Bad Animal by Kathryn Bratt-Photenhauer is now available for pre-order! We interviewed Kathryn so you can get to know them a little better!
How long did it take you to write Bad Anmial? What was your process for pulling it together?
Bad Animal, when I got down to brass tacks and began writing it in earnest, took about a year to write and structure, although there are some poems in there from five, six years ago. I was very fortunate in that it came together for me very quickly once I recognized the thematic concerns it was grappling with: death, violence in intimate partner relationships as well as the natural world, desire in the aftermath of trauma, climate catastrophe and the complicated desire to have children. I was very lucky to have the support of fellow poet Sara Potocsny, who I made a pact with to finish our manuscripts by the end of August 2022. Without her support and razor-sharp edits, Bad Animal would be a very different, much less cohesive text.
As for process, it was a fairly straight trajectory. I was in a poetry workshop with Brooks Haxton in January 2022 when I began writing new, darker work. I realized very quickly that these poems were more vulnerable, more intense, and, swallowing my impulse to turn away from them, I pursued them. The poems kept coming, kept surprising, and then, after a spontaneous trip to Baton Rouge in August 2022, I experienced a creative surge and the book, for lack of a better term, fell out of me.
Originally it was structured according to the four seasons; I submit the book twice, once to an open reading period and once to a contest, and both times, the structure was cited as a detriment to the work itself, so out the window it went. I spent October revising it, restructuring its backbone, getting rid of the seasons, and replacing them with “x” markers. This organizational choice allowed me to see better where the narrative was going, and where it needed shoring up; there was nowhere to hide. I spread out the poems on my floor, on the tables in the Syracuse University English Department library, shuffled them around, sent packets of them and updated manuscripts to my mentor at Syracuse, the incomparable Bruce Smith, who never once met them with anything less than unbridled enthusiasm. The process was quick, but it was also because I have incredible people in my corner who steered me towards the book’s completed form; it was definitely not a solo effort.
What’s a favorite poem from the collection? Why?
I think the opening poem, Prayer, is a definite favorite because it was totally unexpected and one of the most interesting poems I’ve ever written. I originally set out to write a persona poem from the perspective of a TV show character, but then I became obsessed with the idea of a poem that admits midway through the memory in question is a lie. What would that look like? How would that operate as a poetic conceit? And more than that, Prayer elicited reactions. A poet who read it absolutely despised it because it wasn’t based on a true memory and made clear their disapproval and more than that, their disgust. There’s something to be said here about spite being a motivational factor, and it absolutely was in this case! I knew the poem was trying to do something new, and not everyone was going to like it. That’s not my concern. What was important to me was breaking new ground in my work, and Prayer was one of the first poems I wrote that explored that ground. It was also one of the first poems I added to the manuscript document; I was loathe to let it go. Still am!
What’s your writing routine look like?
It varies. I’m a full-time graduate student, instructor of record at Syracuse, and intern at BOA Editions currently, to name some of my obligations. But I always carry a notebook with me, (usually two, as I’m currently writing a novel-thing,) and throughout the day as lines come to me, I’ll scribble them down. I do all my drafting on my computer, so I usually get to ruminate on the lines for hours at a time until I have access to my laptop, figuring out how to build a poem around them. Sometimes they’re beginnings, a lot of times they’re endings. For my longer writing projects, I use Pacemaker Planner, an online writing tracker in which you can customize a writing plan according to your schedule and it spits out a daily wordcount to hit. It’s a great tool, would highly recommend. But one thing remains constant: my writing process requires constant sugary snacks and beverages. I don’t make the rules.
Who are your favorite poets?
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Leila Chatti, Safiya Sinclair, and Victoria Chang in particular. Their books have been formative for me in how I approach matters of faith, elegy, and identity in my own work, and I’m forever grateful and excited for what they do next. In terms of poets who have passed, Sylvia Plath was the poet who broke open the world of poetry for me, so I would be remiss not to mention her, but also Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Adam Zagajewski, and the poets of the Russian Silver Age.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Claire Wahmanholm’s “Meltwater” and Elizabeth Metzger’s “Lying In” but also on the novel side, Julia May Jonas’ “Vladimir.” I’ve also been rereading “The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography” by Hilary Holladay.
What’s your favorite non-writing activity?
Absolutely crocheting and watching TV. My mind goes at breakneck speed a lot of the time and it can be super overwhelming and tunnel-vision-y when it comes to my writing, so I like to decompress with activities I can do simultaneously, that rely on muscle memory. Crochet was my quarantine hobby and has since developed into a full-fledged obsession: my apartment is currently overrun with balls of yarn tucked into every available corner and bag, every nook and crevasse and I’ve made countless hat and scarf sets, a few cardigans with very poofy sleeves, some interesting sweaters. It’s fun, and it keeps my stress level down. I do need to do something about the yarn, though.