How I Got That Story: Kate Lebo, poetry

Kate Lebo is living the dream. No "sad pie" for her!

Kate Lebo has had a helluva year. In addition to winning residencies at Soapstone and Shotpouch Creek, her recent grant from 4Culture will allow her to take the summer to write before beginning her MFA at The University of Washington. Kate:

  • is an associate poetry editor for Filter, a literary journal made entirely by hand. Cooool!
  • has poems forthcoming from Poetry Northwest and have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Smartish Pace, and A River and Sound Review.
  • is obsessed with pie.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

My tipping point came just two months ago when, in a single week, I learned that I had been awarded a teaching assistantship through UW’s MFA in Poetry program (a position that will support me while I pursue my MFA) and that I received a grant from 4Culture to help with living expenses while I complete of my first book of poems. This promise of funding allowed me to leave my job at Hugo House and spend the summer writing. For the rest of the summer, I’m going to live the dream.

Since that week, I’ve had a passel of good rejections and exciting acceptances: my chapbook was a semi-finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook Award; I was interviewed by KUOW about food and literature (that will air Saturday, July 24 between noon and 2pm); a poem was accepted by Poetry Northwest (one of my favorite lit mags); I was awarded a collaborative residency at Shotpouch Creek’ and I received a few “please submit again” rejections from literary magazines. All this along with all the usual outright rejections, of course. What I’m trying to say is that if I have reached a “tipping point,” it’s because I’ve been applying and submitting constantly and in high volume for the past two years. I’ve been getting a ton of rejections too. That’s part of the game.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?

You know, I’ve never been super-concerned with having my poems in specific publications. I just want them in magazines that I like to read. There is little that is more depressing to a writer than imagining your poem squashed against the closed page of another and left on the shelf, in the dark, unread. Nothing worse than getting your contributor’s copy and realizing you don’t care to read it because you don’t particularly like the magazine. I’ve had that experience only once and once was enough. It caused me to reconsider why I publish. Do I publish just for the sake of publishing? No. If I did, I’d be thrilled to be published, period, in any old rag that would take my poem. I think I publish because it feels like part of the life cycle of the poem. Create, edit, get rejected, edit some more, then eventually get published and read. If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, it’s like making a pie–you can put hours of love and craft into your confection, but if you don’t share it with other people it will rot on the counter. Or worse, in your stomach. That’s some sad pie. I refuse to make sad pie.

My dream publications aren’t with a specific publisher or magazine. My dream is to find a publisher suits this idea I have of how I want my poems to physically appear. I’m talking about the feel of the book, the art, the graphic design, the weight of the paper. I like magazines like Filter Literary Journal (a handmade journal I now help edit) that are as thoughtfully constructed and carefully wrought as the poems they contain. I like online journals like, that exploit the DIY and social networking abilities of the internet to create interactive and associative space for poems. My dream publication is a space–maybe I’ll have to make it myself–where readers interact with poems in new and exciting ways.

I’m working on a collection of prose poems and recipes about pie called A Commonplace Book of Pie. In my imagination, it has full color illustrations and recipes, quizzes and quotes, maybe some natural history thrown in for fun. I don’t know if there is a publisher out there that would invest in a cross-genre, illustrated manuscript. If there is, then that’s my dream publisher.

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward your current success?

About a year ago I began to understand that when an editor rejects my work, it isn’t because the work is bad. I mean, it might be (I hope not!), but more likely poems are rejected because of the personal preference of the people reading them. Rejection isn’t a black and white, acceptance=good poem, rejection=bad poem sort of situation. It’s a matter of what the editor has read already that day, what she had for breakfast; if she’s sleepy or excited or stressed out and just looking for a poem that speaks to her particular mood. That it is entirely beyond my control makes rejection so much easier to take. All I can do is send my best work, keep sending it, and understand that most rejection isn’t personal.

RE: short work, how many do you have out for consideration at any given time?

I tend to have five to seven poetry submissions, two or three chapbook submissions, one or two grant or award submissions, and one or two writing contest submissions out at a given time. When I get news, good or bad, I send out another submission as soon as possible, to keep my writing in circulation. That way the mailman might bring me good news at any time.

For more about Kate (and her tasty homemade pies) visit her blog,


Author: allehall

I am a writer. I write to explore childhood: literary essays and short fiction, journalism, and three haiku. My published work expresses my belief that everything which did or did not happen to me as a child is manifesting in everything that is or is not happening to me today. More importantly, it is also manifesting for my children. I believe funny is the new navel-gazing, and that the best funny keeps a penny's worth of serious in an accessible pocket. Little-known fact: I have a completed novel decorating the inside of a desk drawer. Perhaps it is not funny enough.

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