Interview with Kari Flickinger from the Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020 Anthology

The Gull and the Bell Tower by Kari Flickinger, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
Questions and Answers:

Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and is there a theme, mood?

My book, The Gull and the Bell Tower is my debut work. On the surface these are love poems, but they are doing more work than that if you scrutinize them. The writing spans over 12 years and explores perception shifts and questions of author credibility as a sole mechanism of storytelling. This book shows glimmers of my mental health issues as they compound in grief. Time shifts. There are pushes and pulls—the voicing morphs. All of this is intentional. I am showing what it is like to not trust yourself, time, or the people around you.

What frame of mind & ideas lead to you writing your current book?

I wrote the titular piece, The Gull and the Bell Tower, early one morning at UC Berkeley while watching a bird circle Sather Tower. So, I guess sometimes a bird is just a bird. Sometimes a tower is just a tower. But, of course, they are more than that and less than that, depending on the reader. The pieces in this collection circled each other like the gull I watched that day. This book is not a chronological impact report. It was compounded over a lot of time, and strides chasms that I am still coming to terms with. Honestly, if it had not been published, I would probably keep editing forever. 

How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting?

I came out of the womb a storyteller, and I was profoundly serious as a child. But I am far less serious now, I think one of the poems I sent for this feature is actually about that. If I can slip a bit of weirdness or a joke in somewhere, I will. If you find it, it is probably intentional. I started submitting work in my thirties. I certainly hope I keep adapting, I think that is what propels us to find meaning in life, moving changing, growing. 

What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?

Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Leonard Cohen, Leonora Carrington, Italo Calvino, Robert Duncan, Tori Amos, Nina Simone, Concrete Blonde, Theodore Roethke, Nicholas Yingling, Richard Thompson, Patti Smith, Salvador Dali, Georges Braque, Lorine Niedecker, John Darnielle, W. S. Merwin, Toni Morrison, Jorie Graham, Czeslaw Milosz, Sharon Olds, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, David Byrne, David Berman, T. S. Eliot, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists, Sappho, Ovid. I really love older folkloric stuff rooted in the symbolic, The Tain, The Sagas, Old English poetry and riddles, Calvino’s Italian Folktales, Technicians of the Sacred, Spells of Enchantment, Gods Heroes and Monsters, Inanna, sorry—all of these are titles that are sitting beside me. One of my favorite reference books is my Taschen copy of The Book of Symbols. I read a lot. I love most of it, and immediately forget it, with a few exceptions. It is difficult to determine how anyone gets anywhere.

What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often become parts of a poem?

I have been painting my way through the pandemic. I play guitar and sing, too. Though my illness in February severely affected my voice; I have a suspicion that it may not mend completely. That has been a source of grief. I love the concept of gardening, but I tend to kill plants. Mostly, I just visit them in their happy homes now. I go to the UC Berkeley Botanical garden quite often. I get obsessed and write; one day it might be sea snakes, the next physics, and I dream about what I read and then it becomes a poem. Travel, or public places (cafes, bars) really get me there. So, I have lost those sources as I have been in isolation. At home I talk to my cat a lot, and he slides through poems.

Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled or a spontaneous or freewriting style?

Spontaneous free writes. All over the page. Weird drawings. Repetitions. Apologies. Rude jokes. Love letters. Though if the spontaneity does not come, I will force it with weird writing exercises I assign to myself. Lately I have been writing about artificial intelligence, physics books I do not completely understand, and the television show, Lost. I had a long period in my twenties where I did not write often, and I always fear that could come back, so I try to write something new every few days.

Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that has helped influence your writing?

I wrote the Leonard Cohen inspired poems that were in the Fever of the Mind “Avalanches” book while I was in Santa Cruz. I have a piece in FERAL, “The Titular Line”, that I partially wrote in a bar in Olympic Valley (Northern California) during the Community of Writers a few years back. I write about Berkeley a lot. I’m like that football guy at the bar that talks about the glory days, only it’s my terrifying dissent through my mental health issues while studying at UC Berkeley. I have a lot of work that is sitting in notebooks about my trips to Italy in my late teens. I write about Sacramento and Placerville a lot. I grew up in Placerville and spent much of my twenties in Sacramento (California.)

What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?

I think the emptying is so rewarding—writing persistent thoughts out of your head is so deeply satisfying. Sending work out is frustrating. As a reader myself, I never know what will be appropriate, and I always worry that I will trigger someone’s trauma with my own. I can see how a person would be driven to write beautiful observational pieces describing vases forever (really is a poem about a vase ever really about a vase?) But I guess, again, this is a reader reception concern. It might not actually count as part of the writing process.

How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all?

This has been an impossible year. I have struggled with employment. I write until like three A.M. most nights. My fiancé and I share this small one-bedroom apartment, and he works from home, so we dance around each other all the time. We have neighbors on all sides, so the ambient sound of people in their homes is substantial. My cat chews on everything; sometimes, he paces and screams “hello” and I usually take that as an indication that he wants me to leave. So, I get in my car and drive around in circles for a few hours. When I return, he likes me again, and naps on my arm. We accommodate reciprocal neurosis. The fires have made everything hard. It is hard to breathe; for a while there was no sun because of the smoke. We have been living out of packed bags, and getting the cat used to treats so we can collect him if we need to flee. Actually, we have a red-flag warning today. I had just gained mobility after an injury before getting sick in February. So, we have been living in this contained chaos for so long. It feels insane.

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The Gull and the Bell Tower
In her stunning debut collection, Kari Flickinger maps the elemental displacement of trauma and heartbreak through a journey of triumphant reclamation of the self. These delicate, but complex poems interrogate and redefine the dimensions of love. This collection is for anyone who is ready to change the way they view themselves in their world, and to restore and fearlessly embrace their identity.

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Bio: Kari Flickinger is the author of The Gull and the Bell Tower (Femme Salvé Books, December 2020). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the SFPA Rhysling Award. She is an alumna of UC Berkeley and the Community of Writers.