A lot has changed in two years for Karen Marie.
Grounded, Karen’s (ze/hir/she/her) 2019 book of poems, invited readers into the author’s exploration of a year of healing through a variety of traumatic experiences.
With the 2021 release of Fire, the Ohio poet is in an altogether different space after reflecting on national, local, and personal events.
“I was pretty maddened by events, and the way people were acting around those events, intellectualizing Black deaths,” said Karen. “And I am Black and so that directly affected how I am perceived in the world and proceed in the world.”
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Karen Marie—a founding Board member of The Buckeye Flame!—about the igniting of Fire and what we can all do with what is ablaze inside us.
You have so many different types of output in the world: education, improv, public speaking, facilitation, and I’m sure tons more. How does the medium of poetry feed you in a different way than the others?
KM: I’ve been writing since I was really, really young. It’s a method of healing for me, especially in times of collective grief and collective chaos. It’s the moment when I can go inward and process all of the things that I’m feeling as an empath, and then put them into words. I have heard back from people that they resonate with those words and that’s why I put the words out there. The writing is for me though. The poetry is absolutely for me and it is a healing mechanism tool that I have.
Do you have a method to poetry creation? Is there a spot in the house? A time of day? How do the words come?
For my first book Grounded, I was going through some serious transformation in my life and I actually did voice memos. I am an improv comedian and I am an improv poet as well. For that book, titles would come to me—and normally titles come at the end—but that time, titles would come to me and then I would do an improv poem on my voice memos. That’s how I wrote my first book. In the car.
In the car?!
I know! I would then transcribe the voice memos. But with Fire, I was able to do a lot of journaling after national, local, and personal events would happen. I would write journal prompts, or I would write about the event. For some, I shared the words on social media and it would get a lot of responses.
I’m a Leo sun, a Leo rising, and an Aries moon, and I wanted to share my fire in a healthy way for me because I was full of rage. I was pretty maddened by events, and the way people were acting around those events, intellectualizing Black deaths. And I am Black and so that directly affected how I am perceived in the world and proceed in the world.
So I structured the book around the fire gathering and the stages of fire. The poems were specifically healing for me. They were me processing all the events where I felt like I was all alone in the world in my rage and then realizing that I wasn’t alone.
The words “Grounded” and “Fire” are two very different words, which I think would change the reading experience. What do you want people to bring with them to Fire?
With Grounded, I feel like you could open it and get to the healing space. You could come to Grounded seeking and find what you need.
I would want people to bring their heart to Fire. With Fire, I want people to read this when they’re ready to do more than intellectualize current struggles and actually feel events and interactions or socializations, how they actually impact marginalized groups or themselves. Or feel how they all can impact each other, how they’re all connected. I want people to grapple with the reality of these emotions.
Tell us why you love the cover of Fire.
One of the things I’m committed to is supporting Black art. In Grounded, the cover is a Black woman. And with Fire, I worked with a Black queer woman who did this art and we collaborated on what we wanted this to look like.
There’s a pathway to the fire. And you see that you’re walking into the fire. You can see the blue. You know how hot this fire is when you’re walking into it, and I want people to know how hot this book is emotionally walking into it.
These are not bedtime stories.
<laughs> It depends on the kind of dream you want to have.
Are you someone who wants people to read the poems in the order in which they are laid out?
There is in this book a specific order and the poems are grouped together in the stages of actual fire. Looking through it, I became much closer with fire and I think that’s part of me accepting the fire within me.
There’s the gathering, there’s the pre-fire, there’s the incipience which is when the fire ignites. There’s flashover. Then a transition into decay and ashes.
You can read them out of order, but it makes a lot more sense—depending on the stage of the fire—of the headspace I was in when I wrote that particular poem.
Finally, when people finish the last poem and close the book, what do you want them to do with the energy you stoked? See? I said stoked.
You did say stoked. <laughs> And that’s a word in the book.
To me, a lot of the discussions that we have, a lot of the outlets we have—especially because we are less social these days—are going from envisioning antiracism, envisioning inclusion, envisioning belonging to actually embodying those practices in a way that builds community. When they finish Fire, I want people to be in a place of interrogating everything and ready to illuminate the world. 🔥