(Issue 12) Poetry Feature: Katerina Canyon

Katerina Canyon is an Award Winning Poet, Best Selling Author, civil rights activist, and essayist. She will be releasing her new poetry collection ‘Surviving Home’ in November 2021, published by Kelsay Books. Surviving Home is a reflection on African American heritage and up-bringing, racism, and abuse.

Concisely arresting and challenging the beliefs of family and the fantasies of tradition, the poems in Surviving Home show that home is a place that you endure rather than a place where you are nurtured. With unyielding cadence and unparalleled sadness and warmth, Katerina Canyon contemplates the prejudice and limitations buried in a person’s African American heritage: parents that seem to care for you with one hand and slap you with the other, the secret desires to be released from the daily burdens of life, as well as the surprising ways a child chooses to amuse herself. Finding resilience in the unexpected, this collection tears down the delicate facades of family.

Mixed Mag Editor-in-Chief Carolina Meurkens interviewed Katerina about the release of her poetry collection Surviving Home.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to our readers about your work! Your collection of poems Surviving Home comes out in December. What was it like putting together this collection? 

Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts about my work. I feel honored!

Writing Surviving Home was traumatizing and healing. I was not in a good place when I wrote the poems in Surviving Home. There were a lot of emotions I had bottled up for a long time, and I had to let them out. I was in a New York psychiatric center when I wrote them. My psychiatrist told me to write, and I did. The result was Surviving Home.

The complexity of family, the concept of home, and the legacies of trauma seem to be recurring themes in this collection. Did you have certain themes in mind when you were writing or did the themes appear as you were organizing the collection?

I did not have certain themes in mind. I just wrote what I felt at the time. When I got to the other end, I realized I had a cohesive theme, and I had enough poems for it to be a book. I have flashbacks all the time. These poems are essentially those flashbacks.

How does your cultural background influence your writing? What role has storytelling played in developing a deeper understanding of yourself and of your heritage?

My cultural background drives my writing. It especially drives this book. When I started this book, I asked myself why am I here? Why am I in so much pain? The answer had to do with systemic racism. I realized one day that abuse is a learned thing. My father abused me. He was abused by white women who he was afraid to report. Those women were likely taught by others as well.

How did you come to your craft? What drives your inspiration?

I came to my craft by way of fear. I was being abused, and I had to be creative in expressing my pain. Today, my inspiration is driven by my friends in poetry. We get together once a week and share what we have written. COVID has been challenging on the psyche. It is a relief to have a place to go where I can share my love for poetry with others who love poetry.

Photo by Rebecca Ellison 

When putting together Surviving Home, did you have a particular reader in mind? What do you hope the reader takes away from your poems?

When I first started sharing my poetry, I was so frightened. Whenever I finished reading, women would come up to me and say, “I’ve been through this too. Thank you for sharing your work. It is what I go through. It is what I am afraid to talk about.” When I write, I write for the people in pain. Those who have suffered. I write for those women who were brave enough to share their pain and stories with me.

At Mixed Mag, we believe that storytelling holds the power to expand perspectives and create lasting change. In your opinion, what role does poetry have in healing intergenerational trauma and paving the way for Black liberation?

Poetry is a conduit to the past. The lyricism and themes in many poems connect us to our ancestors. I have a poem in Surviving Home entitled “Penance”. It talks about the legacy of the written word, and how our memories, stories, and actions are all inherited. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

This book is a story of my life. When I wrote it, I was not trying to be clever or obtuse. I was just trying to figure my life out. It is about the struggles I go through every day. For me, living is a light I can barely touch with my fingertips, and it shows in this work. If you can find one thing meaningful in this work, then I feel I have done my job.

Katerina Canyon is an Award Winning Poet, Best Selling Author, civil rights activist, and essayist. She grew up in Los Angeles and much of her writing reflects that experience. Her first book of poetry, Changing the Lines, was released in August 2017. This work is a conversation between mother and daughter as they examine what it means to operate within the world as black women.

Katerina Canyon is a 2020 and 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her stories have been published in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Folks. Her poetry has been published in CatheXis Northwest, The Esthetic Apostle, Into the Void, Black Napkin, and Waxing & Waning. From 2000 to 2003, she served as the Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. During that time, she started a poetry festival and ran several poetry readings. She has a B.A. in English, International Studies and Creative Writing from Saint Louis University and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She currently lives in Seattle.

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