Monday, January 26, 2015

LIFE OF A POET - KENN MERCHANT

Today, my poet friends, we are visiting the beautiful state of Maine, to talk to the young poet, Kenn Merchant, who writes at KmercPoetry. Kenn is one of our newer members, so I really enjoyed visiting with him. Grab a latte, and come sit by the screen, so we can get to know Kenn better.



Sherry: Kenn, I'm so happy to be visiting with you! Would you give us a little glimpse of the poet at home? Your family, and where you live?




Kenn: I live in the state of Maine in the United States. I currently live with my mother and two younger siblings until I can become financially stable enough to move out. I live in a small town and a lot of the work around here is very competitive, so landing a job here is really hard to do unless you know people. 

Many people don't know where Maine is, or what it even looks like, so I would describe it as a cold wasteland during the winter, a hot and sweaty summer, a magnificently colorful spring covered in mud, and has many different shades during the fall. 



My mother is a drug and alcohol counselor. So you can imagine what it is like trying to have a drink or two around the house once in a while. My middle brother, who is twenty, is an outdoor fanatic and craves the idea of searching for some buried gold somewhere. He is a great influence on me, because he has autism, and I've been working with him, as well as family, for years to get him where he is now. 



Sherry: You sound like a wonderful brother, Kenn. I'm very familiar with autism, usually some of the most brilliant people around.

Kenn: My youngest brother is aiming to go into the military, and hopes to do so sometime later this summer. He has an attitude about him that is fitting for a soldier, and I couldn't be happier in supporting him in this endeavor. I tend to personally keep to myself as a homebody, but I would quickly give it all away for a chance to travel around the world. Money is quite an issue here, though.  

Sherry: Yes, a limiting factor for so many of us. When did you begin writing? Which came first, prose or poetry? what do you love about poetry?

Kenn:  I began writing exclusively when I was twelve or thirteen, but I have been professionally writing since my freshman year in college. I originally wrote very short stories, but discovered poetry during a high school creative writing seminar. 

I found that words could do more than tell a story, but could in fact manipulate the way people thought. This intrigued me greatly, and I have been writing poetry ever since then. 




Sherry: Yay, I get to ask my favorite question. In school, did you write in secret? If not, did the other guys give you a hard time for writing poetry, or did they respect your abilities?

Kenn: I've always written my poetry in private. A lot of people never knew I wrote poetry until I told them what I was studying at my university. Nobody really gave me a hard time about it, but they would give me that weird look and ask me, "really?" as if it was hard to believe. I know that a lot of people respect my ability to write in general, so I would imagine they respect my ability to write poetry as well. 

Sherry: Well said. What do you love about poetry? 

Kenn: I love the fact that poetry is always in a constant state of change, and that it can affect people in so many different ways. I personally use it as a stress reliever and a babysitter, but I also use it to tell a story, which I love to do.

Sherry: Do you enjoy trying different forms? Are there any that just aren’t your cup of tea?



Kenn: I've tried a few different methods, but I enjoy free form the most because there is so much freedom in what I am writing. I don't have to set up a certain number of syllables, or count how many lines are in a stanza. I write haiku exclusively, but free form is my favorite. 

I occasionally will write a traditional poem with an “ABABC” rhyme scheme, but this is mostly because I'm trying to test myself. Sonnets are not my cup a tea because there is so much complexity that I'd rather not get into. I don't really rate certain forms higher than any other, because I like to keep an open mind. Some of the time I will write in a certain form without even realizing it. 



Sherry: I love it when that happens! Is there a genre of writing you especially favor? 

Kenn: I definitely favor the fantasy genre more than any other. More specifically, the high fantasy genre. I grew up reading books in this genre, and I play a lot of role-playing games based off this genre as well. They have been very influential in what and how I write.

Sherry: I can see how they would work together very well. How would you describe your personal approach to the creative writing process? Is there a process you follow to bring a  poem  to completion? Or do they flow much as we see them on the page?

Kenn: One of my favorite practices as a poet is to take three random words and use them in a poem. Not only does this get me thinking, but it also applies the idea that poetry isn't always about synchronous thinking. Poetry demands a writer to think outside of the box, and this is what I tend to do. I also enjoy closing my eyes and listening to everything around me. I take mental notes of everything I hear, and write it down after a few minutes. Not only is this a great way to meditate before writing, but it helps a writer extract one of the five senses to include in their writing.

Sherry: These are some intriguing writing tips, Kenn.




Kenn: The conclusion of a poem isn't always writ in stone. Most of my poetry is very raw, and I've done little to any changes upon it. When I write the actual ending of a poem, it follows this same ideal. I might change  it, or I might not. There are some times where I don't think the ending will necessarily be fitting, and this is okay, because poetry has that magnificent thing called freedom. No matter what is written on that page, it is a work of art. I know this doesn't really answer the question, so I will mention this one little tidbit. I end a poem when I don't know what to write. Simple as that. Seems kind of strange for a creative person to do such a thing, but it seems to do the job.

Sherry: This is very interesting. You have studied writing at two universities. Tell us a bit about that. You first studied journalism. Do you still aspire to being a journalist?

