Pennsylvania-based poet Kate Baer just sheep that. She’s funny, she’s warm, and she writes poems about womanhood with such clear, uncanny truth that you’ll look around and wonder how she knows so much about you. Her previous books – What kind of woman and I hope this finds you well – climbed the New York Times bestseller list, and this week sees the release of her much-anticipated third book: And still.
I’m excited to share three new poems plus a Q&A with Kate…
How beautiful are they? Kate and I spoke on the phone last week and here is what she said:
Joanna: You wrote your first book at Panera Bread and your second book (during the pandemic) in the Panera Bread parking lot. Where do you work these days?
Kate: I have my own office. It’s a room right next to my bedroom. So I have double doors between my family and me, which has been TOTALLY life changing. I miss Panera mostly for fun and because I made friends with the staff. And it was kind of fun to leave for work. But there’s nothing like having my own office.
Before you start writing, do you do anything to switch gears from the morning routine with your four children? Or are you just kidding about it?
When I go from the kitchen to my office, I have to quickly change gears so that I can take advantage of my working time. I brush my teeth and put on jeans – because if I wear sweatpants I get sleepy. I also do a bit of reading before I start, even if it’s for five minutes, to get my head back up in the clouds.
What are you reading?
Usually a few pages of a book that I love that Fates and fury. I just want to look up a random page – her language is so rich, it turns me on. I’m like, I’m horny to write now because I’m reading Lauren Groff!
How does your new book of poems relate to your first book of poems?
At first I felt enormous pressure to recreate What kind of woman. It took a while to let it go. That’s the problem with a sequel – you have to let it be what it is. Many of the themes are similar, but there is now more of an existential crisis. It’s like a break-up album – not breaking up with my spouse, but breaking up with the world and trying to put it back together.
Can you predict which poems will be most popular?
There are poems I know will resonate. But the best thing about publishing a book is when people find the weird little ones I wrote mostly for myself and they say I love this and I’m like I’m so glad there’s a couple of people who love this weird. little poem!
I read your poem ‘Questionnaire after birth’ many times. That feeling of slowly losing your mind so true for me.
My friend’s sister had just had a baby and we started talking about our own postpartum visits and we joked that we didn’t know what it would be like down there… and then it got quiet and we had a moment where we acknowledged how we barely held it together. We were alone at the time. And it was really hard. Later I thought about that conversation and the screening form after postpartum depression, and how difficult it is at that moment to tell the truth because you want to have it all together.
It’s crazy to me that there aren’t specialist doctors – with a special name, like cardiologists or neurosurgeons – who are trained to focus on mothers in the first year after pregnancy and birth. Instead, you have none at all. You stop seeing your ob-gyn when the baby is born and the pediatrician is only for the baby. You are left to the wolves.
The CDC recently shared that over 80 percent of maternal pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. And the majority of these deaths occur from seven days to a year after birth. It happens after the child is born. There is SO MUCH going on there, physically, emotionally.
What inspired the poem ‘Mixup’?
Growing up, I LOVED the movie Cool Friday. I loved the whole idea of swapping bodies. And there have been a lot of times in my life, and I’m sure every woman can say this, where I’ve wondered, if I were a man, would I be taken more seriously? It is the basis of the poem. And also switch bodies.
It’s a good premise for a poem.
I also LOVE when people have to repeat days, like you Groundhog Day.
Then you loved Palm Springs?
Yes! Oh my god, yes! As we watched I turned to my husband and said they repeat days!!!! I love when people are put into the crazy scenarios. I could watch like 100 movies.
Finally, your poem ‘Headstone Suggestions’ made me think of my friend Abbey, who once told me she wanted her tombstone to say, ‘She was a helper and she laughed.’
That is so sweet. I’m about to get my period and I could cry so much about it right now. This book is very much about death – what happens before, what happens after, is there a meaning to human suffering? I wanted to make a funny poem so it’s like we can laugh about this too. When I wrote this I thought I had Covid and I thought if I die what will they put on my tombstone? And that’s the one I would love. That’s how I want to be known.
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