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The Campus — April 26, 2013 (See original article)
Professor, Author Discusses First Book of Poetry
by Molly Duerig
Professor of English and Creative Writing Kirk Nesset’s newest publication, the book of poetry titled Saint X, has been “a long time coming,” says the author. The poems in the book were written over a span of 20 years, the earliest written in 1991 and the most recent written last semester.
“It’s a bouquet or a kind of cellular grouping of literary entities that make up a certain time,” Nesset said.
The book is described as a chronicle of a “millennial age.”
“Particularly when I began working on this book, not knowing that I was working on this book, the end of the century seemed a ways off,” Nesset said. “It’s tricky because what we were suffering then, before the turn of the century, is probably less pronounced than what we’re seeing now [...] where things seems to have escalated in terms of aggression in the world.”
The poems were written at different times, in relation to different circumstances, and most importantly, in different locations.
“Over the years [the poems] will begin in cafes,” Nesset said. “That’s often a provocative, good place for me to begin something, at least begin coagulating, in terms of ideas and impressions and impulses.”
He added that drafting also happens at his desk, whether his current desk happens to be in Los Angeles, where he used to work, or Meadville, Pennsylvania; Nesset said he’s lived in various environments even here in Meadville.
“Even a little solarium, a ‘writer-torium,’ I had once,” he said. “I also like sitting out on the deck [...] having the breeze and the creek going.”
Nesset said he now seeks out a variety of “soothing, soft” locations in which to write. But when he first began writing poetry, he tended to stay in his bed in Los Angeles. He said he was anxious about writing poems partly because he started out writing fiction.
“I think that I figured, since I was writing poems, I’d better be very quiet,” Nesset said. “So I would get up in the morning and fix my coffee [...] and come back to bed with my notepad and my pen and write in bed.”
Despite his initial anxiety about writing poetry, Nesset’s poems have been received positively.
Saint X is divided into three sections: I Will, I Will Not; The Collapse of the Heart is a Myth; and Erasing the Shadow.
“The title of each section indicates something about the emotional state of each of the poems [in that section],” said Nesset.
One of the earlier poems is the eponymous “Saint X,” from the final section of the book. ”Saint X” alludes to Nesset’s experiences hitchhiking and coming of age during the Vietnam War.
“We thumbed it / to Sunrise, to Meadville and Wheeler, without / and within the machine; we slept among / tombstones in churchyards in Spain,” the poem reads.
“In some way that’s a reference to me finding my way from California to Pennsylvania, by way of interesting communes,” Nesset explained.
Writing also happens in a nomadic fashion sometimes.
“Half the time we write in airports, and on planes, on trains, wherever we happen to be,” Nesset said. He said a few of these poems were started or finished in Europe, more than anything lately, in Freiburg in southwest Germany where he teaches in the summer.
Nesset elaborated on his experience growing up during the time of the Vietnam War draft.
“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I wasn’t kind of half suspecting that I’d be drafted and sent to a war, where I’d be killed, perhaps,” Nesset said. The draft ended during his sophomore year.
“That’s a time that no one since then has really known. If we’re going to go to war [now], we enlist, we don’t get taken and hauled away,” Nesset said.
He gestured toward the book he was holding, saying, “Some of that’s here.”
The allusions to war are not lost on other reviewers, including Eric Ellis from Ringside Reviews.
“Reading the words, you feel at war yourself,” said Ellis in his review that published in January. “At war with? Put your finger on it, I dare you. Saint X lurks behind each page [...] But Saint X is always one step ahead.”
Previously, Nesset authored two books of short stories – Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road – as well as a book of translations, Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. He has also published a nonfiction study, The Stories of Raymond Carver.
TEN QUESTIONS FOR KIRK NESSET’S SAINT X
(These ten questions were posed as part of Lois Marie Harrod’s blog interview series. See below for the other interview links.)
What is the title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’m not sure that the book began with an idea, and don’t recall where or when the title arose, or the ideas associated with the title. The book was accepted eight years ago, and just appeared in December. Some of the poems that make up the collection I wrote 20 or more years ago in Los Angeles, one of the more apocalyptic cities I know.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I wouldn’t call the haunted entities inhabiting my pages “characters”– but if pressed to the wall, I’d say maybe Grace Zabriskie, Vincent Shiavelli, Crispin Glover, Tilda Swinton, Klaus Kinski.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Saint X chronicles the joy and despair of a millennial age, charting love’s ills and the grind of mortality; its human figures are honored if not saved by nuanced reflection, measured perception and the pleasures of song.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press (Nacogdoches, TX). They did a great job on Saint X, it’s a beautiful, carefully-made book, and I’m pleased and proud to be part of their catalogue.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I think I had an early version of the manuscript together after nine or ten years of writing poems. But six more years passed before I had anything that looked like the book Saint X became.
What other books would you compare this one to within your genre?
That’s a tough question. Ideally, a new book of poems is nothing like anything else that’s been written, but informed by everything I’ve ever read or experienced. Neruda has always had great impact on me. As has Rumi. Rilke, Levertov, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Marvin Bell and Gerald Stern figure here, too. Especially Gerald Stern.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Though it doesn’t look or sound or feel much like Saint X, Stern’s staggeringly lovely Lucky Life is behind everything I do, I think, in my own book, and in the book I’m finishing now. I wouldn’t say, though, that Saint X rose out of an act of inspiration. The poems seemed to arrive on their own, almost unbidden, and at some point a pattern emerged, a gravitational energy.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Its intensity and oddness, I’d say. It’s not a casual or typical read — whatever that means. Its figures are bizarre but familiar. People born under punches, shaken by rattles and flares, latter-day pilgrims who stare at the statue that stares at America; people for whom disobedience is still a first duty, and death but a question of style. People wearing bandages rather than smiles, perversely on foot while the saddled horse follows. People who seem to survive and still seem to be laughing. “[T]hese poems,” as Li-Young Lee notes of Saint X, “will make you think twice, think again, and feel glad that such an unsettling imagination is at work in poetry.”
