Rappahannock Review Poetry Editor: The details in “Suckle” evoke, for us, a deep sense of inarticulable desire. Can you tell us how the poem began for you and a little bit about its process? How did the images and voice come together, especially when working with a theme as abstract as desire?
Kamal E. Kimball: I fell in love last year. Being a writer, I couldn’t just fall in love quietly. I found myself exploring desire, love, and lust in almost every poem. I know it’s all been done, but still I felt drawn to add my voice to the chorus. I began to see this whirlwind process as a kind of “study” of love. Soon the ideas expanded beyond just the romantic, the dynamic between lovers. How does the process of love and desire impact self-relation as well? I began to think about the relationship not just between myself and my lover, but between myself and my love. These ideas found words in “Suckle.” It was one of those poems that come out with its major contours already in place–all I did after drafting was prune and hone the words and lines. The ideas and the logical progression within the poem fell out of the sky just as you see them in the finished work.
RR: We love how “Suckle” is very dense and demanding in its language. How do you approach voice in your poems?
KEK: I don’t think about my voice when I’m composing very much. It is a gut driven process, underpinned by reading and study. When a tone or mood starts to cohere from the image set, I try to build on it and let it become what it wants to be. I don’t know if my work has a consistent voice but I trust the process.
RR: We understand that you’re an editor for The Journal. Has your work editing influenced or changed your writing?
KEK:I started out reading slush, became an associate poetry editor, and now I’m the production editor, handling our print layout and design. I also read slush for Muzzle Magazine, which is a great practice to support one’s own writing process. I have found it tremendously educational to see what common moves working writers are making, both good and bad. I push myself harder to generate original images and language than I did before I started editing. It is easier for me to spot things that feel familiar and to know when I’m doing something unusual because it has simply expanded my exposure to contemporary writing.
RR: What writers or poets (or others) would you say have influenced your poetry?
KEK: Allen Ginsberg was the first poet that I fell in love with. I memorized parts of Howl, copying them down in my journal as a teenager. I definitely see the impact of working with my present mentor, Kathy Fagan, as well as Maggie Smith who used to give me editing feedback. I currently have a huge stack of books waiting for me which all circle the theme of desire. In the coming months, I’ll be spending time with Hafiz, Neruda, Richard Siken, Marilyn Hacker, Proust, Gabrielle Calvocoressi and watching films by David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai, and Celine Sciamma. I look forward to seeing how they influence my work in the coming year.
RR: Are you working on any new projects that you’d like to share with us?
KEK: My main inquiry right now is into the nature of desire, trying to find ways to push forward the love poem as a form. I’m sending out my chapbook, reading, editing, teaching, and occasionally enjoying a bourbon and a walk along the river.
Kamal E. Kimball’s work in Issue 7.1: