We’ve been in the mood to interview these days. We’ve also been in the spirit of our 3rd Annual Chapbook Contest. You know, the important things. So, despite 3/4 of the TW editorial currently in college, Chanel Martins, our long-term managing editor, was dispatched to NYC. Why you may ask? A native Northern Californian all the way to the Big Apple? It sounds preposterous, albeit curious. That’s why we have the internet, to conduct interviews with people thousands of miles away. This one in particular would be classified as “important enough to fly out to”, just saying. See what unfolded below…
Chanel Martins: Thanks for your time in conducting this interview with us here at Thirty West. Why not start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Devin Kelly: Thank you for taking the time to ask me some questions! As it probably says somewhere, my name is Devin Kelly. I’m a poet, writer, and teacher living in New York City. I’m in my first year of teaching high school full time. I adjuncted at Bronx Community College and City College for three years before realizing that adjuncting was, though unbelievably fun and rewarding, sort of the purgatory of teaching. I’m also an avid runner and ultramarathoner, but I won’t bore or scare anyone by talking too much about that. I already talk too much about it anyway.
CM: It looks like you partake of all kinds of writing genres (nonfiction, poetry, fiction, etc.). Which is your favorite?
DK: That’s a tough question! Each genre allows for different avenues to explore the strange beauty of this world. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite between nonfiction and poetry. I’m obsessed with the idea of truth, and the past, and how memory is its own curiosity, and I think both of those genres allow for really wonderful ways to explore those kinds of questions. But even when I’m writing about sorrow, I like the idea of play, and I think the writing I gravitate toward across all three genres does play with something — whether form, language, content, or more.
CM: Aside from writing, you also teach. I, too, teach at the high school level. What called you to this profession? How do you balance your work in teaching and your writing career?
DK: First, thank you for being a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I had a favorite teacher — which I think is similar to a lot of teachers. I was fortunate to have a litany of wonderful high school English teachers, and I always wanted to follow the example (and magic) they set for me. When it comes to balancing writing and teaching, it’s hard. Especially now that I’m teaching high school full time. I don’t know how you or anyone does it. I used to have the time to set aside an hour or two each day to devote to the practice of writing, but now I scribble notes on paper, write drafts of things on my phone. I’m answering this question on my phone, now, actually, on the subway on the way to work.
CM: On your website, you list yourself as a “writer, teacher, [and] student.” Two of these seem obvious, but in what ways do you still consider yourself a student?
DK: I would say because I learn everyday. I learn from my students. I learn from my friends. I learn from poets and writers I follow on Twitter. I learn from my various practices of teaching, writing, and running. I definitely still learn from my father, my mother. I think the moment someone begins to deny themself the possibility of learning is the moment the world begins to close its doors on them.
CM: On top of teaching and writing, you also co-host a poetry reading event. Tell us a bit about the Dead Rabbits Reading Series. What is it? How did it start?
DK: I’ve been co-hosting Dead Rabbits for over four years, which is still unbelievable to me. Over those years, I’ve had the complete honor to host poets and writers ranging from award winners to those just beginning to find their place in the literary world. There are so many things about the series I’m grateful about. That I got to hear poets like Morgan Parker, Eduardo Corral, and Lynn Melnick read. That I got to hear poets early in their blooming careers, like Carlie Hoffman and Kwame Opoku-Duku. That I met some of my best friends, like George Kovalenko, through it. That I’ve been running it alongside another great friend, Katie Rainey, who is leading a press spin-off of the series, called Dead Rabbits Books, which you should all check out.
CM: It looks like your books are currently available in big-name stores such as Amazon, Powell’s, and Barnes & Noble. What do these big names mean to you as a “Writer” ?
DK: You know, not much, if I’m being honest, though I support Powell’s more than I support Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I believe in the power of literature and making art as a way to engage with and reckon with the world, to make beauty and sorrow out of the real and mundane, to actively believe in the potential of your imagination and your way of seeing, and to build community and solidarity in a world that so often pushes against it. I think corporations, even when they’re involved in selling art, can be a pain, and can detract people from some of the more intrinsic positives of making art. That being said, I believe in the power and joy of small bookstores, and the potential they have for uplifting and building community in the communities they are located.
CM: Where do you find your inspiration for your writing? What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?
DK: That’s a difficult question! My inspiration for writing comes simply from the way I look at the world. That’s not to say that I look at the world in an innately special way, it’s just to say that the world as it is — whether mundane, or beautiful, or whatever — is where my poems so often end or begin. There’s a Larry Levis poem that says, “There are two things I want to remember /
About light, & what it does to us.” I think of that all the time when I write. How simple that is. Most of my poems have to do with the world as I see it, and the bonds between families and friends and lovers that are made or broken or in the process of being made or broken within that world. I think the friends I’ve made through my art are the biggest accomplishment I consider as a writer so far. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for having a book, or being able to publish my work. But the friends — without them so much wouldn’t be possible, and when the year comes that not a single person buys my book, my hope is at least I’ll know a poet or two and still be able to call them my friend.
CM: On your website you mention that you “enjoy extremely sharp cheddar cheese melted atop a medium rare burger” which sounds delicious right now. Anything behind this in terms of significance? Why do you find this important enough to include on your main page?
DK: Hah, I love this question. And I have no answer other than I want one terribly now, a medium rare burger with the sharpest of cheddar. Some delights are (almost) better than a beautiful poem.
CM: So, we’ve been teasing this for a while now, but here it is: we at Thirty West are honored to have you as the guest judge for the 3rd Annual Chapbook Contest! Have you ever judged a contest before? What are your expectations for it?
DK: I never have! I’m so honored to be given the opportunity. First of all, I’m grateful that I’ll be able to encounter what I am sure will be a wide range of beautiful work. And secondly, I’m sure it will be one of the hardest decisions I’ve faced to choose from such a wide range. I’m really looking forward to it.
CM: Any pro-tips for prospective authors who are considering this contest?
DK: Send your riskiest, your most imaginative, your most mundane, your wildest, your quietest, your loudest, your most still. Whatever way you see the world and ask questions about the world. Send me that. I can’t wait.
CM: Thank you, Devin, for the interview. It was fun and we’re looking forward to seeing your manuscripts on March 1st!