Monday, November 05, 2007

Interview with poet Jane Katims

Poet Jane Katims: “Dancing on a Slippery Floor.”

Poet Jane Katims seems to be a woman supremely in love with her work. She slips easily into a smile, and seems no stranger to laughter. Jane has taught at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education for many years, has co-produced six radio series for Wisconsin Public Radio, and has earned a George Foster Peabody Award in Broadcasting. She has written radio documentaries for WEN, WGBH, WBUR, and other stations over the years. In 2004 she was awarded a John Woods Scholarship in Fiction Writing (Western Michigan University), and has completed a poetry collection “Dancing on a Slippery Floor.” I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You won the prestigious Peabody Award for your work on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can you talk about your work on radio?

Jane Katims: It was an exciting time. I went to NYC and sat next to people like Arthur Godfrey (it was awhile back) So it was quite fun. I won it in the late 70’s.

Doug Holder: Can you tell me about your work in Radio?

Jane Katims: I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I loved the city so much that I wanted to stay after I graduated. We are talking 1970. So I needed a job to stay. I got a job at a TV station writing advertisements. Then I showed my school papers to a gal at WHA radio. They needed a scriptwriter for educational radio programs for children. I was happy doing something where the writer is really valued and was given a lot of freedom. I was very lucky to land this job just out of college.

Doug Holder: Is radio a good medium for poetry, fiction, etc…?

Jane Katims: Well I think so. I love radio. And when I think about it was probably the best job I had. I was given a desk, a topic, I wrote the script, and it was immediately produced and broadcast. It was instant gratification. But it was also good training. I had to write within a timeframe. I had to communicate through language. There were no visuals. I also had a great mentor Claire Kinsler. She really did respect the writers’ freedom, the need for space and time, and gave gentle and constructive criticism. So it was great on- the- job training.

Doug Holder: I have seen you billed at Cambridge Adult education as a poet/therapist. How do you weave both into your course?

Jane Katims: Well I worked with writers before I trained as a therapist. My sense was that you are dealing with peoples’ internal psyches when you teach writing. So it was the teaching of writing that led me to psychoanalysis. And then I brought it full circle. I think a lot of my training in psychoanalysis has helped me with writers. I see them closely intertwine the expression of their thoughts and feelings. They learn about themselves as they write.

Doug Holder: Do you consider yourself more a poet or fiction writer?

Jane Katims: I haven’t thought of myself as a fiction writer until recently. I always just wrote poetry. Poetry has always been my first love. But I think in the back of my mind I always have the dream of writing fiction. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I tried my hand at it. I have really enjoyed it. Every story I start I hope it turns into a novel. They all seem to become short stories. I am working on a novel now.

Doug Holder: The title of your new poetry collection is “Dancing On A Slippery Floor” Why has dancing inspired your work?

Jane Katims: I had my first dance recital when I was five years old. Dancing was a way of expression for me as a child. The title has a little more to do with the notion of persevering in spite of some rough terrain.

Doug Holder: In the poem: “ N.J. 1952” a raucous barking dog, contrasts the straight laced 1950’s America, and the stifling milieu of suburbia at that time. Do you feel your mother who appears in this poem, felt corseted by this environment?

Jane Katims: I was an only child. We had a very quiet household. My mother was a very timid, retiring sort of woman. The stereotypical 1950’s woman. Right next door to me was a family that had a lot of kids; lots of activity, and it seemed very exotic and desirable. It was in direct contrast to the stillness and quiet in my house. I wasn’t trying to get to the era in the poem but it comes through.

Doug Holder: Do you prefer adult education teaching to college-level or secondary education?

Jane Katims: I love teaching adult education populations. People come incredibly motivated. I structure my courses at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education for people to come back to again and again. I get a chance to follow my student’s progress over the years. I have taught at Middlesex Community College—it was a valuable experience, but I feel most comfortable in my Adult Education classes.

Doug Holder: “Dancing…” is your first book of poetry. What motivated you to undertake the hard working of producing a collection?

Jane Katims: Some of the poems were written as long as 25 years ago—some are very recent. I decided to collect all my poems together. I wanted to choose the ones that fit together—that were meant to be together. I wanted to make a collection that was shaped coherently. I split the books into three sections. The first section is called “Terrains” It’s about the physical and psychological terrains that that we have to negotiate in our lives. The second is called “Seeing.” It is about how we look around to find out how to manage these terrains. The last section “Dancing” is the celebratory part. Once we learn to negotiate the terrain we have freedom.

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