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The Joy and Distress of Loving

An Interview with Kendra Mills

by Jonah Meyer, Mud Season Review Poetry Editor

Poetry feels more natural to me than other kinds of writing, and writing feels more natural to me than other forms of expression […] Poetry seems intrinsically auto-fictional to me, the interpolation of the two forms can occur naturally and without explanation. I find that freeing.”

Kendra Mills

I am especially intrigued, among other sections and selections throughout your portfolio of poems, about the “pet store” in the woods near your home. You describe your experiences with your father, who takes you to this special place, and the various kinds of animals you see here, such as miniature ponies, a foal being born, a beautiful fighting fish. Please share with us the inspiration/backstory behind this pet-shop-in-the-woods idea. How does your dad figure into the scene? Why was it important to you to include this story, with its rich and inviting imagery, in the poem “Few Exceptions?”

The pet store is a real place in my hometown, now sadly closed. I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and my town in particular is very rural, so it’s simply fact that every potential destination is either in the woods, within walking distance of the shore, or by the small airport, which abuts the sole ‘industrial’ area on the island. My father spent his life there, mostly as a farmer. By the time I was born, he was exclusively cultivating vegetables. The pet store I think allowed him to share with me his love for animals without the more unpleasant aspects of animal rearing that are necessarily present when you’re raising livestock. To me those memories represented both the joy and the distress that accompanies loving someone—or something—very fragile.

With regard to the other four poems included here, could you share a few of the lines (or phrases, images, ideas) which are your personal favorites? What is it you especially like about them? What would you like readers to know, insofar as their personal, poetic significance?

I really appreciate the rhythm of a poem, or rather the intersection of rhythm and imagery, because rhythm alone can be meaningless. A lot of my favorite bits from these pieces I like for that reason, or else because I’ve integrated an interesting concept in what I hope is a compelling way. It’s possible that the rhythms won’t carry for someone else, but nevertheless:

From The Millstones:
“…I was starting small
fires, I was dancing
emancipated…”

From Genealogy of Dependence:
“…It’s the thrill of omniscience for me,
the god-trick of the inebriate…”

From Star 1973, Archived:
“…It is a kind of mourning for the self actually,
for fierceness, for sheets silted by tears.
It is
a history of silent women,
some of them are broken bones
in the quarry…”

From Palimpsest:
“…Rent midair, the scent roared
and hung across the gardens like a ghost.
Now nothing will grow,
as if the ground has been salted…”

In The Millstones, I like the dancing/emancipated sequence (I forget the term for this kind of rhyme, but I prefer it to traditional rhyme schemes). I was in graduate school when I wrote Genealogy of Dependence, which is why it includes terms like metanarrative, addiction industrial complex, and god-trick—the concept of the latter is interesting to me because I feel like its meaning—to know everything from nowhere, to dominate with knowledge—is sort of intuitive and can also be completely turned on itself in the context of dependence. The two remaining pieces, I again like these lines for their rhythm. One final note about Star 1973, Archived: I wrote it about four years after I intended to and it’s titled after a defunct magazine from the 1970s that was marketed to adolescent girls in LA, instructing them how to be sexually enticing and available to famous musicians, termed ‘superfoxes’ who were 10 and 15 years their senior. I found the archive and kept turning the idea over in my mind, eventually resulting in this poem.

A (deceivingly simple) five-word question: Why do you compose poetry?

Truthfully for no other reason than that I enjoy it. I’ve taken some creative writing courses, but at this juncture (currently in law school) I reject any sort of discipline in my creative life. Poetry feels more natural to me than other kinds of writing, and writing feels more natural to me than other forms of expression—I’m a fairly verbal person. Additionally, poetry seems intrinsically auto-fictional to me, the interpolation of the two forms can occur naturally and without explanation. I find that freeing.

I read from your biographical info that you studied at the American University in Paris. You include a line in your first poem written in French—spoken by a child to his mother—which you go on to describe as “all the more profound” due to certain perceived characteristics of the French language. How did your experience studying in Europe inform your writing? Would you say, additionally, that any Parisian aesthetic has informed your approach towards poetry, and/or your general view of the creative process?

