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Interview with UK Poet Aaron Kent

Although not well-known in the US, Aaron Kent is a British force. I first came across his work via his Poetic Interviews project, wherein he poetically interviews writers as disparate as James Franco and Sage Francis, Phillip B. Williams and Rebecca Woolf, among many, many others. A question in the form of a poem from Kent and a response in the form of a poem from the interviewee, Poetic Interviews is a long scrolling ingenuity and well worth following. But as a writer unto himself, Kent is also worth searching out. Subsequent Death, his new work, is a novel-in-verse that doubles as typographic melisma of mood and structure; words, sentences, and lines are skewed everywhere throughout the text, and one page rarely looks like the one facing it on the opposite side. I interviewed Kent about the Subsequent Death, the UK writing scene, and his predilection for certain words more than others.

Reading Subsequent Death, I immediately thought of the seminal Modernist literary journal BLAST; the layout, typography, and overall format of Subsequent Death harken back to it in both direct and indirect ways. I also thought of some of Douglas Kearney’s work, a poet I consider one of America’s best. But the book is of course completely its own thing—could you give me a brief overview of its conception and gestation?

The concept of Subsequent Death came about as a way of exercising demons. I had be in group therapy for a while and found that I had become able to forgive myself for things that had happened to me, but I wasn’t able to forgive others. So, rather than talk about it week after week, I decided to approach it creatively—and by metaphorically killing them off, I was able to take control of the traumas and really allow myself to confront and dissolve the feelings I had.

I had also wanted to do something different for a while, something inspired by Danielewski’s wonderful fiction work (such as House of Leaves). I took a little bit of time to learn Adobe InDesign, then began to construct Subsequent Death over the course of one day sat on a train. After I’d got all the pieces together, I sent it to my fantastic editor, Jennifer Edgecombe and began to shape it into the book it is today.

Sadly, I think a lot of US poetry readers don’t know a whole lot about the poetic landscapes in other countries. As a UK resident, who are some of your favorite contemporary UK poets and what makes them unique in your opinion? And what do you think about the scope of contemporary UK poetry in general—things you love, things you wish you could potentially change, things that you think are worth noting?

A few UK poets I love: Siddhartha Bose, Ross Sutherland (who is less poetry focused currently), Andrew Fentham, S.J. Fowler, Emma Hammond, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Tom Jenks, Rupert Loydell, Sandeep Parmar, Max Wallis, Dean Rhetoric, Charlie Baylis.

A few UK presses I love: Penned in the Margins, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, Shearsman, Veer, Nine Arches, Sidekick Books, zimZalla, Carcanet, Bloodaxe.

UK contemporary poetry has seen a recent resurgence in spoken word, and while that is wonderful—and can be the launchpad for somebody’s interest in poetry—I feel it can lead to other forms of poetry being ignored. Spoken word artists are much more likely to get media coverage than other poets, and everything outside almost ends up as kind of niche. But I feel the UK does very well with experimental poetry, and a lot of poets here spend time with other work such as plays, novels, etc. For example, Luke Kennard has recently released his novel The Transition, and Siddhartha Bose is currently touring his new play, No Dogs, No Indians.

How important is narrative to your work? And when you were writing Subsequent Death—which is a novel-in-verse, complete with chapters and a semi-loose, ethereal plot—were you prizing sound more or sense? Both elements equally? Or?

One of the principle ideas behind Subsequent Death was to attempt to create a work where the reader had to be actively reading rather than passive. Technology has meant that people interact with their device, whether it is through swiping the screen, turning the phone, taking photos, etc. And that is wonderful, I’m a big advocate of technological advancements. So I considered how I could make a book that was interactive, while still essentially just being text on a page (no popups, etc). Hence, why Subsequent Death requires the reader to turn the book around or trace things all over the page or grab a mirror and turn the book upside down.

However, I didn’t want to sacrifice narrative to make this work, I didn’t want the book to be a cheap trick. Therefore narrative became rather important, it was essential to ensure that the work itself would hold up regardless of the interactivity of the book. I do like to structure my writing into a narrative—whether that is ensuring my poems fit into themes/sections, or creating a whole narrative for a work. I find it hard when poems go from one theme to another, from one idea to another, throughout a book with any sort of coherence.

Vis-à-vis some of what you discuss above (the demon-exorcising, the group therapy), do you consider yourself a lowercase c confessional writer to a certain degree? Or instead one more indebted to the imagination’s myriad ebbs and flows? When I read Subsequent Death I had no idea about your personal relationship to the book’s speaker, for example, and that lack didn’t seem to factor in to my enjoyment of the text—although as the volume’s author perhaps you have entirely different notions.

I would like to think that I can achieve being both—that through being confessional, others may not get that sense of the work and enjoy it on a different level, but some may and therefore will find a different reading. I’m a big believer in “the death of the author” and know that I can’t stand over everyone’s shoulder and tell them what I intended. That’s the beauty of writing for me, the difference of interpretations—and all are valid.

I’ve asked this question to quite a few other poets before, but in curiosity’s interest I’ll ask it of you: do you have—or would care to identify—favorite words you return to again and again in your work? Words that you like, for whatever reason. I asked Eileen Myles before, and she hates and won’t use the word shard—too stereotypically poetic—and likes and often employs you and dog. Michael Earl Craig stated that he’s not fond of snack or moist but goes wild with little, tinyviolentlybriskly, and slowly. Are there words, then, that you come back to again and again? Any words that you revile and won’t deign to write or type down?

I return to anthe—one of Saturn’s moons, and I return to arc as a nod to the wonderful J.H. Prynne. I’m really fond of taking sentiments or phrases I’ve used in the past and reusing them in the future but changing them slightly. I used the phrase “even in winter, the sky was full of suns” in a series to represent my father’s disinterest in our disconnection, and later rewrote it as “in winter, the sky needs no suns” to represent my wife and I having a daughter.

I don’t like adverbs really, they quickly annoy me, and I find myself hastily, grumpily, angrily removing them.

Finally, what do you have coming up for 2017 and beyond? Any new writing projects or publishing endeavors we should be aware of? Or creative goals that you wish to accomplish either soon or down the line?

I’ve got a collaborative book with a photographer coming out in 2019 about my home county of Cornwall. I’m writing a novel in a language I made up and am working on a collection of Zekkus. I also have a travel guide, a collection of poems in my made up language, and a collection of traditional poems in consideration with publishers.

I’d really like to get the novel sorted. I think that would be a new endeavor for me, and a really interesting creative departure. I’d also like to have some work released in USA.

I also run Poetic Interviews, and that has taken off massively, though I’d love to see some media and journal promotion about it.