I don’t remember when I first met Nicol Kostic. I saw her occasionally at the Sam ‘n Andy’s reading I hosted in the late nineties, and I liked her poems but got the very wrong impression that she wasn’t interested in talking to a young kid, and she liked to keep to herself. Once I moved into the Collingwood Arts Center, I learned how wrong about her I was. The CAC is a communal living situation where working artists combine residential space with studio space for a modest rent. There was one kitchen for all of us, in the basement, and one restroom per floor, shared by all the tenants. It was a creepy, lovely, inspiring and at times debauched place, but it was home, and it was cool.
Nicol had lived there for a long time, doing her many arts, and one evening, while doing my dinner dishes, she and her husband and I started a conversation about the value of art, of taking chances, believing in your creative goals, and giving precedence to the creative impulse. It was a wonderful hour. It turns out that not only was Nicol interested in talking to a young kid, she was really enthusiastic about all the arts, and willing to share her enthusiasm.
These days she has a challenging time getting out and about, but she’s a great e-mailer and encourages artists of all kinds to post links to their work on her facebook page. She also founded the Toledo Poetry Foundation page on facebook where many people have posted poems over the years.
Nicol’s poems are generally short, terse, and delivered in a plain-spoken, deliberate Midwestern tone. Nicol’s poems are fully located in this real world. Her chapbook, 5 a.m., includes two poems about men shitting their pants, two poems about cleaning the body’s scum from a wound, then there are poems about Chinese food, diners, vagrants, dick and fart puns, and many frankly sexual poems. There are also poems about self worth, love poems, poems full of love advice for women, and poems of regret, frustration and great anger. Nicol’s poems are raw, soemtimes didactic, direct. What saves them from pure confession is a figurative vulnerability and some careful wordplay, a willingness to be self-deprecating, and a distinctive use of commas and line breaks that makes her poems unique, unpredictable, and artful.
Please, allow me to introduce to you Nicol Kostic. Enjoy this interview and several poems that follow.
Let's start by talking about your introduction to poetry. When did you first encounter poetry? And do you remember some of the first poems you read? Is there someone responsible for getting you interested in poetry.
When we're in High School we're required to write. In the 11th Grade, I had a well-seasoned English teacher, Marjorie Maranda, she told me I had writing abilities, & should pursue it.
My poetry emerged while traveling 22 years with the U.S. Army. If we come from Iowa, & notice the golden, almost bursting, ripened wheat, we notice similar things catching our attention, some of us write it down.
Was it love at first sight? Did you read that poem and go, yeah, this is what I'm doing!
What's wrong with, "Did you read that Poem, & GO!" But, it was not love at first sight. I had to get into it, read it, hear it, put it under the microscope, then do some rearranging, dress the words up, or make them come alive.
How old were you when you wrote your first poem?
At age 4 my mother bought a little, red, Swingline stapler, as she fell asleep from working all day, I found the ‘toy’ & put it to work myself, in the folding, & now stapling, and my first little books were created, with pictures, & words on their pages in crayon. Words seem to fit together, then become poems. I was born this way.
Early on in our discussion about doing this interview, you sent an email about your experience with Aspergers Syndrome. You said people considered you to be weird or crazy earlier in your life. Has having Aspergers made you the artist/poet you are today? Has making art been a way of coping, or communicating?
Most people do not know this about me. At the time when I was diagnosed, 1962, it was just called a Learning Disability, & hadn't been given a name yet. I didn't talk much, & always felt I was on the outside looking in, transferring my interests to paper, much easier than people. ‘WEIRD’’? Oh yeah, an adjective attached to me like a tattoo. To this day, people actually say, "You're weird." (Does that translate to “You're hard to be pigeon-holed”?) Here is the poem that kind of answers you better:
and as they ridiculed, laughing, rejecting me,
I became closer to my papers,
bonding with my pastes,
holding my scissors,
creating my own visions,
that would never hurt me,
fail me, give me a black eye,
or let me down, ever.
Do you think you were more likely to become a creative person because of your Asperger’s?
So, the answer to your question is yes, it has been a way of coping, & how I communicate.
When a person has disabilities, they have to focus on what they CAN do, not what they can't.
