Pennsylvania-based poet Kate Baer just gets it. She’s funny, she’s warm, and she writes poems about womanhood with such clear, uncanny truth, you want to glance around and wonder how she knows so much about you. Her previous books — What Kind Of Woman and I Hope This Finds You Well — soared onto the New York Times bestseller lists, and this week, her hugely anticipated third book comes out: And Yet.
I’m excited to share three new poems, plus a Q&A with Kate…
How beautiful are those? Kate and I talked on the phone last week, and here’s what she said:
Joanna: You wrote your first book at Panera Bread and your second book (during the pandemic) in the parking lot of Panera Bread. Where do you work these days?
Kate: I have my own office. It’s a room right off my bedroom. So, I have double doors between my family and me, which has been TOTALLY life changing. I miss Panera mostly for the joke of it and because I made friends with the staff. And it was kind of fun to leave for work. But there’s nothing like having my own office.
Before you start writing, do you do anything to shift gears after the morning routine with your four kids? Or do you just barrel into it?
When I walk from the kitchen up to my office, I have to quickly change gears so I can utilize my work time. I’ll brush my teeth and put on jeans — because if I wear sweatpants, I get sleepy. I also read for a little before I start, even if it’s for five minutes, to get my head back up in the clouds.
What you read?
Usually a few pages of a book that I love, like Fates and Furies. I’ll just turn to a random page — her language is so rich, it turns me on. I’m like, I’m *** for writing now because I’m reading Lauren Groff!
How does your new poetry book relate to your first poetry book?
At first, I felt an immense pressure to recreate What Kind Of Woman. It took a while to let that go. That’s the problem with a sequel — you have to let it be what it is. Many of the themes are similar, but there’s now more of an existential crisis. It’s like a break-up album — not breaking up with my spouse, but breaking up with the world and trying to piece it back together.
Can you predict which poems will be most popular?
There are poems I know will resonate. But the best part of putting out a book is when people find the weird little ones I wrote mostly for myself, and they say I love this one, and I’m like I’m so glad there are a few people who love this weird little poem!
I read your poem ‘Postpartum Questionnaire’ many times over. That feeling of slowly losing your mind rang so true for me.
My friend’s sister had just had a baby, and we started talking about our own postpartum visits, and we were joking about we didn’t know what it would look like down there… and then it got quiet and we had a moment where we acknowledged how we were barely holding it together. We were alone at that point. And it was really hard. Later I was thinking about that conversation and the postpartum depression screening form and how difficult it is in that moment to tell the truth because you want to have it all together.
It’s wild to me that there aren’t specialized doctors — with a special name, like cardiologists or neurosurgeons — who are trained to focus on mothers during that first year after pregnancy and birth. Instead, you have no one at all. You stop seeing your ob-gyn once the baby is born, and the pediatrician is just for the baby. You’re left to the wolves.
The CDC recently shared that over 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths of the mother are preventable. And the majority of those deaths occur from seven days to a year postpartum. That’s happening after the baby’s born. There’s SO MUCH going on there, physically, emotionally.
What inspired the poem ‘Mixup’?
Growing up, I LOVED the movie Freaky Friday. I loved that whole idea of swapping bodies. And there’s been a bunch times in my life, and I’m sure every woman can say this, where I’ve wondered, if I were a man, would I be taken more seriously? That’s the basis of the poem. And also swapping bodies.
That’s a great premise for a poem.
I also LOVE when people have to repeat days, like in Groundhog Day.
Then did you love Palm Springs?
Yes! Oh my god, yes! While we were watching, I turned to my husband and said, they’re repeating days!!!! I love when people are put into those crazy scenarios. I could watch 100 movies like that.
Lastly, your poem ‘Headstone Suggestions’ made me think of my friend Abbey, who once told me that she wants her headstone to say, ‘She was a helper, and she laughed.’
That’s so sweet. I’m about to get my period and I could cry about that so much right now. This book is a lot about death — what happens before, what happens after, is there a meaning to human suffering? I wanted to make a funny poem, so it’s like yeah we can laugh about this, too. When I wrote this, I thought I had Covid and I thought, if I die, what would they put on my headstone? And this is the one I would love. This is how I want to be known.
P.S. Kate Baer’s beauty uniform and three poems from her first book.
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