Karen Corcoran Dabkowski:
The Blue House
Karen Corcoran Dabkowski is in the house!
I was introduced to The Blue House ezine at the promptings of Marie Lecrivain who was first published on the site in 2003 and sent an announcement to friends and associates.
For me, the love of poetry has everything to do with the play of language and presentation, the evocation of tangible emotion, and the visceral engagement of what a student of Stanislavsky might call "engaging the sense memory." I want to have an experience. I’m a born dancer. If I am not moved and engaged by the music of the moment, I am like a public school student, looking around the room for something more relevant, more experiential, more entertaining; something to sink teeth into.
For this reason, it is sometimes difficult for me to enter the world of the poet on the cool-edged media of the Web. But The Blue House is different. I am always immediately submerged in the inner world of the House. From the editor's artistic vision, to the way Dabkowski weaves each edition together with lines of themed verse and photos, hand-selected, which welcome the reader in like an old leather chair that holds an impression from the last time you sat there.
pd: Let’s start by talking a little bit about your history with poetry in general. When did you get hooked on writing and how did that progress into a desire to publish?
KCD: My sister used to read poetry to me when I was tiny. She's nine years older,
and gifted in literature and language. She'd bring her high school textbook
home and begin to read "How Do I Love Thee" and "Kubla Khan" aloud, and she'd
explain words I didn't understand and talk about the meaning of the poems, but I
was struck by the music I heard in those words and with their rhythms. I've
always had an "ear" for cadence in language; it's something that's delighted me
for as long as I can remember.
I endured twelve years of parochial schooling. Each year, each class had
poems to memorize and recite in chorus after lunch - a stanza a night, until we
knew the poems off by heart. I'm sure this KILLED the love of poetry in many,
but it simply reinforced my own. When I was twelve I discovered Edgar Allen Poe
and I fell in love with "The Raven" and "The Bells" (which is, in my opinion,
the very finest rhyming poem of all time.) Early in high school, I dove
straight into the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Stephen Crane, T.S. Eliot- and
the light bulb in my head kept getting brighter and brighter. I found free
verse, and it's been a love affair ever since: sound orchestrated feeling,
that's what poetry became for me, and is to this day. As to being published, I
doubt I'd have ever seen print if I hadn't self-published. I've never sought out
publication. It's always seemed like too much work, and I had concerns that
the struggle would kill my own enjoyment of writing for its own sake.
So I'm glad I went the self-publication route. What it means to me is that
someday after I'm gone someone might pick up some old, ratty copy of my poems
and be able to see clean into the soul; even though I won't be around, that
part of me will still be alive.
pd: As I said in my intro, The Blue House is one of the more visually beautiful ezines I have yet to encounter. To me, it is so organically choreographed that the technology of the Internet seems to disappear. Tell us how you got started and what the inspiration was for the aesthetic design and The Blue House as a name?
KCD: My PC was a birthday gift in 1999. It sat in its box for a month until one night I got a bread knife and sliced open the carton, hooked it up and life hasn’t been the same since. I’m one of those people who seems to have "disappeared" inside the Net, connected to it in an almost organic way. Maybe that’s what you feel when you look at Blue House. I designed my first web page by way of Google —"googled" my way to passable efficiency. LOL... whenever I became stumped, I typed in a question and up popped bunny trails I followed till something worked. The closing/opening lens effect, for instance, was one I’d used on my first web site and loved it. It doesn’t work with a Netscape browser, by the way—only Internet Explorer.) Whenever I’d see a site and like the look of its navigation, etc., I’d right click, view source and reproduce the java script tailored for my own pages.
Where did “blue house” come from? That’s a mystery. I think it must be from my subconscious, because a house is the symbol of safety- comfort- warmth for me- and blue is the color of serenity, of calmness. A cerebral color. So a “blue house” would be a symbol of somewhere one could feel safe and relaxed enough to think and create. Yes, I believe that’s what it means for me: a little "getaway"- a haven.
pd: I would normally ask editors who are also poets how they balance the rigors of publishing with the pull we all feel, to write poems. I realize that in your case, you have blended these. Can you talk a little bit about that?
KCD: Goodness, I’m a one woman show with two months in which to select a handful of wonderful writers who allow their work to be showcased. There are no ‘columns’ to worry about in Blue House; no schedules or meetings or disagreements. It’s just “me, myself and I”- and because it’s honestly a hobby and something I love, I’ve never viewed it as onerous or ‘work’. I might spend an evening scouring through images for a new theme- then going to my poetry board and writing some, or maybe commenting on a poem. Then hop into Angelfire to try out an idea for a background pattern- that sort of thing. With 60 days and no one I’m pressed to confer with, it’s all part of the process: the writing, the assembling, the coding- it’s like a big old “afghan” I’m knitting. It relaxes me. The REALLY fun part is browsing for art or photography sites to include as a link in the upcoming issues. Visual impact is important to me, and I dearly love artists.
pd: You seem to cover a small number of poets.( I like them all, and am honored to be among them.) Did you start with local poets and expand from there? I am curious about your criteria for the poets you select?
