How love poems are made: Loren Kleinman on her most personal writing

Flamenco Sketches“The first version of the poem is going to be you, but the next revision needs to let others in, whether it’s true or not,” Loren Kleinman told me in a personal interview.

Kleinman, of Montclair, New Jersey, has a quaint charm when she speaks and listens with her eyes. The author of Flamenco Sketches (Spire Press, 2003), a poetry collection of love and jazz, and a 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee, said she didn’t hit her confidence stage until she purchased a one-way ticket to England, at 22, to follow her first love. It was her first time leaving the country.

“I remember getting there and seeing a mattress and a desk and I started crying. It was a shock on all different levels and was probably the best thing I could’ve done, because it got me out of my shell.”

In her second poetry collection, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs (Winter Goose Publishing, March 2014), Kleinman discusses this new life of falling in love, being assaulted, growing up with an alcoholic mother, and finding peace. (Read excerpt below.)

“It’s about learning from that experience, that there is beauty that’s left,” Kleinman said. “Writing is a supplement to memory and writing can show us that it’s possible to live again.” But The Dark Cave Between My Ribs is not about writing to heal, rather about how people can transform themselves through loss, she added.

As a child, Kleinman said she discovered her love for writing at about six or seven years old. She would trace coloring books that her mother gave her and write stories to match the pictures.

Loren Kleinman

Loren Kleinman

Loren believes one cannot teach craft rather it is a personal discovery that comes with experience. Writing is hard even for the most general professional writer, Kleinman said. Her mentor and a poet, Claudia Serea, told Kleinman that a poem should not look like a poem. While writing The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, which Serea helped edit, Kleinman said she had to tone down some of the dark images.

“You don’t want to get in somebody’s face,” she said. “You can’t force [the reader] into a wall… bring them along with you, but we don’t’ want to force them to come with you. A lot of times I would use violent images that were abstract. If I said I felt like a hooked fish, I had to take that image and expand it. Show them that experience, rather than telling them, I’m a hooked fish—nobody cares.”

But the poet can’t hold onto abstraction, Kleinman cautioned. One has to make the connection. Elizabeth Bishop, Dean Young, Anne Sexton, Robert Bly, and Rita Dove have a way of using different images to reflect experiences, she said. Sometimes nature will tone down the violence.

Pablo Neruda is one of her favorite poets. Even though it’s love poetry, it never comes across as juvenile, Kleinman said, and it’s the most difficult kind of poetry to do well.

“You don’t want to come across as woe is me. You want people to relate to love. A lot of poetry I read is not accessible.” And Neruda is universal, whether he’s writing his odes or he’s writing about watermelons, she said.

Now Kleinman is working on both a third poetry collection and a new adult romance novel, This Way To Forever, which she is aiming to complete in the fall. A fearless writer who recently wowed a crowd with her poetry reading at KGB Bar, Kleinman had 10 rejections before Winter Goose Publishing picked up The Dark Cave Between My Ribs. She had almost forgotten what that was like, but it’s important to remain focused on the writing, she stressed.

“You have to write the story first,” Kleinman said. “It’s about the drafting and the writing process and the publishing is at the end, if and when that will happen.”


I’m Stuck in My Dream (an excerpt from The Dark Cave Between My Ribs)

By Loren Kleinman

Stuck in a dream:
In a building with no exit.
In the middle of the street
caught between moving cars.
Walking over pregnant bellies
poking through the muddy ground.
Wearing the same shoes
I’ve been wearing
in the same dream from last night.
I see my 8-year old self,
bleeding behind the broken
chair in my old room.
My mother walks around drunk.
She points knives into my skin,
and dies too fast.
Fast-forward to 30.
Making love to you in my mind—
so lovely,
I kiss my own hand like it’s your mouth
pressing into my tongue.
Stuck in a dream,
never getting it right.
Running far away.
Hiding on a dream cloud.
Sleeping in my bed.
Carried away.
Sticking it out in all the wrong ways.
Breaking down.
Faking it.
Wondering what it would be like
being found dead in my bathtub.
not so scary.
Stuck in a dream,
writing a suicide letter.
Starting it
and still thinking
about what to do later.
You’ll forget about me.
Back to beginning.
Belonging to you.
Laughing hard at all your jokes.
If you love me
you’ll notice me.
Losing you in my thoughts
under the painted ceiling
of my bedroom.
Eyes crying
All over me.
Smiling at you.

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