Kenn: When I initially attended the New England School of Communications, I wanted to be the type of journalist that traveled the world, all expenses paid, and write stories about people's lives. Basically I wanted to be a journalist that worked for National Geographic or Travel Magazine. Unfortunately this school I attended didn't provide that sort of influence. Also, I realized how competitive the journalism field could be. If you wanted to write a story you literally had to “fight” someone for the chance to land that job. I'm not much for competition in the slightest, so I stopped pursuing that field of study. Not to mention the teachers I had didn't help me in my endeavors at all. Most of the time the professors in this field of study were choosing favorite students over others. I didn't agree with this sort of behavior at all.

Sometimes I have the feeling that if I went to a different university to study this field I may have had a different view, but it didn't work out that way. There will always be a part of me that wants to go out into the world and tell people's stories, but now I will be doing that as a poet rather than a journalist.



Sherry: It is a competitive field. But you still might wind up traveling, reporting stories as a freelancer and making your way that way. Maybe even through a travel book. There are a billion stories out there, just waiting for a young man who loves to travel. Tell us about your job at Ink and Quiver,  Personalized Fairy Tales.  I am impressed that you already have a job in the field of writing.

Kenn: Ink and Quiver gave me my big break, so to speak. Every client that I receive has their identity protected. I don't know their name, I don't know what they look like, I haven't even met them in person. So, how is it that I am able to write a fairy tale about someone without really knowing who they are? Well, my boss sends me a shortened biography that the client has personally written. I read over this multiple times, trying to discern important key aspects of the person's life. Once I have figured that out, I can begin writing a rough draft. 

A lot of the time it is a hit or miss kind of situation. I had to write my first client's story at least four times before it was approved by my editor. So you can imagine that this job is no different than being a journalist really. The only difference is that I don't have to leave my house to do the job. In a way, this is a dream job for me because I'm doing what I love and the payout is really good. The downside is that it is a contractual job, so I'm paid when the client pays my boss. So the money portion isn't really received till much later after taking on the client. 

Sherry: It is a writer's dream to be paid to write at home, Kenn. Wow! Is there someone you feel has had a significant impact on your development as a writer? 

Kenn: This is a really hard question to answer... I would have to say that my mother is a huge influence, because she was the one who made me sit down and read. Some parents don't bother making their children read. Reading is very important for a child's brain development, so I'm thankful that I read plenty. I also have to thank my creative writing professors, because they taught me everything that I know.

Sherry: A love of books is the best gift a parent can give a child, right up there after love and nurturing. Smiles. Yay for your mom! Is there a poem we might include here that you feel is one of your best, or perhaps one that says something about who you are?

Kenn: I cherish all of my work that I write. Of course there are some that receive better results than others, but I love all of them. Having said this I would have to say one of my newest poems, “Mrs. Quill and Mr.Inkpot,” really captures who I am as a writer, as well as covering that nostalgia factor of being a poet.

Mrs. Quill & Mr. Inkpot

“For last year's words belong to last year's language 
And next year's words await another voice.”   
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Words hold so much meaning to a quill
Because it gives her a chance to mingle
With the likes of hunky ink pot,
And on occasions where parchment is necessary
The quill and ink mate together well;
Like two rivers swirling in a rapid dance.
As the quill and ink ages through the years
They can look back at what they have wrote
And continue that story into the future.
I mean that is what writing is all about right?
Continuing one's life story from one year
All the way into the next, without regrets.

Sherry: Oh, this makes me smile, especially the hunky ink pot. I am old enough to have actually used pen nibs and ink pots in school, a messy situation, complete with pigtail ends dipped in ink. You have a book out, available through Amazon, Pair A Dice and  Dream Lands. How did it feel when you first held it in your hands? Do you have plans for more books?





Kenn: When I first held it in my hands, I was simply astounded. Keep in mind that I have no prior background in publishing whatsoever, and that I've always wanted to publish a book. You could say that I was really excited to have a physical copy of my work in my hands. 

Of course this was two and half years ago. Looking back on it, I can say I definitely knew nothing about publishing. I tried to incorporate pictures in the book, and they were far from being professionally done. In fact the pictures kind of did the opposite effect than I wanted: distracted the reader. I wanted the pictures to kind of meld into the poems that I had written; sort of like a companion. It didn't work out that way, in my opinion. 

I have a second publication in the works, Writings On The Wall, and I'm very excited for when it will be released. It is a smaller collection of poetry, and it could have easily been put into an e-book, but I am a firm believer in a physical copy.

Sherry: I am too, Kenn. We look forward to your second book! What are your hopes and dreams for your writing?

Kenn: My view on writing has never changed since the first time I lifted up a pen. I write to tell a story that others might read and enjoy. If I can entertain someone through my writing, then my duty as a writer has been accomplished.

Sherry: Well said, my friend. What other interests do you enjoy?

Kenn: I've always been a semi-nature oriented kind of person, so I greatly enjoy being in the outdoors. Just not during the winter. I also enjoy having my friends and I get together to have a nerd night. We get out the dice for some table-top role-playing games, or we set up some kind of video game to my television. 