There simply is no failure in art, & that’s WHY it is so frequently used in therapy of any kind. It's a Spiritual thing, every culture, every tribe, has produced their own art, since we stood up on two feet.
I love the mixed-media collage components of your poetry books. What made you decide to add an illustrative/visual component to your poems?
Well, now, add some symbols/letters, some collage, & you've made Visual Poetry, & much it’s more interesting compared to any blank page; I have always thought of it as dressing-up the page.
Are you from Toledo? And did you go to open-mics and things like that often?
I was born at Toledo Hospital, but lived on a fading farm in Bowling Green, OH, until 10, then moved to Toledo, lived on Broadway, near the Zoo. I went to the old Newberry School, built at the turn of the century, & still have a close friend, Walter, who went there too. Have written poems about Walter, & his cat, for example, The Tender Art Of Ear-Goo-Gooing, in my first chapbook, read on many stages.
Am not much of a hanger-outer. You go in, survey the situation, blab to a couple of people, do your part, & leave. I’m a recovering alcoholic, & most poetry readings, open-mic situations, are held where? In bars. It's not easy to remain sober, in a drinking world.
When I was actively reading, & more involved in Toledo's Poetry Scene, it always surprised me when the audience would applaud, or respond unexpectedly. They shared ‘my’ feelings.
There was a huge group of us that met regularly at the Ottawa Tavern, before it burned down. I feel like a fossil, I’ve been around so long, & the new kids don't know that (but trust me to tell you, I earned my stripes).
There's been a pretty vibrant poetry community in Toledo for a long time. You've been a part of it for many years. I remember seeing you at Sam 'n Andy's occasionally and once or twice at Thackeray's for book release parties. What is it about Toledo that keeps poetry alive here? What do you think?
The poetry community in Toledo has had a long run. I am remembering Doris Goldberg, who had a Poetry section in the Peach part of the Blade, almost forever. Housewives, milkmen, & 5th graders mailed their work in to her faithfully, (this is the 1950's) in hope of being published. Then there was The Colony (‘60's) where all the artists & poets hung out. Professor Joel Lipman (from UT) is one of the most dedicated & inspiring poets Toledo has ever known. Then our kids took the stage, & hopefully, they will pass the torch. Memories write poems, some of us take the time to put them on paper.
Who are the poets you admire? What makes them special to you?
William Carlos Williams is my favorite Poet, but then there are so many others. Baudelaire, e.e. cummings (who broke the rules ), Carl Sandurg, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, (don't get me started), it's a long list of immortals, & their writings outlived them. The Poet in us longs to leave that last sentence to mankind.
I'm always interested in the artist's work space. Do you have an office or room where you work? Do you think it's important for the creative process to have a space set aside for art only?
When I paint, it's often in front of my huge TV, my space is small, & very full, with a personal library, journals, art supplies, other artist’s work, plus my own, papers, glue, brushes, easel, & equipment. I live on a futon, in the center of it all. It's very important to make yourself a creative space, even if it's a corner of a room, or the small studio, because it's yours, & hopefully nobody will invade it to clean, & rearrange your projects, notes, or papers.
You do visual art as well, right? What kind of work do you make? And do you find yourself in a different frame of mind when you work visually versus when you're writing poems?
Oh! you asked what I paint. Came on to the painting scene about the time Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, & 16 other Abstract Expressionists had formed The New York 18. Somewhere in the interest of that, I was smitten with my own use of primary colors, & the minimalism of meaning more. Painted as I traveled, exhibiting the work, with many sales in the 9 years of living in Europe, when I worked for the Army.
I have a few of your chapbooks here and the pages are full of illustrations as well as poetry, so I wonder if you have a plan in mind when you arrange your chapbooks or if the finished product is something that you've fiddled around with until you reach a composition you like?
So far as the Chap books, (& there were about 14 altogether), they were deliberately made very visual. It's more interesting than the undecorated, or dull, white page. Visual Poetry, you can make anything you want. Dress up the letters, & words, create some new ones, or combinations thereof, altered pages can become collections, & Altered Books.
Do you have a writing schedule? Or a schedule of any kind for that matter? Or do you work when you feel like it, or when the mood strikes?
