Issue 35, Final Fringe

Kevin McLellan on "little fragments," narrowing, and collaboration as conversation

by Nellie Bellows 01.21.2011

Five of Kevin McLellan’s poems appear in Fringe issue 25. Assistant poetry editor Nellie Bellows interviewed Kevin by email in January.

You’ve called these five poems published in Fringe your “little fragments.” Can you tell us about more about this project and how they came about?

Most of these little fragments were written between November 2008 and February 2009. This was a heightened time in my life, which is not to say that something dramatic was happening. It was more like mundanity, and that which was surprising that arose out of mundanity.

The fragments are not dissimilar to diary entries, because of the frequency with which they were written, and because of the frequency of the everyday, so when it came time to arrange them into a manuscript, seven fragments per section seemed appropriate. Since this number has the obvious scriptural associations, I thought the manuscript would benefit from being divided into seven sections. So the manuscript, titled Shoes on a wire, is a measured narrative sequence of these untitled little fragments.

Some of these narratives have a fixed number of characters for each line, thus physically resembling prose poems with a fixed-right justification. Some of the narratives incorporate white space within the confines of fixed lineation. Some use the hyphen to accentuate the notion of fragmentation. Some have moments that defiantly break these rules. Yet all of them have a spatial consciousness about them, and this, I believe, is what allows them to be together.

In the third fragment, you call December “this month / full of no’s“. Living in New England, you’ve got a lot of winter. How does it affect your writing?

Before I answer, I’d like to mention that it is snowing here right now.

There are a handful of fragments in this manuscript that are obsessed with the notion of narrowing. (There are two instances of narrowing in the selections that appear in Fringe.) Our time is always narrowing. This narrowing often promotes introspection, as does the winter in New England. The snow will eventually stop.

Looking forward, do you have any thoughts for 2011?

2011? I don’t even know what I’ll have for lunch.

I’ve got to ask some of the standard questions for my own benefit: What poets are you reading and/or loving right now?

I’ve read various Gustaf Sobin poems over the years, and I’ve just begun reading his Collected Poems. I need to better understand his poetry and better understand how these poems influence my own writing.

I tend to read one book through before starting another one. I find it difficult to read more than one poet at a time, but I am able to return to certain poems that are not written by the poet I’m currently exploring.

What’s a recent poem you’ve read in an online journal that you especially liked?

A sequential poem by Jen Denrow in Thermos called “California.” There is so much to admire here.

I really enjoyed working collaboratively with you, and am honored to have our poem included in your recently published chapbook of collaborations with women, Round Trip. What draws you to collaboration in poetry and will you continue to work in this way?

I enjoyed collaborating with you too, Nellie. A collaboration is a conversation.  However, with conversation there are choices: who we want or need to converse with; what it is we want to say or need to convey; how we go about communicating it; and then how we approach listening. Listening is the most crucial part of collaborating.  If done correctly, it allows for a response that will allow for another response and so forth and so on, thus creating a continuum. Does this make sense? Sometimes I talk in circles.

I’m currently working on a companion to Round Trip. This time I’m collaborating with all men.

Why do you think collaborative work is so popular in the poetry world these days?

Most writers face the blank page alone. This is intimate. The page is an opportunity for exploration, but exploration doesn’t require that one do it alone, right? Collaboration creates an overlap, a playground, and another kind of intimacy happens. Perhaps collaboration is popular because it is in response to these times? You know, how social network sites are replacing living rooms and how tweeting is killing the paragraph.

I know you have a diligent work ethic. What keeps you writing?

This is going to come across as clichéd, but here it is anyway. Writing is like any other activity that is necessary. I do it because I have to. I hope that this answer isn’t too disappointing.

Nellie Bellows

Nellie Bellows

Assistant Poetry Editor, Blogger

Nellie Bellows holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA in English from Guilford College. When she’s not writing poems or thinking about them, she’s probably drinking coffee, reading YA novels, and pretending to be otherwise engaged.

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