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Today, an interview with South Jersey poet Kendall A. Bell, whose work has been most recently published in Melancholy Hyperbole and First Literary Review-East. He was nominated for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is the author of sixteen chapbooks. His current chapbook is "Siberia". He is the founder and co-editor of the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook, publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press (MDP) and president of the Quick And Dirty Poets. His website is www.kendallabell.com.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into poetry.

Hmm...let's see. I'm a music and football fanatic. (I also enjoy hockey, baseball and tennis.) I have a huge music collection that won't stop growing until I buy the farm. I read a lot, but poetry is usually my genre of preference. I do read young adult fiction...because I refuse to grow up, I guess. I'm from North Jersey and still identify as such (Bergen County), even though I've lived in South Jersey for about 14 years now. I was a child actor...as in, I acted in plays in school. I'm also a trained singer, but not many people know this.

How I got into poetry...well, from about age nine to sixteen, I wrote short stories. Many were as awful as you could imagine. At some point, the stories weren't really coming anymore. I ended up writing more stories in my early twenties. In fact, I still have some old ones that I never finished in text files. Anyway, poetry started in my late teens and it was even worse than the stories. I still have the proof, but they will never see the light of day. A few people in my old poetry group who are sworn to silence did read one of them on what we called "Juvenilia night", when we shared our old and horrid poems. Mine was among the worst. Truly.

I started taking poetry more seriously by my mid-twenties when I discovered Nicole Blackman and ended up having an online friendship with her that sort of culminated in our first face to face meeting at a reading she was hosting in NYC. (The featured poet was Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing fame, later solo.) My earliest influences were Poe (naturally), Plath and Sexton. Among my favorite modern poets now are Keetje Kuipers, Sierra DeMulder, Megan Falley, Sarah Kay, Taylor Mali, Clementine Von Radics, Teresa Leo and the lesser known, but fantastic, Amber Decker.



2. Your latest collection is Siberia, which I am wild about. I guess you could call it an ekphrastic collection, of sorts, since it's based on prior art. Can you tell me how you got the idea for it? And how did you decide which lines to use?

Ah, good questions. For a while, I was writing some poems based around Gemma Hayes lyrics. Gemma is among a handful of artists who can truly resonate with me. I had been a fan of Lights [née Valerie Anne Poxleitner, married to Beau Bokan] since her first EP, which came before her first full length, The Listening. Lights is in that handful of artists who really, really matter to me. I picked up her acoustic album, which is stripped down versions of all the songs on her Siberia album, and after hearing the songs in a different light, the lyrics are what really stood out to me. I had never really appreciated the depth of her lyrics until that moment, which is really odd, because I'm a lyrics guy.

Certain lines started to stand out to me in the songs on that album and so I'd write them down and work poems around them. I then went back to The Listening and listened more, then I put her latest, Little Machines on repeat. More and more lines started to jump out at me. I would say that most of the lines came from Siberia, then Little Machines and then The Listening. Siberia had a lot of lyrical depth. It mined a lot of personal stuff and hit a nerve with me. The album was shocking to me when I first heard it. It was radically different from her first album and I wasn't even sure that I liked it. As it turns out now, it's my favorite of all of her work.

3. Did you find yourself going in the same general direction, either tonally or thematically, as the songs the lines came from, or did you depart from them?

I would say yes, I did, in a sense, go in a similar direction as Lights did for a good chunk of the poems. However, I think the poems are radically different in the sense that these lines had separate stories to tell, but the isolation and longing are still there. I really liked the idea of isolation and separation from the rest of the world, which is why I decided to call the collection Siberia, as well.

I think it follows the vein of the collection while also being a tip of the hat to Mrs. Bokan. For example, the poem "Come bail me out of this godforsaken precipice" which comes from the song "Heavy Rope", is actually quite similar in the sense that she's looking for something to lift her from the depths of what holds her down. The subject in [my] poem feels helpless to what he's feeling for this person that he didn't expect to fall so hard for. The longing for her is so strong, but he knows that ultimately, he can't have her and he needs something to keep him from total freefall...but it's too late. He's in love with her.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there's "We were kind of feral wicked little machines" from "Running With The Boys". That (Lights) song is about reminiscing about the past and celebrating youth. [My] poem goes towards the high of two people crazy for each other in the beginning, but they crash and burn, losing everything they thought they were and could be. [My poem,] "Toss me a heavy rope, it's a slippery slope" (also from "Heavy Rope") is about Robin Williams. "The loneliest thing in the shape of a fist", which is from [the album] "Portal", also goes in a different direction. It's about Rob Bironas, the former Tennessee Titans kicker who died in a car crash last year. It looks at possible reasons why he ended up on that road late at night. So yeah...longing, isolation, loneliness. That's mostly what "Siberia" is about.

4. What's next?

Next? There always seems to be something next. I'm currently working on a total re-write of a very limited chapbook I did about twelve years ago called "Destroyed". The titles of the poems in it are the titles of each of the songs on [sludge metal band] Jucifer's album I Name You Destroyer, which is one of my all time favorite albums. I was re-reading my chapbook last year and decided that I hated most of the poems with the exception of one. I hope to finish that [rewrite] up soon.

I'm also slowly working on compiling poems for a full length manuscript that I hope to get some poor sucker of a press to publish. MDP is a chapbook micro-press, so I don't want to do it through MDP. I'm also entertaining the possibility of a Blair's Echo prequel where you learn about Blair's life when she was among the living. [You can read Kelly's review of Blair's Echo here.] I also wrote 73 poems during NaPoWriMo this April, so I need to edit/workshop the hell out of those poems. I need to keep my poetic feet moving at all times. I want to be challenged and try new things...even if I fail.

Massive thanks to Kendall for this interview. He can be found at the various links above, and his works can be purchased at Maverick Duck Press.

Additional Poetry Friday posts can be found by clicking the link below:





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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
mdhbarnes
May. 7th, 2015 11:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for introducing me to Kendall, Kelly. Loved hearing about his inspiration and process he went through to pull SIBERIA together.
kellyrfineman
May. 12th, 2015 06:06 pm (UTC)
I thought his process was really interesting, and something that any poet could borrow - or anyone else might use for a writing prompt!
TS Davis
May. 8th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
Another maverick duck!
I LOVE his answer to what's next. All writing is constant REwriting, even with poets.
kellyrfineman
May. 12th, 2015 06:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Another maverick duck!
Mary Lee Hahn
May. 8th, 2015 10:17 pm (UTC)
It's fascinating how much music informs his poetry!
kellyrfineman
May. 12th, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think so, too - I know it's not always the case with him, since one of his recent chapbooks was Blair's Echo, about a fictional relationship between a guy and the ghost/echo of a girl who died decades earlier, but still, I found it fascinating. And a good writing prompt!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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