Kamden Hilliard

“Why aspire when you can do?”

kamdenDistress Tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016)

What’s your chapbook about?

Apocalypse / the end of things / the bad things— and how to deal with them. The world is not implicitly shitty, of course, but right now it is: racism / colorism / homophobia. Due to the lasting effects of colonial and imperial projects, we are left with some seriously dark views of the world. I think of this chappie as an attempt to move through the gluck of the world without annihilation.

Also: oceans / alcohol / family / and white boys.

Also violence. Violence in the ordinary-meat-space kind of way, but also a contextual violence. I think it’s exciting to take things out of their original / natural space— after all a wooden table is a site of violence turning tree-wood into table-wood. This chappie is curious about this kind of violence.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

My sentences, my phrases, my thoughts— they all seem too large, deadened with a kind of anti-nuance. Is large a bad thing? Not always. But I think my first step is figuring out what these units of language are trying to convey then I add / change / remove / annul to move all of us close to meaning making. It is, then, a question of necessity, I guess. What does the poem need?

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

My editor, Mike Young, is the homie. He gave me an enormous autonomy. I got to select my fonts / cover art / blurb-er / and all other details. Mike, I feel, really does understand the chapbook as a unique form with unique possibilities for *~innovation~*. The artist, Neilson Ishida is a local guy who makes these wild collage-type-objects— very, very cool shit. I encountered his work at an art show in the hippest part of our Chinatown, called “Tomorrow Was Weird”.

What are you working on now?

A few things! First, gotta say that I’m stoked to announce that Black Lawrence Press has accepted my second chapbook, Perceived Distance From Impact, for publication in 2017. Second, I’m working on writing less— capitalism is a motherfucker and I’m trying to produce work in a careful / caring way, not in a way that satiates Mr. Adam Smith. Third, because who can actually write less (?), I’m working on a long, long, long essay about Blood— what it is, how it’s used by the state, what it communicates, how it becomes a cultural short hand, how do we exclude based on its qualities, etc. Fourth, graduate school apps.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

I’ve been meeting really kind people on twitter lately. Do that! Kind people are excellent! They are (usually) read well and often and practice empathy simply because they’re empathic. I had a conversation on twitter with a new homie about the phrase “emerging writer”— that somehow emerging writers are also “young writers”— which is pretty bullshit if you ask me. Nas was 21 years old when he dropped Illmatic, while Morrison was almost 40 when The Bluest Eye was printed. It’s cool to be young or less young or a rectangle or publishing. But the only time this “emerging” business should be relevant is when you’re shoving yourself into an application— possibly the worst social interaction known to womankind, yo.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Why aspire when you can do?! I sent my manuscript to Mike Young and Magic Helicopter Press because I’d gotten my hands on Lauren Ireland’s Dear Lil’ Wayne, which is a firestorm of a collection. I loved the poems, the object of the book, almost everything about it took the breath from my chest (plus I read it on April 20, lol— that helped with the magic thinking, I think). So— I waited till MHP’s next open period and I sent the manuscript. This is all to say please, please, please don’t carpet bomb editors! They will know. They will dislike you. No one wants that. Find a press that you’d like to get ice cream with, then send them your amazing manuscript— then get ice cream.

What music do you listen to as you work and write?

The Tron: Legacy Soundtrack, the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, the West Side Story soundtrack, the Spring Awakening soundtrack, Nas’ Illmatic, Dr. West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and, of course, the soundtrack to The Bling Ring.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

That’s definitely Shane McCrae’s The Animal Too Big to Kill— those poems left me chambered. The dizzying line breaks and unannounced drops into trauma were vital. I read only a few pages of the collection per day and only after working out— I didn’t have much energy after those lines.

We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?

This is a really relevant question as I’m still building out my answer. I grew up in really capitalistic, white, heterosexual spaces, and as such my relationship to knowledge and craft is invested in these qualities. So foremost for me these days has been defining my own tastes. After a lifetime of enjoying Faulkner, I now know I only enjoy enjoying his work— the performance of consumption, I guess. I consider this a process of decolonization. This process is unpleasant. This process feels unkind and isolating. Yet, it is necessary for me to produce work I can be happy about.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

Harryette Mullen, Fred Moten, Elizabeth Alexander, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Terrance Hayes, Monica Youn, Natalie Elibert, Natalie Diaz, and Evie Shockley.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

Natalie Elibert (the most amazing person on two feet, tbh) wrote the introduction to my chapbook, but before she did this amazing public service, she published a poem of mine (that eventually got cut from the manuscript) at The Atlas Review. When she sent me the acceptance she called the poems “caustic and glittering” which might be the cleanest answer. These poems are two faced / trying very hard / kind of disingenuous.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

Bad Blood: Imperial Technologies and Biological Exclusion

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I often joke with friends that I don’t have the attention span to make fiction, but it’s definitely my first love. My work is kind of anti-prose, but I think that’s only possible through a clear definition of prose. As such, the novel is my most important creative database— books like McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Baldwin’s Another Country, or Morrison’s Beloved have been paramount to figuring out how to make poem-like-objects.


Kamden Hilliard resists colonization. He’s got good vibes from The Ucross Foundation, Callaloo, and The Davidson Institute. Kamden prefers Kam and is an Editor at Jellyfish Magazine. He’s the author of distress tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016) and perceived distance from impact (Black Lawrence Press, 2017). Find Kam’s work in The Atlas Review, Heavy Feather Review, Redivider, Word Riot, and other sunspots. He has no chill and wonders if you’ve got some to spare.


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