Katerina Canyon was born and raised in Los Angeles. She was the Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga from 2001-2003. In 2002 she received the Virginia Allan National Young Careerist Award from Business and Professional Women/USA for her work with poetry in the community. She founded the Shouting Coyote Poetry Festival as well as Camp BPW. She teaches children’s poetry workshops for McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga and nationwide.
As the host the Word of Mouth Poetry Series in Tujunga, California, Katerina welcomes poets from all over the world to share their poetry at a free and open venue. In July 2005, she traveled the East Coast on a poetry tour promoting the release of her new chapbook Fly.
JB: What has been the high point of running the Tujunga readings so far?
KC: The high point of running the Tujunga reading has been meeting the wonderful poets. I was very excited to meet Ilya Kaminsky. I appreciated the opportunity to hear him read his poems. Just reading his work takes me away, but to hear him read his poetry is truly an amazing experience. Next year, Stephen Shu Ning Liu will feature in Tujunga, and I’m very eager to meet him.
JB: Please share one of your poems with us that has special significance to you and tell us about the connection.
when I hide in your leaves
you drench me with your emerald tears
as I release my seeds to become you
charring the uppermost branches
yet my roots remain firm
after the storm
ants line my crevices
to crawl to the sun
beetles gnaw my bark
to release my sap
nothing can be seen
through the shadows
of my own branches
When I was a teenager, my family and I lived in a house with a willow tree in the front yard. Whenever my father got angry, I would run into the front yard and hide behind the willow tree. I always felt invisible near that tree.
JB:When I've heard you read, you have calm and poise; your words come out clear- your images crisp. Is this something that took you awhile to work on or is this something that comes easy to you?
KC:This is a two part answer. I am very shy by nature. I have a hard time talking to people. Growing up, I spoke as little as possible, and I took that into adulthood.
When I decided to become a professional poet, I felt I needed to read in order to share my poetry. When I first started to go to open readings, I would read very quietly, and I’d shake terribly. One day, I was at an open reading with Poetri, and he told me I had strong words. I just had to believe in them. It was a terrible struggle to take that advice back then.
Now, when I read my poems, I have to put my mind into the poem. Every time I read a poem, my mind is back in the place I’m describing. If I allow myself to think about the fact that I’m reading my work in front of other people, I start to panic. If I stay in the moment of the poem, it is very easy for me read my work.
JB: What are your favorite topics to write about, do these relate to significant events in your life, fantasy, something else?
KC: My favorite topics to write about tend to revolve around my family; mostly my mother and my father. My parents were complete opposites, and my reasons for writing about them are for two completely different reasons.
My mother was my best and only friend during my childhood. She encouraged and supported me immensely as I was growing up. When she died, I was devastated. It took me years to get used to the idea that she was gone. When I write poems about her, they are generally poems about the things she taught me.
On the other hand, my father was my greatest nightmare. He abused me in so many ways, I can’t remember most of them. When he passed away, I cried. I didn’t cry because I would miss him. I cried because his life was such a waste. I always held on to the hope that he would change some day and become a decent person. When I write poems about him, I’m generally confronting some form of abuse.
JB: Who is your favorite poet of the last 100 years? Why does his/her work mean something special to you?
KC: That would have to be Nizar Qabbani. I discovered his work a few years ago. He wrote both political and romantic poetry. I particularly enjoyed his love poetry because it relies on imagery and events to convey his ideas. I love poets who have the ability to take the reader to a place or a moment with their words. Nizar Qabbani was an expert with this. When I read his poem, “In the Summer,” I swear I can hear ocean waves.
JB:Does poetry help you communicate, think, focus? Is it a tool that you can use to process, or is it a cathartic experience for you?
KC: For me, poetry has been a way for me to communicate things I'm afraid to say out loud. When I first started writing poems, it was a means to deal with the things that frightened me. I felt that there was so much out of my control. Poetry was a box for me to hide my thoughts, fears, and desires. Now that I live with less fear, my poems generally focus on stories or political ideas.
JB: Where do you see the art of poetic writing going in the next few years?
KC: The field of poetry seems to be growing tremendously in the mainstream. I see poetry appearing more in ads and on television. I like that. Poetry has always been a safe haven for me, and I’m happy to see so many people appreciating poetry as a modern art form.
JB: Do you have other forms of artistic expression? Do you draw, take photos, paint, dance, act, sing?
KC: I love music. I believe that if I had any sort of singing voice, I’d be a songwriter. I played several musical instruments in school, and now I’m toying with the guitar. I’m nowhere near good at it, but with time, I’m hoping to be halfway decent.
JB: Has your Muse changed? In other words, do write now for the same reasons you began writing in the first place?
KC: My Muse has definitely changed. My poems used to be a place for my fears. Now, I see them as a form of empowerment. Where it used to be? "I’m scared. I need to write this down." I now say, “This pisses me off. I’m going to go home and write a poem about it.”
JB: Is there anything that you would like to share with other poets, something you've learned, something that can assist others in their work?
KC: Just be honest. Don’t try to imitate another person’s style and technique. Just keep writing until you’re able to find your own voice. When I first started writing, I was told that my style was unusual and untrained. Today, people seem to appreciate it. I’m happy that I stuck with being me instead of changing to meet some criteria.