is the author of Ornitheology (The Word Works, forthcoming, 2018), Hemispheres (Fact-Simile Editions, forthcoming, 2018), [box] (Letter [r] Press, 2016), Tributary (Barrow Street, 2015), and Round Trip (Seven Kitchens, 2010). He won the 2015 Third Coast Poetry Prize and Gival Press’ 2016 Oscar Wilde Award, and his poems have appeared in numerous journals including: American Letters & Commentary, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review, West Branch, Western Humanities Review, and Witness. Kevin lives in Cambridge MA. His poem, “Dear Canaries”, is featured in the Fall Quarterly of poems2go.
Interviewed by Christine Jones and Sarah Lain, editors of poems2go.
P2g: What role does the artist/poet have within our society?
KM: I can only speak for myself. My responsibility as a poet and artist is to explore and/or challenge my understanding of what it is to be human within language and within image, even if abstract, in such a way that the language itself shepherds (me) to discovery.
P2g: How do you view poetry today, specifically how it is written and how it is received, compared to when you first starred writing?
KM: I had a limited understanding of poetry as a younger writer. Later, as a second year graduate student, I began to appreciate other kinds of poetry by reading poetry I thought I didn’t like and/or couldn’t understand—learned to traverse through a poem. This ongoing investigation has informed my writing.
P2g: What books are currently on your nightstand?
KM: Perhaps it is because I don’t have a nightstand that I’ve been returning to the attic and the basement? James Schuyler. Sylvia Plath. Hans Faverey. Though I’ve been also reading some Danez Smith poems online.
P2g: How has your poetry been influenced? Can you point to a specific poem of yours as an example?
KM: I’ve been influenced by many poets, though also by fiction writers and playwrights (namely Blanchot and Beckett), filmmakers (Buñuel,Iñárritu, Lanthimos, and Malick), and other artists too.
There are a handful of direct tributes to some of these influences in Tributary: “Form” to Jorie Graham, “Astral Beach” to Hans Faverey, and a few others. Tributary is available here: http://barrowstreet.org/press/book/tributary-kevin-mclellan/ or http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780989329651/tributary.aspx
There are also few poems in my forthcoming book, Ornitheology (the Word Works, 2018) that honor Sylvia Plath and James Schuyler.
P2g: What was your inspiration for “Dear Canaries”. And why canaries?
KM: I get hung-up on the word “inspiration,” but I digress.
There was a time when I had the responsibility of taking care of two yellow canaries. One of them taught me joy (imagine: you’re taking a shower with the bathroom door open—the steam reaches a large bird cage holding two yellow canaries and each time you shower the same canary sings a pleasant song) and the other one taught me patience. They would eventually die—first the singing one and then the cranky one who I would learn to love—which prompted the writing of this poem.
P2g: When teaching students, what is the biggest take-away you hope they have?
KM: That they know how to better listen to themselves and consequently their poems, and the realization that their language has reached beyond the page and into the minds and hearts of others. Yes, this is intimacy.
P2g: Poems2go is an up-and-coming publication, and it means a lot to us to include work of established poets like yourself. Can you talk about another rising poetry project you’re rooting for and why?
KM: There are many poetry projects, journals and presses, some up-and-coming and others established, that have been considerably supportive of my poetry and I would like to acknowledge them here: Apple Valley Review, Barrow Street, Barrow Street Press, Café Review, ColoradoReview, Fact-Simile Editions, Gazing Grain, Gival Press, Interim, inter|rupture, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Letter [R] Press, Midway Journal, The Ocean State Review, Right Hand Pointing, Ruminate, Seven Kitchens, Sixth Finch, Small Po[r]tions, Split This Rock, Sugar House Review, Superstition Review, Third Coast, Thrush Poetry Journal, Town Creek Poetry, West Branch, Western Humanities Review, and The Word Works.
(The criteria for the above list: presses that published my work; selected journals and presses that awarded or nominated my work; and journals that published my writing more than one time.)
P2g: Consider the current poetry landscape, from journals to social media to readings to MFA programs. If you could point to one specific element of the poetry landscape, and say: “This is my dream for this one part of the landscape,” what is that dream and how do you see yourself contributing to it as a poet?
KM: I have taught at a juvenile detention center, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, out of my home, the University of Rhode Island, and as a guest poet at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. I am waiting for an opening at a suitable school, program or university.
P2g: How have you surprised yourself as a poet, or how have your poems surprised you?
I am surprised when I have moved out of a poem enough, enough so that the poem’s transformative needs are clearly visible within (instead of asserted by me). If I have not made a surprise within my own poem, or a poem written by someone else, then the poem has failed. I’ve mostly written failed poems, including most of my published ones.