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Kora Schultz spins poetry out of overload and trauma

The Madison-based writer’s first chapbook, “strawberry hole,” explores mental health, addiction, and social media.

The Madison-based writer’s first chapbook, “strawberry hole,” explores mental health, addiction, and social media.

Photo: Poet Kora Schultz looks into the camera, wearing glasses, earrings, and a denim jacket embroidered with flowers on its shoulders. The background, out of focus, is an indoor setting with framed art on the walls.

Local millennial-zennial cusp poet Kora Schultz is managing late capitalism—as well as panic disorder, recovery, and the pandemic—with wit, honesty, and Twitter

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In their first chapbook, released in late May, Schultz has taken the modern grind and its discontents to vulnerable, tactile, and humorous lengths. strawberry hole, published in late May by Bottlecap Press, is strewn with astrology references, deer hunting analogies, and thoughts on libido-killing meds. The book’s description asserts, “Hope you like sad femmes.”

“Getting diagnosed and deciding to slowly start getting sober—around that time is when I started writing a lot of these pieces,” Schultz says. “Poetry kept me alive through the pandemic. Not only writing it, but also reading it, and connecting with poets.” 

Schultz, who grew up in an addictive and uncertain environment, was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2018. They had their first panic attack before the age of 10 and started using substances as a teenager to cope with anxiety. After a short stint in rehab at age 16, Schultz moved on to Wisconsin’s acceptable substance of choice: alcohol. Now they’re more than 9 months sober from everything but cannabis. 

“Putting a name to it, talking about it, writing about it, and putting it out there, and allowing yourself to be seen has been really helpful for me,” Schultz says. Their feminist social media presence is also an outlet. 

The full-time UW-Madison student also works full-time at a housing justice nonprofit, and part-time at a coffee shop, while moonlighting as an editor. This all-too typical lifestyle is negatively affecting the health of many younger American adults. Wage stagnation, longer work hours, burnout, and depression are common afflictions for the post-Gen-X population. A 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index study found that millennials’ physical and mental health is declining faster as they age than Gen-Xers. So much so that millennials could see a whopping 40 percent increase in mortality compared to the older group. 

In “sorry sorry (sorry), Schultz expressed that overload and the physical consequences of trauma through an adorable yet disconcerting metaphor: “my body is 1000 hedgehogs in a trenchcoat…they keep the score when my muscles can’t.” The latter line refers to the New York Times #1 best-selling trauma treatment bible, The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk. 

“Poetry is a way to release a lot of that [trauma], not only in a way that’s giving it space outside of you, but giving it a name; you really do gain so much power from it,” Schultz says. 

Though Schultz initially wrote the poetry for themselves, publishing the collection has been equally as therapeutic in a world that simultaneously causes and stigmatizes mental illness and its chronic physical effects. 

“Our social structures manufacture that distance on purpose to not be able to talk about our mental health or addiction—the things that capitalism really capitalizes on,” Schultz says. “That manufactured distance can really be solved by [sharing experiences publicly], poetry, and art. That’s really the way forward.” 

Some of the poems in strawberry hole started as journal entries and are titled with the dates Schultz wrote them. A few show up as phone texts—one concerning a baking challenge. 

In “on vampirism,” Schultz weaves their father’s heroin addiction into Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Growing up, they often watched the film on a ratty VHS with their father. They write, “i watch [Gary] Oldman die a thousand times / to find a way to make you live.”

“Addiction as monstrosity is a really overplayed and stereotypical thing in art, but it is for a reason—it tugs at people that way,” they say.

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Mentions of fruit run through strawberry hole, including citrus, the eponymous berries, and orchards. “Fruit is something that you’re going to make a mess with; it’s going to be soft and it’s going to be juicy,” Schultz says. In the second stanza of “in three,” they write: 

i tell the goblin no. tell her to clean her room.

tell her there is lacroix at home. trade her liquid

pulls for grapefruit ghosts. put that in your

tweet drafts. a citrus phantom – incredible.

Schultz found solace in writing, reading poetry, and connecting with other poets online during the pandemic.

“We look at Twitter as this nightmare place of constant garbage discourse, but I have found so many cool journals, particularly like Bottlecap [Press] through there,” they say. The millennial-run publishing outfit is dedicated to authors’ rights and fair pay. 

Schultz recently received an arts grant from Dane Arts, part of a $1 million program to help local artists stay afloat amid pandemic-related losses.

“[The grant] means being able to kind of take time off, take a breath. And focus on work without that two-jobs, full-time-school kind of headspace,” they say. 

Through the pandemic-influenced introspection that strengthened their commitment to poetry, Schultz also decided to switch majors from social work to writing, with a minor in psychology.

“I think that’s been fairly universal, particularly among creatives in the pandemic—realizing that we never know when it’s gonna be over, and you might as well jump for it,” they say. 

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