I'm also an amateur photographer. I enjoy taking photos of animals and landscapes because it reminds me how beautiful this world can really be. Of course there also is my obsession for books from the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons & Dragons. I literally have miniature library in my bedroom due to this. 



Sherry: My sons still find Dungeons and Dragons fascinating, and they are in their 40's.  How has the blogging world impacted your writing, Kenn?

Kenn: The blogging world has impacted my writing quite a bit. It is the first place that I've openly shared my poetry, and it has encouraged me greatly to keep writing poetry. A lot of this has to do with the wonderful comments I receive, and the fact that people are going out of their own way to stop by and read. I like the idea that someone is reading my poetry and enjoys doing so, because this means I'm doing my job as a poet. I've also started to experiment a bit with recording my voice while reading my poetry. While I've only posted a reading to my blog once, it has been something I'm trying to get used to. I've never been one that comes out and reads poetry openly, and reading my poems has nullified that fear little by little. 

Sherry: Step by step, our confidence grows, thanks to the support and encouragement of other poets. I believe we need such encouragement to keep us at it. I know it has impacted me hugely. Do you have a few words to say to Poets United?

Kenn: I would definitely like to thank Poets United for giving me the opportunity to explore other people's work, and for allowing me to share my own. It has been a huge push forward onto my writing platform. I also enjoy participating in the poetry prompts that Poets United offers, because it challenges me as a poet to write more. Last of all, I would like to thank Poets United for interviewing me and allowing me to share some of my own personal insights. 

Sherry: It is truly our pleasure, Kenn, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us so generously. And for sharing photos of your corner of the world. It is very beautiful there. We look forward to reading more of your work in the coming months.


Wasn't this a lovely visit, kids? I love seeing young poets starting out on their poetic journeys. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Poetry Pantry #236


Photos from Korea - Totomai














Greetings, Friends!  Good to see you this Sunday.  Can you believe January is almost over?  Before long it will be spring here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Smiles.

This week we are featuring more photos taken by Totomai Martinez.  This week they are photos from Korea.  Totomai told me that he often travels to Korea for work!  Again, what beautiful photos.  If you go to Totomai's web page, you will see that he also has a photography book out.  Congratulations, Totomai!!

I hope those of you who post a poem will also stop in and make a comment.  It is nice even if you stop by with a 'hi' and tell us about the weather in your part of the world.   Or, if you are in the midst of winter maybe you can tell us what keeps you enthused as you endure the long winter.   And, hey, who will you support for the Super Bowl?

Be sure to watch Sherry's interview on Monday, Susan's Midweek Motif on Wednesday, and Rosemary's feature on Friday.  You never know what you will find when you check out Poets United. And, if you are not following it already on Facebook, you might want to do so.  That is where you can often find out first what's happening!

Link your one poem with Mr. Linky below.  Visit other poets.  And have a good week!!






Friday, January 23, 2015

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors

Nostalgia and Regret
(Ora che sale il giorno)
By Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)

Now the day breaks
night is done and the moon
slowly dissolved in serene air
sets in the canals.
September is so alive in this country
of plains, the meadows are green
as in the southern valleys in spring.
I have left my companions,
I have hidden my heart behind ancient walls,
to be alone, to remember.
Since you are further off than the moon,
now the day breaks
and the horses’ hooves beat on the stones.


Excerpt From: Salvatore Quasimodo: Selected Poems. iBooks. Translated by A. S. Kline © 2012  
All Rights Reserved. This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. (Download here.)


Sicilian-born Quasimodo was the 1959 Nobel laureate in Literature, and one of the most renowned Italian poets of the 20th Century. He was also a professor of literature and a translator — though he began as an engineering student, and worked a a technical draftsman in his youth. Fortunately for us, from 1938 he was able to focus on writing.

I've loved his poetry a long time, and used to own the Penguin edition, but it was stolen from me decades ago. I was delighted to find this Kline translation available for free download, however it seems to be a slimmer volume than the one I had. The Penguin volume also had a different translator, and is now expensive, as are his other books at Amazon. And unfortunately there are only a few of his poems at PoemHunter.

He was known as a 'Hermetic' poet, which Wikipedia describes as '
a form of obscure and difficult poetry ... wherein the language and imagery are subjective, and where the suggestive power of the sound of words is as important as their meaning.' 

The reasoning behind this is also explained:

'Hermetic poetry opposes verbal manipulation and the ease of mass communication, which began taking place during Europe's dictatorial years, with the increasing brain-washing propaganda of the nazi-fascist regimes. Poetry therefore retreats into itself and assumes the task of returning sense to words, giving them back their semantic meaning, using them only when strictly necessary.'

It's a different way of thinking from that most common today, where we like our poetry to be engaged with life and all the issues of the day, but it is an understandable reaction from poets who lived through two World Wars. 

Quasimodo was concerned to express a melancholy view of life, and the poem I've chosen is an example. But the sad can be beautiful. In any case, in this poem hope and the promise of Spring shine through.

In later life, we are told, he departed from the Hermetic, but was still always seeking a unique poetic language.