Interview With Kevin Kiely, Contemporary Irish Poet, Playwright, Critic and Novelist
the opinion which is heard…
Irish contemporary literary figure - a popular poet, novelist, playwright and critic.
Kevin Kiely poet, novelist, literary critic, American Fulbright Scholar, PhD in modernist and postmodernist poetry – born County Down, Northern Ireland. Regular commentator on the arts in Village Magazine, the Irish Independent and other publications.
Breakfast with Sylvia awarded the Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry, A Horse Called El Dorado Bisto Award, SOS Lusitania ‘One Book One Community’ title for the Lusitania Centenary. Francis Stuart: Artist and Outcast(Liffey Press, Dublin 2007; Dufour, PA 2008 Official Biography). His poems have appeared in anthologies, currently editing John L. Sweeney: The Patron of Poetry at Harvard.
Alok Mishra: You have been active in almost all the genres of literature. How do you see it?
Kevin Kiely: I don’t see any genre as clearly designated to be inclusive and exclusive but of course there are recognizable genres on the page, screen and printscape. Genre freedom is to me what is acceptable where genres can cross borders of form. In art, the artist wants freedom of form especially when it comes to any restrictions in form and definitively concerning content. Art must be free; otherwise, it is propaganda or some other collective consensus. In the 1960s there arose a poetry collective influenced by some publishers, some academics and various state-funded arts councils all interlinked in networks that produced a synthetic poetry that represents a faux or false poetic. This sophistry of poetry I don’t want to specify by names but I hope to do so in an introduction to an anthology of poetry. Behind each specific artistically accomplished piece of writing is something far deeper than a mere label or genre. Take a poem entitled ‘A Map of Melancholy’, a novel ‘Quintesse’, and essay-reviews of Seamus Heaney or President Michael D. Higgins: they come from the one poet, novelist and critic but to affix rigid genre designation is not necessary. With regard to the action of writing in any genre, there is naturally a mechanical impetus or beginning. However, what genus or genre the words are driving towards is highly occult as to how it appears finally on page, screen and printscape. I accept Mallarmé’s phrase about a poem as something given. A gift. I really wonder if the writer is totally the writing and that explains everything about it? Genre is ultimately mere classification. When I was in my twenties, I had far less post-consciousness about writing. I mean, less marveling at the fabulous fact of writing anything. I have now a greater sense of awe about writing any few words that reach their final form. The actual process eludes me but the results astonish; naturally, this is not self-admiration but the fact that the writing happens at all. In some respects what gets written is the end of a vast complex chain of creative events. There has to be a creative fire that ignites (one is stuck with a metaphor) but from where it comes and how it finds its target for instance in a finalized poem is beyond my conscious apprehension. I am not a person who wishes to have any constraints placed upon what I write. I admit that the process is not fully in my control. I think C. G. Jung is accurate by stating that it is Faust who creates Goethe, Hamlet who creates Shakespeare, the Inferno that creates Dante and not the other way around. The artist is given such a gift. Why? Of course, the world needs art and the greatest possible art but to me, its creation is metaphysical and supernatural. It is difficult to define the latter two terms. What I ask I cannot know the answer but I am given the writing.
Alok Mishra: Does being a critic and at the same time being a poet create any conflict while composing a new piece of art?
Kevin Kiely: Writing involves a critical faculty: that is the art of being able to forge a poem to its perfect final structure unless it arrives in a uniquely ‘finished’ state which is how some of my poems have arrived. It is also about patience and not feeling that I must ‘produce’ but accept what I am given. I never believe people who say that they are going to get a few poems written as if it is mere productivity. The critical faculty is creative, sensitive and facilitative with the lines, and must be; seeing deeply into the lines and each word in order to complete the poem. It might also be said that the critical faculty is primal but that would mean that creativity is only critically enabled primarily, whereas it must be a union of the creative and the critical faculty that brings to being a finished poem. Poetry amidst a vast eminence and presence arrives as a supreme high and elevation of the spirit. It is a visionary comprehension formed through language. I am suspicious of poets who have no solid criticism in output equaling their poetry. I don’t mean word-count for word count between one and the other, but the poets I admire are also, or were also, authors of critical work and poetical work and other genres. I do not believe that writers who claim to be poets exclusively in what they call poems alone are actually poets. Dramatists are poets in both genres for instance. The prose versus poetry discussion is a fake debate. A great test of bad poets is checking out their equally bad attempts at prose. The biggest revealer of the fakes is their continual ‘explanations’ as to what their poems mean beyond the poems themselves. There is constant false implication as if poems are puzzles that ‘the poet’ will eventually explain whereas real poetry communicates to readers at a very early age which was my experience. My anthologies in primary and secondary school had selections from over 600 years of poetry and how is it that a ten-year-old or a twelve-year-old can comprehend real poetry. The answer is that language as used by poets strongly communicates like music, painting, sculpture, Nature and the Absolute.
