Broken Asides with Kyla Houbolt


When did you first feel like a writer?

I really don’t know! It’s always been something I have avoided, defining myself as anything. I chose to be “a poet” when I was in my early 20s, and then really pretty quickly stopped thinking in terms of poetry as a self-definition. I am currently employed as a content writer for a friend’s project, which is lovely. And poetry seems to keep happening. I enjoy it. People seem to need us to call ourselves something besides “human being”, so I call myself a poet and a gardener and that feels right for now.

What’s the most interesting thing that has inspired your writing and what was the result?

When I was living in Santa Cruz CA in the 1990s, there were some truly wonderful bookstores (most of which may still exist). In one, I was looking in the Chinese Medicine section of used books when I saw a book with a pink, zebra-striped cover, titled The Zebra Storyteller. (Obviously mistakenly shelved there.) This was a moment of magic. At that time I was only writing poems very sporadically. I was making collage art (little of which survives; I gave most of it away) and this little book, by Spencer Holst, was so quirky and delightful I read it over many times and thought, “Damn! I could do that!” Because of the quirkiness, you see. So I then began writing short stories. None of those has ever been published, but it fed my inner writer to read them to people and get a good response (which I almost always did) One I read at a large open mike — it was the only one of my  stories that was short enough to fit in their time limit. This was on a stage with a fairly large audience, and lights! Yikes! The response I got was really overwhelmingly positive. I walked home alone, kind of stunned by it. I made cassette recordings of me reading five of the stories, and gave them away. Still have two of those cassettes.

Paint us a picture: what does your writing process look like? Do you write in coffee shops at night or only on an old type-writer?

Oh, no, nothing so romantic or iconic as that! I sit up in bed! with my laptop in my lap, and compose poems in my email drafts, usually. In bed because there is not really a comfortable place elsewhere to sit and write, in this house, sad to say, and so path of least resistance. I often compose first thing in the morning, and I like to work from images, or words that strike a chord somehow — and just play around with it. Some pieces do not get finished quickly — or ever! — and need several passes. Others come fully formed over a day or two or three. And there are also times when I am just about asleep at night and part of a poem will arrive and I will sit up and turn on the light and write. 

Describe your ideal reader: who would your work speak to?

I hope my work brings pleasure and delight to people who are sensitive to the horrors of the world and still open to or hungry for some perspective that brings a lift, a light, an awareness, a new way of seeing, a question that hangs about in the mind for a while… I like to think that my best work can spark some kind of awakening. I like to feel the current of energy between me and a reader or listener who “gets it.” I know this isn’t really answering the question. 

Who’s an author you’ve changed your mind about and why?

In the past I failed to appreciate poet Mary Oliver’s depth, possibly because I was too immature to see the quality of her craft. Then I read some of her writing on craft and began to see her work in a new light entirely. 

If you could interview any other writer/artist, who would it be and why?

I’m not sure I really want to interview anybody. But if assigned to do so, I think I would choose Laurie Anderson. Her esthetic and amazing productivity have always inspired me, and I don’t think I’ve heard or seen any work of hers I did not enjoy. I imagine a conversation with her would be eye-opening and fun.

What motivates you to keep writing?

I like the way it feels.

How do you deal with writer’s block or being overwhelmed by the writing process?

I am truly lazy. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t! What overwhelms me tends to be in the tech area: creating documents of any length, or any kind of formatting beyond the simplest. This type of task just stumps my every effort to learn how. But I admit I get discouraged quite easily, because that stuff is just no fun! For a while I’ve been thinking I want to put together another manuscript, and have not even begun because I am anticipating more frustration than reward. However, very soon that balance will tip and I will get into it as best I can and see how far I get! I have work that needs to be pulled together instead of just sitting, willy nilly, in my shambles of Google Docs. Or, worse, in my email drafts!

Where would you like to see yourself in a decade? A creative writing teacher? As a best-seller?

You know, I don’t think that way, much. That could be due to my age, but no, I’ve never done that, made like five year or ten year plans or goals. At this point, my aspirations are fairly modest. I just want to keep writing and I would love to publish my work in book form rather than only online. I do have two chapbooks in existence (Dawn’s Fool with Ice Floe Press and Tuned with CCCP Sedition Editions. Tuned is soon to be re-released also as an ebook.) and I am delighted to share that Rare Swan Press has recently accepted my full length manuscript, currently titled Mapless. What I want is to make more books. It would be lovely to have my poems taught in schools – that did happen with one poem that a friend chose to use in one of his classes but so far that’s it.

What has your work taught you about yourself?

That it’s okay to believe in myself, my abilities, my creative worth. Like many of us I was plagued with self-doubt for years. But at this stage, I like my poems, almost always, and others seem to value them too and that has accumulated into a feeling of freedom. It has also taught me something — still is teaching me something — about the intersection between my lack of interest in “making it as a poet” and my need or desire for validation and wider readership. It’s an interesting borderland! So much about the higher tier journals, about the various “gates” into winning awards and that, the whole idea of contests, the residues of the “old white male” academic power structure really repels me. But I don’t feel content staying underneath all that in invisibility; I wish to bypass it. And also, even moreso, I wish only to find my true readers, those who are actually nourished and inspired by my work. I wish to not care about any other measure of achievement. I am uncomfortable when I discover that I do, somewhat, like finding a worm under my skin. I wish to pluck it right out.

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