Writing takes place wherever it happens. It's edited many times before it becomes the finished page, which happens on the floor too, & that changes from day to day, with the projects. Now, that I'm retired, am finally able to devote most of my time to art, in one medium or another. Whether it's a pen, or a brush, it doesn't matter, & just keeps flowing. Some people take it so "seriously", forgetting that the act of being creative can be fun, & where you can break rules, if there are any. The Muse returns, then exits again, like poetry, it ebbs, & flows, seeming only a natural course of things.
I'm curious about something. Every time I read through the questions we've already finished, I come across the section where you mention Langston Hughes, and you say, “Don't get me started”, referring to him. Do you have a special fondness for him? I'd like to know why you said that. I've always liked Hughes best when someone else is reading him out loud to me, or when I'm reading some analysis of his work. It seems simple and elegant but really his poetry is so rich and complex. I'd really like to hear more about your relationship to his work.
Langston Hughes. Rich is an accurate word, transcending the limited possibilities for such a man, in his time. Everything so well-stated, & to the point. Now, I like that characteristic in someone, saying what they mean, & meaning what they say = Langston Hughes, & I doubt that anyone would disagree. I am certain he faced more than his fair share of ridicule, & obstacles, he endured with artistic integrity, very evident in his poems/work.
I also hoped you could share a favorite Toledo story with us. A good memory or an occasion that sticks in your mind from a poetry reading or something.
A Toledo Memory (a favorite):
In the Fall of '87, I'd only recently moved to Toledo, after 21 years on the road, with a husband who had a career w/ the military, & retired. We were new in town, & hardly knew anyone. So to socialize, we attended some local activities, there was an Arts Fair at International Park, on the river, that year. There were numerous booths at the event: paintings, jewelry, pottery, local organizations, & one of them was The Writers Resource Center, & as I recall, Lynn Walker was in the booth, with a yellow tablet, so interested poets/writers could sign-up. I had written some stuff, but never talked about it much, & certainly had never presented it to an audience! She invited me to join them, & it [the reading] was at the (old) Ottawa Tavern. I picked out some stuff, & went. I signed up to read, waiting with what felt like Cecropia moths in my stomach, far more alarming than butterflies, when my name was called. I nervously did the do, & to my absolute astonishment, was very well received...People I didn't know came up to me after the last poet read, & commented about my work, or said they enjoyed something specific, blah, blah, blah. It turned into a regular thing, & in time was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for The Writers Resource Center, because it was partially funded by Ohio Arts Council Grant money, and I was voted in. John Swaile was part of that group, Bob Phillips, Steve Toth, Star Bowers, Pat Garver, Nick Muska, Lavone & Beth Brillhart, Dennis Doblinger, Ray Moore, Dana Wright, Arnie Koester, Anne Bliss, & many others I don't remember, after 25 years!
And finally, I ask a version of this question to everyone, so here goes. Why do you write poetry? I know we talked about the therapeutic benefits of art earlier, but I wonder if the impulse to write goes beyond therapy? Why is it important? Has poetry improved your life?
Why do I write poetry ?
"To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very center of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are the minor pleasures of those independent, intense, and impartial spitits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions. The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes. " Charles Baudelaire
Do you have some last words of wisdom for our readers? For young poets or poets on hiatus? Something that'll charge the old Poetry Battery?
Words of Wisdom:
Get OUT THERE & Live! DO THINGS! Ttravel, explore, meet people, see stuff, try new things, take risks, taste new things, mingle, experience, & try to do it all lovingly. Journal as you Journey! One Haiku per day = 365 in one year = a Book!
24 HOUR GAS STATIONS AND OTHER REFUGEES
en route to maine
the muffler came off
making sparks on the highway
just before new jersey.
stuck back on
with a humble coat hanger
the radio forecasted
one hundred today.
the car kept getting hotter
and someplace after albany
(but before mass)
the alternator died
killing the battery
on a saturday night
near some up-state cow-town.
a red glowing arrow
pierces the yellow sunoco letters
lit by background of cobalt blue--
the attendant said we could stay
until some help came along
and as he bent down to loop
the green water hose
are neglected women
who flatly do not get
and when they eat
they eat poison anger
like mashed potatoes
it takes a rare man
to handle one of these
giant pissed off women,
she goes toe to toe,
knows the taste
of bitterness well
upon her tongue.