KCD: I started out with poets JUST from the poetry board I administrated back then, called “The Orphaned Poets Society." I wanted to frame their work in a bimonthly ‘display’. It’s just human nature to feel good about yourself when singled out for any reason, and it was meant purely as a gesture of friendship and appreciation. Believe it or not, Marie Lecrivain was the very FIRST poet who found me on her own, and sent along some poems. And I was thrilled!--suddenly it was writers beyond my own circle who had noticed and wanted to contribute. Blue House is not a widely known or publicized ezine, and I’ve never done much "lobbying" for readership; that’s why this interview thrills me to no end because it IS exposure, and I’m hoping it may attract new poets, so I’m very grateful for this chance to talk about it.
Criteria for inclusion is totally subjective and personal. I don’t tend to appreciate traditional rhyme, but I do love truthful, lyrical writing. I shy away from purely confessional, explicitly sexual themes simply because I’ve always believed they gather interest through shock value alone. I’m drawn most to philosophical themes— expressions of human loss and sorrow and joy—I connect with what is most common to human struggles—in relationships, in our awareness of mortality, in appreciation of being alive, those are the poems that attract me, and are most apt to show up in the House.
pd: I understand your purpose for creating Blue House in terms of
providing exposure and support for the poet. Could you also identify a
purpose that your ezine fulfills for the reader? What do you think it
is and what would you like it to be? Who do you think your readers are?
KCD: I wouldn't presume to define a "purpose" of any kind. What's the purpose
of a painting or a dance? I put poems out there for folks to read and enjoy, and perhaps to have something resonate. Maybe give a jumpstart to writing a poem of their own, or spark a desire to submit something they've written themselves. It's a very simple proposition: validation for the writer and stimulation for the reader. If browsing an edition of Blue House does those two things, it's succeeded, and I would imagine my readers are friends, former and current submitting poets, relatives and friends of those who've been featured, poets looking for ezines to submit to, and the browsers who
reach Blue House via an ordinary Internet search and come stumbling in.
Really, it's an informal little zine with a pat format now, that's out there faithfully every 2 months. It has no airs whatsoever and hopefully it's an entertaining read. It's not designed to be edgy or trendy. Like Pooh... it just is.
pd: As a publisher, what do you think the calling is for a poet to begin
to publish their work into the unknown, so to say, as one does on the Internet? Do you think it is different than being published in print? Does it
hold the same value in terms of legacy?
KCD: Well, first of all, I think all poets write because they 'have to': there's just no way to be silent. There's a lilt in the way they see life that's a very visceral and vocal thing, and people want to be read. Simple as that. It's all well and good to compose alone, but after the thing is written, it barks for an audience and I don't know of any poet who
would truthfully say otherwise. The Internet has been a great boon to writers: instant readership. It's immediate and very gratifying. Yes, there's lots of mediocre writing out there, but who cares? Just wade in a bit deeper, and you'll find treasure, I promise you.
Is the Internet equal to print? Never. One is fluid and therefore much more volatile and prone to extinction. There is no substitute for what you can hold in the hand, put on a shelf, pack in an overnight bag and take on a trip. You keep it for years- coffee-ringed, part of your history, with pages yellowing- aging the way people do. Books have personalities. Zines have shades and flickers, and like fireflies, blink on and off and
eventually go out. Does anybody think Google will be around forever? AOL? I seriously doubt it. So it's a changeable medium. I say enjoy it. Don't take it too seriously, and use whatever palette's out there at any given time.
Publication, no matter on what scale, is legacy-a kind of immortality. That's how I see it, and that's why I've done it. How many times have we looked at old photos of relatives long gone and wondered what they thought, how they saw life, what gave them pain? I want to leave a hologram in writing. I want it to cover as much of what I saw and thought and felt in this life as possible. In a very real, if morbid sense, a person's body of work is a kind of 'tombstone'. When I was in high school and writing poems, I gathered them in a
loose leaf binder and wrote on the cover, "Poems From the Stone's-Cutting." That feeling hasn't changed one bit: it's always been "singing about life while
staring at death." Always. I think all poems are, at their heart, ways to grapple with mortality-the awareness of it while being exquisitely alive, so writing is as essential to me as breathing. I can't stop it. I don't want to stop it, and I'm superstitious enough to think my heart will beat as long as I'm still busy writing it all down. Voice carries. It'll find its own trumpet.
Karen Corcoran Dabkowski is a 53-year-old native of Pittsburgh, PA, writing since the age of 13. While a senior in high school, she was given first place in poetry by the University of Pittsburgh for high school poetry. In the same year, she took first place in the Jordan Davison Poetry Awards sponsored by Barry University in Florida, judged by deceased beat poet, William Everson - also known as Brother Antonius.
She is a past first place winner of the IBPC poetry awards, December 2000, for her poem about serial killer Ted Bundy's final night before execution, titled, "Last Rites."
She is administrator of the "Orphaned Poets Society" poetry board and current editor of the poetry ezine, The Blue House. Karen's approach to poetry is first through the ear, and believes a poem should be musical, visceral, and clear.
She's worked for 20 years for a Pittsburgh orthotic and prosthetic company, has a married daughter, son, and four grandsons. Having hurdled fifty, there's not much that scares her anymore.