Interview with Steve Klepetar

Read Steve Klepetar’s poems here. 

Inklette: What do you call ‘home?’ Has poetry helped you find the answer

Steve: I was born in Shanghai, China, the son of Holocaust survivors and refugees, so I’ve always had a vexed notion of home. My parents brought me to the U.S. when I was an infant, and I grew up in New York City, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where I taught at the local state university for over thirty years. I’ve lived in many places, including Chicago; Northumberland, England; Atlanta; Tucson; and Western Australia. I suppose in a sense I’m like a turtle, carrying my home with me as an emotional state, which helps me adjust quickly to new environments.

Inklette: What do you think about the politics of home in context of the current political scenario?

Steve:  Ugh! I am obsessed with following the news and every day I read The Guardian American edition and The New Yorker Daily, as well as most of the articles on the CNN web site. That probably accounts for my cheery disposition! I am appalled by the state of American politics, especially the self-serving and cavalier disregard for the environment and the climate crisis, and by the way the president has tacitly approved of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Inklette: Do you believe poetry and politics converge?

Steve: Yes, but for me it is almost always complicated. I have written some explicitly political poems. In fact, I recently published a chapbook called How Fascism Comes to America. But most of the time, politics leaks into my work in odd and indirect ways. That is true even of most of the poems in that very political chapbook. The poems I’m talking about express the deep sense of unease I’ve been feeling for the past year or so, a darkening of the political landscape, but these tend to work with the inner life rather than naming particular events or people.

Inklette: What drew you towards poetry when you first started writing it? What draws you towards writing poems now?

Steve: I was drawn to poetry, to rhyme especially, almost as soon as I could read and write. My teachers always kind of made me the poet laureate of the class, though all I could really do was keep a rhythm and make rhymes. I loved to draw, but I was terrible at it, so I found poetry a satisfying way to fill that need to create something. I really love writing, and I try (and fail) to do it every day. I actually get a pleasant physical sensation when I break through and the poem starts to flow. Another aspect of poetry writing involves the community of poets, something the Internet has helped to expand. I am in contact with quite a few poets, whose work I get to read and who read mine, and that has been a great pleasure for the past few years.

Inklette: Has poetry changed you?

Steve: I don’t know, I hope so. Maybe writing poetry has made me more attentive and more imaginative. Writing poetry has been an important part of my life for so long now that it’s hard for me to trace changes over time.

Inklette: Finally, which poems keep calling you back? 

Steve: There are so many great poems. Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights” won’t leave my head, and I go back to Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” again and again. I love Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and maybe his odd little poem “The Little Vagabond” is my odd choice, since that one doesn’t get anthologized very often. But if I had to choose one poem that I go back to again and again, it’s Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man.” I’ve been living in Minnesota so long that I guess I have a mind of winter.

STEVE KLEPETAR‘s work has appeared widely and has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including four in 2016. His most recent collections are Family Reunion, A Landscape in Hell, and How Fascism Comes to America.