FRANK AND THE MOON-DOGS
over on the east side, close to the river
there’s a cement company they call the rock.
the men pour ‘crete, heavy trucks rattle making noise
then out again churning and spilling.
wear and tear and build up have created a barren
surrealistic no-man’s land: hilly, gray, dust laden.
if you went there, it might occur to you
you’re on another planet, rather lunar.
a spacecraft could land and nobody would lift an eyebrow.
there is a lonely security guard with a moustache,
in a dark blue shirt pouring coffee from a big thermos most nights.
It’s a quiet, uneventful job, making sure nobody bothers
the equipment, but somebody has to do it.
simultaneously someone dumped off a pregnant,
ugly mutt out there in the middle of the night.
the rock became her isolated home.
she had her puppies without notice
unceremoniously licked them clean, cared for them
kissed them goodnight, taught them to survive as wild wolves
running up and down those barren slopes.
frank calls them the moon-dogs.
he throws them the horrible sandwiches he hates
from his gray lunch pail (like bologna and butter).
the moon-dogs eagerly anticipate all his discards.
they don’t have to chase down and kill bologna between bread
(but they don’t get the meatloaf sandwiches)
and if you go there late some night
under a vast starlit sky,
what i describe is
exactly what you’ll find
frank and the moon-dogs,
for there is poetry in even ou
the most forgotten things.
Have not yet gone to sleep,
humid night, hot...if we
lived in a tropical rainforest,
you would make arrows, and
dip their sharp ends into
the carari, setting each one by
the fire to dry.
You’d take your blow-gun,
out with you, on the hunt,
returning a few hours later,
lugging a big monkey,
whose tail would be tied
‘round its neck, forming a
convenient, furry handle.
You’d throw it down
on my fire,
“Honey, I brought you a
fresh monkey, for breakfast.”
And I’d be expected to make
it with scrambled eggs,
enough left-over for,
monkey ka-bobs, monkey stew,
monkey chili, monkey fondue...
but it’s not a tropical rainforest,
and I live alone, no cooking
required and no
monkey on my menu.
THE FILTERING 5 A.M. CONTINUUM
Out of milk...no raisin bran this morning,
I love the doodle-bugs on Sesame Street,
what happened to the work Allen Ginsberg
had of mine after he died,
I’ll make a pot of coffee, bean juice
will get me going...haven’t heard from my
mom in several days, why does my phone
have to be out of order...X, has probably
tried to call...I hate that song on the radio,
change the station, need to buy stamps and
light-bulbs, return library books today,
catch the bus, I hate taking the bus, why
do people think I’m rich, rich people have
cars, they do not take buses, maybe that
does not occur to those who think I’m rich...
and if I had a car, I’d be lugging these
paintings to galleries for a hopeful sale, and
someone would recognize I have some
talent...and this must be a similar dialogue that
Van Gogh had with himself...and what if,
like him, I remain impoverished for the
rest of my life...
THERE WILL BE NO PRINCE
In the fairy tales it is a Prince that
comes along and rescues.
He turns out to be a hero,
in the eyes of the damsel he saves.
When were these tales written,
they are out-dated, to say the least.
In your solitude, you need to
work at developing your self.
Self-improvement books and books
lending insight to your psyche.
There is a multitude of hobbies,
yet to be explored.
Take a painting class, tai-chi, line
dancing, go on-line with the internet,
learn how to use a computer,
(to write your own poems).
The idea of a Prince coming along,
is a great concept, but not very
REALISTIC. How many have you
met, thus far in your life, and if you
wait for one, don’t hold your breath,
in anticipation of his rescue...
The basil is in season now,
green and full,
fragrancing the hands and
gardens of all who thought
to plant it,
minced finely with parsley,
sauteed garlic cloves,
salt and olive oil...
it becomes pesto.
A green sauce,
spooned over hot ziti,
or any pasta.
Add a dash of romano,
a sprinkling of
freshly grated parmesan,
tossed with large spoons
in a big bowl.
Basil was once considered
I’ve been busy making pesto.
sharing it with someone...
I’ve a feeling it’s going to be another
very long, cold winter.