Quick Temper with Devin Kelly


Devin Kelly is the author of In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and the co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series. He is the winner of a Best of the Net Prize, and his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Guardian, LitHub, Catapult, DIAGRAM, Redivider, and more. He lives and teaches high school in New York City.

Here’s Quick Temper with Devin-

Why do you write?

I write because it is the only way I have been able to express my joy, my fear, my curiosity, my sadness in a way that feels alive to me, that opens the door to new questions, that makes me feel okay with how so much of what I feel is beyond the possibility of an answer. I write because so often the world asks for resolutions, and so often I have nothing to give, and that within the space of a poem, I can give myself permission to turn away from resolution, to offer myself to a new world that has nothing to offer but itself, and the whole wide infinite space of it. I don’t often feel at home in the world. I write to make a home.

Who do you hope reads your work?

I feel lucky if anyone reads it at all, and luckier and grateful still if anyone reads my work and says that they too do not feel at home in the world. If that happens, it’s like unknowingly inviting a friend into your home, sitting down with them, and having a conversation. There are few greater joys than that to me.

Where does the anger in your work come from? How does it manifest?

That’s a tough question! I don’t feel like a particularly angry writer, though at times I harbor a great deal of anger as a person — toward the world, the systems and structures of our country, the evil of others that often manifests itself as carelessness even when it is supremely calculated. I think a lot of my writing is not necessarily writing against the anger of these things, but is an attempt at writing into that anger with gratitude and curiosity. I think some people can, quite beautifully and powerfully, manifest their anger into something somewhere beyond meaningful. I, however, feel like I need to manifest whatever else I’m feeling in order to create a space within my anger for some kind of permission, some kind of home. It’s like how the photographer Garry Winogrand writes: “Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.” Anger is there for me, but I am putting my edges around something else.

Angry book recommendations for angry readers?

Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor. Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence. Terrance Hayes’ How to Be Drawn. Leslie Harrison’s The Book of Endings. Ariel Francisco’s All My Heroes Are Broke. Carlie Hoffman’s debut collection, Alaska, coming out in a year or so. Keegan Lester can write a damn angry poem — I’m thinking of his poem “You Appalachian, Reappropriating, Asshole Poets.”

Devin Kelly will be reading with An Angry Reading Series on May 11. Come through!

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