Coffin Bell: Introduce yourself.
Ken Farrell: My name is Ken Farrell. I am a poet, fiction writer, English adjunct, middle-school substitute, warehouseman, father, cynical starry-eyed dreamer…You could add “wayward,” or “-in-training,” to any of the shards listed here.
CB: When you write, do you start with a plan and move from there, or do you generally go where the writing takes you?
KF: Generally the latter. All of my writing is at least initially inspiration, as I assume is true for most writers. We are struck and we *must* spin the verse or tell the tale. It may be as subtle as who you are seated next-to on a plane that urges you toward creation, or an overheard turn-of-phrase that reveals a new voice in your head, a voice that you never heard before (tangled with all the other voices), but a voice that has always been there and now it comes clear and has something to say, to respond to what was overheard, to seek its place in the world(s). If the urge to write persists (and it often does when the urge is new), then I write and write where and when the writing takes me, getting it all out, shying from nothing. During this exorcism, a plan may begin to form, but I heed it only insofar as it does not interfere with the writing itself (I find that sometimes too much planning can limit and create hesitation). This may seem a contradiction (to plan but not): if, for example, the plan calls for the piece to be ready by the Xth of October, well, this is artificial. Deadlines aren’t bad, and I do set small goals as part of my plan, but outside voices can stymie what’s true– (I must be done by the Xth: will this get published: is this too profane: I was told to never do this in a poem: I must [must I?] eliminate every adverb…)
CB: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
CB: What advice can you give about revising and editing work?
KF: Space, and all its equivocations. From the previous question, the advice given me was “space,” as in space or distance from the work, to put writing away and revisit it, allowing the work, or really allowing yourself, to mature, before carrying on or sending it out. Come back to it later when the moment one was in has passed. When the “you” that returns is no longer really you, or has shed just enough skin/soul/emotion/fear, or gained enough scars, so the work is a newest moon rising. So the advice I would give is, certainly, put the work away—create space between the work and yourself/your self. But also create space in which to work. Sometimes a comfortable space: sometimes an uncomfortable space. A different space/place. Gaining (metaphorical) perspective is great. Gaining perspective by climbing a tree may be better. (I just now in this moment (Monday 3 Jan 4:19 p.m. Central time) realized I’ve never started a new piece of writing while in a tree. I will). Create spaces in the work – defy expectations. Fill spaces in the work – complicate the anticipation. Add white space. Set your story in space. Or inside a cotton boll. Without any overt detail, reveal the space/place in which the persona endures—reveal it through philosophy, tantrum, scent.
CB: What advice can you give about navigating the world of publishing?
KF: I don’t know if this is advice for navigating the publishing world, maybe because I don’t know that I navigate it with any intentionality and still think of myself as something of an initiate. But I am more excited to submit following this rule: I only submit to where I have read something that inspires me: I want my work to be between the sheets and pressed right up against the work I’ve read in those pages. Often however, my work is off-center and is unlike the work I’ve read, and I absolutely consider this, the editors’/journal’s aesthetic and the process and requirements they lay out for submission, but even if my work is perhaps a bit outside, I’ll take a chance if poems or stories in the publication speak to me. I ask myself, do I want to be on a bookshelf next to these other writers? Kindred *is not* same. Also, you absolutely do not know what goes on in any reading rounds, review processes, table-talk, editor’s meetings, etc. So don’t ‘what-if’ it. And even if you have worked on/work on a journal’s editorial board, or for a publisher, and the “system” of it may be comparable to wherever you might submit, embrace that you are wrong because people choose the writing. And people reject the *writing*, not you.
CB: Who are your influences?
KF: Cyrus Cassells and Michael Waters as artists and mentors. Cormac McCarthy, Miklós Radnóti, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Brenda Shaughnessy, Flannery O’Connor, Piers Anthony, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel Delany, China Miéville, Gabriel García Márquez, Wallace Stevens … so many more—and encountering a poem or story or book at the right moment has been tremendously influential. One day in eighth grade I was walking around the high school and found a table full of books being given away (amazing …). I took a few, but the two I know I still have 30+ years later (I can see them from where I am sitting) are The Portable Romantic Poets, Blake to Poe, and the 2nd edition of Poulin’s Contemporary American Poetry, which introduced a 13-year-old to Berryman, Plath, Ginsberg, Sexton, Merwin, Ashbery, and on and on; Reading anything by Vonnegut the 1st time; reading anything by Joyce the 10th; a story like Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter,” or O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” or One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Song, or Blood Meridian, or Homage to the Lame Wolf, or The Einstein Intersection, or Life on Mars, or Almost Transparent Blue, or The Dream Songs…
CB: What was the inspiration for the piece(s) published in Coffin Bell?
KF: I have been fortunate to have work appear with Coffin Bell a couple times. One of the first pieces was a poem called “Adept,” and was inspired by being seated next to someone magical on a plane. The most recent piece published with Coffin Bell, “Twinkle Twinkle,” was inspired by observing people captive to cellphones, an addiction that disguises the horror of un-living, the dangers of being unable to make progress.
CB: Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Tell us about your fears.
KF: I evidently have modest acrophobia, although I also have experiences that would seem to contradict this. *shrug*. So, here’s the story: I was in Vancouver a few years back and visited the Capilano suspension bridge. I got 1/3rd of the way across and the wind pushed and pulled, and people were being people… jumping around, trying to scare passers-by, and I couldn’t move. I had to turn back. Maybe situational anthropophobia is more accurate.
CB: What draws you to dark literature? *
KF: I am an off-center person, so I am drawn to off-center things. Much of what I write, and the silly, impishly curious way I look at the world, my sarcasm, is often at odds with the formulaic, the exclusionary, the mechanically insincere “how-are-you-today,” but dark literature, speculative literature, is *come as you* are and *take me as I am*: it says, “you fit.”
CB: How does the darkness in your piece enhance the work? *
KF: In any story the protagonist/characters must be tested. I think one strength of dark/speculative writing is tapping into wonder and possibility, that another type of world could exist, and thus the tests characters face can be awe-some and awe-ful. The test my characters face is unsubtle: Here is death and its aftermath, death literally possessing the things around them and supercharging the obstacles to moving on.
CB: How important are your surroundings when you write? Tell us about your workspace.
KF: This ties in directly to an earlier question about planning vs. letting the writing take you. For me, inception/re-inception occurs at odd times, at any time, and thus I am often sending myself text messages while sitting in my truck outside the gym, replying to those texts as if from another me, because the news that Udha’s dead mother has returned in the form of a dead-and-decaying, 7-foot-tall Punchinello is heartbreakingly good, and simultaneous to Udha meeting her dead mother for the first time, she discovers one of her two fathers is a demon, and for a long time I wasn’t sure when and how Udha finds this out. How does she discover that one of the two men who raised her is in fact not her bio dad, but is from the nether? It is necessary that she knows, for her growth over the next 50 pages, which are already written, depends on this knowledge … but just how she finds out and the effect it has on her in the moment, I’ve struggled to divine. Yet here outside _lanet _itness something has occurred to me, and so I take out my phone… Besides the truck outside the gym, or the napkin in the restaurant, or the bedside notebook, I also have a room filled with books and a reasonably comfy chair and some good headphones for when I get to work Frankensteining these pieces together, trying to make a whole where there had been holes. Often night or late-night writing session are the most productive. (I have lost so many ideas or “ah-ha!’s” for thinking, *I’ll remember that when I get home*, only to struggle to remember and fail to recover the image/dialogue/closing to the poem I have been writing for 10 years …)
CB: If you had to summarize your philosophy of literary creation, what would that be?
KF: A practical philosophy would echo much of what I said previously: Submit to the impulse—let the ideas flow: You can always revise later. Write for just one person—yourself. Create space/seek spaces/undo spaces. Seek like and unlike. Listen to the voices, but know that some voices, as well-intentioned as they may be or seem, waywardize—and if so, don’t think you must “undo,” don’t backtrack: take a new tack, and explore. Forward is best.