Issue 5’s Devin Kelly on Poetry

In Armchair/Shotgun’s fifth issue we were lucky enough to publish some truly wonderful short fiction by Devin Kelly. In fact, we will also be lucky enough to hear him read from that same piece at our upcoming launch event at St. Mark’s Bookshop. (We’ll see you there?) In any case, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you that he is also a poet, an essayist, and just generally has a heck of a lot of really interesting thoughts on words and how we use them. So, we figured, why not continue National Poetry Month with some musings from him on his favorite poet? We’ll be doing this with several of our other Issue 5 authors as well. Of course, now we want to do nothing but go home and read work by the poet Devin lists and ignore all our magazine responsibilities, really it’s impressive we even got this blog post up! But, we digress…

Who is your favorite poet?

I have a tattoo of a buffalo on my back with lines from Steve Scafidi’s “For the Last American Buffalo,” so I’d be hard-pressed not to say Scafidi. But I can’t not mention Larry Levis and Terrance Hayes – both mean so much to the way I approach a poem, and I hold both very close.

Why him?

Steve Scafidi is a tender, tender poet. And also visceral and singsong-y. His language is constantly on fire, and his lines leap and roll and move. You can tell he cares so much about words and about the little landscapes he carves out for them to hang out in. I worry that poetry today is going to over-think itself, to dry out all emotion until it is the bare bones of a thing, and Scafidi never does that, and you have to respect that and honor it. He writes: “It would come to you / as these words have come to me–slowly, / tenderly, tangibly. Shy and meanderingly.” How lovely is that?

What poem of his particularly resonates with you?

I’d have to say “For the Last American Buffalo.” I have the whole poem taped above my desk. The first lines of that are, “Because words dazzle in the dizzy light of things / and the soul is like an animal – hunted and slow.” I could never get over the beauty of that sentiment. The dizzying hum of words, and the burdened nature of living. The whole poem creates its own energy. It drives and moves and sings. It is a beautiful creation, so empathetic. I could talk about it for days. The last lines speak for themselves: “Otherwise it doesn’t know you are here / for love, and like the world tonight, doesn’t really / care whether you live or die. Tell it you do and why.”

How has this poet inspired your own work?

I think Scafidi has really just given me permission. Permission to play around with words, or to hang a poem on a sound, or to allow a poem to meander away from me. Mostly, he’s given me permission to make my poems feel, feel the way I do. I long for poetry that takes the risk of feeling. Be it tenderness, or rage, or grief. Scafidi’s poems do that for me, and I always turn to them when I’m feeling less confident, or when I’m struggling.

Credit: Meg Farmer

Credit: Meg Farmer

DEVIN KELLY is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, where he serves as the nonfiction editor of LUMINA. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, The Adirondack Review, and more, and his essay “Love Innings” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series, teaches Creative Writing and English classes to high schoolers in Queens, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.

Issue 5 of Armchair/Shotgun will be available soon online and in select bookstores.