I first met Rachel Kann at Ladyfest Los Angeles in 2002. Somehow shy me (and I was still *really* struggling with shyness then) was tapped to emcee the Spoken Word stage. I read the intros for amazing writers like Terry Wolverton and Francesca Lia Block and tried to look up from the paper at the audience every once in a while. Rachel Kann was the last performer of the day. I stepped off the stage, awkward, and she stepped on it and was so at home, so magnetic, so Alive, it knocked my socks off. Her voice is raspy and deep and honest--pure, unadulterated Rachel. I have been a great fan ever since, and was so delighted to hear that she had ventured into fiction. Her first fiction collection, 10 for everything, was just released by Sybaritic Press. You can order it through her MySpace page, linked above (you can also hear some of her poems there.) In case you can't read my blurb on the back cover (isn't her author photo the greatest ever?!) it says:
Anyone lucky enough to hear Rachel Kann perform knows that this woman has a Voice. A voice full of power, raw and gorgeous and alive. What a thrill to see this voice translated into fiction, into a wide range of other voices, voices that burn right through the page with their yearning for, and fear of, connection. Rachel Kann has crafted stories that are fresh and surprising, with a true human heartbeat.I asked Rachel a few questions about her work:
--How did you get started as a poet? A performance poet?
as high school riff raff, i had no interest in poetry or spoken word, but i loved me some hip hop. i saw no connection whatsoever. i also hated all poetry and shakespeare i was force fed by the SLOUSD.
luckily, i attended a good college with the best shakespeare teacher ever, gale fury-childs. i now loved shakespeare AND hip hop. i still had next to no interest in poetry. i remember liking a randall jarell poem or two. freaking out for savage/love by sam shepard. it still didn't occur to me that that was POETRY. duh.
then i moved to nyc. finished college. still no interest.
i attended a j.c superstar audition, met amy steinberg. we became instant soul sisters. she nagged me for one year to "try poetry," saying i had the weirdest way with words ever. i shrugged it off. after one year of nagging, i randomly and inexplicably busted out my first poem ever. i read it to amy who, of course, gave me total support for my endeavor. i wrote some more.
i decided i needed to find out if i sucked or not from someone who did not love me unconditionally. i talked to tureka turk, who i waitressed with at C3 on washington square park. i knew she was down with spoken word and stuff. i asked her where i should go read if i really wanted my ass handed to me on a platter if i sucked. i wanted no ass kissing. i wanted to be booed if i sucked. (don't ask me, i am a masochist. i didn't want to waste my time if i sucked. i needed outside perspective, for whatever reason, at that point.) she advised me without a moment's hesitation to go do the open slam at nuyorican on wednesdays, if brazen feedback was what i sought.
the first poetry reading i ever attend,
and the first slam i ever attended,
and the first poetry reading i ever read at,
and the first slam i ever slammed in,
...all happened on the exact same night, at the exact same moment, at the nuyorican poets' cafe. luckily, i did well. shutup shelly, who was hosting at the time, called me the next day and encouraged me to continue to slam and come to events and get going. she booked me for the next invitational slam. this is all extra funny if you know me. i would never advise someone to use a slam audience's response as a marker of their worth as an artist! never ever ever. slam if you like, but don't do it for approval. i am glad it worked out well for me, but it was possibly dumb luck.
i think this is why i have never struggled with feeling derivative or finding my "authentic voice" or being unique or truthful or whatever. i started in a COMPLETE and total vaccuum, completely ignorant of modern poetry and spoken word, and then threw myself in the shrk infested water, headlong. luckily, it worked. thank god.
i would not necessarily suggest that path to anyone.
but it was my path.
it was awesome.
--What inspired your shift into fiction?
i was very blessed to receive a community access scholarship from PEN West to attend 3 classes at UCLA Extension Writers' Program, just about a year and a half ago.
it was quite an indulgent luxury for me. naturally, i took a poetry class first. i had never taken one in my life! i enjoyed it very much, it was taught by suzanne lummis, and i am so glad i had that experience.
after that class ended, and it was time to sign up for class number 2, i looked at the glorious opportunity before me to try something totally new...something that scared the crap out of me. my new year's resolution was to follow my fear...if something scared me, i resolved to do said thing, as long as there was no actual danger involved. so running out in front of moving vehicles was out of the question, but studying fiction...that was a great idea.
i have always been a huge lover of fiction. all things being equal, i am more likely to dive into a book of fiction than poetry, i always have been. short stories always appealed to me. i remember devouring ray bradbury when i was very young. and when aimee bender's "the girl in the flammable skirt" came out, it totally blew my mind.
i was blessed to end up in tod goldberg's class (amazing) and then took rob roberge's class (also amazing) immediately following.
and that's how it started.
--How does writing fiction differ from writing poetry for you, process wise?
i am still very much in the honeymoon phase with fiction, because its still so very new for me. i think its interesting that i went from a completely untamed wildly impulsive place in poetry (at least where i began from,) to starting out in fiction in a classroom setting. so i was lucky to have the structure of having assignments. that really worked for me, because fiction, even short stories, seemed so huge and overwhelming.
all that being said though...for me, poetry is to fiction as ballet is to modern dance, in a way. coming to fiction as a person who obsesses over every word choice, for example, (what shade of blue was the sky exactly??) helps my craft, i think. it makes me careful. i am in love with language.
its nice to have more room for a sense of humor, too. and curse words. fiction affords me those luxuries.
--Where do these stories come from?
they're mostly the arguments between the voices in my head. i like to delude myself into thinking the stories are completely divorced from my reality.
i always thought that poetry had to be the most therapeutic form of writing. its got nothing on fiction on that count! i love writing in the voice of men, stuff like that.
--What is your favorite part about being a writer? A performer? What
is the scariest part of all of it?
my favorite part is that i know how extraordinarily lucky i am. i am very blessed. anytime people listen to you, or take time to consider what you have to say, on paper or performed, that is a rare and sacred gift you have to be grateful for.
i am also very glad to do it when young women and girls and hell, females of any age, tell me that they are inspired to write something. that's always good.
really though...i am a needy needy attention whore. when people clap for me i feel like i have a right to live.
the scariest part is the financial instability.
--What are your wildest dreams for your work?
my wildest dreams are to be financially stable.
--Any words of advice for aspiring writers/poets/performers?
please, i am begging you, read. read. read.
--Amen to that. Thanks so much, Rachel. I can't wait to see (and hear) what you'll come up with next!