For as long as I can remember, perhaps before, I have been infatuated with these pecan trees. Mistaken their knots
and wounds for eyes, ears, which, in this country, is becoming easy. Their roots will never abandon us. I'm enamored of the
centipede, how its long fingers weave together like a favored grandparent's: ready to cushion our first falls, shield us from
the emptiness of our futures. And I admire the squeaky black mole, passionately burrowing beneath the grass, devouring termites
& maggots and other malignancies never brought to light. Is there life without the swoop and dive of the gull, its feathers
glowing brilliant and white in the noonday sun? Without the reliable waves frothing clean on the shore? Let me stay here forever.
Let the black sand and dogwood blooms sustain me. Let the night rest lightly upon my face, the cool scent of dew parting my
parched lips. I understand why the robin does not leave for winter, its head dutifully cocked to the ground--listening. I
am in love with the family cemetery. The green grass weaving an afghan of warmth for those grown thin with age. The live oak
holds sentry--its roots reaching out, binding us tightly together. And I am not afraid when new monuments sprout from the
soil. No matter the names, I am happy, overjoyed even. I can claim the calm and peace of the handcrafted bass or fiddle--the
knowledge of my own distinct sound and range--my undisputed moment in this song.
can measure the speed of sound, light, just as sure as they'll know the split of Alinghi each time she rounds another orange
buoy. And yes, the captain will tell us he could sense her desire for victory as they sped down the stretch, but what is the
measure of that? I, lonely here among the linen and deck shoes, would like to know; just how fast does desire travel? Are
my innermost secrets racing across space & time to finally determine if it will be you who ascends these steps to wait
in line for martinis, place your wager? If you were to appear, I think I'd refuse to trim the main sail, jettison my desire
for polite conversation, tack toward backstreet brawl. Without you, I'm unanchored, drifting down alleys, beneath the docks,
where I'm followed by merchant marines, the perfume of smelt and brine--almost beautiful if there were moonlight. I'm weak
and I've created a world so fragile that the boy with the biggest heart has fallen through the hull of my boat to the cold,
salty sea where, if he could, he would take it all into his mouth leaving me soft sand to walk on, somewhere firm to set my
feet, which is crazy, I know, but so is desire and what we do with it. And today, alone, I desire nothing more than warm seas
and gentle winds to fill my sails carry me towards the horizon that is you.
The Known World
How often I feel all I
could say has been written already or you've heard it from folks with enlivening accents or whiter teeth than mine--so why
should I say anything at all? Sometimes though, I try to remind myself how that small white boat alone on the smooth blue
bay is somehow more meaningful than the untamed meadow of umbrellas & bikinis kissing the edge of the water; or else,
I think to remember how the chef, his kitchen twitching with fish, freshly ground cardamom, cumin, and coriander, still reaches
for a finger of salt before releasing his steaming tureens to the table; and that should be enough--except that I know someone
else who's craved your scent, your voice, your mouth before me--and done so beautifully.
from New River Breakdown, selected by Guest Editor,
Mark J. Brewin
Poems - Bio - Interviews
Terry L. Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections New River Breakdown (Unicorn
Press 2013) and Until the Clouds Shatter the Light that Plates Our Lives (Jeanne Duval Editions 2011). His work appears
in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Border Crossings, Cave Wall, from the Fishouse, Southern Review,
and Waccamaw. He currently serves as the Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at UNC
Greensboro and is Editor of the online journal storySouth.
Poems - Bio - Interviews
An Interview with Terry
Kennedy by Aaron Bauer
Bauer: The first few questions I have for you are about your choice to write prose poems. What attracted you to this
form? What does a poet gain by giving up line breaks? What’s lost?
Terry Kennedy: None of
the poems in New River Breakdown were initially conceived as prose poems. It wasn’t until I started thinking
about the book as a whole—how the poems worked together, who I imagined the audience to be—that I turned to prose
Although I read lots of poetry, most of my friends and family do not. There are many reasons for
this, of course, but I often find that readers who shy away from poetry do so because of bad early experiences. Maybe a high
school teacher made it appear that there was a “secret key” to understanding a poem. Or their college lit professor
marked them off for “misinterpreting” a piece. Now, when they see a poem, they immediately think of it as something
they can’t understand; that poetry is something for academic study, not for enjoyment.
For me, the prose
poem form is a small step towards easing this trepidation. It goes from margin to margin like a story. Readers understand
stories. They are comfortable with stories. This, I feel, is one of the greatest gifts of the form.
I wanted New
River Breakdown to appeal to an audience that generally doesn’t view themselves as readers of poetry and so I re-
or rather, de-lineated the poems in order to push towards that.
