Katie Ford is the author of Deposition, Colosseum, and the forthcoming Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014). Ford is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Larry Levis Prize. Colosseum was named among the “Best Books of 2008” by Publishers Weekly and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Paris Review, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and many other journals. She teaches at Franklin & Marshall College and lives in Philadelphia with her husband, the novelist Josh Emmons, and their young daughter. You can read some of her work here.
Front Porch: You graduated from Harvard’s Divinity School. Faith and religious images are a large part of Deposition. In what ways does faith affect your writing?
Katie Ford: Religious imagery and religious metaphors, for better and for worse, saturate my thinking, so they very naturally become part of my writing. I wrote Deposition while I was in divinity school, so some of my studies informed it, but it was actually my strongly negative experience with a conservative Christianity in early adolescence that compelled and necessitated the frantic examination of faith in my first book. If we think of faith more generally as an orientation towards mystery, towards what we cannot know, then I hope it continues to always influence my poems.
FP: Your book Colosseum describes your experiences living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Can you talk about the writing process of those poems?
KF: I wrote the first chapter, “Storm,” as a response to evacuating from New Orleans and, some months later, as a response to returning to the wreckage of the city. Other poems in the book, primarily the poems about the Roman Colosseum and other sites of ruin, were written prior to the hurricane, but it became clear to me after the storm that the book would largely be thinking about disaster, state-sanctioned violence, governmental failures towards its citizenry, natural catastrophe…
FP: In Deposition, each poem is very lyrical, yet through their arrangement they speak to each other, creating a narrative structure. In Colosseum, you use lyrical moments to describe a larger event. Can you describe your use of narrative in the books?
KF: I tend to be more excited by lyrical forms in writing than I am by telling a story, because once a story begins, it begs to be “finished” and “developed,” which can choke a poem quite quickly. However, moments of miniature narrative or gestures towards it can create a through-line in the work that can link poems and create a cohesive momentum in a book. That said, the narratives of both Deposition and Colosseum were imposed on me by circumstance. The “stories” one might trace in each book caused tremendous pressure on me poetically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, even physically. I love poems that are primarily driven by lyricism, but which perhaps have some shadowy backstory you only sense as passing through the music, always subservient to it.