Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Kelly R. Samuels
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The rhythm of “Lake Superior II” is one of the things we really enjoy about the poem, especially in how it evokes the sense of flowing water. When you write, do you consciously develop specific sound effects, echoes, and rhythms, or do they emerge organically with the poem?
Kelly R. Samuels: I knew that I wanted to mimic the water’s movements with this particular piece; I sat down at my computer with that goal. Other times, with other poems, the pacing and rhythms will come more organically as I’m writing. I’ll get into a groove, what some call the sweet spot, and hit a stride that works with the poem’s intent.
RR: The poem incorporates images and details very much grounded in a sense of place. Is there a specific or personal significance to you in this part of Lake Superior?
KS: I went and stayed up in the Keweenaw Peninsula for the first time in May of 2017, visiting both the north and south shores. There was a wildness to the area and to the water on the north shore that spoke to me, as well as a calmness to the south that resonated, and it got me thinking about how we, as people, are often comprised of facets. We are not just one thing. I would spend most of my days out hiking, walking the beaches, and then write into the evening. I plan on going back this June.
RR: You mentioned that this piece is part of a series of poems revolving around a quote. Can you tell us more? We’d love to hear about the series you’re working on.
KS: I am working on a series that revolves around a quote from the anthropologist, teacher and writer Loren Eiseley: “One could not pluck a flower without troubling a star.” I’m trying to generate connections between the natural world – flowers, trees, water, stars – and humans. In light of climate change, I think it’s important we recognize we are just a part of this world, not most important.
RR: We understand you also teach. How does your work teaching connect with your writing?
KS: I teach both 100-level composition courses and 200-level literature classes, primarily for students who do not major in English. In all of my classes, we read poems, short stories, novels, and plays, and I try to get students to see how literature matters – how a poem can speak to a feeling or a story can reflect what is happening in “the real world.” When students see that, as well as how intricate a work is, I get jazzed. It’s inspiring; it confirms, for me, the importance of literature.
RR: What have you been reading lately?
KS: I am always reading a novel. The last really great novel I read was Ali Smith’s Winter. She is working with genre in ways I find interesting. I am also always reading at least one collection of poetry. Right now, there are three: Louise Glück’s Poems: 1962-2012, Divide These by Saskia Hamilton, and Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria. I adore Girmay!
Kelly R. Samuels’ work appears in Issue 5.2 here.