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"Still I Will Find Ways to Open Myself": An Interview with Kate Wyer

Kate Wyer lives in Baltimore. Her writing has appeared in Wigleaf, Unsaid, <kill author, PANK, Exquisite Corpse, and past issues of The Collagist. She attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Lithuania on a fellowship from Fence. Wyer has completed a novella and is at work on a second. She is employed in the public mental health system of Maryland.

Her story, "Land Beast, Part Two," appeared in Issue Forty-Nine of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about the language of animals and the economy of bodies.

Could you talk about writing “Land Beast, Part Two”? What was it like to write a sequel to a short story?

It’s less a sequel and more of a continuation. I divided the story into parts because it felt like there should be a pause when the two rhinos meet. I also wanted readers to spend more time with her alone, to feel more, before the story shifted. I knew there would be a lot of time for the two to interact in confinement. I’m still working on Land Beast.

I had a friend from undergrad that came back from a workshop in which a classmate had written a story about a family going through a divorce from the perspective of the family cat. The workshop did not go well, because no one understood why the cat mattered--it was more of a novelty then anything. Here, though, we aren’t viewing human actions through the eyes of a beast (at least, not as the main thrust of the story) but instead understanding the beast interacting with its environment and other caged animals. Why tell this beast’s story from her perspective? How did you balance writing the life of a non-human animal in a human language?

That workshop sounds unfortunate. I hope that writer didn’t end up too discouraged to try again. I say, if there has to be a divorce story, be the cat. The cat matters.

I choose my rhino’s story because she matters. I saw a picture of an Asian rhino who had had her horn chainsawed off her face. The picture hit me. It hurt.

If I thought too much about it, I wouldn’t have been able to write the story. I found myself saying, Would a rhino say that?, but that question was just so ridiculous I had to let it all go and just write what was coming. I did get a little tripped up on whether or not the rhino would say attenuated, when she says a blanket felt like “attenuated mud.” Now, was that pushing it? Was that word in her vocabulary? Ha. I went for it.

When it comes down to it, I’m a land beast. It is my hope that the story of a brutalized female experiencing the loss of her child and her freedom transcends the boundaries of her species.

In “Land Beast,” we learn that the speaker killed a woman who was trying to get the beast to stop eating her mustard greens. In “Part Two,” the beast says “They have women handle me. Before these women, the closest I had been to one was the one I killed. The smell of that kill flares in my nose and makes me pant. How easily my body humiliates me. Shames me.” Could you talk about how the body figures into this piece and your writing, generally?

Land Beast is definitely about a loss of control over what happens to her body. She was drugged and then her body was mutilated for profit. The story comes from my real anger and despair about the economy of bodies. I mean that in the broadest sense, not just poaching and not just beasts.

When I was writing the story I became interested in how the mind is often not able to control the body. I enjoyed writing from the point of view of a rhino because they have terrible eye sight and a very, very strong sense of smell. I was able to imagine seeing through smelling and what that would mean for memory. The immediacy of smell. In my imagining, the smell completely overwhelms her and places her back in that field. Her body brings her back to violence.

The body also overpowered her grieving, or I should say, compounded it, when she thought about mating and having another calf. She felt desire and then became angry with her body for moving on before her mind processed her grief.

I have a fear of anesthesia because I can’t control who touches my body when I’m under. That fear definitely played a role in writing her story. I wrote a story that was in Issue Eleven of The Collagist back in ’10 that came from an opposite point of view—it was loosely based on Michael Jackson’s near constant desire to be unconscious.  When I write about the body, I’m writing about control. Writing a story from the point of view of an animal allowed me both distance and intimacy.

What are some of the best things that you read in 2013?

Baltimore writers had a really good year. Heather Rounds wrote a book called There (Emergency Press) that is a fictionalized account of her time as a reporter in Kurdistan. Jen Michalski had The Tide King (Black Lawrence Press), which is hard to sum up—it’s about what happens when a solider in WWII is given a Polish immorality herb.

I also read all of the English poet Alice Oswald’s work. I especially loved her Dart, which is a book-length prose poem in the voice of the huge (and deadly) river Dart in Devon, England.

What else have you been writing recently?

I started a new novel. There are three characters: a girl, a cow, and a monk. There isn’t much talking, since one of the characters is a cow, and another is a monk who has taken a vow of silence.  

I have a novella, titled Black Krim, that’s ready for the world.

And, as an aside, I want to mention that the Western Black Rhinoceros went extinct in 2013. The International Rhino Foundation is one conversation organization working hard on behalf of the remaining animals. I recommend visiting their site.

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