The art of writing #18 : Kevin Heslop

How did you first come to poetry?

Our house is on fire.

I feel for a child that language is something like poetry that hasn’t had time to fossilize yet. I mean, when you’re a kid, every new word is a poem in itself, no? That’s something I still feel when encountering new words or attentively re-encountering familiar ones. Poets facilitate that process, but each word can and will startle you if you keep your guard down.

But I won’t be coy: I remember writing a poem before ever reading one. It was called “Awake” and it won a local contest and then the nightly deluge of certain genius broke: I wrote shit for hours, six or seven nights a week. Before that, I read novels and played the drumkit.

How does your visual work interact with your text?

The zoos are already natural history museums.

I’m not a visual artist, but I’d point to a line from Li-Young Lee: Language is a tool we use to inflect silence so we can hear it better. Whatever the spatial equivalent of that is informs my sense of a poem’s appearance.

How does a poem begin?

In just the last forty years, according to the World Wildlife Fund, more than half of the world’s vertebrate animals have died.

I kind of assume poems begin similarly for everyone: with an image, a phrase, a memory, an emotion, an idea. Those five things at once. There’s maybe a sixth.

How did publishing your first chapbook change your writing?

There is already, right now, fully a third more carbon in the atmosphere than at any point in the last eight-hundred-thousand years.

I feel about my first chapbook what I assume getting one’s first tattoo maybe feels like. You suddenly realize how much more of yourself there is to cover. And there’s a sense of permanence, that you can’t go back and edit what you’ve done, so that means saying no more than just what you mean to say. The world is full of terrible poems and humiliating tattoos. Avoid contributing more of either is the sense I got from the process of publishing that first chapbook (with thanks to Kyle Flemmer and The Blasted Tree).

Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?

The majority of the burning has come since the premiere of Seinfeld.

I don’t have a daily schedule. Writing, exercise, emails, conversation, errands, meetings, and reading alternate throughout an average day. Boring. I’ve been writing fiction lately, and that always comes through in the morning. That may become routine.

What are your favourite print or online literary journals?

At two degrees, ice sheets will begin their collapse.

I don’t subscribe to or regularly read any journals.

Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?

At three degrees, Southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last nineteen months longer, and in the Carribean, twenty-one months longer. In Northern Africa, the figure is sixty months longer.

Lately I’ve read Robert Sapolsky, Canisia Lubrin, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Anand Giridharadas, and David Wallace-Wells (from whose The Uninhabitable Earth came the italicized prefaces to my responses, with the exception of the first, which was said by Greta Thunberg at the UN). I've just returned from Poetry Weekend in Fredricton where I heard many astonishing poets. The books I have to read were written by William Vallières, Phillip Crymble, Hugh Thomas, Shane Neilson, Dominique Béchard, M. Travis Lane, Ian LeTourneau, and an anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry edited by Jim Johnstone called The Next Wave.

Kevin Heslop is a poet and actor from London, Ontario. He published his first chapbook with The Blasted Tree last spring and his second with Frog Hollow Press this fall.

A selection of his poems appeared in the second issue.