It was Dane Kuttler who suggested we meet at the Seattle Public Library, one of the most original buildings in Seattle which happens to also be full of words. I would soon discover that Kuttler shares the exact same attributes. She was already there when I arrived, waiting outside the elevator with a smile and a handshake. And she had brought me a booklet from her latest performance, because not only is Dane a writer, she is a poetry slam performer.
Living as a poet is nearly impossible, yet Dane seems to have found a way to be a productive, successful artist who still pays the bills. The combination of day-job, enthusiasm, community support and performance has not only led to a faithful audience and many a friend, but also touring, speaking and now a book, “Born of Accidents” (Six Gallery Press).
Dane is ambitious and likes to stay busy, yet there is a calm to her person that is rare. We talked about writing, touring and more, and here is what she had to say.
AP: Give us a glimpse of how your process works. How did your most recent piece go from idea to finished? How much editing do you do? When do you know it’s done?
DK: I will often write the first two drafts of a poem months apart from one another. I’m a better editor after any in-the-moment emotion is behind me. I see myself as a craftsman; poetry requires work, discipline, skill and tools. A piece can go through as few as three or as many as forty edits before I’m happy with it – and even then, I let go of pieces that don’t really feel done!
Poems are never done any more than children are done. The metaphor is overused, maybe, but totally apt: at some point, the poems don’t belong to the author anymore. They belong to readers, maybe to themselves.
Oh dear. I love slam because it’s difficult; to be a successful slammer, one must not only have kickass writing, one must also be able to connect with an audience. I got into slam because I was a lousy actor, but I loved being on stage. As it turns out, being myself on stage is much, much harder. Luckily, the easiest way to get me to try and master something is to tell me I can’t do it.
I don’t win slams very much; some people have a gift when it comes to performance, but it has eluded me. I love that working within the slam community has pushed me to develop the performance skills that don’t come easily to me; I can usually impress a non-slam audience with my performances, which is really fun. The comment I most love is “I never knew poetry could be like that,” to which my answer is “Awesome. It worked. Now go read!” That’s the whole point of slam.
AP: You are involved in the poetry community and have even referred to it as a family. What gives it such importance? What do you do to stay involved and up to speed?
The second part of that question is easy: facebook! Also poetryslam.com, which is the official website of Poetry Slam, Incorporated, which hosts all our national competitions. As for the first part, let me tell you a story: once upon a time, I landed in Columbus, Ohio for the Women of the World slam. A poet picked me up, got me some food, and dropped me off at the hotel. Simple story? Consider this: I didn’t know him. He posted on the PSI forum that he would offer rides to incoming poets. He trusted me and I trusted him solely on each others’ involvement with the community. And the food he got me? He brought me to his house, where he had six boiling pots of soup on the stove – he’d been feeding poets all day.
When I was growing up, I was told that because I was Jewish, I’d have a “port in every storm” – that I’d be able to find Jewish community that would welcome and embrace me no matter where I went. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true, but poets? I know I can can count on them anywhere. I’ve got dozens of stories like that.
AP: Tell us about the ‘Wandering Jew Tour’. What prompted it, and what has gone into the planning and preparation? What do you hope to take home at the end of the day?
The Wandering Jew Tour is a celebration of my first book, Born of Accidents, which (cross my fingers) is coming out this month from Six Gallery Press. To prepare and plan, I’ve been talking with standard poetry venues in the states I’m touring in, as well as libraries, schools and bookstores. I’ve offered readings and workshops. It helps that one of my touring months is April, which is National Poetry Month – lots of schools want poetry programming for that time. At the end of the day, I mostly hope to not lose too much money! That’s about all I can expect at this stage in my career. Well, I’m also excited to make new contacts and friends in all the new places I’m traveling.
AP: In April, you are giving a talk about how not to starve as a poet. Can you give those of us not lucky enough to attend a hint? How have you done it?
Two things, really: one, value your work. By which I mean, get good at what you do, and then refuse to do it for free. Set a price for your time and your merchandise and don’t back down. By doing this, you do yourself the favor of showing others that you take yourself seriously, AND you support other artists who make their living at this by not undercutting them.
Two, get a day job. I’m lucky enough to do work I like, on a schedule I pick. I work as an on-call counselor at a homeless youth shelter. I love my work, because I get to take off and go traveling whenever I want, and because the work itself is fulfilling – I don’t come home drained from eight hours of boring office work. I get to hang out with cool youth and do things like ice skating and brownie baking.
Visit Dane Kuttler’s website, where you can check all the tour dates for the Wandering Jew tour, find videos of poetry slam performances, read selected poems and more.
You might also enjoy:
- Paul Michel – Writing and Lost Treasure
Paul Michel is a multi-talented man. His first novel, Houdini Pie, hits the shelves...
- Tiffani Jones Brown – Writing for the Web
Tiffani talks like she writes, with sharpness and wit. She is a web writer,...