Kelly Cherry

“I wish I had waited until I was forty to publish a book.”

Kelly Cherry

Physics for Poets (Unicorn Press, 2015)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Oh, I’ve liked many chapbooks! They are such a lovely way to curate a small group of poems or a single long poem. Recently I’ve read chapbooks by Julie Brooks Barbour, whose work is both beautiful and moving. Another chapbook, this one a chapbook I chose as first place in a contest, was about the Holocaust, which might have been thought impossible, but it was very finely done.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I’ve always been interested in love, loss, music, nature, philosophy, and science. More recently, I’ve been writing about modern history.

What’s your chapbook about?

Physics for Poets is about megaphenomena: galaxies, stars, planets, the unfathomably huge distances in space, and light and time. There’s even a poem about gravity, or the lack thereof.

What are you working on now?

I have three completed poetry mss. and two more in progress. I’m also working on a handbook for writers, a book of short or flash fiction, and a book of essays about male writers (I’ve already written one about women writers).

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Don’t overwrite. I did. At the beginning. It’s a bad mistake. Of course, when you are beginning to write, you might not know what overwriting is. I didn’t.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Do it.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

Everything Flows, an unfinished novel by Vasily Grossman. Smartest book I ever read about Communism and its flaws.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

I could certainly come up with ten poets, but my first choice is always the composer Beethoven.

How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?

I’m happy to say I no longer overwrite.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook?

I didn’t, but it was clear to me that I had a chapbook.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

Well, I was going to write a novel called The Furioso Café, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

For me, writing a chapbook amplifies them. That’s one reason for writing a chapbook before plunging into a full-length book.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

I read aloud to myself everything I write. Need to hear the music, or the unfortunate lack of it.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I do quite a lot of research in both science and history. I read a fair number of novels and story collections and, of course, poetry collections

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

In college I took a number of science and math courses. Physics, geology, mechanical drawing (at which I was pitifully inept), anthropology, other stuff. My parents wanted me to be able to learn a living, but I promise you, I could never have earned a living from mechanical drawing.

I loved loved loved philosophy.

Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?

I have a very few special friends whose judgment I trust. Whether they read a particular piece or not, it’s those friends I write for. I should probably add that I also write for myself: to ask a question or sort out an argument.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

I wish I had waited until I was forty to publish a book. I wish I could erase a few of my books. I wish I’d written under another name. On the other hand, does any of this really matter? One does the best one can. One keeps pushing oneself. Why? Because it is interesting! 

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Kelly Cherry has published 24 books and 10 chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and two translations of classical drama. Most recent: Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories. Former poet laureate of Virginia. Member, Poets Corner, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC. NEA, USIA, Rockefeller, Bradley Lifetime Award, Weinstein Award, others. Publication in prize anthologies. Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin Madison. Eminent Scholar, UAH, 2001-2005. More info and details here.

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Kelly Cherry

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A STILLNESS SO PURE IT CAN NOT BE PERCEIVED

Begin here: space and time are relative,

and one does not exist without the other.

Thus place is what a moment has to have

to happen, and nothing happens nowhere.

Thus time is movement and eternity

stillness so pure it cannot be perceived.

(as may be said also of God’s pity,

Unless it really is to be believed

That he so loved the world he gave to it

His only begotten son, that they should live

Who him receive.) Can mere mind intuit

A That to Which the way is negative?

Always, question. I tried to clear my head

And think, but sometimes I gave up and read.

(previously published)

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