AB: Short pieces of literature
seem to be growing in popularity in the fiction and nonfiction worlds. What do you think are the defining factors of prose
poetry that makes it distinct from other genres like lyric essays and flash fiction?
is a great question and one I’m still grappling with myself—both as a poet and a teacher. There’s a good
deal of gray area here but I feel all three represent a writer’s attempt to reach an audience so we have writers of
prose drifting toward the compression and concision of poetry while poets are moving toward the narratology of prose. These
are just things I think about as a writer of poetry and a reader of flash and lyric essays.
With no line breaks for clear demarcation, meter in prose poems can be difficult to identify. These poems all have a certain
rhythm to them. What are your thoughts about using meter, pacing, and rhythm in the sans-line break prose poem, and how do
you go about it?
TK: I feel that line breaks are just one of the tools a poet can use to create
music in a poem. But it is only one. Word choice, syntax, repetition, etc. can all be used to create and control pacing and
rhythm in both poetry and prose. Some of the most beautiful language I’ve read is Michael Parker’s novel If
You Want to Stay. Many of his long, associative sentences count as poems in their own right for me.
“Music like Dirt” is also the title of a Pulitzer-nominated chapbook by Frank Bidart. Is there inspiration from
Bidart’s book in this poem? Do the titles come from a shared source?
TK: I’m glad
you asked about this. There are several poems in the collection that, I would like to think, are in conversation with other
great works. I chose that title—“Music Like Dirt”—in hopes that it would lead readers to Bidart. Likewise
with “Train Dreams,” which takes its title from the Dennis Johnson novella.
nature imagery comes up in these poems, it seems to have a personal significance, such as in “Music Like Dirt”:
“Let the black sand and dogwood blooms sustain me.” Why is there an emphasis on the connection with the poet and
the non-human world in these poems? What fascinates you so about this link?
TK: As a poet, I’m
especially inspired by the landscape around me. In “Music Like Dirt” the land carries the extra weight of family,
of heritage. But like many writers, I find that the natural world is a great way to explore our interior landscape, to make
sense of the emotional and psychological world.
AB: To continue on the discussion of the non-human
world, it seems like all three of these poems use water references—boats, shorelines, waves—to discuss cleansing
or significance in some way. Such as in “Music Like Dirt” where you write: “Without the reliable waves frothing
clean on the shore?” or in “The Known World”: “I try to remind myself how that small white boat alone
on the smooth blue bay is somehow more meaningful than the untamed meadow of umbrellas & bikinis kissing the edge of the
water.” What specifically about water do you find so inspiring? Is your use of water intentional or something that reappears
in your work subconsciously?
TK: Wow, that’s a great question and I’m not sure I can
do it justice. Water is in constant motion; it’s both absolutely necessary to our survival and, yet, extremely alien.
I’m lucky enough to get to spend part of the year at my parent’s cottage on The New River in North Carolina. Despite
it’s name, it’s one of the five oldest rivers in the world. So yes, water looms large in both my physical and
AB: “American Woman” straddles the line between hostility and
attraction: “If you were to appear, I think I’d refuse to trim the main sail, jettison my desire for polite conversation,
tack toward backstreet brawl.” What does this approach to the poem’s topic of desire reveal about our motivations
TK: I feel you pretty much nailed it, Aaron. Passion is that fine line between hostility
and attraction. And what a great motivator in our relationships—and not just in a romantic sense. Think about the times
you’ve had heated discussions about books, movies, sports teams. There’s a type of disagreement that carries energy
and excitement--and it can lead to great and lasting friendships. That sort of tension in life is also a wonderful engine
for a poem.
AB: What do you think is specifically “American” about the “American
Woman”? And, more generally speaking, what defines “American” for you?
get a lot of questions about this poem. For me, the title works as a way of placing the speaker of the poem in a foreign environment.
I don’t know that there’s anything especially “American” about her.
Distance is also a reoccurring theme in these poems, such as the closing lines to “American Woman”: “I desire
nothing more than warm seas and gentle winds to fill my sails carry me towards the horizon that is you.” Why do you
think this preoccupation with vast spaces keeps coming up in your work? What does it say about human relationships in a digital
TK: I was living in Greensboro, NC and my wife was living in New Zealand when I wrote the
first drafts of many of these poems and so, naturally, distance was a preoccupation of mine. But your question about what
distance means in a digital age is a good one. We emailed and talked on the phone almost daily, but that’s not really
the same thing as taking a walk or sitting on a porch swing with someone, is it? While the advent of Facebook, Skype, etc.,
creates a wider range of connections for us, in the end, for me anyway, it’s facade; the closeness we want is not really
there at all.
AB: Finally, what is your favorite book of poems at the moment? What did you most
enjoy about this work?
TK: My favorite book of poems right now is David Roderick’s The
Americans. Earlier you asked about what defines “American” for me. I don’t know that I really explore
that in my own work, but the poems in David’s book speak to what it means to be American and grow up/live in suburban
America. It’s really beautiful.
Click here to listen to an interview with Terry
Kennedy at WFDD Public Radio
Click here to read and interview with Terry
Kennedy at storySouth
Poems - Bio - Interviews