An Interview with Kevin McLellan

[This is part of a series of interviews with past and current Timber contributors. In this installment, Interview Editor James Ashby chats with Fall 2015 contributor Kevin McLellan (“THE PLURALITY OF EACH EACH”) about wandering, collaboration, and finding a poem’s form. –Ed.] 


Your poem, “THE PLURALITY OF EACH EACH,” begins with the image of water and moves on to explore the possibilities of getting lost or wandering. Do you consider yourself a wanderer in and/or outside of your writing? To what extent do you embrace or resist getting lost?


I traveled somewhat extensively as a naïve and curious young man with minimal resources. I also drove from Conway, New Hampshire to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then eventually onto San Francisco where I would find poetry, or rather poetry me, but San Francisco became a dead end—that’s another story.


Perhaps as a result of misadventures, mishaps and misfortunes, I’ve become circumspect with age. My primary objective is to continue to allow myself to wander in my writing. I (must) believe that this wandering is also building an artificial, yet formative, base for my non-writing actual self. Yes, I am in pursuit of, dare I say, freedom—from myself.


I’m curious about your experience collaborating with fifteen women poets to write the chapbook Round Trip. Have you done more collaborative writing since then? What have you learned about making collaborative writing work?


I must digress. Harmony and dissonance are necessary for understanding one’s own voice, at least in my experience, yet one is always evolving, as is one’s voice.


I enjoyed collaboration with each of these women, and with some men too. I learned most about my relationship with expansiveness and risk in poetry, and especially when collaborating with Derek Pollard. We wrote nearly a dozen together and assembled a chapbook with some other male collaborators, yet all these (male) voices didn’t come to fruition. It would be an honor to collaborate with Derek again, yet only when the time is ripe for the both of us.


What does your process look like for deciding the form your poems take? Do you let the form guide the language or vice versa?


When I find patterns in a group of related poems, I honor this pattern in the creation of subsequent others. If an earlier poem doesn’t utilize a specific convention, I see if the poem can support it. When I identify a pattern in later poems, I’ll see if it works in the earlier ones. In other words, the poems themselves inform (the writing of) the others, so the poetry happens, at least for me, in revision. Yet there is the rare exception of a happening happening through the writing of a first draft.

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Esme Weijun Wang’s Why My Novel Uses Untranslated Chinese at The Literary Hub.


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