Alok Mishra: What do you aim at while composing any piece of creative writing?
Kevin Kiely: I don’t think there is any aim. The thing happens. You write thankfully, if feverishly. Energy is required. It is a non-alcoholic, non-substance induced psyche-shifting experience but my accuracy becomes faulty in trying to describe the mystery. I wait on the mystery in the poems given to me as the approach to the explanation. I long to know but in the poetry, everything is revealed but difficult to grasp as the lines collectively cannot be comprehended as one total moment. The pre-writing stage in poetry is disturbing disabling disarming; after the poem is written down that awful state has been removed past the initial intensity. The poem then exists. I think one is working with powerful and invisible forces. I know this may sound vague but it is my effort to ‘explain’. It is a sort of schizoid breaking down situation that is overcome with the poem having been written. The only aim is to keep right on to the last word and line. If there is an aim, that is it. To get the poem written. Poetry is within the reality of the writer and the reader but it is also definitely never immersed in life like a tree, a plant, an animal, a fish or a human being. Yet poetry resembles life so perfectly in its words just like movies at their greatest moments, paintings, sculpture and all genres of music.
Alok Mishra: What is the ultimate purpose of your writing?
Kevin Kiely: My own? Oh, that is for readers to discover and I say that my best poems are true in what they say and communicate however much my life may fall below them. While all my poems approach the best ones I have written. In my own case, literature is essential and so involved with my being that I am an addict but how disparaging to compare literature and poetry to any drug. However, a poet is a sort of addict awaiting the poems and living with other poets’ poems and literature in the interim between writing. Living is the problem. Existing, trying to survive the onslaughts of the capitalist chess games. Purpose for a poet is beyond purpose, the actions, activities, waiting and receiving and making poetry is 365 24/7. It is not easy to forget it, even dare I say, dramatically in sleep and dreams. One is on call, on duty, always at the ready. I used the term ‘sentinel of the shelves’ in a poem ‘Belfield Metaphysical’ a polite witticism as if the poet were an unpaid librarian always clocked in waiting between the shelves among the companionable works of literature for one’s own literature to arrive immersed in universal literature. My poems point to a present, a past and of course the future. I cannot understand poets who reject great poets from other eras. I cannot understand ‘poets’ who read nothing but their own efforts. To be a poet is to be within a vast historical frieze. There is no such thing as the isolated singular individual poet. A real poet is part of a chain of sensibility and being in the past at the present to the future.
Alok Mishra: The Modern world is complex. People are callous towards reading real creative pieces. I am pointing towards the commercialization of art. Then, how do you relate your works to the society?
Kevin Kiely: I believe that all writing and all genres relate to society and people of good will and spirit. I believe that real poetry is intact while artificial poetry can only have an arranged audience but real poetry is a precious entity like gold, water, sunshine, air: it is unmistakable, inimitable, recognizable, and enduring like the seasons, the planetary movements and the stars and beyond. I am not an atheist but it difficult to explain this also. Dante has a beautiful image about a hungry child and its mother’s milk. Would a child not know the difference between vinegar and milk. The same is true of a person and poetry. A person who is not an establishment poet knows a real poem from a fake poem. Poetry as essential entity occupies as much of the planet as Nature does and from the texts of Sacred Books to the greatest twentieth and new poetry of the twenty-first century. The commercialization of art is another aspect of reality, however, entertainment that gives fun and pleasure without being evil is an art of entertainment. In this respect, you can globally media-market writing like chocolate donuts and find buyers. A real artist is not averse to mass commercialization and circulation either but it is not necessarily and essentially the impulse. No one wants the hardship of poverty but many great poets wrote amidst penury. Similarly, there were great poets who secured material wealth by one means or another. There is nothing necessarily moral about monetary reality. Careerist poets demand to be within a fiscal network for their ‘poetry’ and thus arrange cliques and institutions to the benefit of their production like exclusionary cults. The making of art is not essentially making a product except for those consciously making their marketed ‘art-product’. This is one of the dilemmas of our era that there is a saturation of the arts and an audience for such product in terms of entertainment but it just means that there are different sorts of art and not any one universal production called art, well that is if what is made approaches art. Especially in the visual arts, sculpture, modern conceptual painting and so forth which has had some really awful charlatans amidst the real practitioners. This is never a conflict for the real artist whose creativity arrives and the art gets made. An artist wants to work at the art above the horrible wrangles, disputes and time-wasting distractions and especially the fakes.
