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Meet our Issue 2 Featured Contributor: Karen Schnurstein

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

By Ziyi Yan and Karen Schnurstein

Karen Schnurstein is our Issue 2 featured contributor in poetry for her poem "Safely Tonight, or Every Woman's Blues." When I first read Karen's piece, I was immediately taken with its poignant simplicity. Every line in this poem means exactly what it says it means– the speaker tells us, "This poem wants you to know how it's captured." Even so, nothing in this poem is truly yielding: suburbia is littered with skulking bushes, frying pans, and the need for "something to beat." Lines collide against each other angrily, dislodging words from otherwise uniform stanzas. "Safely Tonight" pulses against uniformity, against obliqueness, against every kind of repression that masks itself as order. Ultimately, this poem showcases the nuance and guttural authenticity of "every woman's blues," so that, even as it is captured, it becomes so much more than its captor.

Karen Schnurstein is a budding poet whose recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Bi Women Quarterly. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and resides in Indiana. You can read her commentary on her work below!

Karen's commentary on "Safely Tonight, or Every Woman's Blues"

I wrote this poem at the age of 20, which was almost 28 years ago now. The chief inspiration for this piece was my awakening to the experience of being a woman in a world in which there is an ever-present risk of violence at the hands of men, as well as my resulting desire for more safety, freedom, and power. A seed of my voice in this piece comes from a traumatic experience that seems to have taken place at the hands of a man during my early childhood. It feels appropriate to share a quote here in which Sylvia Plath expresses her similar experience of womanhood:

“Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night...”

My poem was also inspired by a work by Beckian Fritz Goldberg that I no longer remember. The quote from Maureen Seaton's poem was another key inspiration.

My writing process generally involved listening to instrumental music in the Western Michigan University computer lab and typing, printing, and retyping my work. At the time I wrote this poem, I could only gain a good sense of my writing by seeing it on a piece of paper. My work was at its best when I edited it directly in the flow of each piece, speaking the poem to myself while retyping it.

I sent this poem out with the hope of giving voice to the young woman I was when I wrote it. In the future, I hope to write at least one book of poetry.


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