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UWM at Waukesha student publishing second book

Kristian Zenz

UWM at Waukesha student Kristian Zenz is releasing a book of poems this month called Deadly Grievances. While releasing a book at his age is impressive enough, this will actually be his second book! We asked Kristian some questions about his writing, his inspiration, and his time as a student here at our campus.

Tell us what your next book, Deadly Grievances, is about.

Deadly Grievances is a chapbook of fourteen poems that essentially tell a small, but significant sliver of my story. Each individual poem pertains to a different subject, but all 14 largely coalesce together to form this horrifyingly beautiful picture. The first 7 poems are representations of the Deadly Sins, and the ugliness that surrounds performing sin, as well as the anxiety associated with being aware of the commission.  The next 5 deal with the stages of grief– the natural responses that occurred in consequence to the aftermath of my sins. The final two deal with repentance– moving on from said sin and, hopefully, growing into a better iteration of yourself. I discovered that time is a relentless, transient beast that recycles its complexities– I wanted to encapsulate that in the last two.

In short, Olivia Rodrigo released her album, Sour, this year. This is basically my Sour. 

What inspired you to write this book?

Many different people, places, and experiences inspired this book. I first began writing poetry in 7th grade and have only become more infatuated with it as I have grown older.

If heaven had its own hell, it would be quarantine during the height of the Covid pandemic– most of 2020, winter 2021. The idea of quarantine was, upon reflection, oddly associated with many positive things. I could be four years old again– it was spring and there was no school. I could walk outside whenever I wanted, and there was a refreshed discovery for just existence. I was free to whatever I pleased, as most of what I do doesn’t involve much social interaction. It is when I really started taking poetry seriously and would upload my work to my website occasionally throughout the year. A lot of 2020 was indeed a heavenly experience.

But then Hell set in. I learned a lot about myself thanks to quarantine. I learned I become bored very easily and that I do like social interaction, and that I did like school. I wrote about the increased levels of anxiety I had during a lot of 2021– the relationship I had was not the best for me. I am a Cancer– I’m emotional and sensitive, and that sensitivity is why I write.

I lost the relationship I had throughout all of quarantine as soon as things returned to ‘normal’– a fear I had all of 2021. I was absolutely devasted, and absolutely frustrated. Everything that I had built for 14 months ceased to exist. I went on a writing tangent throughout October and November, basically writing mass amounts of poetry each day. As I wrote more, I healed more. I discovered more about myself, learned more about myself, and regained the confidence covid and that relationship took away from me. Off the high of this newfound confidence, I started finding themes in what I was writing, such as stages of grieving and different sins. I also noticed the Holiday and seasonal themes and motifs that were appearing— it is why I am releasing this in December.

Largely, what inspired this book was a period that seems to not fit in fluidly with the rest of my life. The breakup I endured kicked it into high gear. The book is largely the physical product of a lengthy, difficult cathartic experience.

Where do you get your ideas for your writing?

My ideas stem from anywhere and everywhere. If I can translate some experience with a person, a place, or a point in time into words, I’ll do it.

A lot of ideas poetically speaking come from music. I am fascinated by linguistics and how words sound together. I am interested in how sounds we make with our mouths produce meaning, and how all that came to be within human evolution.

Rhythm is very important in poetry for me. I want my poetry to be fun to read and test the boundaries of where words can go, and how far they can take a reader. I derive a lot of those rhythm techniques from music.

How did you get into writing and poetry?

I was handed a notebook in 3rd grade by one of my teachers, her name was Mrs. Gleason— shoutout to her. From a young age, I understood that I had an innate desire for creativity and filling in the blank spaces in sheets. I think I fell in love with the idea that I could fill in a blank notebook with whatever I pleased. The rest is basically history— I still love creation and I aim to become a more thoughtful writer each day.

Who is your favorite author(s)/poet(s)?

I wouldn’t say I have too many favorite authors— one reason I tend to write is because I generally don’t like what I’m reading. But, I love Toni Morrison’s work, along with Stephen King and Dan Brown.

