This is a post in the series of conversations with remarkable individuals we meet.
Several years ago American Theater ran a brief story about a young actress who approached Mother Teresa about making change in the world. Mother Teresa said something to the effect that only art can make change in Western countries as only art can free the heart from the effects of loneliness and hopelessness. I often think poets are in the forefront in melting the heart of Windigo.
We met the poet, Erren Geraud Kelly, at a community breakfast on Christmas morning. Erren sat quietly at our table. I noticed he had a book of poetry with him, and asked what he was reading. It turned out he had just returned from giving a couple of readings in New York city. Others at the table perked up and began to listen carefully to our conversation. Soon they were asking Erren to read. It was a remarkable way to begin Christmas.
I next ran into Erren at our local bakery. Following another brief conversation we agreed to the following on-line interview. To read more of Erren’s work you may visit his page at Poetic Matrix. The interview is verbatim.
MW: Erren, what would you like us readers to know about your life and poetry?
EK: I think I’ve lived a fairly interesting life; a lot of it has been by circumstance, some beyond my control. But it seems the best moments in life never happen by design. When I go out into the world every morning, I don’t look for interesting things to happen. I would be very happy to have a normal, boring day
MW: How does poetry serve you?
EK: Poetry has always been my lifeline. Three months ago, I was in the hospital for heart problems and a pastor at the church I was attending, gave me a book of poems by Mary Oliver. Earlier in the day, i underwent a catherization, which doctors shoved a thin long metal rod through my groin into my chest to look at my heart and the arteries and when I came out of it, it left me rather sore. Less than an hour after I had returned from the procedure, I was sitting up in bed reading poetry to get my mind off of the pain.
I think poetry gives me the chance to say the things that people leave unsaid; to pull a sheet off of the taboos that no one wants to talk about and to use it as a foundation for communication between people.
MW: Are there poets who have inspired you?
EK: Mona Lisa Saloy and Kalamu Ya Salaam, both New Orleans Poets. Valentine Piece is another New Orleans poet I like. The British Romantics : Byron, Shelley and Keats; Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Sakespeare and Petrarch ( for the way they crafted sonnets) I learned about villanelles from Dylan Thomas; My mama told me she saw Robert Frost reading at President Kennedy’s Inaugaration, so when I got to college, I started reading Frost. Rodger Kamenetz and Kate Daniels; Emily Dickinson( who created a world out of her own solitude ) , Major Jackson,; the black poets of the 1960’s; Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Don L. Lee, Etheridge Knight and Of course, Amiri. I got a chance to meet professor Baraka at a poetry workshop at Louisiana State University in 1991. He told me he saw a poem I wrote about the first Iraq war and my condemnation of George H.W. Bush in the school newspaper and he loved it; The Beats; Saul Williams; Nicole Blackman, Kevin Young, Daurianne Laux Jim Carroll; Jazz Musicians; Folk Singers…I could go on….
MW: How does writing shape your day and life?
EK: Poetry helps me to understand the world better; it helps me to get a better grip on human nature. I have writing for 26 years and I’ve never had a set time that I write ! There is no certain time of the day that I do my writing or any particular place that I write, yet somehow, I’ve managed to be prolific; though I will say that I love to write in coffeehouses. When I write, I just try to expand on the world I’m living in; put a new twist on ideas, mainly see if I can tell the same story everyone else told better or make it more interesting. It’s all be said before, the best writers and poets just know how to put a fresh spin on it.
I have spent hours working on my writing or becoming engrossed in other poets and writers’ works, just to see what I can learn from them. I have read hundreds of poets but I never intentionally try to write like them; if another poet’s influence shows up in my work, it’s purely osmosis ( laughs )
MW: What are your hopes and plans for the future?
EK: I had my first chapbook of poems, ” Disturbing The Peace,” released last year; it’s on Night Ballet Press. I haven’t read it ( believe it or not ! ) I haven’t even read the reviews for it, good or bad, cos I just want to be about the work. I was writing before I was published; I’ll continue to write, even if I never publish again. I write poetry because I have something to say and I say it better and differently than anyone ! I’ve thought about going to grad school and getting an MFA, but honestly, I think a year or two in France would be better for me than sitting in a classroom. I wouldn’t mind traveling more. A lot of great poets and writers never got an MFA; it’s not an requirement.
MW: Is there a short poem you would like me to feature?
EK: Red Line “El”/ Sheridan Stop
she wore her hair down today
it looked like a rose
yesterday, on the el
she wore it up and she was wearing
shorts and a wife-beater shirt
moving to the world
her i-phone made
a couple of times, i looked her way
and wanted to say something
but it was better to watch
and not disturb the peace she made
MW: Is there anything else you would like us readers to know about your life and work
EK: I never try to limit myself as far as subject ; i’ll write political poems, but I don’t want to known as a “rage against the machine,” type poet; I’ll write about God, though sometimes, I think I’m bugging him to death with questions. I’d rather write about love and about how a woman can give me an epiphany, more than anything else .But even then there’s gotta be more than life than that. When I start to feel like I’m getting predictable, I’ll change up and write about other things. I love it when people underestimate me or try to put me in a box, and make me into what they want, cos then, I just get more of an incentive to do things differently ( smiles ).
9 thoughts on “Interview With Erren Geraud Kelly, Poet”
Michael: Thank you for this important interview with Erren Geraud Kelly and your post. I too appreciate poetry as a way of establishing “presence” in sitting with folks dealing with grief and hard times.. There is something like a good poem that can say what is present and unnamed in life. Sometimes it is the only thing that is possible to say at such times –something that is essential about being present in the face of grief . I found David Brooks “The Art of Presence,” written in the New York Times, January 20, 2014,. “nails” something I am trying to say much more clearly than I can express. Here is a link to his essay. I hope it something that can be presented here. If not. I will try my best to share his important ideas in another post. Thank you so much for this.
Love and appreciation,
Rob, thank you for sharing this link. I hope folks will read the essay.
Recently, I was looking for my work in Chicago Record (2016 and 2018), when I came across your poetry in CR 2016. I was taken in by the sudden beauty/plain truth of your poetry. Bravo, poet, bravo!
P.S.Informative interview, too.
I think it may have been someone else. I haven’t been publishing poems for a while. I am curious about the poems tho. Is there a link?
Michael, What poems are you looking for?
Oops, I misunderstood the question. Like I said, Chicago Record Magazine. I came across your poetry in CR 2016. No, I don’t have a link. Google Chicago Record, and then access the year 2016. Cheers!
Thanks! No problem.
No longer looking, thanks.
It’s Erren Geraud Kelly’s poetry and not yours. Sorry about the misunderstanding.