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Poet Spotlight: Cat Batsios [she/they]

Poet Spotlight: Cat Batsios [she/they]

White nonbinary person with pink/blonde hair eating cheese fries.

Artist Biography: Cat is from Flint, MI & has lived in Detroit since 2013. Cat is a Poet, Book Co-op Member-Owner (Book Suey, Hamtramck, MI), Community Programmer, Teaching Artist, & Visual Artist who--no matter the project--focuses on the use of image. It's always good to land on an image or a suggestion of perspective if you're trying to create good. You can find some of the poet's work online or in print under Cat or Catharine Batsios--every telling-on-myself thing.

Facebook: Catharine Batsios

Spotlight Transcript

Co-Executive Director and Program Facilitator, Dom Witten, interviews today's Poet Spotlight, Cat Batsios.

Dom: How would you describe your creative process?

Cat Batsios: It starts with an earworm or an object that when you look at it you know you've seen it before in a completely different context of your personal storyline. Sometimes the flint/spark is from a memory, sometimes it's a poignant occurrence like noticing a sticker halfway up a lightpost--Quicken (drawing of a butthole) Loans--or sometimes it's both, like when you stop midsentence to acknowledge a song walking past you in someone's pocket for the 10th magical time in your life.

What I'm getting at is that you take that thing you can't get out of your head & make it real on paper, investigate it further, give it a name, & place it in your personal mythology.

Don't worry if it's good or not, let it exist & come back to it later.

It took me a long time to learn how to listen to a poem. When I came to poetry, I was like 20, & mostly a poli-sci nerd & a visual artist, so when I got into Diane Wakoski's coveted Intro to Poetry at MSU, I was used to observing only with sight, & I was demanding & highly specific with words. Diane even wrote in my mid-term review, "You are struggling to be a poet, & I don't know how to help you other than to say you must keep writing." Shortly after, I went to her office hours with an 11x14 art pad open to a fresh & unsealed chalk-pastel drawing of my room at night. I told her, "I want to write this poem." She considerately took the pad, looked at it for about seven hours (less than a minute), she pointed to a 4x4 section of the drawing where two kinds of light intersected (moon & streetlamp) & said, "Here, this is the poem, it explains everything."

Find the moment then make it big enough for everyone to live there with you.

Dom: You often write of place (ex Flint, Detroit, Michigan etc), Greek Gods and Desire to name of few. When crafting a collection, how do you decide where to stack these mini series within a larger body of work? 

Cat Batsios: Little things are big things; big things are little things, it's a topsy-turvy world!

For real though, in my full-length (unpublished) manuscript the one constant is home--a simultaneous lack & abundance. When I was way too young to be walking around downtown Flint at night, I was walking around downtown Flint at night & wholly believed my city was Atlantis, or an Atlantis because there are so many cities that have the affectations that Flint does. Just like there are a lot of poems out there about empty factories & broken windows--the blue-collar requiem type poems. I write about that, & I also write about the tall buildings built by economic monoliths who left us, leaving vacated art-deco skyscrapers & craftsman homes, drained city resources, & several generations of boot-strappers who worship themselves right into the ground trying to placate these monoliths still. At night you can see several periods of a city; past, present, & future simultaneously. It's always breathtaking in one way or another. The poems in my full-length are held together by a cities' history that can only be understood mythologically as told by someone who doesn't believe in the Old Gods, & how that's at least three types of generational curses that need to be broken. Personifying Desire was my attempt at an alter- or astro-ego. Also, I'm Greek, that pantheon was handed to me.

How do I stack them? Chronology isn't as important as trope or image when telling a story through clumps of poems.

The other chapbook-length manuscripts (one unfinished, both unpublished) were projects that started as the aforementioned earworm & grew into a process or an exercise in form; playlist ekphrasis--where you make a dedicated playlist & try to either match each track/memory to a poetic form or vice versa, & my current open project is anchored with three triolet crowns that serve as the climactic choruses of a storyline of self-discovery.

Dom: You wear all the hats from teaching artist, one of 14 member owners of Book Suey, program facilitator, editor to the indefinite ways poems can be engaged with; how do these experiences influence how and what you write?

Cat Batsios: When I first started teaching, I wrote less because I was reading as a teacher & not as an artist--I kept thinking about poetry as someone who doesn't know poetry which, Socratically should work, right? It was difficult to get to a place as a poet & teaching artist where controlling the means of narrative wasn't the main drive (aka if you want too much from your art or pedagogy, you may not be open enough to listen to it).

Since learning to listen I've been able to listen to other genres as well, & fold them into my craft--this is a kind of blanket concept that works its way into the way I work community programming, build a poem, or sell a book. Give me three words that describe what you want, & we'll ask questions until we both understand.

Dom: What are you excited about in your work lately?

Cat Batsios: Listen. I spend a lot of time at Book Suey because I'm also a participant &/or co-facilitator of our free, drop-in writing clubs (FlashFiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction), & I've been spending a lot of time with my genre-cousin Creative Nonfiction & my you-wish-you-were-a-prose-poem friend FlashFiction. It's been really good for my understanding of craft. You can't rely on linebreaks if it's a paragraph! You must re-learn your joining words (that, which, about, of, for, with) because a semicolon will not always help you here! Poets can use as many m-dashes as they want, prose writers look like they're trying to be someone they're not if the m-dash to sentence ratio is too high. If you take the prosey words out of short prose, sometimes you're left with a poem that sounds more like a spell, & it's better than trying to write a spell-like poem. I used junk from the bookstore's basement to make a found-object sculpture for us to use as a writing prompt during Creative Nonfiction Club!

I'm excited to be exploring.

Interview Published: 07/08/2024

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