INTERVIEW: Devin Kelly of Issue 5 2

Update! Issue 5 now available in our online store here.

Next up, we have Devin Kelly. And though his story “Leaving Trout Run” may be the very last piece in issue 5, he is most certainly *not* our last interview. (And we also have a little something coming from him for National Poetry Month on his favorite poet!)

Credit: Meg Farmer

Credit: Meg Farmer

Who is your favorite character in literature, and why?

I thought about this for awhile, but I have to go with my initial instinct – Lester Ballard from Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. I have a few friends who are obsessed with Ballard, for different reasons and the same. I love him because despite all the ways that McCarthy paints Ballard as this ruthless, lusty, backwards character, scavenging and roaming through the hollows, he still makes him so deeply sympathetic. He describes him once as lying awake and sweating at night with “his heart hammering against the earth.” I mean who doesn’t know that feeling, that loneliness? Then, at one point McCarthy has him watching these two hawks flying soundless in the sky, and Ballard keeps watching them, not because they’re interesting or different, but because he was “wanting to see if one were hurt.” What a strange and yet empathetic thought, and how lovely. Then, finally, Ballard is given this beautifully sorrowful revelation: “He did not know how hawks mated but he knew that all things fought.” I think we all have a little Lester Ballard in us, and I think Lester Ballard might be the most beautiful backwards bastard in fiction.

What is your quirkiest habit as a writer?

I don’t know if I have any. My routine – when I can get into it – mostly involves a lot of coffee and a lot of sitting. I like to keep a window open even in winter. I like typing as my hands start to get real cold. But I can’t write in public, or on trains, or any of that. I love my desk.

Favorite word, why?

I love the word “still.” I love how the sound of it carries and kind of hangs on the double-l. And I love how it means so much. As an adjective – as in, the still and quiet dark – it implies this notion of solitude, of the lack of motion, but as an adverb – as in, the dark still lingered – it implies this perpetual motion, this constant, this ceaseless humming. And then the ways the word can be enhanced, like stillness and the beautiful stilling, it’s just such a lovely word. Stillness plays such a large part in my own work, as well. I think writing is born from a place of stillness in us, a place of stillness and solitude, and all the weighted feelings those two ideas carry with them. Pain and grief, doubt, love and joy.

Least favorite word, why?

Ah, you got to love all the words. Especially the broken and bent out of shape ones. What did Auden say? Something like, “a poet is, before all else, someone who is passionately in love with language.”

Favorite guilty pleasure read?

I don’t think it’s a guilty pleasure because I think it’s always going to be considered a gorgeous book, but I find myself returning to The Little Prince time and time again to keep me grounded. I hope that book never becomes clichéd. “On our earth we are much to small to clean out our volcanoes. That is why they bring no end of trouble upon us.” How good is that?

What are you reading now?

I always keep a book of poems on hand to work through, and right now that’s Seamus Heaney’s Field Work, which is a remarkable collection. And I just finished Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. The latter I had been meaning to read for a long time, and it wholly lived up to every good thing everyone has said about it. I don’t know what I’ll pick up next. A friend recommended Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness. And I’ve also heard wonderful things about Hilton Als’ White Girls. There’s so much good stuff out there, and so many small presses doing wonderful things. It can be a little overwhelming.

What is one book you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t quite managed somehow?

I’m trying to think big with this question. Like big big. Maybe Dos Passos’ entire USA Trilogy? I read a chunk of The 42nd Parallel and loved it. Also Labyrinths by Borges. Not reading that has left me dumb and by the wayside in many a conversation. And finally Ulysses. I’ve read some of Joyce but have never had the fortitude to tackle that.

At some point I’d also like to get around to reading all of Sontag and Walter Benjamin’s work, not just the few essays I’ve encountered.

What emoji best depicts you during the writing process? (

First of all, this website is awesome. The verbal descriptions of some of these faces are so literal and specific. It’s amazing.

And secondly, they describe the emoji of the sad face with the brow sweating as the “disappointed but relieved” face. I think that would have to be me, almost constantly.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard about writing?

A former teacher of mine attributed Einstein as saying, “No true/worthy problem is ever solved on the plane of its conception,” which is really the only aphoristic piece of advice I have ever held as a sort of mantra. To me, this deals with the periphery of your mind, with carving out a space for yourself to allow your own writing to surprise and delight you. The organic, the fresh, the risky – these things come out in your writing when you are allowing yourself to stay in the present space you’ve created, rather than thinking of the next moment, the next paragraph, the final sentence.

Can often be found…

North of my home in Harlem, near Yonkers, in a living room with three of my fantastic writer friends, George and Jared and Brian, drinking Yuengling or High Life or Genesee if I can find it, and watching News 12 – as local as local news gets – to see what’s buzzing in the humdrum city suburbs. Or at the diner down the road, the Argonaut, where they serve a mean plate of curly fries.

Anything else random or weird or delightful or exciting you want Armchair/Shotgun readers to know?

I co-host a monthly reading series in Manhattan with two lovely friends of mine. Check us out!

DEVIN KELLY an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, by way of Fordham University. He is the nonfiction editor of LUMINA, and a reader for Black Lawrence Press. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Dunes Review, Steel Toe Review, Cleaver Magazine, Passages North and Lines & Stars. He teaches creative writing and English classes to high schoolers in Queens, and the occasional children’s poetry workshop at the New York Public Library in Hamilton Heights. He lives in Harlem.

And just a friendly reminder: Armchair/Shotgun is currently open for submissions now through March 31st!