KR BlogChats

The Sheer Will to Disrupt: A Conversation With Dylan Krieger

Dylan Krieger is a force in contemporary poetry.  A self-described “divining rod of ungodly proportions,” Krieger has written Giving Godhead (Delete, 2017), which the New York Times declared, “the best collection of poetry to appear in English in 2017,” dreamland trash (Saint Julian, 2018), No Ledge Left to Love (Ping Pong, 2018), and, her most recent, The Mother Wart (Vegetarian Alcoholic, May 2019). Her poems play at the borderline between old school poetic beauty and abjection, death and life, the sacred and the profane. If you’re looking for a stunning and harrowing adventure, a wild ride through poetics and the psyche, take a tour of Krieger’s mental landscapes.

Caroline Hagood: Your poems push the envelope in ways that are powerful and unsettling in the best possible way. How do you want your reader to feel after reading them?

Dylan Krieger: First of all, thank you—“the best possible way” is certainly what I strive for but rarely what I believe I’ve achieved. It might sound like a tired maxim by now, but I strongly agree with Cesar Cruz that poetry should “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” From THE MOTHER WART’s section on abortion to Giving Godhead’s poems about overcoming religious brainwashing, I anticipate readers who have not had these experiences may feel startled to be immersed in their harrowing reality, but my hope is that readers who have endured similar trials will feel seen and assured that their courageous lives and bodies deserve representation in the literary world—not to mention in government, in entertainment, and in the media and art world at large.

CH: I know you’ve mentioned that you were inspired by Mary Russo’s The Female Grotesque. Can you elaborate on that a little more?

DK: I’ve always been attracted to the grotesque’s rapid transformations, its enormous shifts in scale and texture, its bodily absorptions and secretions–in short, its utter inability to bore. What it took me longer to understand was its associated politics, which Russo’s book helped to clarify for me in college. Never shying away from the “gross” realities of embodiment, the grotesque aesthetic flies in the face of the poreless “perfection” of classical art, champions the lower classes by humanizing rather than criminalizing impoverishment, and reveals an oft-overlooked basis for misogyny: that the female body, especially in pregnancy and childbirth, is the epitome of the radically changing human form that classical art’s poreless ideal was meant to suppress.

CH: On a related note, how do you see your poems as fitting into the Gurlesque tradition?

DK: I see the Gurlesque as a particularly cheeky feminist spin on the grotesque. Like the grotesque, it unabashedly confronts and even celebrates bodily porousness and penetrability, thereby prioritizing physical pleasure over any abstract moralism. In other words, like Third and Fourth Wave feminism more generally, the Gurlesque is sex-positive, while simultaneously acknowledging not all sexual experiences are positive.

Especially for its irreverence and self-possessed sexuality, the Gurlesque is an aesthetic I feel deeply indebted to, especially when exploring topics that may still seem taboo or rife with internal contradiction, like navigating consent in a rape fantasy.

I’m also partially indebted to the Gurlesque for my current life in Louisiana, since I initially moved here from Indiana to study poetry at LSU under Lara Glenum, one of the editors of the initial Gurlesque anthology.

CH: This has been an intense year for the documenting of trauma with #MeToo and Time’s Up, etc. How did you want to approach trauma in this book?

DK: THE MOTHER WART is by far the most autobiographical book I’ve ever released. It details not only the trauma of having an abortion in a nation with increasingly stringent laws about that process, but also the pain of not feeling wanted as a child, early sexual experiences, and ongoing battles with mental illness. All of these factors have contributed to my personal decision not to have children, which is why the book’s epigraph features the Church of Euthanasia’s sole commandment, “Thou shalt not breed.”

In short, I wanted to approach my own trauma in a way that would diversify or (better yet) debunk stereotypes surrounding the choice not to have children, so I had to recount those memories with sympathy for myself rather than self-criticism—a process I would argue holds incredible healing potential for anyone who’s ever been victim-blamed.

However, I also wanted to avoid demonizing my parents or anyone else who might end up playing “villain” to my victim in my trauma narratives, because if the decision not to have children always indicates some underlying abuse or brokenness, it will remain stigmatized as a symptom of emotional disturbance rather than considered a rational and responsible life choice.


CH: Do you have a message for my creative writing students and all the other young writers out there?

DK: Especially when it comes to writing about trauma, I always emphasize to young writers that they shouldn’t feel rushed or peer pressured to workshop pieces they aren’t yet ready to revise. In other words, sure, kill your darlings, but don’t risk the life of a darling before you’re ready to watch it die. When the work is at its most personal and painful, sometimes it takes a while to distance yourself emotionally enough to accept and incorporate constructive criticism.

When I was writing Giving Godhead, for example, I included a line about St. Augustine’s doctrine that even babies can go to hell, but I was not yet ready to tell the world the reason for my personal fascination with the fetal afterlife: that throughout my childhood, my mother told me I had multiple aborted siblings in heaven. When it came time to write THE MOTHER WART, I knew I was finally ready to share that story, so I wrote a poem called “older siblings in heaven.”

If you’re not ready yet, take comfort: the world probably isn’t either. But when you are, it won’t matter—you will make the world ready by your sheer will to disrupt.