Kate Baer has been writing poetry all her life but things changed quite significantly in early November 2020. Most may immediately connect that time with the last presidential election, and one of history’s most consequential considering the timing of a global pandemic, the country’s widespread reckoning with racism, and deep political divides. And, as it turned out, it was also the timing set for the release of Baer’s first book of poetry, What Kind of Woman. Considering the state of the world, she was sure no one would be paying attention.
To her shock, Baer’s writing—work that speaks intimately and honestly about the experience of being a wife, a mother of four, and a woman who feels the weight of expectations and standards created by social media, loved ones, and generations that came before—resonated deeply and found a community of likeminded readers. After all, when you read Baer’s poems, it’s hard not to nod along in agreement and laugh with the author who’s perhaps no better equipped at navigating life, but profoundly skilled at putting it into words. Soon after What Kind of Woman became a New York Times bestseller.
In just a couple of short years, Baer’s followed up her debut book with two more beloved reads: I Hope This Finds You Well, a book of erasure poetry created from hateful, negative messages the writer received after her first release, and And Yet, which debuted this past November. In them, Baer continues to explore the bittersweet realities, achingly relatable anecdotes, and often funnier-than-fiction truths of her lived experiences.
“[I] allow myself to keep taking risks because that's where the good stuff is. It's not staying in the same spot but allowing that authentic voice to keep moving forward no matter what.”
ON FINDING HER VOICE
When you look at someone who has a bestselling book or success of some kind, you don't see 10 years of failure or struggle to find a voice and figure out what my path was going to look like. For instance, I was working on a novel when I started writing poetry that would become my books.
I had been doing personal essays for a long time and wanted to get away from that. I was sick of being called a ‘mommy writer’—I just wanted to be called a writer. So I took a break and worked on a novel for about four years. During that time Mary Oliver died. I already had all of her books but hadn't read them for quite a while, but soon, I started cheating on my novel with poetry. I don't know if you've ever cheated on anyone or anything, but it's really fun. So sexy. I had such a good time doing that and I couldn't stop. I felt like I'd found my medium. I love the boiled-down storytelling. I love that way of being able to quickly tell a story and cut out all the unnecessary parts and just say what I want to say. People really responded to it and I ended up getting a book deal.
ON BECOMING A BESTSELLING AUTHOR
What Kind Of Woman came out on November 10, 2020, which was a big time in history. It was the middle of Covid, it was a huge election, and I thought, ‘no one's going to buy this.’ All the press about it seemed pointless because we were all talking about something different, including myself. So when it became a #1 bestseller, it was shocking. I could not believe it. It was really exciting and led to two more books. I know I'll write poetry my whole life—I always have— but now people are reading it, which is really fun.
ON WRITING FROM A PLACE OF VULNERABILITY
All my favorite TV shows or movies or books or poems come from a place of risk, and that's how I like to write, as well. Because that's what I want to read. I don't want to read about someone's made-up fairytale tale life. I want to read the real stuff. Of course, there's always fear attached because I have a real personal life. I have parents, a sibling, friends, and a family that are also reading this stuff. There is definitely a fear to get over, but the other side of that is not doing it at all, which is much worse.
ON THE BEST NO SHE’S EVER RECEIVED
Gosh, I've written so many bad short stories and so many bad beginnings of novels because, as a writer, you have to just write so many shitty first drafts. In particular, the novel I was working on before What Kind of Woman is complete. I finished the novel and my agent said, ‘No, it's not ready. It's not where it needs to be.’ That was four years of my life that I worked on that, and thank God that book's not out in the world. It's terrible. But I couldn't see that when I was in it. I had gotten so attached to those characters and I was so in that space, and then it was poetry that pulled me out of it.
Now I realize that book was not meant for me. It was a great learning experience. I call it my ‘slightly less expensive MFA.’ I had to pay for childcare to write it but I learned so much about writing, discipline, form, craft, and revision. But the ‘no’ saved me so much and helped steer me in a different direction.
ON THE EVOLUTION OF HER WORK
We hear so much about this primal scream from mothers in 2020, and I was very much part of that—trying to homeschool my kids, write in my car, and do all these things. I felt like the whole country just having a meltdown. I still feel that in a way and, being in it and having four young children, I feel myself still on that train. But I also know that there needs to be something new. There needs to be something else to focus on.
