An Interview with Rachel McKibbens

Mammoth & Moxie: On Activism & Empathy


Change is in the air. Perhaps the change we sought back in 2008. The kind of change that requires things not going back to “normal.” Because that would not only betray the poets we love and respect speaking out, but all of us. Rachel McKibbens is one of those poets who will not “let the living forget the dead,” and we are so honored to have her as our next Kore Biter. Rachel McKibbens is a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and the author of Pink Elephant (2009), Into the Dark & Emptying Field (2014) & the chapbook Mammoth. She is the founder of the Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat and co-curates the critically acclaimed reading series Poetry & Pie Night in upstate New York.

1. What was your last bite?

Some misogynist’s neck on the internet.

2. When do you step away? When do you step forward?

As an activist and empath, it is easy to find myself suddenly engulfed in the world’s traumas, which can become toxic. I chose to take a hiatus from the most triggering of social medias for a year, and it really felt like a spiritual alignment. I’m in a better place now. I have given myself permission to not engage in every battle. But of course, when every cell in my body feels electrified by grief or outrage, I can’t not open my mouth. This country is at war with the bodies of so many of its people. I do not have the right to remain silent.

3. You’ve traveled with poet Airea D. Matthews; tell us about your roads together.

It is a rare opportunity for two women to have the chance to hit the road and share their art with the world. I have five children, Airea has four; we are responsible for the well-being and survival of nine people on this wild planet. There is too much at stake for us not to go out and try and wake folks up, one poem at a time. We’ve done two brief tours together, and each time, we have experienced both catharsis and the supernatural, which is to be expected when you put two witches in a vintage travel trailer in the middle of Wyoming. As all women do, we carry and conjure ghosts. I refuse to let the living forget the dead.

4. Tell us about the origins & workings of your series, Poetry & Pie Night.

While planning the first women’s writing retreat at my home (which is now going into its fourth year) my friend, poet Susan Somers-Willett, suggested that, to close the night out, we should sit around my living room sharing poems with each other over pie. We wound up having a reading at the end of each night in the back yard. My partner found a pulpit and then five pews from the Spiritualist Church of Divine Love on Craigslist, we bought them up, invited the public and BOOM: Poetry & Pie Night. We loved the idea of a house show, and I have enough talented pals who are willing to trek to Rochester to read for it. We’ve been going strong ever since. It’s become a kind of pie potluck since then. Once a month, our friends (and friends of those friends) bring pies and we supply refreshments, poets and have ourselves a poetry church.

5. What is the song and topography of your Rochester?

It is a chorus of artists who refuse to let their city be taken from them. We are building as I type this. Poets and artists from all over the country are settling here. We have every intention of bricking our voices into the landscape.

6. Name 5 female poets you’d have for a dinner party, and what the night would hold.

Jan Beatty, Patricia Smith, Angel Nafis, Karen Ladson & Dominique Christina. We’d eat whatever me beloved Victorian manservant decided to feed us that night, then we’d crank call all the stuffy academics. Then paint our faces in menstrual blud and go dancing.

7. What new moxies for 2015? 

1. Convincing more writers to become feral, free bitches
2. More trans & genderqueer writers being recognized for their contribution to the literary world
3. Black lipstick and baby blue eyelids
4. Claudia Rankine’s Pulitzer causing all the white people to riot, setting Abercrombies on fire everywhere

8. Tell us about that girl in 6th grade and empires.

I’m friends with her now. Turns out empires can be dismantled and return, fifteen years later, humbled and apologetic even. #karma

9. Go into your closet ( and create a writing prompt for our readers.

Write a curse using these following words: silver, clutter, skirt, drown, tooth

10.What is your philosophy on craft and disclosure? 

My writing prompts are an attempt to render the structure of poems transparent to writers, to let them see the bones without decoration.

11. Show us what you’re working with.

Contributed by Rachel McKibbens