Contributor Spotlight: Charles Kell

The poems “Far Village” and “Van Gogh” by Charles Kell appeared in Issue 16 and can be read here.

What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

Giving equal attention to poetry, fiction, and critical work. I’m currently working on/completing a critical dissertation, and it’s difficult to carve out time, and to jump back and forth between critical and creative work, though both inform and speak to, with, and against one another. And revising poems: line to line, overall. This is something I am slowly, very slowly, learning to do. But these are “difficult parts” I love, thoroughly enjoy, and I am thankful for.

What’s your favorite book published within the last decade?

For poetry, Mark Levine’s Travels of Marco (2016). Levine’s fractured, stuttering syntax, and juxtaposition are amazing. The strange, complicated attempts at the balance of “life,” “work”, and “play” in this text are unmatched. My wife Carrie and I traveled to Reykjavik in 2015 on the cheap, and I brought Levine’s first book, Debt, with me. I would give up a great deal to be able to construct poems like his. In fiction, László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango (1985, first translated into English by the great George Szirtes in 2012). No contemporary writer creates worlds such as László. My favorite.

We’d love to hear a little more about “Far Village.”   

I’m constantly battling—in my writing—between narrative, post-confessional poetry, and more oblique, strange, fractured work. I’m thinking of K., maybe, from Kafka’s The Castle, another favorite. And perhaps if a minor character, say Sordini, from The Castle, or Titorelli from The Trial, or another minor, maybe undiscovered text, were to write a poem, or record notes about going to a strange place for unknown reasons, summoned perhaps, and this individual not being able to easily leave. I always start with image, sound, then I keep working.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?    

László Krasznahorkai—I met him twice, briefly, at readings at Brown in Providence, RI. I’m embarrassed to admit, but at the first meeting, four years ago, I slipped him a folded piece of paper. He started to unfold it, and I said “No, it’s a poem, for later.” He nodded, gravely, put the paper in his suit pocket, and tapped it. We would sit together in a bar not unlike the tavern from Satantango, in silence, mostly. I would drink a small glass of whiskey and mouth the same words as Futaki, “I shouldn’t be drinking…. Every time I do I can’t help thinking of coffins.” Kerkes would pick up his instrument, and we would wait for the “velvety sound of the accordion [to] stimulate the spiders of the bar to a new frenzy of activity.” We would watch the spiders dance then cover our faces with a light tissue of web.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I’m working on my dissertation, constantly noodling with and resubmitting my poetry MS, always writing bunches of poems, and trying to make time for a novel and longer fiction.  

Our thanks to Kell for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read Kell’s poems “Far Village” and “Van Gogh” here:


Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, IthacaLit, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut.