Richard Kelly Kemick's poetry, prose, and criticism have been published in literary magazines and journals across Canada and the United States, most recently in The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and The Fiddlehead. His debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run, was published March 2016 by Goose Lane Editions.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
That’s a bit of a tricky question because I’m writing this (March 25th) four days before my first book, Caribou Run, comes out (March 29th). As of right now, the largest change in my life is my mother passing around one of my advanced copies at her dinner parties and making me watch horrified as people take their perfunctory flip through, nod encouragingly, and unload it to the next person.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I looked at the trajectories of my favourite writers (Ondaatje, for example) and so many of them seemed to start with poetry. The precision of language that poetry so loudly demands is what I think made their novels, short stories, essays of such a high calibre. Their language is poetic––though not just in a “look at the pretty flower simile” sense but that they have a sixth sense for knowing where which word will do the most damage.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It doesn’t take me too long to start a project; usually I will have started one before I realize I’ve done so. And it doesn’t take me an inordinate of time to finish a complete draft of the project either. What takes me the most time is editing. Often times, I don’t fully know what themes I am writing about until after I’ve finished; then, I go back through several times and make sure I’m drawing those themes out. It’s a lot of taking a word out, putting a word in, taking that word out, putting the first one back in, taking the whole sentence out, and then openly weeping.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I’d thought about Caribou Run as a project: a collection about the caribou migration from start to finish. I then started filling in each section with poems that I felt fitting. This was absolute torture (try writing a villanelle about caribou rutting) and am looking forward to living the rest of my life never doing this again.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I used to enjoy reading my work a lot more––when I wasn’t so dreadfully self-conscious about everything I wrote. I do, however, still think that readings are good for me to not just for crowd-test my work but to ensure I don’t become that god-awful cliché of a poet in his single bedroom walk-up, writing by candlelight, letting his toenails grow lavishly long.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I get hesitant when it comes to having my poems answer “Big Picture” questions. Any attempt to do that always makes my work seem didactic and simple. I try to just write as honestly and clearly as I can;if the reader happens to connect those ideas to larger issues, then I allow myself a fleeting moment of fulfillment.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
This is a question I actively avoid since that way madness lies. My father’s a cabinetmaker and I not sure how much time he spends each day, leaning up against the miter saw, and thinking, “What is the role of the cabinetmaker in larger culture?” I think the role of the writer is to write.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. Much to my delight, Don McKay edited Caribou Run; I sometimes found the process difficult (but always found him delightful) because poems I’d been sitting with for years were now being asked to change. I often found myself saying, “But that’s not how this poem goes!” But now that the project is finished, I can firmly say that an outside editor was a godsend.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
You can tell a simple story in a complex way, or you can tell a complex story in a simple way; but you can’t tell a simple story in a simple way or you’re an idiot, and you can’t tell a complex story in a complex way or you’re a bigger idiot.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
For me, the appeal is in the honeymoon period of working within a new genre. The rules are different, the style is different, the audience is different. When that genre’s flame begins to dwindle, I approach a new genre with all the lessons I’ve learned from working in the former. And yes, in that sense, all my writing is in the early stages of an entropic heat death.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t really have a daily routine; sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the evening. As long as I’m writing each day, I’m content.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I usually turn to a piece of writing in the same genre I’m working. Or I take the dog for a walk. Or I stare out the window and question every single choice I’ve made in my life.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Over the past few years, I have been in a war of attrition with bilingualism. I have found, however, that French has helped me gain a bird’s-eye view of the English language. This view has helped me see even basic concepts such as grammar and sentence structure in a new and refreshing light.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Anything by the aforementioned Ondaatje. Amy Hempel. Don McKay. Shakespeare. Eliot. Heart of Darkness. God, this list sounds like I’m writing an admissions essay.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Veterinarian. And I’d published one collection of linked short-stories about living in another specie’s skin and it would be the most poignant book ever written.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I tried hockey but was shitty at it. I worked at Blockbuster for a bit and we all know how that ended. Waiting tables was difficult because there’s only so long you can hand people food which you yourself could never afford. I don’t think I could hack it in veterinarian school.
My mother always said I could do whatever I wanted. I’m putting that theory to the test.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.
Film: Is House of Cards considered a film if I watched the last season in a single sitting?
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a collection of creative non-fiction essays. With any luck, my marriage will survive.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;