Kate Durbin on Researching “Mush Mountains” and Barbies for Her Latest Poetry Collection
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Kate Durbin is the guest. Her new poetry collection, Hoarders, is out now from Wave Books.
From the episode:
Kate Durbin: It’s very much a portrait of America and the conditions of life here, and the isolation, the loneliness, the way that often in this country, people have to deal with incredible trauma alone. In some cases, their only companions being stuff, physical objects and items and not people. So that kind of privatization of life that we experience here, to use a kind of a jargony term to describe it—and really, this loneliness—is a big part of the project.
In terms of my process, it really developed over this book and the last book that I came on your show years ago for, E! Entertainment, which was also about reality TV shows. What I do is I watch the show and take copious notes. In the case of Hoarders, the note taking was particularly intense because there would be so many objects in a given shot for me to write down from the screen. It’s just these, I call them like mush mountains, of objects kind of fused together. So when I first decided to work on this, I was really unsure if I would even be able to do it. It was like, can I enter this territory or not?
And then I really started to warm up to the mush mountains and realize how evocative they really were, and also how much a person’s objects, how much the objects we have in our lives, actually tell about us. How they can tell our story almost for us. If I were to disappear today, someone could come in my house and look at all my stuff and really weave a narrative about who I was as a person, just based on those things that I had in my house.
That’s the first part of the process, the note taking. And then from there, with this book in particular, I didn’t stay faithful to the show. I used those notes as material, but I created each poem more intuitively. I changed names, I changed many other things. I did research beyond the show because I wanted each poem to really have its own life that was beyond the show and also focused in different ways. That process was also very, very time consuming. But it was also a bit more like how writing a poem would be from your own imagination or memory or something like that. It’s just that I had all of this wonderful material to use in that process.
Brad Listi: So the additional research, that means you were reading books about hoarding.
Kate Durbin: Yeah, I mean, I did read books about hoarding, but it was also about objects. Different items that someone might hold on to. You probably noticed the Barbie poem. I did a lot of research into Barbies and looking up different types of Barbies. Every Barbie in that poem, I should add, is a real Barbie that exists. There’s been some questions raised around that; people are like, there can’t really be a Tippi Hedren and The Birds Barbie with birds attacking her body, is there? Yes, that is a real Barbie. I did a lot of that research, too. I actually knew a lot about hoarding prior to this because there’s hoarding in my family and a lot of mental illness in my family, and so watching the show was very familiar actually. It wasn’t some kind of experience that was startling or new to me in that regard. But yeah, there were a lot of Barbies to research.
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Kate Durbin is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. Her books of poetry include E! Entertainment, The Ravenous Audience, and ABRA, which won the 2017 international Turn On Literature Prize. Durbin was the Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence in Brisbane, Australia in 2015. Her art and writing have been featured in The New York Times, Art in America, Art Forum, The Believer, BOMB, poets.org, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She has shown her artwork nationally and internationally at The Frye Museum in Seattle, The Pulse Art Fair in Miami, MOCA Los Angeles, The Spring Break Art Fair in Los Angeles, Peer to Space in Berlin, and more.