Snakes Painting in the Forest: An Interview with Poet Kate Greenstreet

Snakes Painting in the Forest: An Interview with Poet Kate Greenstreet


Kate Greenstreet's latest book, Young Tambling, was published by Ahsahta Press in 2013. Her previous books are The Last 4 Things and case sensitive, also with Ahsahta. Her new work can be found in Waxwing, Denver Quarterly, Everyday Genius, Sugar House Review, and other journals. To read other writing of hers currently online, visit her website.

Maria: Is there a line in particular that stands out to you, something you've recently written and taped to the wall above your desk?

Kate: "Training is a process of development through gradually increasing demand."

This sentence comes from a book I haven't seen in decades. The other day I found an index card I'd written it down on—bent, yellowed, with a tack hole—and I tacked it up again.

Maria: You're also a painter. Can you talk about how the painting feeds into or takes away energy from your writing? Do you feel more loyal to one mode of creating over another? 

Kate: I think I'm more loyal to writing because it's portable. Painting, at least the kind I do, requires space and supplies. Writing, you can do anywhere. 

But writing comes more easily when I'm painting too. There's a better darkness then for making writing happen. I can get into a tunnel and keep moving further in. If the tunnel is good (and doesn't turn out to be a long cave), I come out in a new place.


Maria: If your writing process were an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why? What about your painting/visual art-making process? 

Kate: The way the Satin Bower Bird collects objects for its bower reminds me of how I collect language. I'm attracted to certain phrases and sentences because of their color. 

I had a dream once where a bunch of snakes were painting in the forest. I'm uneasy when it comes to snakes, even harmless ones, but I liked these snakes in my dream because they were so absorbed and skillful. They held the brushes in their little snake mouths. A girl was in charge of them, or taking care of them. Everyone was having a very nice time there in the forest, where some sunlight was coming through the trees at a slant.

Maria: What has been the best place you've worked?

Kate: We recently moved to a former mill town in New Hampshire where I could afford to rent a big room to work in. Right now this room is my all-time favorite.

Maria: Who are you reading at the moment?

Kate: I'm reading Hilary Plum's novel They Dragged Them Through the Streetsand it is amazing.

"monalisa" by Ida ApplebroogMaria: You mentioned you enjoyed Ida Applebroog's work. Can you talk a little bit about why it interests you?

Kate: Years ago I saw a segment of Art 21 about Ida Applebroog. In the past few months I kept thinking about it, remembering scenes of her in her studio. I did a quick search and found the video at her site. Looking at her work is similar in some ways to watching the Swedish TV seriesForbrydelsen (which has been on my mind too). Both deal with evil and the outcomes of evil. Also with the relationship between women and power—something I'm thinking and writing about all the time. I like a story with a woman at the center. I'm attracted to mystery and to seriality. I'm interested in what women can do, and what women can uncover.

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