Kendall Bell: How The Written Word Wrote My Life

Writing has been an escape for me, for as long as I can remember. I started writing short stories when I was nine. Once, I had to write something for a project, then read it in front of the class. This was also quite terrifying. However, it seemed to be well received and gave me the impression that this was something that I might not entirely suck at, so I kept going. I began writing stories in my early twenties, but never actually pursued publication for any. I don’t know if any were redeemable, but at least I was writing…until it just stopped. Usually, that reason was the pursuit of a girl. I wasn’t very focused back then.

I didn’t take poetry seriously until I reached my twenties, anyway, but there were moments in my teens when I’d try to write poems, and many were just awful. One of the biggest catalysts of my writing revival was music. I was a fan of a band called The Golden Palominos, which had a revolving lineup of guest musicians. Anton Fier, the drummer, and founder went entirely rogue on their last album, “Dead Inside”, by bringing in a poet named Nicole Blackman to write and perform the spoken word pieces. These poems would be the centerpiece of their musical landscapes. This album was a revelation to me. I was entirely taken in by Blackman’s words and delivery. This was a kind of poetry I’d never heard before. I can thank Nicole for giving me the proper inspiration to rededicate my life to poetry. She and I would strike up an online friendship, which led to a meeting at a poetry reading she was hosting at The Knitting Factory (the featured poet was Mike Doughty).

Since then, I have committed myself to writing, specifical poetry. I’ve put out twenty chapbooks, done many, many readings in NJ, NYC, and PA. I’ve had some of my work read on the radio at an independent, alternative radio station. Poets House, a fantastic library of poetry in Battery Park (NYC) tweeted a line from my poem “Blair” one day, which blew my mind, considering that they tweet the words of people like Claudia Rankine, Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan and people that are far more successful than I. Still, I feel like my best work and my best accomplishments have yet to happen. I feel like there are avenues that I’ve left untouched, places that could help me ascend to another level.

There will always be the self-doubt, the brutal critiquing of my work. As rejection comes, so will the feeling that I’m not good enough, not important enough. I think this is a common feeling among writers, whether or not they care to admit it. As a publisher, I gain no pleasure from rejecting manuscripts sent to me at Maverick Duck Press or poetry submissions at Chantarelle’s Notebook (an online poetry zine I edit). I’ve come to realize that sometimes, it’s just a matter or preference, and not a reflection of the writing itself. Subjectivity, in short. I have a clear vision of the poetry I want to publish at MDP, and I feel like the work I’ve put out since its inception in 2005 speaks for itself. I feel like there needs to be a fostering of community and support in the poetry world. There is too much cronyism, too much back scratching, too much of people (male editors and poets, specifically) taking advantage of other poets for their own gain. There needs to be greater avenues for those who aren’t being heard.

At this point in my life, I’ve come to the realization that writing is the one thing that fuels me, the reason I live and breathe. Any mediocre, unimportant job I work for eight hours a day will never define me like writing does. Music and poetry define who I am, and those things influence my creativity. I have two chapbooks that are heavily influenced by music (“Into The Undertow” and “Siberia”). Artists like Kristin Hersh, Lights, Jucifer, Emma Ruth Rundle, Gemma Hayes, Lucius and Chvrches (to name some) have directly influenced my work. Poets like Sierra DeMulder, Megan Falley, Sarah Kay, Nicole Blackman and Olivia Gatwood continually inspire me to be better, to be bolder.  

The need for connection remains the base of my intention. I will always write. I will always release these words from my head, but the chance of being able to connect with another human being with my words is the ultimate form of gratification for me. I never want to do another reading if what I read doesn’t make an impression on the people listening. Or if people walk away afterward not feeling anything. I hate to use the word “artist” for myself, but writers are artists, and are protective of their creations, and want (at least I believe so) to share their work as much as possible. Ultimately, I hope that something I’ve written will move and inspire someone the way music and poetry inspire me. If one person decides to create something off my passions, I would consider my writing to be successful.

Kendall Bell lives in New Jersey, is an avid poet, and editor of Maverick Duck Press and Chantarelle’s Notebook. You can find more about his press and his own personal works: @kashleybellkendallabell.com or his publishing endeavors:  maverickduckpress.com and chantarellesnotebook.com