If the book unsettles Li-Young, well, I guess I’ve done all I can.
For more info on Saint X, click HERE
(By Sunday, April 6, 2013, another writer will be added to the list of those interviewed. Please check back here.)
Previous Interviews include:
Vassiliki Katsarou http://raggedsky.com/blog
Adrianne Kalfopoulou http://www.adriannekalfopoulou.com/articles/round_robin.htm
For further reading: http://loismarieharrodblogger.blogspot.com
05 Jan 2013
Pampered pet tours with professor
The Campus — Chelsea Fleishman (see original article )
Their friendship knows no bounds.
From work, to the gym and even at the bar, their complementary sets of luscious locks and pearly whites are iconic.
English Professor Kirk Nesset and his black Pomeranian, Ryan, are celebrities at Allegheny College.
“[They] stroll the Oddfellows hallway like a pair of gangsters,” said Kiley Fisher, ’13.
At last Thursday’s Single Voice Reading, Ryan listened attentively in the first row as Nesset read his flash fiction and poems he had translated.
“If Ryan’s not paying attention, I know I’m doing something wrong,” Nesset said.
Senior Michael Babeji recalled the time he and a few fellow students watched Ryan while Nesset’s band, Uncle John’s Band, played at Grounds for Change.
“All the while Ryan would intermittently bark, as if cheering for his owner,” Babeji said.
Nesset isn’t the only one performing for the public eye.
“Once, in the English department hallway, Kirk brought out a hula hoop and Ryan performed show tricks,” said William Brewer, ’11. ”In that moment he was the star, or, at least a part of the same star team.”
Ryan’s been jumping through hula hoops, wiping his feet on the carpet and even playing dead since his first summer with Nesset.
Just over four years ago, those big brown eyes gleamed at him through a pet store display case, melting Nesset’s heart and breaking his wallet.
Nesset admits that he was always more of a cat person, but his love for Ryan has slowly transformed him into a dog-lover.
It also helps that Ryan, who was raised with Nesset’s three cats, has developed catlike qualities.
“He’ll sit on the back of the couch and lick his paws or he’ll groom other people,” Nesset said.
Nesset feels that Ryan serves as an ice-breaker, particularly when he interacts with students from other schools.
“These are visiting writer-student-interactions that might not have happened without the dog intercession because, first, people want to see the dog, and then they talk about writing,” he said.
Kiley Fisher, ’13, attested to Ryan’s calming energy.
“He makes me feel a lot less nervous about proposing dumb story ideas and asking Kirk to help me with my life decisions,” she said. “Mostly because it’s easier to make eye contact with Ryan [than Kirk].”
Ryan is a registered service dog, having passed entry screening for physical soundness and temperament.
He has also been dubbed Oddfellows’ unofficial therapy dog.
According to Nesset, at least one student walks into his office every day with the sole intent of seeing Ryan. Students and faculty often drop by to play with the dog, sit on the couch with him or even take him for a walk.
Although Ryan’s company is what guests most often crave, it’s Nesset’s own personality traits that reveal why the dog is so adored.
Students describe their professor’s character as nurturing, engaging, attentive and calming, words that could easily be used to describe Ryan.
Brewer referred to the man-dog relationship as a team of sidekicks, portraying them as one entity rather than individual performers.
“It’s always that way, it seems, between man and dog,” Brewer said. “That’s why we love them.”
Regardless of the pressures of celebrity status, Nesset finds that Ryan has completely embraced his public role here at Allegheny.
“I think part of the psychology is that Ryan thinks he has a huge family here,” Nesset said.
Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
See original article
Potomac Review’s Morgan Moyer virtually sits down with Kirk Nesset.
M: Do you start out, usually, intending to write a flash fiction piece? When and how do you know that what you’re working on will be flash?
KN: Lately, actually, it seems like I’m always starting out thinking I’m writing flash fiction. It’s less ponderous, less daunting, in terms of build-up, or planning. How awful can writing two or three pages be? Thirty or forty pages later, I’ll finally finish, pleased but bemused to see all it gained on its own, almost in spite of me and what I hoped to achieve. The flash format in cases like these is a spur, or a trigger. A trick to get the writer writing, thinking it won’t be such a big deal. Which isn’t to say the tiny tales aren’t big deals, and often hard to deliver. I spent three weeks working on “I’m Not Camille,” the title piece in my new manuscript of stories—a story barely four pages long. It fought me every step of the way.
M: What elements make up a good flash fiction piece, in your opinion?
KN: Brevity is essential, naturally. Which involves concision, compression, compactness, accelerated pacing, economy in delivery on all levels. Beyond and above and because of all this, we wind up with impact, and depth, especially in closing; we find the kind of universality one expects in a poem.
M: Do you have any advice for flash fiction writers?
KN: Write less, I would say, and read more. Read all the great works you can get your hands on, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf — and after, and before. Read Norton’s collections of flash and sudden fictions over and over. Study the pieces you like best, or find useful as models, with the attention of a jeweler examining texture and color in gems, and placement and setting. When you do write, revise your piece mercilessly. Seventy or eighty drafts are just the beginning.
M: Where do you see flash fiction going in the near and far future?
KN: That’s a tough question. In the near future, the profusion of mediocre micro tales will keep crowding the net. Farther down the road, flash fiction will help to save literature, I think. It’ll keep people reading—on their phones, on their pads, and in their heads, where much of what we know, or can know, or experience, will finally be downloadable, and downloaded.
Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road, Mr. Agreeable, and Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, others, and most recently The Potomac Review issue 48.