“I reject lines, reword, definitely rearrange, fill in, and hope that some lines come to me as gems to keep.”
The Alpinist Searches Lonely Places (Belle Point Press, 2022)
How do you decorate or arrange your writing space?
Since I have young children, I often do my initial writing at a coffee shop, which allows me uninterrupted time. I begin in a notebook and like the tactile feeling writing by hand gives me. Music is important to help me focus and approach a meditative state. When it comes time to type and edit, I have a simple desk at home with my computer and a pile of books, usually a mix of favorites and to-be-reads. Currently in my to-be-read pile are Jenny Xie, Mahtem Shiferraw, and Alejandra Pizarnik. And my constant companions are Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, Ghalib, Mirabai, Franz Wright, James Wright, Anne Sexton, and Frank Stanford. On my desk, I also keep some stones and driftwood from the Pacific northwest. Above me is a vintage 70s hanging lamp.
Could you share a representative or pivotal poem from your book? Perhaps something that that invites the reader into the world of the book?
Why did you choose this poem?
The first poem in the book, it sets the tone for looking at nature as a doorway into exploring questions of the beloved. As an imaginative, introverted person, I often feel disconnected and isolated though I desire, very much, to make deep connection in both spirit and body. Nature presents a paradox as much as love does, one of flux, connection and disconnection, though the ultimate goal is unification. I like this poem’s tenderness and while it is decidedly grounded in the real world, it is also transcendent at the end, perhaps greatly influenced by my favorite poem, James Wright’s “A Blessing.”
What obsessions led you to write your book?
The mysteries inherent in love and being a human being. Casie Dodd, the editor of Belle Point Press, perhaps said it best on the back cover blurb in regard to these poems: they are “love poems with a touch of the surreal.” Love and essentially deep human connection, to me, are questions of both spirit and body. I find a stunning parallel in nature. Just as we would ask about a beloved, can nature ever be truly perceived or experienced?
What’s the oldest poem in your book? What do you remember about writing it?
As far as older or newer poems in this chapbook, almost miraculously, this book was primarily composed between sometime around October 2021 to March of 2022, with a poem or two maybe going back to the summer of 2021. I have absolutely never finished such a concentrated project in that span of time before. By contrast, while much of my upcoming full-length collection was written in 2021, some poems go back almost 20 years! In October of 2021 I had written a couple of the poems here and after a trip to the Pacific Northwest, then wrote the poems here that are obviously inspired by those places. From there, I realized that while I was exploring the tensions of desire, love, and isolation, I also had some themes of place that were weaving through in an exciting way. This led me to reflect on the places I am from, too, and how they became “personal terrains,” as Casie Dodd says of the poems on the back cover.
Could you share with us a glimpse of your writing practice or process for your book?
In these pages, you’ll see an assortment of words and phrases which eventually became the poem “The Complete History of the Lyric” in the book. The first five words actually came from Ó Bhéal’s Five Words contest, in which writers are to use five given words as the genesis for a poem. This is not unlike my initial process, which often comes in fragments and begins to take shape over a few days. I reject lines, reword, definitely rearrange, fill in, and hope that some lines come to me as gems to keep. In the example below, I am quite glad I jettisoned the image of the earth as an accordion! Didn’t fit the spirit of the poem.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?
Because of the way I compose in fragments, much of my revision strategy has had to lie in finding connections and pulling disparate parts together. While this doesn’t make my poetry easy, I feel it important to keep its spirit of surprise—what Robert Bly called “leaping poetry,” letting the poem contain wild associations. Federico Garcia Lorca speaks of very similar things in his duende theory. I find this same spirit in ghazals, which have influenced my writing so much. I love the willingness of a poem to take more in while remaining compact.
What has the editorial and production experience with your publisher been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your book?
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than working with Casie Dodd at Belle Point Press. She has done massive and incredible work to get the press off the ground. And while the press has a mid-south focus, it feels so large and relevant to anyone anywhere. She has a keen editorial eye for a wide variety of work, a professional spirit, and a kindness and generosity that has made the process absolutely wonderful. I am also so grateful to Casie for working with me on the cover and letting me ultimately use one of my own images, a photo of a storm I took in Waco in the mid to late 90s. Especially this being my first book, I wanted it to feel wholly mine, and the cover image being something that I, too, had created, seemed an important part of that process.
What are you working on now?
I have a full-length poetry collection, Calamity Gospel, due out tentatively on January 31, 2023 with Cerasus Poetry. Watch my website for details! The editor and I are currently working on the cover.
After that book comes out, I plan on returning to some photography work for a bit just for something different. In the past, I have primarily worked with film and Polaroid, but with rising costs and a shrinking salary, I plan on exploring digital for my upcoming projects.
But I also am slowly, slowly working on three different poetry projects, though those are not on the front burner as of the moment: a chapbook of two-line poems, a chapbook of poems inspired by unusual blues and country music lyrics, and a collection of poems inspired in part by Mirabai and in part by the legend of the bird of Solomon.
I definitely have a problem focusing on one project at a time.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I did pick up photography about 15 years ago during a time I felt I couldn’t write. It has fed me so much, and has also informed my writing and vice versa. It was almost ironic when my first book ended up being a photo book, though my aim has always been toward poetry. I love the outwardness that photography allows me. Being an introvert and feeling isolated is sometimes compounded by writing, though writing often needs that solitude. Photography allows me to interact in ways that stretch me.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Take risks. See the world. Live life. Write something wild and edit it later. Let your writing be full of a dream-logic that gives it the mystery inherent in poetry. Read widely and with joy. And not to offer a shameless plug, but there is much great writing advice in my poetry exercise book Lightning Paths: 75 Poetry Writing Exercises, which includes essays as well as the exercises themselves!
Kyle Vaughn is the author of the full-length poetry collection Calamity Gospel (forthcoming, Cerasus Poetry, 2023), the poetry chapbook The Alpinist Searches Lonely Places (Belle Point Press, 2022), Lightning Paths: 75 Poetry Writing Exercises (NCTE, 2018), and is the co-author/ co-photographer of A New Light in Kalighat (American Councils for International Education, 2013), a book detailing Urmi Basu’s work to fight human trafficking in Kolkata, India. His poems have appeared in journals such as The Journal, A-Minor, The Boiler, Drunken Boat, Poetry East, Vinyl, the museum of americana (2022 Best of the Net nomination), and The Shore (2021 Pushcart Prize nomination).