10+ QUESTIONS! WITH krista oehlke

Krista Oehlke was featured at Mass Poetry's U35 reading in October 2014. // 10+ Questions! is a series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.

by Laurin Macios | October 2016

It's been a while! What's new in life?
A lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. Two years ago I was a newcomer to Boston. Now, for someone who has always lived somewhat of an itinerant life, this city has become my home. As of this past summer, I can also now say I’ve satisfied certain Boston-area requirements, including visiting Cape Cod and sampling a number of regional delicacies (lobster rolls and clam chowder namely). I recently moved from Somerville to Back Bay and traded in my Charlie Card for a new pair of running shoes. Most of my transportation is by foot now, which is my favorite way to travel.

I continue to work at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. The FXB Center is an academic center housed at Harvard University that aims to advance the health and human rights of the world’s children through advocacy, research, and capacity building. At the center, I have shifted gears from working as an editorial assistant of the Health and Human Rights Journal to greater involvement with programs, research, and writing as a program coordinator. Throughout my time here, I’ve worked on projects related to Roma rights, access to medicines, disability rights, and child protection. Honing in on what my interests are has turned these past couple of years into a fulfilling and soul searching time period for me. Most importantly, I’ve learned how powerful writing can be as a tool. I plan to attend graduate school next year to further pursue a career in human rights.

What are you working on these days?
After devoting my mental energy to academic writing over the past couple of years, I’m now planning to shift gears during my own time and iron out the details for a brand new poetry collection, which I will start drafting this fall and winter. To do this work in a committed way, I’ve enrolled in a poetry workshop through the Harvard Extension School. I can’t wait to write with people again, and I can’t wait to meet other poets in the Boston/Cambridge area. It’s going to be a magical fall.

I also hope to start bringing out bits and pieces of my poetry to see the world. During these past two very busy years, I’ve let many unpublished poems sit in drawers, and I’m curious to see what happens when they see the light of day.

Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
My former poetry collections were inspired by idyllic, desolate winters in Hanover, New Hampshire, and they tended to both satirize and aestheticize themes related to domesticity and girlhood. My poetry has also explored how newer technologies, like movies, have created new possibilities for art. I’ll be curious to see if I expand upon these familiar themes or move into new territory come fall. It will likely depend on a combination of things: what I am reading, what other people are writing, what is happening in the world, and where I am personally.

Who/what are you reading lately?
I am reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez partly to revisit some of the themes my undergraduate thesis explored about art and the mechanical age of reproduction and, inspired by prompting from my friend and colleague Margareta Matache, partly to get a better sense of how the Roma are depicted in Latin American literature. The Roma have been categorized inaccurately (and pejoratively) in popular culture for centuries. I want to understand how Latin American magical realism might make this characterization different or the same.

I’m also reading Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. Ever since my first move to Boston in 2010 when I discovered Sylvia Plath, I’ve been drawn to learning more about the interior and eternal worlds of individuals living with mental illness. This endeavor, by default, has also meant exploring mental illness through the lens of the creative thinker. Styron was plagued by depression, as was Ted Hughes (Plath’s husband), Virginia Woolf, and many other successful poets and writers. The works these writers have put forth romanticize mental illness at the same time they remove biases we all still hold. They bring to life the conditions that many struggle with behind closed doors in a powerful way.

Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
Yes! Realizing Roma Rights, the product of the Roma Program at the FXB Center, will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press at the end of this year. Edited by Jacqueline Bhabha, Andrzej Mirga, and Margareta Matache, the volume explores the dynamics of social exclusion and stigma as well as the histories of Roma political and social mobilization. In the chapter “A Critical Analysis of Roma Policy and Praxis: The Romanian Case,” Matache and I illustrate how slow and insignificant progress in educational attainment for Roma children in Romania is but one small part of a broader contemporary disinterest in implementing equal opportunity principles for Roma.

In conjunction with a core group of writers at the FXB Center and led by FXB fellow Heather Adams, we’ve also very recently developed a working paper on disability housing, called Empowering People with Intellectual Disabilities: Living Communities in Massachusetts. I researched and wrote the case study on Autism Housing Pathways, a Massachusetts non-profit that provides indispensable resources about housing for families and their children with autism (and other disabilities).


Beach or mountain?
Mountain because top of mind are the otherworldly mountains in the northeast I’ve been lucky to visit. The White Mountains in the winter and the Berkshires in the summer are high on this list, and my experience trekking through Patagonia in Argentina in college remains a distant but amazing dream.

What are your current top 5 favorite books of any genre?
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
The Buenos Aires Affair: A Detective Novel by Manuel Puig
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Atonement by Ian McEwan

What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep?
I once spent many long hours in the 24/7 room of the Dartmouth College library (known as the 1902 room) writing the epilogue of my Comparative Literature thesis. My co-thesis writers and I worked through the night and until dawn, up until the very hour our theses were due.

Pancakes or eggs?
Eggs, in an English muffin with American cheese.

What do you use more often, the dictionary or thesaurus?
While I tend to use the thesaurus during my day job, I often will use the dictionary on my own time. It’s an interesting habit: I’ll usually think of a word, become fascinated with it, and then look it up in the OED so I can understand all of its dimensions.

Is there a poetic form you feel strongly about? Love, hate?
I feel very strongly about this question! I despise rhyme, and I am enamored with narrative poetry. A poem that rhymes makes me feel like I’m in a box, while a good narrative poem will feel nearly three-dimensional. The absence of line breaks in narrative poetry allows the words themselves to create structure and therefore meaning. There’s a richer texture and density to these poems.



Here it should be noted: that you have gone
to buy a dish towel simply because you’ve found
paper consumption wasteful. You go to the store
and there is a waning. You lose something,
are erased. Shoveled away like snow.

Then on the winter roads you are breathing
with the lone crisped leaf,
your spine as you take in air, soft
and brittle like a sorry frigid stem.

It is as though in the kitchen you enter
a shallowed blue verse. You are so
small and flat and even shiny
with perspiration, that you could
fit in with the tiles. Fold in
with your pink dishtowel and join
in the quiet chatter moderated by mastic.

Then you are peeking out from
the stoic calendar. where it is cold.
it is February. And the window panes
are silly.