Claire Kelly's first full-length collection, Maunder, is available from Palimpsest Press. She has curated a chapbook of emerging Edmonton poets for Frog Hollow Press’s City Series. She lives and writes in Edmonton. Her second book of poetry will be released in 2019 with ECW.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook gave me something tangible to point to for friends and family who knew I had moved away to work on writing, but having a physical thing to explain my extended absence was very nice. It was also lovely to read from a book instead of from papers that always seem to end up crumpled in my backpack.
My new work feels a bit more punchy and possibly more reactionary. I am still using poetry to reflect on how I feel about things, or why, but the things I’m reflecting on are more political and less based on what I see when I take walks. The world makes me angrier right now (*cough* Trump *cough*) and I am trying to find ways to write that anger into my work without losing other aspects of my poetry that I like, such as humour or a sense of beauty or surprise. The world makes me feel itchy, so I’m trying to be surprising and funny and maybe even evoking the beautiful while trying to evoke that itchiness.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I was a kid I wrote all sorts of things. But when I hit my early teens I fell in love with movies. After a house fire our power got cut by an overenthusiastic cable company worker who had walked by our burnt stuff in a dumpster. So we didn’t have cable for half a year and rented VHS tapes from the library. It was the first time I got to see old movies that weren’t Sunday night Disney films. So I wanted to make films and then when I realized I didn’t want to deal with people, I wanted to write and edit film. Slowly that became wanting to watch films, which I still do. Last night I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon and it was awesome. Best designed horror monster ever! Then I wanted to write fiction, but what I always found myself actually writing was poems. It makes sense in retrospect because of how often I hoarded the school library’s copy of Alligator Pie.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I tend to write in bursts and through the writing figure out the themes and concerns that are bouncing around in my head. Lately I’ve had two projects on the go so that I can see where the poem fits, if it fits in either. The writing is quick and the editing is long. Some poems are very similar to their original forms, generally with some pre-writing that can be deleted or crafted into a title, and some post-writing that is just me explaining to myself what I’ve done which can be helpful for the editing process. Some poems change forms completely. If I have felt stuck with poetry for a while, I will gravitate towards forms to kickstart writing. And then sometimes I find a form holding me back so I will remove it. Very often a poem will start of as a prose poem and something will feel off, so I’ll create some white space through line breaks, and vice versa.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Only when I was writing my thesis, which became Maunder—though many of the poems from the thesis did not make the book version—did I write towards a project. I have to say, though, I did purposely pick a topic that I could hang a lot of different poems on. I mean lots of poems are about walking or are imagined while walking. Walking does help create the necessary rhythm for me to start writing, as does reading other poets’ work. I need the rhythm, what I’m doing with that rhythm is part of the process. I’m just figuring it out and discovering as I go. That way I don’t get bored.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are integral to my process. Often that’s when I learn not just how the poem is working but where the poem is working toward, if that makes sense. My mouth and ears don’t trick me in front of an audience as much as my brain and eyes do in front of a computer. I have learned to love performing in the last year or so and not just find public readings useful. I practice a lot beforehand so that the audience finds the experience useful and engaging too.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
This is the sort of thing that works poem to poem for me until I notice a pattern. Right now I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness and how despite our technological connection many people seem to be weighed down with loneliness. Were we always this lonely? Or does the expectation of connection we see on our screens make us feel as if we are lonely? I don’t know if this is theory or not, but it is the concern behind what I am writing, even if that concern is way back in my subconscious as I write about wanting to lash out at cars on the way to work.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I enjoy writers who are processing their culture, whether they take it further and directly engage or not. I think most poetry is political. I wish the culture cared more about poetry, but I think that poets are often overly apologetic about writing poetry. It’s hard to engage people while apologizing for what you are creating: “I write poetry, which no one reads, except poets” * squirm *, * squirm *. I wish we’d talk more about how our lives are enriched by poetry to those who have only been taught it poorly in classrooms, instead of cringing. Tell them how much fun it is to find a poem that engages your tongue and eyes and brain. I have no idea if I’ve answered this question.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
As many eyes as possible is helpful. Even if someone does not present the right solution, very often they inform me of a problem or confirm an issue that I’ve been avoiding. When the eyes belong to someone who is not my friend it is helpful because I get the feeling that they are not overly swayed by my feelings. Friends who edit are helpful as well, as they want me to succeed and are willing to go super far in helping me get to the weird destination that I am trying to will the poem to.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Writing requires white space. John Barton made me feel better about dropping an academic class at UNB by saying that phrase. And I’ve reminded myself of it when I am making choices that take away from my reading, thinking, writing, and editing time.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t write every day, but I think about writing every day. I’m not just saying to myself, I wish I was writing. I mean that I am doing the editing and crafting away from the computer a lot so that when I get an hour or so (lunch hour at work, say) I can hop in. When I find that hour or so and my partner hears me mumbling to myself from the other room, he knows that I am working. So no set time or place, but if I haven’t worked on some poem drafts or written a first draft of a poem after a fortnight, I am uncomfortable in my brain.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I find switching to a new poem helpful so that I am not forcing something that just needs some time to itself. Having just one thing on the go bores me and makes that one project heavy and burdensome, like an angry, giant toddler. Best to have a half-dozen kids just in case one does something terrible like not make sense or say the exact opposite of what was intended (note1: that simile broke down; note 2: I do not have children). Also, reading poetry helps more than I can adequately express. I type up the poems of others a lot so that I have them ready to go just in case.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Unscented candles after you blow them out and a roast in the over about twenty minutes before it is ready (that point where cooking meat infuses the air).
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I have written quite a few ekphrastic poems. If I had my choice, and enough patience and skill, I would have chosen being a painter. Song lyrics have also been important to me. I have learned a lot from different lyricists. Two that pop into my head this moment are Joanna Newsom and Shane MacGowan. They are both very good slant rhymers.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Virginia Woolf and Ali Smith have made me a better writer and maybe a better person. Both are willing to leap into the heads of others and imagine what they are going through, and have a serious sense of play.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I am in the process of writing a horror novel. It is terrifying (the process and hopefully the novel). Longform narrative is a completely different mode of obsession than my short poems. So many more words to wrangle.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would want to be a palaeontologist. I never grew past the awe of the dinosaur, their size and alien-ness and their tongue-contorting names. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t become a writer. I don’t think I’d be a successful dino-scientist. The fact that my answer is still so much the same as when I was eight is probably a sign that I don’t have marketable skills outside of writing and helping others get their writing into book form.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Sheer dumb inability to be good at anything else.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Ali Smith’s Autumn for fiction was amazing. I already want to read it again. I thought the ending was hopeful, but it would take a reread and a long conversation to explain why I feel that way. Kathryn Mockler’s Onion Man is one book that I’ve been thinking a lot about since I read it in the Spring. It’s form made such sense and I hadn’t read a character like that in poetry before. Layers and layers. As to a movie, if anyone hasn’t seen the movie Frank, I feel bad for you and jealous of you because I wish I could watch it for the first time again. It is such a study of genius and talent. It is dark and funny and I keep singing the songs aloud. I’ve watched it three times this year.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the first draft of a horror novel titled Her Kind. I will be editing a new manuscript with ECW soon about moving from New Brunswick to Alberta, which is also very much about having A.D.D. (One Thing—Then Another). And I am working on a new project about loneliness, tentatively titled Weirdo Poems.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;