17 May 2012

online find 5/17: an interview with poet kelli stevens kane

One of the exciting new features I’ve been working on for this blog is interviews with poets whose work I admire. This week, I am honored to have the opportunity to share the words of poet Kelli Stevens Kane. When I contacted Kelli, about the possibility of interviewing her for the blog, I was surprised by her quick and kind response indicating her interest in participating. This thoughtfulness is reflected in her answers to the interview questions! Enjoy!

Kelli Stevens Kane
Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright and oral historian. Kane's literary works--a poetry manuscript, Hallelujah Science; a play, I Never Laughed So Much at a Funeral; and an oral history manuscript, Big George's Wylie Avenue--represent four generations in her family, all rooted in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Kane is a 2011-2012 August Wilson Center Fellow, a 2011 Cave Canem Fellow, a 2011 Flight School Fellow, and the recipient of a 2011 Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Grant.  Kane reads nationally, including recent performances at the Cornelia Street Cafe and Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, The Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, and TEDxWomen Pittsburgh.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working daily on new poems that explore the body and movement.

I'm also about to do some public performances.  “Big George’s Wylie Avenue: Wisdom of The Hill,” is a series about “Big George,” my grandmother,  who used to go to funeral homes in Pittsburgh’s Historic Hill District whether or not she knew the deceased.  The series will include audience discussion and is funded by The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Fund, an initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

I’m also about to do a show at the August Wilson Center that's the culmination of my Fellowship there. It will be my first show on a theater stage, alone, with lighting and sound.  A huge leap!

Your poems have appeared in many fantastic journals. What is your submission process like?

I love the process.  I think the trick is not taking any of it personally or getting too caught up in the result.  I’m the only one who can really reject my own work, and that happens all the time in my own editing process.  By the time I submit work, I’m confident that someone will publish it--my job is to do the research and be patient enough to find the right fit. I also believe in keeping lots of work out there at all times so the submission process is a perpetual motion machine—you never lose momentum because things are always going out and coming back in.  It’s busy and fun and exciting.

Oftentimes poets consider themselves as having “arrived” at becoming a poet. How long have you considered yourself a poet?

I think of poetry as having many departure gates, but no solid arrival gates—they flicker and shift daily. So, how to talk about arrival?  Maybe the goal-oriented part of me does feel a fleeting sense of arrival when I know I’ve written a really good poem.  But the part of me that’s more mystical only feels a sense of arrival when I’m truly lost in the daily practice of writing poems, most of which never amount to anything because they are just that—practice.  Although I’ve been writing poetry since 1996, I’ve only recently publicly called myself a poet.  For me, I think it took closing all the other escape hatches.

In an interview with Pittsburgh Things (Sept 1 2011), you described the poet you admire most as “The one who … returns to the blank page with no map, and tries again to write a poem because there’s no other path.” Could you describe what you consider to be the power of poetry?

A good poem has the power to take everything down with it.  And then reinvent itself and you.

Who or what are you currently reading?

Two books of poetry that embody the power of poetry: “Kingdom Animalia,” by Aracelis Girmay and “By the Numbers,” by James Richardson.

A lot of poets have some pretty heavy fears or anxieties when it comes to their writing, or their profession. What is one of your biggest writing “challenges,” and how do you try to overcome it?

Well this is scary stuff—keeping yourself wide open enough all the time to move toward truths you haven’t consciously realized yet and might not be ready to face?  And continually failing beautifully, yet prying yourself open to try again?  And then sharing the artifacts of this practice with others?  Yikes!  Trying to overcome these fears is just part of the daily practice.  The only way to do it is to do it. Remember “Big George”?  She used to drag me to those funeral homes.  So without trying, she wired me to face the fact that we have limited time here on earth.  So I say let’s go for it while we can.

If you could share a piece of advice for other poets, what would it be?

Get out of your poem’s way.  Why?  Because it’s coming through you to heal you, and when it’s done with you it might just heal someone else.  Let it.
  
To read Kelli’s work, find out more about her upcoming appearances and news, or to join her mailing list visit www.kellistevenskane.com


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14 comments:

  1. Forgive me for practically re-posting the entire interview into this comment box, but there is just so much to "wow" over. LOOK at these thoughts!

    “I’m the only one who can really reject my own work, and that happens all the time in my own editing process. By the time I submit work, I’m confident that someone will publish it--my job is to do the research and be patient enough to find the right fit.”

