Next up we’ve got Robert Lee Kendrick, a fantastic poet down in (or up in, if you’re with me in Alabama, in which case, holler at your boy) South Carolina. Funny story: I wanted to publish both “Detour” and another poem of his, “Salvage Yard,” but
somebody scooped me. Teach me to wait two days.
Point is, I can vouch for all his poetry being as awesome as “Detour,” so I guarantee that Robert’s new chapbook Winter Skin will be worth picking up.
Describe your writing in 25 words or less.
I hope it’s direct, clear, and hits something that’s worth the reader’s time.
Tell us about your poem “Detour.”
A young man I didn’t know well, but whom I saw and spoke to almost daily, died a couple of years ago on a road I drive every afternoon. It’s a persona poem, and one of several about this speaker and “Chris.” There’s another road I go down each day that floods when we get heavy rain. The image of the sunken road intersected with the memory of “Chris,” and the poem got going.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Place does it for me. The roads, creeks, and lakes of Pickens County, South Carolina, and the fields and towns of central Illinois where I grew up. I see so much road kill that I get a lot from decay and rot, as well — that’s been a big thing for about six months. Natural decay is a miracle, the biological process that nature uses to heal and renew itself. There’s no unfinished business, and I don’t know that humans can do that with loss, even with rituals, therapy, art, whatever.
Who do you consider your biggest influences?
I didn’t start writing until I was 46, but the poets I discovered in my late teens and early twenties are the ones I still go to now for study and inspiration — Richard Hugo, James Wright, Jack Gilbert, Jim Daniels. I’ve been studying with William Wright, who is a terrific poet and teacher, and he’s really shaped how I read and write.
Do you have a blog/website for your writing?
No. I probably should, but I don’t know how to code. I should get off my ass and learn.
What are you currently working on?
I read and write every day — even if there’s no vibe there, it’s still work on craft. I got a late start, and I’m pretty driven — I think that comes from having been an athlete for 35 years — way too long. Consistent, daily practice is what develops whatever ability you have. Right now, I’m reading Merlau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception, Judith Hemschemeyer’s translations of Akhmatova, Louise Gluck’s first four books, and Etheridge Knight. Merlau-Ponty is daily, the others are in rotation for a couple of weeks. Read for an hour, hour and a half, then write. Writing? Road kill, rocks, streams, trees, buzzards, rock n’ roll, trucks & cars & hourly jobs. That’s where the stuff always goes.
Where can we read your work next?
My chapbook, Winter Skin, has just come out from Main Street Rag Publishing. There are poems that will be in Louisiana Literature,Main Street Rag, Kentucky Review, Chiron Review, I-70 Review, and Steel Toe Review in the next few months. I’m pumped about Steel Toe Review. I like what they’ve got going, and all my extended family is originally from Birmingham.
You live in Clemson, but went to the University of South Carolina. Gamecocks or Tigers?
Oh man. Neither. I am a stranger in a strange land. I came down to South Carolina to get a Ph.D. in Eighteenth Century British Lit and Critical Theory, and the main thing I got out of the degree was learning that I didn’t know what I was going to do, but it wasn’t going to be teaching in college. I kind of bounced around doing the same kinds of jobs I did before college for a few years, and then I ended up teaching high school, which I’m happy with. I still live here and I love the landscape. But I don’t really like football, and my heart is still with my Iowa Hawkeyes. Basketball season is year-round, in my mind.
Any advice for your fellow writers?
Read. Read some more. Make a lot of mistakes. Try to find someone a lot better than you who gets where you are heading (although you may not know it yet), and helps you see what’s good, and what sucks, about your work. Then work & work & work & work.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Bop Dead City is a badass name. You nailed it.