By E.R. McTaggart
Today we turn our lens on Heathers poet Kate Garrett. Full name: The very lovely and fragrant Kate “Radiant” Garrett.
Three-part punk harmonies
introduced her to poetry,
and the older boys insisted she take
their mixtapes with their phone numbers slipped
inside the cases.
Plastic castles of folk and rock,
industrial, grunge and hip hop. They gave
her the sound of second-hand shop clothes.
They handed over promises of something more
than home-grown apathy.
Promised more than the reels of pornography
that stuck like grit between her bones and skin.
– Minor Things II – Mixtapes
How did you enjoy writing for Pankhearst, and did anything in particular inspire your work for this book?
Writing for Pankhearst has been brilliant. I love the ethos behind the collective. I’d already been working on a ten-poem sequence called Minor Things, so when I found out about Heathers I tweaked, edited, and sent half of the poems to Evangeline. ‘Diversions’, ‘Mixtapes’, ‘Family Counselling’ and ‘Telephone’ were most specifically centred around various forms of child abuse, so they are the pieces that found their way into Heathers.
As for the inspiration behind the work, I’ll be honest: the poems are inspired by my own adolescence, but they aren’t straight up memoir writing. A chronological retelling of true events – like a misery memoir – can be prurient, and often overly emotional. I wanted to tell an honest story about abuse from the victim’s perspective, but without forcing the reader to pass judgement about what was happening. You have to let readers think for themselves. As a reader that’s what I want, anyway. Poetry, in this case, happened to be the medium that fit the subject matter.
On poetry: It seems a tough gig to break into. Very niche. Is it even possible to be a living professional poet (under 80) these days, or do I just not know about them? Feel free to discuss your own work here, and anything else you might be working on.
I’m sure some performance poets are making a living from their work, or at least some extra income, and most of them are young. Generally speaking though, most poets have day jobs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they want to be specifically a poet when they grow up. Writer or author, yes. Poet, not so much. Poetry is something you fall into, like you just realise you’re a poet and can’t remember when it happened.
Personally I have no plans to make a fortune from my writing. I’ll work in admin or retail forever to feed my kids if that’s what I have to do. And I’ll always write because it’s what I’ve always done. For example, I’m currently working on a longer story for the Pankhearst Singles Club, Bewitched, which is made up of poems and prose-poem/flash-fiction “chapters”. I’m also part of an ongoing poetry-and-art collaboration called Transformations, which is a reboot of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with the creative community at ArtiPeeps. So, I’m writing all the time, but money is the furthest thing from my mind when I write.
I have two favourite poems of all time: “The Language of the Brag” by Sharon Olds, and “Riprap” by Gary Snyder. Both of these pieces opened poetry up in new ways for me in my teens and twenties, respectively.
As for collections, I’d like to mention some narrative poetry collections, if that’s okay, because what I did for Heathers is not so strange. The Sugar Mile by Glyn Maxwell and The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay both tell stories over the full sequence/collection. I’d recommend both of those collections – and probably quite a few others, but space is a factor here!
Favourite poet, all time?
Gary Snyder, or W.B. Yeats. When I read either of them I feel transported – to Zen-monk mountains in Asia, to the Pacific Northwest, USA, or an Irish folkscape … well, I don’t think “folkscape” is a word, but that’s how I feel when I read Yeats.
There are quite a few ace poets under 50, but I’ll stick to the rules this time and just name one. Helen Ivory is brilliant; her newest collection Waiting for Bluebeard was one of my favourite poetry books last year.
Let’s talk about teens: how do you feel things are different from when you were one, and what’s stayed the same? Are the kids all right?
First of all, of course the kids are alright. A younger friend (she’s now 20) once asked me “What did you do before ‘lol’ though?” – she was half-joking, I think, but I said we exchanged paper notes and used “ha ha” instead of “lol”. No MSN or twitter, no MP3s, no emoticons. No selfies. And that was only the 1990s.
But even so, I can never forget what it felt like to be their age, and a lot of the time it wasn’t easy. Teenagers will always have my sympathy/empathy and respect. Whether things are better or worse for today’s teens isn’t really for me to say. This is their time, their generation, and they will make what they can from it.
A lot has stayed the same. Being hormonal and uncertain doesn’t seem to change. Sections of adult society still insist on being pricks about teens. It’s upsetting to see adults forget what it was like to be young, but I guess that’s something that won’t ever change.
I’m not sure I am any of those, and definitely not a Heather or a JD. I was well known in my (rather small) school, but mostly for being the weird, nerdy girl in the corner who probably had ADD. So I always identified most with Alison from The Breakfast Club, really. Many years and 4,000 miles away later, not much has changed.