CWL alumnus, Kelly McQuain, recently chatted with first year CWW student, Caroline Goetze, about poetry, lies, and how it felt to win the 2013 BLOOM Poetry Chapbook Prize.
Caroline Goetze: First of all, congratulations on winning the BLOOM Poetry Chapbook Prize.
CWL Alumnus Kelly Mcquain
Kelly McQuain: Thank you. It was exciting to learn the news from Charles Flowers, the chief editor of BLOOM. BLOOM’s published out of Los Angeles, and I live in Philadelphia, so it’s nice to know one’s writing strikes a chord with people so far away.
CG: Judge C. Dale Young wrote about your prize-winning chapbook Velvet Rodeo, “These poems understand that to tell the truth, one must lie, play tricks, and even dare to say the unbelievable.” What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
KM: I think I lie every day. The persona I climb into every morning is a lie and a truth at the same time. I think I’ve lied to myself when I’ve said I haven’t held back at times with people I have loved. On nearly every occasion, there is always a part of me that holds back, that looks on from afar, that steps outside the moment to observe. The “I” in the moment and the “eye” hovering above. It’s useful for a writer to live both inside and outside of a moment. It’s frustrating as a human being, however.
CG: Your poem “Writing Poetry” contains the lines, “… One thing I’ve / learned the slow way: All poems are about / writing poetry.” And later, “… One / thing I’ve learned the hard way: All life is / writing poetry.” Can you talk a bit about your personal connection to poetry, both as a creator and as a reader/listener?
KM: I like poems that are lively in performance. Sound and meaning need to fuse together into something more than individual parts. From the very beginning, poetry was more than ordinary speech, yet poetry must also strive to be more than rote formula.
Not every poem can come alive on both the page and the stage, but the poems I like best usually do. I like poems that are sensual, instinctual, alive and tinged with hope even at moments of despair. I also like poems that experiment with their appearance on the page, that use white space or word placement to govern vocal performance while enhancing the connotation between ideas. Arranging a poem on a page feels to me like painting a canvas: phrase plays off phrase, sound echoes sound, but an impulse toward unity and order steers you through the poem’s space, down to its final turn.
CG: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
KM: The earliest thing? A cowboy, which is apropos for a chapbook titled Velvet Rodeo. At six or seven, I had a blue suede cowboy outfit and a mask. I fancied myself the Lone Ranger, whose old TV adventures were on reruns at the time each Saturday afternoon. Soon after, I wanted to be Robin, sidekick to Batman. Always someone in a mask. Growing up gay in West Virginia, I learned at a young age the usefulness of masks.
CG: What are you working on now?
KM: My main project right now is a full-length manuscript tentatively titled Alien Boy, which I’m currently finishing up. The poem that inspired the title is available online at Bloom, which first published it in their print journal last year.