Monday, July 20, 2015

book interview: untying the knot by karen paul holmes

I’m curious: what’s your elevator pitch for your book?
Untying the Knot by Karen Paul Holmes is a memoir in poetry about loss and healing written with “grace, humor, self-awareness and without a dollop of self-pity.” (poet Thomas Lux)

How did you come upon the subject of your book?
It came upon me! Suddenly. My husband of 30 years told me he’d slept with one of my good friends and was in love with her. Since poetry is my main means of expression, poems (and notes in my journal that became poems) started pouring out of me. Of course, I later edited the heck out of most of them. Many were workshopped too, some with poets like Dorianne Laux and Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate of Great Britain. I wasn’t intending to write a book, but after two years, I had about 60 poems and one day realized I could put them together for a collection. That was a healing moment.

And the title? Sometimes, it seems to me, titles can strike like lightning or can be extraordinarily elusive. How did you go about finding your title?
This one struck like lightening because there’s a poem in the book with the same title, and the poem is actually about knots, and it was just a no-brainer.

Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey.
The most difficult thing was actually living the story taking place as I was writing the poems. (But writing was therapeutic for me.) And then once the book was published, I feared the angry phone call (or worse) if my ex and his girlfriend read it. Also, I suddenly felt vulnerable: People reading this book would know intimate things about me. I’d opened my kimono, and even if I closed it back up, all had been exposed.

And the most pleasurable?
Sharing. People relate to the book and tell me so. They buy it for friends going through divorce. Even people who haven’t been divorced, but have been through other losses, relate to the story.  When the poems were fresh, I couldn’t read them out loud, but by the time the book came out, I could. Even though people always seemed to enjoy my readings before, I found that people connected to me even more, probably because I showed my vulnerability, and that always makes one more “human” to audiences.

What’s the best and / or worst piece of advice (writing or publishing or similar) you’ve gotten?
A very specific piece of advice I love is to end poems with an image. That single technique often helps a poem’s ending snap into place. I was told (and believe) it leaves readers taking that image beyond the poem and into their own imaginations or memories, where they can linger.

Tell us one of your favorite books you’ve discovered recently and say a little about why.
Without by Donald Hall. He wrote it during his wife’s (poet Jane Kenyon’s) illness and death. It is painfully honest and beautiful. I kept writing “yes!” in the margins, and I rarely write in books.

Can you share an excerpt from your book? Give us a taste.
I’d love to. This one is toward the end of the story, when I began to more fully comprehend and accept what had happened. I had read Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds and was inspired to write this poem and add it to my manuscript—this was after the publisher had accepted the book, but she agreed to add it.

Has He Landed Safely?

     I worry that the outstretched legs on the hart are bent the wrong way
     as he throws himself off.
          from Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

Not at all a graceful takeoff
his leap threw him into the wild blue
ambiguity of an affair.
I now know he had to do it:
had to explore, sail off the edge
of the world.

I now know he had one limb out
of our marriage for years.
Kept trying to balance
his accounts—in his mind            
he and I did not equal happiness
even though I was the wife he wanted
to show. Smart,
pretty enough, a good mother.
He loved me as much as he could
but I did not fill his coffers.

For two years he resisted the lure
of her but it persisted,
a bee in his palm,
until he couldn’t hold it any longer.
He was barely more than fawn
in the ways of betrayal, antlers
uncalcified. Yet he craved
the danger, needed it
like heroin to addle his pain. 

He had to leap, to deny the gravity
of his action. To land, gashed
in another galaxy.
Does he speak the language?
Can he breathe?

What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
hmmm, you asked good questions. How about, “Has anyone bought the movie rights?” But unfortunately, I’d have to answer no.

OK, we’re smitten. Where do we go to buy your book?
It’s in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. I’d love for people to be inspired to buy it, so thanks for asking and thanks for the interview!


  1. Karen, Congratulations on getting this excellent interview review. I like the format. Untying the Knot is a collection that will have a long shelf life for sure.

  2. Great interview! I love Untying the Knot and I have never been divorced, but I have suffered loss and endured grief such as you write about here. Your poems draw visual pictures that draw me into every one.

  3. Karen is not only an amazing poet, she is an incredible supporter of poetry and poets in Atlanta. My life is so much better for having met her!