JD: Thanks for taking the time to interview for The Weekly Degree. For starters, tell us a bit about yourself and your poetic endeavors thus far?
RK: Thank you for having me, Josh! Well, I am a poet from the Philadelphia area. I only started publishing work within the past year! I have had almost fifty journal publications thus far and have been participating in readings in the city.
At the end of 2017, I was in a very tough spot—I threw myself back into my schoolwork and into draining, toxic relationships without taking time to acknowledge and work through the grief I was experiencing following my father’s death in May of that year. I started 2018 determined to take care of myself and to change—I put my all into seriously pursuing my passion for writing and it has been so rewarding.
JD: Glad to hear you turned things around! In regards to submitting your work, how does the interaction with presses, journals, etc. encourage and/or inhibit you as a writer?
RK: Most of my interactions with small presses and journals have been very positive and rewarding! Publishing through indie journals is great because it’s definitely very personal, and there’s a lot of mutual support between writer and publisher there. I also volunteer at a couple of online journals—mostly reading submissions and voting on them—and I love it! Reading other people’s work makes me fall in love with the art of poetry again and again.
JD: I may need to call up your reading prowess sometime…What are some common tropes in your work that have defined “you” as a writer?
RK: I once tweeted something that said “How to tell if you’re in a Rebecca Kokitus poem: something is rotting, you’re bleeding from somewhere, slightly sexualized nature imagery, your father is dead or otherwise absent, swamps, sex drugs rock n roll, etc…”I think that sums it up pretty well! In all seriousness, I write a lot about my relationship with my own body, about femininity, about grief, about nature, about sex, about spirituality, and the places where all of these things intersect.
JD: The poems that I’ve published on The Weekly Degree (and also heard you read live) center around your deceased father, which I can empathize with since my mother passed away when I was young. Do you feel the culmination and interpretation of loss is necessary? Are your coping mechanisms more “traditional” or advantageous only to you?
RK: I’m so sorry, Josh. It really is a unique devastation, losing a parent.
I would say that for me, writing through this grief has been one hundred percent necessary. I’m not good with words, except on paper. I’ve always struggled to talk about what hurts. There’s too much temptation to downplay my experiences. Writing is my form of catharsis, and my way of exploring my own emotions in ways I don’t allow off the page.
JD: Totally agree. Poetry, even if abstractly written, can be all it takes to give old memories some fresh air. I’ve also noticed your keen ability of establishing a setting & mood. Do you have any stark influences that have helped you perform these devices well?
RK: I have always been obsessed with atmospheric writing—I’m a sucker for Midwestern Gothic, for dark and rural stories. Finding the darkness in everyday settings is fascinating to me. This is something I strive for in my own writing.
JD: You’ve recently performed some readings with occult themes such as The Witch Market and A Witch’s Craft: Poetry & Panel. How has the community at large received your work?
RK: I truly believe that writing itself is a form of magick. I write poetry by finding magick in the mundane, by attempting to put what is inexplicable into words. There are definitely lots of writers-slash-mystics who are much more in tune with their practice than I am, and they inspire me to explore that part of myself more. I absolutely love being involved with A Witch’s Craft—being part of this sort of niche coven at the intersection of witchcraft and literature is exciting for me.
JD: Cheers to community! Any future projects on the horizon? Chapbook, collection, novel, etc.?
RK: I definitely hope so! Right now I am in the process of trying to publish my debut chapbook. I would love to someday release a full length collection, maybe even explore other genres. For now, I’ve been putting my all into perfecting my chapbook manuscripts and finding the right homes for them.
JD: So, how has your hometown been reflected in your work? How have your studies at West Chester University done the same?
RK: My hometown is often present in my work. I come from a very small town in rural Schuylkill County—real Pennsyltucky country if we’re being honest. But I have a connection with it that I never get tired of writing about—there’s a sort of eerie, Appalachian wildness to the land that I am forever trying to define. All small towns have an ugliness to them though like drug abuse, poverty and the like. I don’t turn a blind eye to that part of my home in my writing. That would be inauthentic.
As for my time at WCU, I applied to the university on a whim after being rejected by another school. I didn’t even see the campus until I moved in as a freshman, but it felt right to me. I still feel like I made the right choice. Through my years as an English major, I have come to understand my craft. I have had one professor in particular, Dr. Kristine Ervin, who has helped me refine my writing over the years. She was one of the first people who encouraged me to submit my work to literary magazines.
JD: Very intriguing. I hung out a lot in West Chester in my youth, so I’ve had plenty of interaction, yet it’s cool to see how you immediately gravitated toward it. Next question, what three adjectives best describe you as a person?
RK: According to the online quiz I just took (haha!), I am “creative”, “adventurous” and “spontaneous”. I’d say that’s somewhat true, although my life is a constant struggle between wanting to be a recluse and wanting to be adventurous (Sun in Taurus, Moon in Aquarius).
Seeing myself as I am is hard for me—I have a lot of issues with self image that go beyond physical. I find that writing about myself, about my thoughts and emotions, about my relationship with my body—is the closest I come to understanding myself.
JD: Apparently, ancestry.com states that only one Kokitus family has been noted in PA and only PA since 1920…how confident are you to think that’s your family?
RK: I would say 100% confident. It’s definitely not a common last name!
JD: …thought so! Lastly, what’s your go-to drink while writing/reading? (Can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
RK: I’ve never really thought about it! My inebriated writing leaves a lot to be desired, so probably coffee or tea!
JD: This would explain those late-night writing stints perfectly.
Rebecca Kokitus is a poet residing in the Philadelphia area. She is a student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she studies English with a concentration in Writing. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @rxbxcca_anna, and you can read more of her writing on her website: https://rebeccakokitus.wixsite.com/rebeccakokitus.