Jessie Knoles: i think the first thing i read of yours was when you submitted some poems to hobart and i got to read them and accept (!!!) them to the site. i really loved those poems [http://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/mall-of-america]. how long have you been writing for?
Francesca Kritikos: First of all, thanks so much for accepting those poems! I was so nervous to submit them because they were so personal and less distanced than I feel like I should try to make my poetry. I first started seriously writing poetry when I was 16—one of my teachers let me borrow her copy of Anne Sexton’s The Death Notebooks and it changed my life. It was such a rich and tumultuous coming-of-age period in my life and looking back on it, it seems natural that I would have turned to poetry at that time. Before that I had written short stories and scripts for fun, but writing poetry (especially confessional poetry) felt so much closer to life and so much more vital to me.
what poets or other artists have influenced you? are there any contemporary poets you’re reading?
My number-one influence in terms of my decision to even write poetry at all has to be Anne Sexton. I think in the past couple years the austere beauty in the writings of Sandra Cisneros and Sappho (who are so different, but somehow complement each other to me in their dissections of desire) have deeply impacted my voice, but more recent poets I love to read are Katherine Osborne, Sara Sutterlin, Precious Okoyomon, and Rebecca Tamás. And something about Lorna Simpson and Jenny Holzer’s bold, stylized statements in their art have been making me feel like being more exclamatory and strong in my poetry.
you have a new chapbook out now through witchcraft magazine. could you tell me more about that / what it’s about / etc.? i love the title for it so so much.
IT FELT LIKE WORSHIP (which I styled in all caps as a revolt against my urge to write in all lowercase, and in homage to Simpson and Holzer) started as a collection on my high school prom night when I was 17, in 2014. I wrote a poem about my friend Annie and I leaving a party we were uncomfortable at and walking around Chicago downtown and going to McDonalds at 2am in our ridiculous prom outfits. The way men responded to us and my complicated emotions surrounding that response made me write the line “it felt like worship,” and that’s the line the collection revolves around. But some of the poems in there are as recent as May 2017—it’s an artifact that documents my growth, and as a result parts of the collection feel immature and embarrassing now, but still somehow necessary and important to me. It’s like a map of my coming-of-age, my first real exploration into my connections to the world as a girl and as a woman. I feel like coming-of-age stories that aren’t about men are largely ignored or harshly criticized (see Hick by Andrea Portes, which is essentially a better version of Huckleberry Finn but constantly derided by male critics). So I feel good about putting IT FELT LIKE WORSHIP out there, it feels like I’m saying “fuck you” to all the Bukowski bros in my poetry workshops.
are you working on any writing projects now? what’s your writing routine look like?
Mostly lines come to me when I’m out somewhere and by the time I remember to write them down I’ve forgotten them. I really need to get into a routine besides “typing lines into the notes on my phone while walking down a crowded street” or whatever. The poems I’m writing now are more confident, a little more risky in some ways. I don’t have a collection in mind yet but I’d like to keep writing and experimenting until I do. A line in a poem I’m writing now is “I want to peel back the paint/on every portrait of every woman/I want the truth.” I feel more assured in my anger now.
IT FELT LIKE WORSHIP has some very recurring images — meat, silk, blood, bones, sugar, salt — how do these images play into overall themes of sex, masculinity / femininity, and religion or spirituality?
I was raised in a church that definitely followed traditional patriarchal gender roles; women can’t be priests, walk on the altar, or take communion while on their period. I always quietly rebelled against that through my writing, taking patriarchal religious imagery like bones and blood and making them my own somehow. In the poem BONES, “i never stopped tasting them” is a good analogy for the way that the recurring images in this collection are ingrained into my subconscious, naturally and endlessly flowing into my writing. I feel a need to take these elemental objects and images and turn them into something for me, not just for the men.
how does the transition from powerless to powerful work in this chapbook? is this a ‘coming of age’ –from ‘girlhood’ to ‘womanhood’– book?
It’s a coming of age book in the accidental sense that I happened to write it as I was coming of age. ANNIE was written during my senior year of high school, and BONES was written at the end of my last year of university. In some ways, reading the older poems like THE GODDESS is painful for me because I really did feel so powerless and even though that poem isn’t necessarily autobiographical, it still captures how I felt at that point in my life in a triangulated, indirect way. In my older poems, I tended to distance myself from my emotions because I was unsure if I wanted to own them, it felt like it would be too much. I try not to do that now.
i love that this work feels really tied together. do your poems naturally all read similarly, or did you write to achieve the overall effect of this chapbook? it’s both sexy and dark and beautiful and grotesque.
Throughout the past few years my style has fluctuated a lot, though I end up coming back to the tone of the poems in IT FELT LIKE WORSHIP without intending to, for some reason. But the years I spent writing this book were some of the most intense of my life, and I don’t know if the following years will be like that and if I’ll write poems like this ever again. That’s why it’s such a special document to me. I’m working on a new collection now, and it’s so different stylistically.
how do you relate to the themes in the book? i love how you can mention silk and sugar and other historically (weak) feminine images, but make them powerful and a thing to behold. i also like how things of beauty share pages with things that feel dirty or gross.
I like turning things on their head and building off of cliches, and I’m obsessed with classic cinematic language and imagery. One of the quotes that I live by and that changed my life is from Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk: “Stop doing things that are not to your advantage.” Taking these weak images and turning them into something that is to my advantage, that makes me feel strong, is why I love poetry so much.
do you have a favorite poem from this chapbook?
I think my favorite has to be BASEBALL. I love writing about baseball. My portfolio for my last creative writing class before I graduated had like three baseball poems in it, and this obnoxious guy in my class told me he was mad at me for pushing my “anti-male” agenda into baseball. I love it.
you’re now selling them yourself, right? witchcraft magazine / sad spell press is on hiatus? how can people get your chapbook?
Either at the witch craft mag/sad spell press shop or, since I have a few author copies they can buy a signed copy directly from me by sending me $13 (that includes shipping) + their address on paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Francesca Kritikos is from Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in Peach Mag, Hobart Pulp, Hotdog Mag, Witch Craft Mag, and more. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @sappho1996.