For the month of November, we are excited to feature the poetry duo, Kay Cosgrove & Lauren Hilger!
Kay Cosgrove received a BA from Fairfield University and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her manuscript, Marco, Polo, is a finalist for the 2015 Field Poetry Prize and the 2015 Larry Levis Intro Prize in Poetry from Four Way Books. She is the winner of the Writers Under 30 Contest from The Westchester Review, and her work has appeared in Conduit and EPOCH magazine, among other journals. She is currently a doctoral student in the University of Houston's Creative Writing & Literature program, where she serves as an assistant poetry editor for Gulf Coast and as the Graduate Adviser to Glass Mountain.
Lauren Hilger received a BA from New York University and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Harvard Review Online, and Kenyon Review Online, among other journals. Named the 2012 Nadya Aisenberg Fellow in Poetry from the MacDowell Colony, she is the recipient of the Agha Shahid Ali Scholarship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She serves as Poetry Editor for No Tokens.
Kay and Lauren's A Real Knack for this is displayed on our Homepage. This piece also appears in our Issue 1, along with another of their pieces, A Real / Polly Pocket. Below, Kay and Lauren have given us an exclusive look into their work as both a team and as individual writers. Here is our interview, conducted by our very own Lily Rockefeller.
How did you two meet?
K: I first met Lauren on the Metro-North train from Grand Central to Bronxville. We were both heading to Sarah Lawrence's campus.
L: After that, we took a few graduate workshops together, became friends, and co-taught a weekly poetry unit for a high school English class.
When did you begin writing together?
K: We started writing together about a year ago, when I think we both felt like we needed another project in addition to our own work.
L: I tend to be very loyal to the notes I’ve been taking or ideas I have for my work. It’s a gift to have another place that forces us to be present, to respond to a new line of thinking. It’s like diving into another set of thoughts that aren’t mine or Kay’s necessarily.
Explain the process of writing poetry as a duo.
K: We write online together in real time and go back later and edit either separately or together. We usually go line for line. That seems to work best for us.
L: We also talk on Google chat while we’re writing. There, we’ll be having a conversation but we also say where we’re going with certain lines. As Kay said, we’re working in real time, on a google doc, so we’re actually talking to each other in two places at once. We can see each other typing, erasing, retyping.
What were the advantages of working together?
K: I love how our collaborative work has its own energy, its own voice that is really distinct from either of our own individual work. It's exciting.
L: We’re much freer in the first draft—anything goes—and with revision there are no defenses; we just know what doesn’t fit has to go. I don’t know if I’m as brave in editing my own work.
Were there any limitations? Was it difficult to mesh your styles?
K: No, I think just the usual difficulty of writing in general. But whereas alone I often find myself stuck, working with Lauren always gives me a new way into the line or poem.
L: To me, it never feels like a limitation, but it’s certainly a challenge. If we want a form or a concept to work, we have to keep reevaluating and recalibrating. I don’t think either of us intended on meshing our styles, but I know we want to complicate themes that come easily to us, that is, what we tend to write if not directed otherwise.
What do you mean by complicate themes?
K: I think what we mean is that there are always those things--moments, images, ideas--that a writer returns to again and again. When we write together, we bring both of our "themes" to the table, but by virtue of collaborating, we are forced to both reckon with one another's themes, and consider said themes in relation to the other person. This makes things more complicated and for us, inherently more interesting. We like the tension the collaborative process brings to writing. It's strange and kind of wonderful.
Tell us about your editorial work.
K: I work as an assistant poetry editor at Gulf Coast and as the graduate adviser to Glass Mountain, the undergraduate literary magazine at the University of Houston.
L: I’m the poetry editor of No Tokens Journal. We both review contemporary poetry books as well.
What writers do you look to for inspiration?
K: Oh, too many to count. But some forever favorites are Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, Virginia Woolf, & Anne Carson.
L: My poets are Berryman, for his wildness and virtuosity, Plath and Ashbery, for their genius. Prose I love right now—Tolstoy, James Baldwin, Edith Wharton, so many.
What advice do you have for our readers?
K: Read as much as you can.
L: I agree with Kay 100%. After that, if you’re a writer, aim to make your work surprise you. If what you write can still be moving or shocking to you, even after you know it by heart, that’s it—if it can still retain something that evades you, some element that feels unknown and mysterious…ideally, it should remind you why you do this.
Remember, you can find more work by Kay and Lauren in our Issue 1, or you can read their work at kaycosgrove.com and laurenhilger.com.