Poet and two-time New York Times bestselling author Kate Baer‘s first book of poetry, What Kind of Woman, published in 2020, was met with critical acclaim and quickly catapulted her writing career. Since then, Baer — an Eastern Mennonite University graduate, whose work can also be found in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among others — has published a second collection, I Hope This Finds You Well, with her third title, And Yet, debuting Nov. 8. Her body of work largely focuses on motherhood and navigating life in a world disturbed by COVID — and she has garnered media attention for it, too, from sources like CNN and The Guardian.
Ahead of this appearance, Better chatted with Baer about the personal impact of poetry, the themes she explores in her work and what it means to be a writer.
Better: What excites you about writing and crafting poetry?
Kate Baer: The possibility of risk and reward. Writing is often tedious and monotonous, but if you hang in there, get weird, take risks, let your head float into the clouds, there is always the chance of running into something beautiful. It’s like a game of cat and mouse and I haven’t been able to quit that game since second grade.
Some of your work centers on motherhood and marriage — how have you navigated writing reality into these topics? How has this evolved from your first book to And Yet?
I’ve tried to stay as honest as possible, even when it’s not flattering. Most people want to see themselves reflected back in the art they are consuming. So I write what I know, what I would want to read myself. That hasn’t changed much from book to book. Although maybe I’ve leaned into my real self too much! Maybe you didn’t want to know how miserable I can be!
Looking at your work — specifically your poem What to Write After Another School Shooting — how do you turn that pain and terror into something out of body, into art?
That piece was difficult to write as school violence is a source of deep and life altering anxiety for me. The day I wrote it, I forced myself to look at the fear straight on. When I read it outloud for the audiobook, it was only the second time I’d read it and I only did one take. The alternative to not writing it, though, was dismissal. And I simply could not dismiss that day. I could not outrun or unsee the horror of it. I think of those families often and I’m very sorry we live in a country where that scenario is a possibility for someone’s child, including my own, every single day.
Through the process of writing, especially when you first began, what surprised you about yourself and your work?
I’m constantly surprised — and annoyed — at the idea that no matter how hard one tries, the same half dozen topics will rise to the surface. I heard once that every writer writes the same story over and over again. It might not be obvious at first, but it is painfully true of most. Including myself.
What do you want to leave with your audience?
Amusement, joy, surprise, comfort, knowing. If I can achieve even one of those things for one person, it’s a great day. Most people want to be able to see themselves reflected back in the art they consume. It’s the difference between the doom scroll on Instagram of white walls and fiddle leaf figs versus the quiet appreciation of walking into a friend’s messy kitchen and collapsing onto a bar stool while you catch up over grocery store coffee. One feels real, one does not. I hope I can remain in this living, breathing, messy world as long as I can.
Do you have any advice for beginner writers?
No one cares if you’re a writer except you. This goes for most venturers, but especially artists. No one cares if you write or not. No one is going to take away your phone, force you to sit down and stand over your shoulder while you work it out. You have to care. You have to start and continue the forward motion. It’s entirely up to you.
How to Help:
Support poetry through a donation to The Poetry Foundation, where your donation will help expand their free resources, programs and initiatives, including the Midwest’s only library dedicated exclusively to poetry.
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Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.