Meet a Judge: Christopher KondrichJune 30, 2020
Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest judges are artists, writers, environmental scientists, historians, marine educators, poets, filmmakers, composers, science communicators, and classroom teachers. Meet Poetry Judge Christopher Kondrich through this conversation with our Intern and young poet Akhila Bandlora.
What’s your name, and what do you do?
Christopher Kondrich. I’ve published two poetry collections and am in the process of writing a third. I’ve also started writing creative nonfiction. I teach literature and writing in the Washington D.C. area, creative writing workshops online for the nonprofit organization Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and help edit the literary journal 32 Poems.
What has been bringing you joy, creatively or otherwise?
Joy has been hard to come by this year, which is why it is so important to recreate online the connections that make a community so powerful. I was a part of an amazing community of writers when I lived in Denver and now a few of us meet virtually to discuss our new work—my friend Poupeh Missaghi just published her novel trans(re)lating house one and it brought me much joy to discuss it with her and the others. I also find joy and inspiration in watching films from around the world. I love browsing the Criterion Channel until one piques my interest. Most recently I’ve been watching the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Kelly Reichardt.
What work have you done that you’re most proud of?
I’m really proud of the poem “Common Things” that was published in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. Honestly, I’m proud because of how difficult it was for me to write it—conceptually, sonically, formally. I was writing and rewriting it for well over a year, but the urgency of the topic—the normalization of gun violence—drove me relentlessly toward finding the right language, the kind of language that would prompt sincere self-reflection and political action.
Why is imagination important during crises?
Imagination is vital because it gives you a means of finding your way outside of a crisis. As the philosopher and pacifist Simone Weil puts it, “to be inside [a crisis or situation of violence] is to be unable to conceive its end,” which is why the imagination is so important. It allows you access to the outside of a crisis so that you can see what needs to happen to bring about its end.
How would your loved ones describe you in three words?
Instead of three words, I’ll give you one sentence describing me that was written by the poet and essayist Julia Cohen as a part of her introduction to a reading of mine. She is a wonderful friend and these words of hers were very moving: “He reminds me that attentiveness is an active choice, it is a form of inquiry and love.” This is what I’d like people to know about me and who I am as a person.
What, in your opinion, is the role of poetry in the environmental justice movement?
Climate change impacts communities in ways that are not always readily apparent. Problems accrete gradually and insidiously over generations. The author Rob Nixon speaks about this in his fantastic book Slow Violence & the Environmentalism of the Poor. I think poetry gives us access to this broader view of time. It allows us to see well into the future or deep within the past. And I think having this more expansive understanding makes the drive for justice in our present moment that much more urgent. What is at stake is more than we now know.
What’s your favorite local community organization that deserves more attention & money than it gets?
I think Split This Rock is doing amazing work in the Washington D.C. area and nationally. The organization calls poets into greater engagement and conversation with social and political life, which is much-needed. Their programming (readings, workshops, festivals) is diverse and empowering, and I hope the support for their work continues to expand.
What is a poem you think everyone should read?
“Ladders” by Richard Garcia. A rich and powerful prose poem about the walls we build and the struggle to overcome them: “Some people want to destroy all the ladders. Others want to destroy the walls. Others say that someday we are going to need all the ladders in the world.”
Christopher is the author of Valuing (University of Georgia Press, 2019), selected by Jericho Brown as a winner of the National Poetry Series and by Library Journal as a Best Poetry Book of 2019, and Contrapuntal (Free Verse Editions, 2013). His poetry has won The Iowa Review Award, The Paris-American Reading Series Prize, and three Pushcart Prize nominations. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, The Believer, Bennington Review, Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, and The Kenyon Review. The recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts, and the I-Park Foundation, Kondrich received an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a PhD from the University of Denver. An Associate Editor for 32 Poems, he lives and teaches in Maryland.
Photo by Dave Glanz