher’s wives, mothers, women looking out windows. It’s about junk drawers and birds. It’s also about having fun with language and sound, about play. I hope readers resonate with the poems and images.

Diane: Please choose a favorite poem for us and, if you like, tell us why you chose this one.

Karla: Perhaps one of the most difficult poems to read aloud because it’s so easy to get tongue-tangled, “Theory of Lipstick” was also a lot of fun to write. I have a lovely book on the history of lipstick; I researched lipstick colors and kinds (gloss, pot rouge, lip liner, the whole genre of lipsticks meant to plump lips, make them bee stung). I was fascinated by the fact that during World War II, women could afford little else but a new tube of lipstick. I had a very good time putting this together—one line, one image, one mouthful at a time. 

Theory of Lipstick
         Coral is far more red than her lips' red…
                        —William Shakespeare

Pot rouge, rouge pot, glosser, lip plumper, bee
stung devil’s candy and painted porcelain
Fire and Ice, a vermillion bullet,
dangerous beauty lipstick, carmine death rub, history
of henna. Fact: more men get lip cancer

because they don’t wear lipstick or butter
jumble of a luminous palette with brush made
to outlast, last long, kiss off,  you ruby busser,
your gilded rose bud bluster is weapon and wine.
QE’s blend: cochineal mixed with egg, gum Arabic

and fig milk—alizarin crimson and lead—poison
to men who kiss women wearing lipstick, once illegal
and loathsome—then cherry jelly bean licked and smeared,
then balm gloss crayon, a cocktail of the mouth,
happy hour lip-o-hito, lip-arita, with pout-fashioned chaser

made from fruit pigment and raspberry cream,
a lux of shimmer-shine, lipstick glimmer, duo
in satin-lined pouch, Clara Bow glow: city brilliant
and country chick—sparkling, sensual, silks
and sangria stains, those radiant tints and beeswax liberty—

oh, kiss me now, oh, double agents of beauty
slip me essential pencils in various shades
of nude and pearl and suede, oh, bombshell lipstick,
sinner and saint, venom and lotsa sugar, lip sweet,
pucker up gelato: every pink signal is a warning.

Now let's gather around and listen to Karla read "Theory of Lipstick."

Please join us for Karla's book salon reception. Enjoy some beautiful fresh strawberries, a margarita, and some delicious guacamole with crackers.

Overheard at the party:  
“From the title poem … to the linguistic highwire act she performs in “O Hair,” Huston writes the way her mother wore lipstick—“red was her color...and she was taking all of it with her”—this poetry is bright red, and the poet has firmly in her sights nothing less than everything.”—Philip Dacey

Click Cover to Purchase
Before you head for home, please get yourself a copy of Karla's book. And feel free to leave her a comment or a question in the comments section. Thanks for coming!

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