After years of drought, Kary Wayson is writing poetry again

The word I’ve most often applied to our October poet in residence, Kary Wayson, is “patience.” Wayson’s poetry feels deliberate and constructed in a way that the work of many Seattle poets does not. Every word is there for a reason, and if you were to extract even one syllable, the whole thing would crumble to a pile of typeface at the bottom of the page. In a literary scene that tends toward expressionistic and reactionary poetry, Wayson stands out as a contemplative figure.

And too, Wayson isn’t one of those poets who overwhelms with frequent appearances. Though she regularly teaches poetry classes at Hugo House, months and even years have passed without Wayson’s name appearing on the poster for a major reading. It doesn’t feel like she’ll just apply her time talent to any old event. She is a writer who does not produce a lot of work, who doesn’t overwhelm with her presence, and that makes her a refreshing rarity in 2017.

Ask Wayson about her poetic patience, though, and she’ll attribute it to more practical reasons. “I've always sort of worked the opposite hours of everybody else,” she explains. When she left school, she wanted to find a career that provided “the best money I could make for having the most amount of free time, which is in restaurants.” Wayson has waited tables for many years, and so the prime time for readings — nights and weekends — has been largely inaccessible to her.

Occasionally, Wayson tells me she wishes she could be more of a part of the scene. “Sometimes I feel, like, ‘I’ve got to change my life. I got to get a day job — a real job, where I can take time off of work and get paid for it and be a part of the literary community.’ And then other times it seems perfectly fine.”

As a writer, she’s very deliberate: poetry is an exacting quest for perfection. She uses the term “etched in stone” to describe her work. She describes her process as “a slow accretion” and says she wants to build something sturdy, something “that lasts” for years — generations.

Lately, she’s been reading the work of John Ashbery and Richard Wilbur. “I spent the morning exhuming this poem of [Wilbur’s]. Each syllable is chosen with care.” That’s important to her. “It’s almost an affront to me when the work is sloppy,” Wayson confesses. Poetry is “not just something that’s broken into lines. It’s something that has been labored over.”

But there’s another reason beyond perfectionism why Wayson hasn’t been reading her poetry in public. Until a couple months ago, she admits, “I hadn’t written anything for probably three years.”

This seems hard to believe. She hasn’t written anything at all? “I’ve done journaling and some little failed attempts, but, no. Really, nothing.”

Thankfully for us, the dry spell is over. “The writing is coming out now,” she says, relieved. “But it’s got these strangenesses,” she says. And she’s been doing work “letting strangeness of syntax, and strangeness of ideas, and strangeness of image stay there [in the poem] hopefully in a way that’s not just weird but achieves something.”

Is it appropriate to say that Wayson is working at giving up a little bit of control of her work? “Yeah!” She seems excited by the idea, “and it’s something that I don’t want to figure out because then it might go away. I want to support it.”

Wayson is now experimenting with techniques to bring weirdness to her work. She’ll copy pieces of her journal entries backwards, word-for-word, just to see what kind of juxtapositions that will draw out. She’ll then explore those unexpected connections in poetry.

So what’s next for her? “I have a manuscript that I've been shopping around that’s been a near-miss at some really nice presses for years,” she says. She hasn’t given up hope on that one — “I’m still working on that, and that will probably be the next thing that comes out” from her in book form.

And the new work is still coming strong. “I have something right now that I’m working on that feels like it will be a thing,” she says, and her enthusiasm for the work is palpable. “I’m not talking Rilke here,” she qualifies, “but for me, it’s something I can hang my hat on.”

Is that thrilling to feel, after such a long drought? “Yeah, it’s nice to know it’s there, and it’s nice to have been doing this for long enough now that I know to not press it,” Wayson says.

She’s learned that much of crafting a piece of writing, for her, “is doing it and then stopping and letting it be, and then going back and trying some more, and then probably fucking it up a little bit, and taking that back out.”

“It really all takes such a huge amount of time,” Wayson says. That’s not a complaint, coming from her. In fact, she sounds like she’s having fun.