Alok Mishra: Being a critic, what differences you underline in the literary theory today and yesterday? I mean the contemporary age and the 18th-20th century.
Kevin Kiely: Well the poets from say Jonathan Swift onwards are all moderns and their struggle to make a valid literary theory were and are involved with how much could a writer say about society but they got it said. Real literature anyway has to have some veiled language in order to pass the vile censors and those who wish to ‘sell’ fake art to their captive audience. From Voltaire to William Blake who had become outspoken before Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and onto say Camus there is the certainty of those writers among others of their caliber as being true to their style, technique and content. At this stage, everyone knows the great poets of the twentieth century, except to sift through the living who dominate amidst their bought editors and publishers. I am not suggesting that all contemporary establishment poets are not real artists but the majority cluster together among certain groups and institutions as cartels of the fake. Literary theory is as old as Homer who wrote a lost work of satire and theory which remains in few quotations to the world. What will ratify and authenticate the twentieth and twenty-first century will be not just creative work but critical work. And in many ways, the twentieth century was in a retrospective modus operandi with the dawning of the modernist movement which found its roots in nineteenth-century French poetry and reached back to Homer as another beginning.
Alok Mishra: You have composed dramas, poetry and novels as well. Personally, what do you enjoy the most while composing?
Kevin Kiely: I am sustained by whatever I write and recently wrote a screenplay. I have received praise for my dialogue but not as yet scored in the bankable arts movie and tv zones where dialogue commands high prices. It is the periods between writing that scare me when reality becomes a great challenge. My life is highly problematic. Without writing, I do not know how I would survive the levels of chaos that beset me.
Alok Mishra: Moreover, what do you like most while reading?
Kevin Kiely: I am thrilled by the amount of books in the world there can never be enough books but I do not mean every sort of book. There used to be a system in the public libraries when I began reading where a notice New Books would be put on a separate shelf with the newest acquisitions. That to me is another kind of joy.
Alok Mishra: I will reiterate the old debate of means versus the ends. Sir, what do you think matters the most – the way a creative piece is composed or the message that it delivers?
Kevin Kiely: Well both of course. I think it is easy to sometimes to see a method in written works which is what the university analysis-programmes and curricula respond to inordinately which fuels constant discussion, essays, seminars, lectures which at one level keeps some sort of survey of literature circulating but above this is the essential reader who actually breeds other readers. The real problem of the late twentieth century and even now is that there are too few poets who acknowledge that the real poet is coterminously the essential critical reader. If literature has a message it is a plurality unless it is propaganda which is not literature and always a conspiracy. Put it this way, the methodology is delivered within the structure of literature but who wants to be too specific about this. Certainly not me. Style in writing matters or the ultimate message matters? Style is everything inclusive of technique and construction.
Alok Mishra: What message you would like to convey to the aspirant poets?
Kevin Kiely: Poets who are about to write will write and will find their work. What you write makes you what you are and what you write precedes you in time and is anterior. It’s a possession simply in all its complexity. The poet is missing something as a human being which is the poetry; unity of being wavers between the mortal and the creative work. A writer dies but if they are a certain sort of creator of literature then their work goes on without them. I do not feel secure or safe answering these questions as I do not wish to compromise my art which is firstly poetry. My secret identity is that of being a poet. Sometimes I am negative about it all and yet it alone raises me upwards. I give praise to the creation of poetry and to poets continually.
Alok Mishra: Do you have any projects on the desk right now?
Kevin Kiely: Yes, a collection of poems, that is, I anticipate that it will come to a conclusion. I am also re-issuing a revised edition of The Welkinn Complex with an introduction as the first edition had errors and formatting errors but I cannot blame the US publisher it was due to my situation at the time unable to give due care to the pre-printing process. I have set about organizing a Free on Kindle edition of Breakfast with Sylvia with an introduction http://www.amazon.fr/Breakfast-Sylvia-Edition-Kevin-Kiely/dp/1516946545 as well as an edition of Journey East that was serialized in the Arbiter in the United States. My ‘secret project’ is Immortals―a two volume work about poetry, the arts, literature, history and society. I have completed Vol. I which looks at the twentieth century focusing directly on 1941-1981. Vol. II will be bookended within 1982-2016. The title is deliberately pedantic. I am updating the controversial Francis Stuart: Artist and Outcast official biography through Liffey Press and Dave Givens with a new introduction and I will ingest material left out of the first edition. There is my book on patronage at Harvard to be finally edited. All these works are interrelated and in their midst whatever poems come dancing along in lines and words. I keep busy and like it like this.
Alok Mishra: At last, I would like to thank you earnestly for the time and your answers sir.