KENDRA DE COLO horizontal

A lot of poems in your poetry collection Thieves in the Afterlife reference female desire and the body. Have you always written about sexuality?

The first writers I fell in love with were Pablo Neruda, Anais Nin, and Henry Miller. I remember reading Delta of Venus when I was 14 and wanting to write just like her. I was compelled, not necessarily by the content, but by the tough sensuality and unapologetic voice. She was my hero—probably the first model I had for bisexuality and writing outside of standard hetero/gendered love forms.


What appeals to you about these themes?

Writing about sexuality and the body is just another way to access what I’m after when I write or read. The goal, I hope, is not to titillate or shock but to transcend the small, limited self that lives in fear of being unfuckable/judged. With Thieves, I wanted to leave behind any sense of powerlessness—to stop feeling constrained and write in a way that I couldn’t yet imagine being in the world: guiltless, worthy, brave.


Do you still enjoy erotica?

Like any other genre, I admire when writers/artists expand the boundaries of their subject/craft. Porn is usually boring to me because there’s rarely any surprise—you pretty much know how it’s going to end (not to confuse porn with erotica). It’s fun to see people take the tropes/language/imagery of erotica and do something completely new. But I usually don’t like explicit sexual language for the sake of being explicit. Unless it’s Lil Kim. I could listen to her talk dirty for hours.


What first made you want to write poems?

Terrance Hayes’ “Same City.” A portrait of Marie Howe at the Hudson D. Walker gallery next to a broadside of “What the Living Do.” Growing up in Provincetown. Seeing Jeffrey McDaniel perform. Listening to Black Star. Listening to the Velvet Underground.  Getting drunk for the first time under a pier when I was 12. Getting sober at 27. “A Love Supreme.” Reading James Baldwin. Wandering through any city feeling homesick and in love.


What is your preferred writing state of mind?

Psychological discomfort, outrage. My favorite voices in poetry are the great lunatics whose brilliance manifests in spurts of fever dreams and delusion.  I love the pitch of urgency and grandeur (the waggle in the spraggle); I try to access those parts of my own psyche when I write, to go for what my husband calls the punk rock gesture. And also longing. Sweaty, unrequited desire.


Do you have any writing rituals?

Night walks, dancing to Nicki Minaj, making collages, strutting around like a bedraggled model—anything to make me feel more open, in my body, bewildered.


What do you do when you feel stuck/uninspired?

I try to feel bigger than whatever cramped space I’ve cornered myself into. I read and watch movies by people who are visionaries and warriors and help me re-see myself and the world (anything by Yusef Komunyakaa or any film by Agnes Varda will do). I think, “What would Ross Gay do?” I talk to my husband who is wise and wonderful. I play with my dogs. I call my amazing friends and ask them to send me poems.


Where is your favorite place to write?

I love to write in train stations and waiting areas. Museums. Places of transition. A lot of Thieves was written in transient spaces: borrowed apartments, artist residencies, a Jewish summer camp in upstate New York. Right now I rent a small studio in a converted grainery. Across the hall is a beauty salon. Next door is an artist who paints giant portraits of Jesus. My brother-in-law has a studio here, too, which is how I found the cover art for my book.


What’s your poison?

Dark, thick burnt coffee with milk. Processed meats.


What’s your soundtrack?

A mix of Joni Mitchell, Drake, Lou Reed and Rufus Wainwright.


Who are some poets writing today who you admire/adore/recommend?

Aracelis Girmay, Patrick Rosal, Ross Gay, Jeffrey McDaniel, Terrance Hayes, Yusef Komunyakaa. Their work has shaped the way I write and listen and see the world. There are so many poets with first books out or forthcoming whom I admire and imagine being in conversation with when I write: Cathy Linh Che, Melissa Cundieff-Pexa, Tarfia Faizullah, TJ Jarrett, Keith Leonard, Jennifer Luebbers Leonard, Jamaal May, Tyler Mills, Michael Mleckoday, Matthew Olzmann, Ocean Vuong, Marcus Wicker… it goes on and on and on.


In a copy of Tim Sieble’s collection Hurdy Gurdy he signed: “Poetry is bread. Let’s Eat!” What else is your bread? What nourishes your work?

I’m nourished, in a way, by heartache. By rage and the trauma of seeing again and again what it takes to remain whole. I say nourishment because in those moments of feeling attacked or broken, I remember the boundaries that make me a person who feels and loves and despairs. And when I feel those boundaries dissolve as my heart softens, I remember, too, why I write and why I need poetry in my life. In this way, nourishment is the simultaneous act of claiming my life, my right to be in my body, and the knowledge that it is all fleeting. I love the “let’s” in his statement most. We are in this together. Writing a poem is a conversation. Let’s celebrate. Let’s eat.


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KENDRA DECOLO is the author of Thieves in the Afterlife (Saturnalia Books, 2014), selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2013 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. She has performed at festivals, dives, universities and bookstores across the country, including the Newport Folk Festival, Mission Creek Festival, and Southern Festival of Books. Her poems have appeared in Southern Indiana Review, Calyx, The Collagist, Best Indie Lit of New England, Third Man Books and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission, a work-study scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and residencies from the Millay Colony and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. She is the founding poetry editor of Nashville Review and Book Review Editor at Muzzle Magazine. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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