Kelly Cherry’s mother, a string quartet violinist like Kelly’s father, wanted her to marry a rich man. As time passed, this seemed less and less likely. So her mother proposed that she become a scientist. Scientists made more money than violinists. Kelly took university classes in physics, astronomy, mathematics, geology, anthropology, political science, even a class in relativity, but none of these made her a scientist. What she wanted to do was write. Her mother was against this, so much so that she ran to the kitchen, grabbed a long and sharp knife, and ran back to say she’d rather see me dead than writing, as writing was definitely non-paying. Her father quietly took the knife away, her mother retreated to her bedroom, and Kelly continued to write. She was twelve when the knife incident occurred. Her writing, as she remembers it, was fairly juvenile, even childish, but when she wrote a poem and discovered the music of poetry she knew she had found her calling, however pitiful her early poems were.
By the time she had written a couple of books, her mother offered to type her daughter’s handwritten The Exiled Heart. Her mother used an old manual typewriter, with keys that had to be shoved way down and sometimes refused to come back up, but the typing was done, and her father mailed it, at Kelly’s request, to Louisiana State University Press, and it was accepted. Her mother still wished her daughter might find a rich man but she was no longer bothered by her daughter’s desire to write.
Speaking as the daughter, I was buoyed by my mother’s help and enthusiasm from then on. A father, an older brother, and a younger sister are also part of this story but all of them, including my mother, are gone. As for me, I am still writing, because that is what I love to do. A few words or a sentence will start me off and there’s no telling what will follow. Every paragraph is an expedition that takes the writer elsewhere. Writing, I’ll say, is something like time travel. I’m sure that’s been said about reading, but the writer, too, discovers her road as she walks alongside it. Everything is a surprise. You wrote not what you thought you’d write; you write what you’d never thought. I could say I am addicted to writing except someone pointed out that addiction is negative, not positive, and writing is positive. It’s not magic, of course; it’s concentration. But concentration is its own form of magic. When you concentrate, you are outside of time. Instead of living by the minute or hour, you are in a place of endlessness, without being aware of it. A place of no-time. How could I not love to write? I am intrigued, astonished, awakened again and again, and always in love.
Kelly Cherry is the author of 27 books, 11 chapbooks, and 2 translations of classical drama. Her newest titles, published in 2017, are Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Poem, Beholder’s Eye: Poems, and Temporium: Before the Beginning to After the End: Fictions. Former PL of Virginia. Emerita at Poets Corner, NYC. Inaugural recipient of the Hanes Poetry Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers; NEA; USIA (the Philippines); Rockefeller (Bellagio); Bradley Lifetime Award; Phillabaum Prize, Weinstein Award; Weinstein Residency; Notable Wisconsin Author; three Arts Board fellowship grants and two New Work awards from Wisconsin; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook Award (2000, for 1999); Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters; four Prize anthologies. Eminent Scholar, UAH, 2001-2005. More detailed information may be found on her Wikipedia page.
Regal House Publishing is delighted to bring you Kelly’s poetry collection, Zip, or Micrology, in 2018.