    “I think of poetry as having many departure gates, but no solid arrival gates—they flicker and shift daily”

    “Although I’ve been writing poetry since 1996, I’ve only recently publicly called myself a poet. For me, I think it took closing all the other escape hatches.”

    “The one who … returns to the blank page with no map, and tries again to write a poem because there’s no other path.”

    “A good poem has the power to take everything down with it. And then reinvent itself and you.”

    “Get out of your poem’s way. Why? Because it’s coming through you to heal you, and when it’s done with you it might just heal someone else. Let it.”

    Thank you for introducing us to Ms. Kane. And Ms. Kane? Thank you for introducing us to "Big George." ;) My best to you in your impressive endeavors.

    ReplyDelete
  2. LoveloveLOVE "get out of your poem's way" and "I’m the only one who can really reject my own work." YES. Thank you so much, Khara and Kelli. Awesome interview.

    de jackson
    www.whimsygizmo.wordpress.com

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  3. I truly feel like a "me too" following the comments of Marie and De.... Beautifully put! Could not agree more that poetry is something that moves through us.. "taking down gates" if only, yes..."we get out of the way". Wonderful interview Khara and terrific to "meet" Kelli :)

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  4. This interview reads like a poem of sorts...I too am blown away by the insightful answers that any writer can relate to! Thank-you Khara and Kelli.

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  5. Such an excellent interview, Khara. And Kelli, I'd love to sit down sometimes with you and talk poetry and purpose. You seem to have captured both and wrapped them around your life.

    Kudos to both of you ladies on a marvelous sharing. BTW, I agree with the others on what was shared.

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  6. Great interview with a perfect ending. I can suddenly hear a few poems in progress screaming at me. "Hey! Get outta the way!"

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  7. So very true -- words of wisdom shared above. I can think of nothing to add that hasn't already been said! :-| Thanks for sharing! :-]

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  8. @Khara: Thank you so much for introducing me to Kelli Stevens Kane. I must admit that I am definitely adding her poetry to my reading list. Amazing and insightful questions. With that, Khara, you share more of your thought process with your readers.

    @Kelli: Wow. You have just revealed a new departure gate from which I soon need to depart. It will be interesting to note where I will arrive. It is never where I expect it. It is equally intriguing to read about the submission process and keeping "Poems in Motion" and constant circulation. Sounds like poetic currency to me :)

    As far as getting out of the poem's way, I can totally relate to that during the original writing. How does one stay true to it during the editing process? (I have never edited a single poem I have authored out of fear of getting in its way. The only exception is spelling/grammar errors.)

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  9. Thank you all, so much, for your comments. It was my honor to interview Kelli; I think I take as much from her responses as you all have!

    As she mentioned above, Kelli is also about to begin a one-woman show featuring original poetry, theater, and oral history, as the culmination of her August Wilson Center Fellowship. For more details on this event, check out the information here: http://www.kellistevenskane.com/appearances.html

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow! Khara, thank you so much for choosing to interview me, and for asking such great questions. I'm grateful to everyone who responded--thank you!

    No pressure, but if anyone would like to join my mailing list here's the direct link:
    http://www.kellistevenskane.com/mailinglist.html
    In addition to a monthly update, I try to always include links to opportunities for poets.

    Meenarose: You ask a great question about editing. Find one of your poems that has a part that just doesn't smell right. It could smell like avoidance, like a cliche, like an idealization... Give yourself permission to play with the source of that smell. Is it a word? A line? I promise you won't hurt the poem. There is room for self discovery here. You can save each draft of the poem as you edit so there's nothing to lose. Be bold. And playful.

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  11. Kelli,

    Thank you again for taking time to answer my question. So navigate the poem with my senses, a part may feel weak or unsupported or guarded and needs to be strengthened and opened. Perhaps it is not even that, it may be just refining the nuance or sharpening it. I naturally do that with my business writing just never considered to apply it to poetry.

    You have indeed given me a fun venture for this weekend. :)

    Cheers!
    Meena

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  12. I just wanted to thank each of you again for the great feedback on this interview.

    Meena, How did this weekend go? After I responded to your question, I realized that I'd been avoiding editing a section of my play that wasn't working. Answering your question helped me finally do that!

    Marie Elena, Thank you for reflecting these quotes back. It was fascinating to see them free standing like that! And you're welcome for the introduction to Big George!

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  13. Thank you, Kelli, for taking the time to come back and respond to comments! It always means a lot--to me as the interviewer and to any readers/responders--to be able to continue to engage in conversation! :)

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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