BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Kristine Esser Slentz does a lot and you probably don’t even realize how much she does. Slentz is a crucial part of the poetry community, hosting The Harbor through The Speakeasy Project, an online space where people can take free poetry webinars, receive writing prompts, and support. She also works as the the Assistant Editor for Unfold Magazine, and her own poetry experimental and raw,often exploring facets of sexual trauma, female sexuality, identity. During such a politically tumultuous time, and a time where trauma is being discussed more, her work couldn’t be more important.
In her poem, “movement, gentlewoman,” Slentz writes:
“then weeping council’s approach to stalk sunset
release cloud-forehead of compound cage linens
no taking sideways walk, slippery-haired evidence
steel heavens of women breaking method now
elasticity of milk grass and rod light colors
permission love and lush view, won’t gave up
think room of stopped mega moons time’s up
turning forever heat-lamp constellation colors
the sky is sick, me too, it’s her body’s space now”
I spoke with Slentz about her inspirations, rituals, and favorites below.
Describe your favorite meal.
Personally, it’s about the process of cooking rather than what the food itself is. There are a few dishes my family taught me growing up that I love making and adding my own twists to like lasagna, roasting any kind of bird, meatballs, chili, and just about any type of soup you can think of.
What have you been listening to lately?
One of my favorite musical artists as of late is JoJo. She’s experienced quite a journey in her career due to a lengthy lawsuit with her former record label. Even though she couldn’t release her music for profit during that time (which was the better part of a decade), she still wrote music and gave it away online because she’s a truly dedicated to her craft. It was a passion she couldn’t put aside. Plus, she has some great lyrics and style, especially in songs like “Fuck Apologies” and “FAB.” that seem to directly address her struggles as a female artist and her experience with court battles.
Choose three books that you've always identified with.
There are only two books that keep recurring in my life. I reread them over and over because I think they came at an important moment in my life and when I come up against similar situations or feelings, I pick them back up again. Those would be the chapbook High There by Tim Dlugos and a YA novel called Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
When I was in college, I worked for the student newspaper in the advertising department. One of my clients was Lala Gallery and Studio. There was an exhibit about 10 years ago of Justin Vining’s work, including a painting called “Katie’s Doodles.” Vining’s work focuses a lot on Midwestern life (particularly farmhouses and homes) and this piece truly spoke to me with its imagery of a small family home and seemingly confusion of blurred words. I bought piece and each year, I find a new way to interpret and personally identify with this artwork – everything from loss of innocence, substance abuse, abandonment, to hope and growth.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, I’ve thought about this a lot. Whenever there was a bad storm, natural disaster occurring around the world, terrorist attack, or any sort of catastrophe, we always thought it was the beginning of the end, Armageddon. In my childhood, I envisioned everything going down in one big ball of flames. However, now I believe it will look more like the Terminator movies where robots take over and try to wipe out humans. I’ve debated a lot about how I would like to go out in this scenario. I think that if I’m around people I love, I’ll be okay with whatever might happen.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
This is so tough! So, the ones I could whittle it down to were these: Kill Bill Vol 1 &2 (yes, I’m counting this as one movie), Belle, and Practical Magic. Also, I would love to give honorable mentions to Mystic Pizza and The Craft.
What’s your favorite animal?
Any kind of cat! Actually, cat was the first word I ever said. I also have a connection with giraffes, but that’s a whole other story!
What's something that surprised you recently?
Honestly, it’s been the reactions I’ve received when coming out to family members and friends about being in an open marriage. There were individuals I thought would be against our polyamory and those I thought would be supportive. As it turned out, the exact opposite happened. My loved ones who I felt sure would support us ended up being rather vocal about their disapproval. The people who I was nervous to tell ended up being the most supportive. This keeps happening the more that folks find out. Of course, there’s a lot of nuances to this situation as well but it’s been rather surprising nonetheless.
What do you carry with you at all times?
Lip balm. Always.
What are you afraid of?
At this moment in my life, I am most afraid of the hurt and pain I may have caused in my younger years. As I mentioned before, I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in small-town Indiana and spent some time in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Being raised in an unstable financial situation with parents who had battled addictions most of their lives left me dealing with life troubles in not always the healthiest ways or outlooks, both personally and within some relationships as well. Though I had to make many adult decisions at a young age, I was not mature in my understanding of this world, not that I have all the answers now either. I’m sure it’s my religious guilt speaking again too, but I wish I could ease any pain I may have caused in my past.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
Usually once a day for at least 20 minutes I turn on music that feels right in the moment and close my eyes and reflect. I don’t feel it’s quite mediation, but it somewhat feels like it to me. Also, just being topless a much as possible.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
The one I appreciate the most is earning my GED and applying to commuter/community college. I always feel silly talking about it, but that was a big transitional moment in my life.
Define happiness for yourself.
Accepting and living as my truest self and constantly trying to improve my well-being to become even more content every day. I wish this wasn’t such a vague and cliché answer, but it’s honestly a tough question to answer. Especially since I feel like the first half of my life I wasn’t able to do those things being a part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – such as watching R rated movies or any that had themes that went against their beliefs, wearing skirts above the knee, having friends that were not Jehovah’s Witnesses, pursuing higher education (if even completing high school), and a million other small things. It’s funny, once when I was volunteering as an escort for Planned Parenthood, I was discussing my upbringing with a fellow volunteer and how when I was a teen I was seen as very rebellious toward those religious ideologies but now have chilled out. She then quickly reminded me that I had a nose ring in, wearing a low-cut t-shirt, and standing outside an abortion clinic – I’m still rebelling but it feels like now it’s for the benefit of those around me and myself – if that makes sense. It’s some wild reflection, I’ll tell ya.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
Learn more. There’s so much I still feel I need to be educated on and I want to make even more efforts to do that in poetry, relationships, community, and myself.
KRISTINE ESSER SLENTZ is originally from northwest Indiana and the Chicagoland area, or what’s lovingly called “The Region.” Kristine is a Purdue University alum who studied English literature and creative writing. After college, she began working in the digital marketing field to marry her experience in both writing and advertising. She started in search engine optimization (SEO) and soon transitioned into content marketing. Currently, Kristine is earning her MFA in creative writing (poetry) at City College of New York. She is also the Assistant Editor for the online poetry publication Unfold Magazine, and the Features Manager for the poet's community The Harbor through The Speakeasy Project. Her poetry has appeared in Yes Poetry, Moonchild Magazine, and then Flying Island Journal where she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente