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Get to know your bears: Barbara Varanka

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

As we announced recently, Bear Review staff recently increased by two new members: readers Savannah Bradley and Barbara Varanka. Here we excitedly introduce to you Barbara, a poet also with ties to the University of Missouri Kansas City MFA program. Barbara too calls KC home and is an (exceptional) baker and product manager by day. Her poems have appeared in Booth, Jet Fuel Review and Moon City Review.


Haines Eason Co-editor, Bear Review


How did you come to poetry? What was your journey?

I feel lucky that poetry came to me in a very natural way. One of my earliest memories is of writing short stories in first grade and feeling like it was the most natural thing. My stories evolved into some pretty cryptic, emo poems in middle school, and from there I was hooked. The first poet I really fell in love with was Pablo Neruda who is someone I always come back to for the simplicity and power of his language. When I read his Odes to Common Things, I realized that even the most basic components of life — a sock, a lemon, a summer afternoon — can be celebrated and glorified in poetry. I still come back to his work when I need to be reminded that poems don't have to be overly complex to be powerful.

Outside of your work with Bear Review, how does poetry fit into your life?

Although it's easy to prioritize the activities of daily life (going to work, washing the dishes, cooking dinner), poetry remains the thread through my life that keeps me feeling lit up and alive. I work as a product manager in financial technology, and I really enjoy that my day-to-day is so technical and innovation-driven. Poetry serves as such a beautiful balance to my daily work. It's something I can always come back to for inspiration, connection and release. When I'm writing, I feel free, like a bird in flight.

Describe your creative process, either when writing or when working in another medium.

I've experimented with other ways of writing, but I always come back to the power of writing by hand. When I'm really jamming, my hand flies across the page and I can barely read my handwriting. I feel such a deep connection with the process when I am writing my poems by hand that I don't get any other way. I let those handwritten pages steep, and then I go back to them a day or two later to start to pull out the lines that really work and cut those that don't. It helps to give myself a few days to get some distance from the pages, to see them "in daylight," to get a more sober perspective on what's working and what isn't.

If you are engaged in the making of other arts, how do those pursuits inform your writing?

The closest thing I have to poetry is baking. I see so many parallels between the two art forms. Like poetry, baking is part science, part art, part magic. And, like poetry, it's most often a solo process. I have naturally been drawn to both since a young age. I'll be baking and writing for the rest of my life, and I don't know if I'll ever truly master either one.

How would you describe today’s poetry scene? What about it inspires you? What, if any, concerns do you have for it?

Today's poetry scene is a wild mix. I don't always understand the latest trends, but I'm wary of leaning too heavily on my own taste or what I consider my favorite type of writing. There are so many amazing writers I'm still discovering; hearing new and fresh voices gives me hope and reminds me of why I love our art form. I worry sometimes that we've lost our sincerity and genuineness to trends. My hope is that we take the best parts of our tradition into the future while still pushing forward with experimentation, as long as it's driven by depth and quality.


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