When I was writing And Yet, one of my biggest struggles was getting out of my own way and realizing I don't need to write What Kind Of Woman again. I had to allow playfulness and silliness back into my writing. And that's where I see myself moving forward. I do still feel that primal scream, but I also explore other things and allow myself to keep taking risks because that's where the good stuff is. It's not staying in the same spot but allowing that authentic voice to keep moving forward no matter what.
ON THE UNEXPECTED PATH TO ERASURE POETRY
I didn't set out to do erasure poetry. First, there was this moment: George Floyd had just been murdered and I was talking about police reform on Instagram, and I had this ‘Debbie’ in my inbox being like, ‘but actually, you're wrong.’ Normally, I'd delete those messages. But I was looking at this message one day and the words kind of rearranged into a new form, and so I took a screenshot, hid her identity, posted it, and people really responded to it. I think it speaks to the time we were in, there was this feeling that so many of us were at odds with other people on the internet and also in our real lives.
I started doing that with other messages, as well. I have to be honest and say a lot of times it was really depressing because there were so many messages that I had to read through that I couldn't use because there weren't enough nouns and adjectives and adverbs. And so to write that book was really hard for a lot of reasons.
There are so many wonderful things that the internet has allowed, of course, but there's very much an ‘and yet’ situation. While we're making a lot of progress when it comes to communication and I've met so many wonderful humans because of the internet, on the other side of that coin is the deep hurt we can do just sitting in our own bedroom. So that's kind of what my takeaway was from these messages. Of course, my feelings were hurt more than a few times, but more so it was this feeling the whole time I was writing this book of ‘what are we doing here?’
ON HER WRITING PROCESS
Well, first of all, I can't write without childcare. There's no room for even writer's block if I don't have space to write. But I also write with a book open on my lap and read a lot while I'm writing. It's usually not a new book, because then I'll get carried away with a plot. I'll pull Lauren Graff’s Fates and Furies–I've probably read that 10 times—and keep it open on my lap and just read a few pages to get my head back up in the clouds and get my focus away from a to-do list or what's going on in my personal life. I also have The Odyssey abridged version close by because the language is so rich and beautiful. I read that because it's so immersive and beautiful, but I only need to read a few pages before I'm back into my own writing.
ON WEARING PINK HER ENTIRE BOOK TOUR
As an introvert, I thought that going on a book tour would be really draining, hard, and awkward, but instead, it's been so wonderful. I love it so much. And part of that is showing up in a way where I feel my best. It's really difficult in my experience to dress a plus-size body. It's been very difficult for me to find anything other than jeans and a black tank top to wear—that's my style around the house.
On my first book tour, I randomly found this pink blazer at Nordstrom, and I felt so good in it. Pink’s my favorite color and I wore it with black jeans that whole first tour. But for the second tour, I just had a really difficult time. I didn't want to wear the same thing but I couldn't find something to dress my plus-size body that I felt really good in. It was really frustrating. I spent thousands of dollars on shipping and returns and never ended up with anything I loved. At my second event in New York, I met Sali [Argent’s founder]. I had ordered probably five or six pink suits by then and none fit me, so when she said to come by the store to try on one, I was like, ‘okay, but it's probably not going to fit’. Well, it fits me perfectly and I’ve worn that to every single event this year.
ON CELEBRATING WOMEN
There are lots of voices out there as good or better than mine who are speaking truth to the female experience. So many women—especially women of color—have laid that groundwork before me that is allowing me to be able to talk so openly about my experience as a mother and as a woman. And I think that one of the good sides of the internet is women, especially mothers, are able to be honest about their experiences in a way that wasn't as accessible before.
I love women. I meet them all the time on the road. And I've met so many incredible women who are just changing, breaking the mold of the ‘’90s princess whose end of the story is getting married to Prince Charming and living behind a white picket fence and being quiet’ story. That's what I grew up seeing on the screen and what I thought my little 10-year-old self was working towards. I realized there's so much more than that. Seeing women live out that truth of being who they are and not needing a man's validation, or a man at all, to be themselves has been such a joy.
“One of the good sides of the internet is women, especially mothers, are able to be honest about their experiences in a way that wasn't as accessible before.”