Interview with Paul Killebrew, this year’s poet for the In Print Festival of First Books

Paul Killebrew

Our third and final excerpt from The Broken Plate’s In Print Festival interviews is with poet Paul Killebrew. Killebrew is the author of Flowers, published by Canarium Books in 2010. John Ashbery has written that Killebrew “plunges us into a world we inhabit but seldom notice, forcing its horror on us but also reminding us why we go on coping with it.” Born and raised in Tennessee, he now lives in Louisiana, where he works as a lawyer at Innocence Project New Orleans. Here is his interview excerpt:

How did you choose the title for Flowers?

The first draft of the manuscript included a lot of poems that I’d written for specific people, and Flowers seemed like a nice way of thinking about those poems. I ended up revising the manuscript quite a bit and took out most of the occasional and epistolary poems, but there were still a lot of poems that seemed to deal with immediate beauty,

so the title still fit. I also thought that the word “flowers” was due for something like this.

What have you been working on since Flowers?

Five or six years ago I told myself that I wanted to write good short poems, which for me would be anything under 25 lines. At that length my poems have tended to feel either truncated or of radically reduced scope, and then you read all these folks who do so much with so little, I mean this is poetry after all. So for the past year I’ve been trying to write shorter poems, though they’re all coming out to be like 25 to 30 lines, so maybe instead of short I should call the poems medium.

Medium poems—how’s that for an ambition?

Having some familiarity with the city, “Nashville” was cool to read, and I’m curious how your feelings about Nashville, as a native, come into your writing.

As an English major at a southern university I took the obligatory course in southern literature, which, though we read some fantastic stuff, was awful, partly because the professor took the position that contemporary southern writing, and at some level contemporary southern culture, was (or maybe should be) anti-technology and defiantly agrarian. Maybe or maybe not, but that was definitely not the Nashville countrypolitanism I grew up around. Nashville is a remarkable place that growing up in did nothing to make more comprehensible. There’s a complicated racial dynamic that loomed large in my childhood because I went to a virtually all-white private school that had been founded in the ‘70s specifically because the federal courts had recently enforced integration of the public schools through bussing. And then Nashville also has this hilarious campy side that’s both unpretentious and glitzy. The town is full of washed-up talent. It’s hard to know what to do with all that. In the poem “Nashville” I tried to make a record of words that struck me as indigenous to the Nashville I grew up in, as a kind of documentary.

*(Interviewed by Layne Ransom)

The In Print Festival of First Books starts tonight with a reading by the authors from their work. Tomorrow is day two of the festival, which features a panel where the authors, along with an editors from Artifice Magazine, will field questions relating to writing and publishing. Every year, the In Print Festival is a shining event greatly looked forward to, so we hope to see you there!

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