I would say that generally my exposure to Europe–four years in total, multiple countries—actually entrenched my American sensibilities, intellectually, creatively, etc. I’m sure I was influenced by my experiences there, both intentionally sought and inadvertent, but I also became more conscious of how thoroughly I am not European and how consequentially neither is my work or my process. I can’t really explain that further other than to say that I read the work of American writers with renewed appreciation—many of whom have written about this very phenomenon much more cogently.

Please share with us some of the contemporary poets whose work you are currently reading and enjoying. What specifically it is about their poetry which speaks to you, which draws you in?

My favorite poets right now, unranked, are: Stephan Torre, Paul Tran, Catherine Barnett, Shane McCrae, and Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta. I’ve enjoyed their work for different reasons—Paul Tran and Shane McCrae first struck me because of their incredible final lines in Bioluminescence and In the Event Of, respectively. Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta made me laugh, Catherine Barnett and Stephan Torre each had turns of phrase that I found particularly beautiful.

When do you prefer to write? And where? Do you tend to have an established routine? Can you share examples of situations or experiences in life which tend to let loose the muse for you, personally?

I write at various times and in various settings. I switch between longhand and typing. With Few Exceptions I wrote out a draft by hand, the others were largely typed. I’m just starting on a new project right now and I have both a notebook and a Google docs folder with ideas, drafts, and unattached phrases. Truthfully when I’m intellectually overtaxed is when I’m the most likely to write creatively. When I can’t read anymore or retain any more vocabulary or write analytically, I’ll be drawn towards poetry. Then I’ll edit whatever I’ve produced at another point when I’m more intellectually present. Generally, I edit a poem between three and ten times.

And now, an admittedly-hackneyed question. If you were afforded the opportunity to sit and have a meal with any poet or writer, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Why? What question would you like to ask that person? What would you like to share?

In what is probably an admittedly-hackneyed response, I would love to have a conversation with Joan Didion, as anxiety-inducing as that might be. To me, her writing embodies both her innate talent and her honed skill. Maybe I’m superimposing that idea, because I read an anecdote that she used to retype Hemingway’s work as a teenager. Anyway, I’d ask her about the tensions between personal essay and reportage, especially as the public grows increasingly (possibly to a fault) comfortable with personal disclosure.

Please share an interesting piece of information about yourself—something perhaps which has absolutely nothing to do with writing or poetry.

These kinds of questions always panic me because I am filled with the desire to be charming and impressive. My feet are different sizes. I deleted my Twitter account after reading Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This and also because Elon Musk was going to buy it. I’m very interested in work that interrogates the relationship between knowledge production and conceptual art. There—the triad that comprises the totality of my identity.

By Jonah Meyer

Jonah Meyer is poetry editor of Mud Season Review. A poet, writer, and editor in North Carolina, he holds a Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology, Masters in Library & Information Systems, and has backgrounds in print journalism and public librarianship. Jonah’s creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in O.Henry Magazine, Ampersand Literary Journal, Carolina Peacemaker, The Writing Disorder, Bluebird Word, Boats Against the Current, American Crises, JAB Fiction and Poetry, Bohemian Review, Found Spaces, The Mountaineer, Sledgehammer Lit, Oddball Magazine, Cold Lake Anthology, Beaver Magazine, Press Pause, Digging Press, Raise the Voices, Within and Without Magazine, and elsewhere. Jonah plays guitar, banjo, and piano, shoots street photography, and studies neuroscience and Buddhist philosophy. He serves as Poetry Editor for Twin Bird Review, Assistant Poetry Editor for Random Sample Review, Staff Writer with The US Review of Books, Copy Editor with Under the Gum Tree, Poetry Book Reviewer for Heavy Feather, and Poetry Reader for Okay Donkey. Jonah firmly believes everyone has a story worth telling.