An Interview with Kevin A. Risner

KEVIN A. RISNER  is the author of Do Us a Favor (Variant Literature, 2021) and You Thought This Was Just Gonna Be About Cleveland, Didn't You (Ghost City Press, 2022). 
You can read his poem Low Level in the April 2023 issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?
Like a lot of my more recent poems, this one looks at climate change and some of the realities that are already a present issue in many places across the world. Living in Istanbul for a few years over a decade ago, I was always struck by how much of the built-up shoreline along the Bosporus was almost completely level with the water. It gave me a haunting feeling when I stood and stared at that great expanse, even on warm, sunny days.

How do you revise your work?
I often return to first drafts after putting them away for a few days, but sometimes it’s for much longer. I’ve cracked open years-old journals to see whether certain lines could be manipulated, expanded upon, trimmed. I sometimes have to tell myself, after multiple tweaks and hard returns, that a poem is ready to submit (or it’s time to tuck it away). And then I often go back to it after submitting and play around with it again.

What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of submitting a full-length poetry collection and a novel. No bites yet. I also have another chapbook and a novel draft that I really should finish up soon!

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?
Because I have a full-time remote copywriting job, it can be tricky to find time (and the desire) to write outside of my “work day.” Sometimes, I just have to get out my journal or open my laptop and bring up the blank page — especially when it comes to churning out a few words for my novel. Ideas and lines for poems are a bit easier, as those often pop up when doing menial tasks or if I am in the shower.

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you?

I just watched His Dark Materials, and it’s re-invigorated the fantasy space in my brain. Maybe I’ll return to the ideas I have for that genre soon?

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?
I recently read an excerpt from Carl Phillips’ new book My Trade is Mystery (which you should all check out), and it was definitely something I needed to hear recently as I face rejection, imposter syndrome, and frequent unsureness about my work. Maybe you’ll find some comfort in these words, too?

“…a career in writing maybe most requires, besides luck, some talent, and stamina: a constant calibrating and recalibrating of arrogance and humility. You need the arrogance to believe not only that you have something to say but that the world must hear it; and you need the humility to recognize both that not everyone wants to listen and that no one is in fact obligated to do so.”

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