Two of my preforms at UWM at Waukesha are also authors, Ellyn Lem and Andrea Lochen— I intend to read their books as soon as I can!

Among poetry, as a lot of my own work is derived from music, I really enjoy the poetry of Anthony Kiedis, Ian Gillian, and Billy Joel, among many others. Not only are they talented musicians and singers, they are virtuosos of the English language. The way they can slip their words into the music and have them fit in rhythmically, melodically, and sonically is very inspiring to me.

Bringing up Olivia Rodrigo again, her album is very special to me. The way she encapsulates the dark sides of teenage years so fluidly inspired a lot of my writing for this book. Poems such as ‘The Holiday of Yesterday’ and ‘She Doesn’t Know’ could essentially be compared to ‘Driver’s License’ and ‘Enough for You.’

Among more traditional poets, Charles Bukowski does great work, along with Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson.

Tell us about your time here as a student at UWM at Waukesha. Has it inspired your writing in anyway?

As this breakup occurred in September, I am beyond grateful for my time here at Waukesha. I picked this school for a few reasons— the small community, the location. The universe works in mysterious ways— I wanted to stay close to my relationship in order to sustain it; that didn’t matter. But, I love it here, and my creative writing and English course have helped me discover who I am and have helped me improve my writing. There is constant support for my personal endeavors and constant support for my dreams— it’s extremely refreshing compared to high school.

As far as inspiration goes, I would say that the school hasn’t directly inspired writing, but it has rather inspired me to not hold back and truly push myself to a new level— that feeling is encapsulated in ‘Ice Breaker.’

Have any professors here at Waukesha helped influence your journey to becoming a published writer?

I would say the encouragement from Andrea and Ellyn have certainly inspired me to say ‘screw it’ and publish some of my poetry. That isn’t to say it wasn’t published thoughtlessly, but rather they have given me confidence to put more work of mine out there. They have helped me realize to not pay attention to the reception my writing may or may not receive, and just focus on becoming a better writer and making a better product. This book is a cathartic experience, and I’m very happy with it. If someone else likes it, that would be great.

This is your second book – tell me about your first book.

I wrote short stories in middle school, which were largely chains of dialogue between characters of a family. I began to notice the attempts by kids my age to become teenagers as fast as possible, and I was never on the same page as most were. I had a severe distaste for technology, and didn’t have a phone. I began to wonder what the future looked like long term— if we are this reliant off of technology, what happens when it’s taken away?

My first book attempts to answer that question. In a science fiction novel titled 2050, the main character is largely an exaggeration or hyperbole of that side of my personality. He is stuck in the past, stuck in his own ways, and isn’t willing to adapt to the present. He believes society is doomed with the ever growing presence of technology, and wants to push time back, so he can live the life he wants.

I initially thought that iteration of me was a phase, but 6th grade me was right— technology, especially social media, sucks.

Any advice for aspiring writers looking to have their work published someday?

The best advice I can give to writers my age is to just keep writing. Keep polishing your craft, and keep taking in as much as you can from all sides of the world. But, do not be pressured to emulate the biggest writers out there— make sure when you write, it sounds like yourself. The rest will follow in a tough, thick-skinned industry like the world of publishing.

I’d also say turn off your social media, and do not put so much attention on to the statistics— you can breathe much easier once you stop paying attention to how many sales you have, or how many followed you have. Just concentrate on your craft.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I emphasize that in this world of Tik-Toks, YouTube shorts, and minuscule attention spans, this book is a digestible, relatable piece.

The book is releasing December 21, in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats on Amazon. You can purchase my first book in e-book and paperback formats all over the web.

Poem listing for Deadly Grievances:

Ice Breaker
Forbidden Green
Winter’s Flower
Toys Were Us
The Blood Drive
It Won’t Freeze

Three Headed Hydra
Deck of Cards
She Doesn’t Know
The Holiday of Yesterday
The Fireplace

The Bouquet of Regret

My website is:

My Instagram is: