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An Interview with Kathleen Rooney

Patrick Parks

Author photo of Kathleen Rooney, who wears a red dress and red lipstick and sits at a desk before a typewriter. In back of her, a very full bookshelf.
Photo by Beth Rooney


Kathleen Rooney is the author, most recently, of the novels Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Penguin, 2020) and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s, 2017). Her poetry collection Where Are the Snows, selected by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X. J. Kennedy Prize, is forthcoming from Texas Review Press in September 2022, and her novel From Dust to Stardust—based on the life and work of the silent movie star Colleen Moore—will be published by Lake Union next year. She lives in Chicago, with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay, and teaches at DePaul University.

In Where Are the Snows, Kathleen Rooney asks, “Who will write the moral history of my generation?” While she doesn’t pretend to be that person, she does, in the thirty-nine poems that make up this collection, address the kinds of issues—faith and religion, hope and desolation, societal normalities and abnormalities—that would most certainly be part of such a chronicle. As Rooney explains, her poems are reminiscent of a fragmentary Japanese form, zuihitsu, in which seemingly random ideas are brought together to create something greater than its individual parts. In deft language and lines, Rooney steers the reader through contemporary life with observations that reveal the absurdity of our world and our struggles to understand. The result is a book one reviewer says “is unafraid to face the various crises of the world and admit it might not work out . . . funny, playful, cynical, indulgently dark, and poignant.”

Where Are the Snows will be released by Texas Review Press on September 7, 2022, but you can pre-order it here.

-Patrick Parks


Patrick Parks: Though it may be simplistic to characterize it this way, of all the literary genres, poetry is perhaps the most protean in terms of the way it appears on the page. From haiku to epic, villanelle to free verse, form is as integral a part of a poem as function. Where Are The Snows is, on one level, free verse, but it also seems to redefine that label. How would you describe the shape of the poems in this collection?

Kathleen Rooney: Literary work that stands with a foot in more than one genre has always been appealing to me, so much so that when we founded Rose Metal Press, my coeditor, Abby Beckel, and I decided to dedicate ourselves to literary work in hybrid genres, specializing in the publication of flash fiction and nonfiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length linked poems; novellas-in-flash; lyric essays; text and image works; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional categories of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.

So it makes sense that I often write hybrid work, which I consider Where Are the Snows to be. The pieces in the collections are poems, but the kind of poems that a reader might describe as prose poems because they’re organized more by sentences and stanzagraphs than line-broken stanzas. Another reader might describe them as lyric essays because of the way they meander around their subjects, free associating and getting discursive.

The writer Leslie Jill Patterson told me they reminded her of zuihitsus. I didn’t know what that was so I had to look it up, and when I did, I discovered that—as Poets & Writers explains—“the zuihitsu is a Japanese form and genre comparable to the lyric essay comprised of casual, loosely connected fragments and ideas, often in haphazard order, such as in Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book,” and often “collecting a dozen or so random thoughts and personal notes about your surroundings, and incorporating text fragments, observations, and lists.” I didn’t write these pieces with that form in mind, but being told about it after the fact felt revelatory, and I’m grateful to Patterson for that insight.

PP: In a press release, your publisher says these poems “strive to be as interesting, alive and determined to connect as a YouTube comment.” In terms of the construction of your poems, are they singular observations that coalesce under a title that suits the compilation, or do you have the title/theme in mind before you begin?