Poet Spotlight: Kolleen Carney

Kolleen Carney
Photo by Jessica Lynne Furtado.

Kolleen Carney is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has published two chapbooks — Me and the Twelve Step Program (Salem State Center for Creative and Performing Arts) and Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Books Press, 2017). Kolleen is currently the social media coordinator and managing editor for Zoetic Press, as well as an assistant poetry editor. She is also the editor-in-chief and social media coordinator for Drunk Monkeys.

Your new collection of poetry, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament, has recently been published by Grey Books Press. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

I fell in love! As silly as that sounds. To be honest, some of the poems I had started years before, like “Bestia” and “A Very Distant Rooster”. This collection is obviously an unfolding relationship, the start of a romance, of a true love — something I am not sure I had really experienced in the past, at least not with this intensity. When Fritz and I finally got together, I wrote more and more about our experiences before and after the fact. They came easily. He’s easy to write about. Everything he does is a poem in the making, and I am constantly memorizing it all.

The poems in your collection explore intimacy and sex with a mixture of fire and decay, creation and wonder. They seem to speak to the way love can be both comforting and frightening all at once. Does this reflect your personal belief or understanding of how love is? How do you bring this intimacy to your poetry and how do you bring poetry to intimacy with others?

I absolutely believe love is a terrifying thing. To love someone is to become vulnerable, and I hate being vulnerable. But in the same way, I love the comfort of a life with someone, a routine. A warm shoulder, another body next to you at night.

I used to think I didn’t really know how to love anyone beyond my son; like, I loved people, but not that sort of real love where people die holding hands or whatever. Now I do. Now I know.

I love the idea that decay leads to new life, by the way. That fire that decimated the hill? Because of that, pinecones opened up, seeds fell, and someday that hill will be filled with new trees. It’s amazing.

Love poems are sort of a new thing for me. I have never written anything so positive. I guess yes, that intimacy comes through in the poetry, because I am just trying to frame how I feel in a way that sounds nice. As for bringing poetry to intimacy, I just try to keep this feeling going, to make everything a little magical. Sometimes even going to the store can be an adventure.

Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament by Kolleen Carney

Which poem do you feel best reflects the overall tone or feeling you’ve created with of Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament? Or, which poem is your personal favorite in the collection? Why?

This is such a hard question. I mean… I don’t know. I want to say “Cayucas”, because it has all that lust and anxiety of a new relationship, all that fear, but that doesn’t really seem right. I think I am going to say “When I Said Goodbye”. All that longing and insecurity and not knowing how to navigate how I felt. That’s the one.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, but it was freshman year of college when I really set this path. I took a creative writing class as an elective and my teacher, J.D. Scrimgeour, encouraged me to keep writing. “This is what you should be doing”. I’ve been doing it ever since.

As for what keeps me writing, that’s sort of hard. I believe it’s the only thing I am truly good at, but sometimes I feel jaded, or maybe a bit of imposter syndrome. I see amazing poets moving the world with their works: Maggie Smith, Logan February. I don’t think I move people the way others do. But it’s all I know how to do. And my friend Brian said, “Maybe you’ll inspire someone to go to Bestia”. I guess I’ll keep writing because I want to, and I like to, and if someone is moved by it, that means the world to me.

You are currently editor-in-chief of Drunk Monkeys and have previously served a number of editorial roles with various literary publications. How has your work as an editor influenced your life as a writer? In what ways has your writing life influenced your editorial work?

I will tell you something right now: being an editor has taught me how to read submission guidelines carefully, and how to keep a cover letter concise. My biggest pet peeve are people who just disregard guidelines. I had a submission I rejected because, since our fiction is closed right now, the writer tried to sneak a short story through our essay portal. Don’t do that! Why?????

It’s also so obvious when people do not read our publication; I assume they’re just blanket submitting, which is what I did when I was younger. Drunk Monkeys will get a fair amount of misogynistic or racist work, or they’ll ask when our print publication will be out (we are not a print publication). Take ten minutes to read our issues. I am really proud of them. Then you’ll know what we are looking for.

I don’t think my writing life has really influenced my editorial work; I mean, I know what is objectively “good” as opposed to “not quite there yet”, but the range of things we receive makes it impossible to base things off my own personal aesthetic.

What is the most encouraging development you’ve witnessed in the poetry community in recent years?

If you know me, this will be a shocking answer, but: Twitter. Seriously. So many people tweeting and retweeting and supporting each other. I wouldn’t be aware of so many poets and journals and great works without Twitter. Can I give shout outs? If so, Glass Poetry is like, my #1. They are the best.

Of course, Twitter has its downside too, but that’s maybe a different interview.

What are you currently reading?

I am still slogging my way through The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Frost), which I am savoring because I am a huge Twin Peaks fan and I never want any of it to end. I just finished The Sarah Book (McClanahan), which I hated, and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (Irby), which I loved. I have to brush up on We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Jackson) for Zoetic Press’ NonBinary Review issue, and I have To the Bright Edge of the World (Ivey) waiting for me. I wish I read as much as I used to, but I am working on it.

Name one poet no one knows but should.

I can’t say they’re both unknown, but Emily Corwin and Joanna Valente are two of my favorites right now. And Joey Gould… everyone should know Joey Gould.

What advice do you have to offer to emerging writers?

Don’t stop writing. Just write all the time. Don’t worry if you think it sucks, just keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t stop doing either. Find lit journals you like and subscribe to them. Go to open mics. Take classes if you can. Write write write. Never stop!

What can the world expect from you in the future?

I don’t think I will ever stop writing about Fritz; I’m already working on another collection of poems for him. Maybe no one will read them because they’re sick of our disgusting relationship! I also have a series of found poems that I have been working on since last October; I know it’s a definite collection, but how I want to present it is giving me problems. Otherwise, I’m going to keep on doing what I have been doing: working for Zoetic Press and Drunk Monkeys and being snarky online!