Saturday 23 April 2016


It occurred to me recently that of the ten LIT FIEND INTERVIEWS that I have conducted so far, embarrassingly, not a single one has been with a woman. Therefore, to correct this horrendous imbalance, the next ten interviews will all be with women. First up is a super talented poet, whom I am honoured to feature in the forthcoming eighth issue of PAPER AND INK. She is also poetry editor of the brilliant Dirty Chai Magazine...

First things first, what's your name, where do you come from, and what do you do?

My name is Colleen Keehl but for the past decade or so everyone who knows me in real life calls me Coco. My little brother started calling me that years ago and it stuck, not only because it is weird but also because it kinda makes my edges a little more palatable.

I hail from the metro Detroit area, grew up in the 'burbs & spent the summers bumming around the D. Currently what I do to pay the bills involves working 3rds at a hotel and dealing with the numbers/accounting. Though, that is going to change in that I just officially put my two weeks in yesterday.

I don't really care what I do and have had a lot of different jobs; from working in the engineering world to the publishing world to weird field/ labor jobs. I’m pretty nomadic and live as transient of a lifestyle as possible (which drives my family insane) so whatever I got to do to pay the bills and buy dog food; it doesn't matter as long as I can go somewhere and play with Carver and write

Tell me a little about Dirty Chai magazine, the ethos behind it, how you got involved etc...

Dirty Chai is one of the best things that ever happened to me. A few years ago when I lived in Boston, I was looking at newspages as I was waiting in line for a cappuccino and somehow stumbled upon a submission call that ended that day. It was for Dirty Chai and I had just finished a poem that I really enjoyed writing. After reading as much of the previous issues as I possibly could on my tiny phone, I decided to submit. It was accepted, and from there I was hooked. A few months later, after I decided I wanted to get into the lit mag world as an editor, I saw that there was job opening for the poetry editor. I applied and after talking to one of the founders Azia DuPoint (the other founder is Sam Fisher), I found that DC felt like the home I was hoping to find.

They had never had a poetry editor due to being a new publication and were receiving hella poetry. So Azia and I got to talking and we clicked. It seemed like the stars had aligned when I began late 2013/2014 because I really felt/feel like the luckiest person in the world to have Sam and Azia let me join their two-person team (we have grown since and now have 6 staff members!).

Logging onto submittable and seeing all the submissions is almost one of the best feelings ever. Just this year we released our first print issue which was so exciting. I cried when I got copies in the mail. It was a glorious moment.

Dirty Chai started as an online journal putting out issues 3 times a year. What really attracted me to it was that it was a publication that read blind. As a poet that was feeling defeated by my lack of publications behind my name, the fact that Azia and Sam chose things based off of the merit of the work opposed to the relationships/ past publications/ or credentials of someone, made me fall in love with it instantly. It was a love at first sight kind of thing that has been burning bright since.

To me art should be all about the actual art instead of the trivial bullshit that comes along with it. I think it is so easy, especially in the online world this generation of writers thrives on, to just publish the people you talk to/like/admire. So with DC we eliminate that element and focus on the meat (or in my case really delicious extra crispy tofu), the art, the soul of the piece.

We are all about the soul over Dirty Chai (picture three wind-blown-hair people exploring a metaphysical store, finding ocks & sage instead of doing AWP things) and try to express that by basing our ethos around being honest to the writing.

Just this year we opened up our press Dirty Chai Press, with a chapbook contest (which I am currently going through in another tab) and we have plans to put out a few chaps/books/other tangible pieces annually. We only hope to keep evolving and becoming the best we can be. It is beyond exciting. It is lit with a kick.

How long have you been writing poetry yourself?

I remember the first time in my life that I ever wrote a poem. It was right after a lot of traumatic family events and I had just come back to class after a few days off. We had an assignment to either write a story or make something visually creative with construction paper and paste. Me being my 3rd grader self and not wanting to get stuck with the lefty scissors cutting out snowflakes, I decided I was going to write.

At that point in time I was still dreaming of being a hockey player and/or detective and didn't know the first things about writing a story, but I did know I loved reading them. I couldn’t get enough, I was constantly reading. By the time we needed to be done with the assignment, I had somehow managed to put a few words down onto the page and dubbed it a poem. I brought it home to my mom, she was so proud and kept it on the back of our front door for ages.

It was then in that moment that I decided I was going to be a writer. From then on I spent hours scribbling down words and phrases and all kinds of “poetry” that I felt just had to come out. Long story short I have been actively writing since I was 8 years old.

There has only been a few times in my life when I was not actively writing and those times were very dark and sad and always ended with the help of my mom reminding me that I always wanted to be a writer. I actually owe everything to her. She has been my biggest support and has pushed me to follow my dreams no matter what. I really owe my whole writing life to her.

I am always super jealous of writers that get the word down every day, how often do you write and what is your process?

I was actually just talking about this with a good buddy of mine, about writing processes because we just saw George Saunders read and he mentioned his writing process. Basically my process involves a lot of time, coffee, and smoking. I also need A LOT of space for not only my writing but also to move around. A majority of me writing is wrestling with my dog Carver and doing weird make-shift yoga positions.

I am pretty sure that is why my roommates got annoyed with me all the time: all the books, papers, lit mags all over the dining room table (until I finally got a desk) spilling into the other rooms. When I write, I am frantic (maybe manic) and feel like I look like the tasmanian devil spinning in a circle.

On good days I write for 5 hours. Which essentially, after all the research, tweeting, music, moving around, is about 2-3 hours of solid writing.

I write by hand first. A lot of times I feel like I am just a handful of momentum that needs to get somewhere. However there is nothing romantic about it. The sweat, the blood, my bending body and the sound of my pen on the paper. It is all very physical and unnecessarily intense but it’s hard for me to stay still when I am trying to get my soul onto the page.

Often I write pages and pages of junk that I never look at again but absolutely need to get out. Then when I finally am ok with something I throw it into google docs (which though I have a lot of issues with google, is A GIFT FROM THE UNIVERSE). Then I usually print the things I like and carry around my poems with me until I get them just right. It isn’t perfect or anything new, but it’s what works for me.

I try to write every day if I can, which is a feat itself. Getting to the words is one of the most important things to my life, so I really make it a point to get at it everyday. But it’s nothing pretty, it’s all very lonely, especially when a lot of people around me don’t understand (I sounds like an angsty weenie). Some of my past relationships have actually been destroyed because turns out people have problem with cultivating a relationship with someone who prefers to spend a majority of their time alone. Choosing ink and paper instead of doing trivial things like talk about the weather, fuels me, so I really try to make it part of my everyday routine. I feel not like myself when I can’t write especially when it’s my coping mechanism, my drug, the thing that gets me through this terribly chaotic whirlwind called life.

As editor of a lit mag myself, I always find the worst part is sending out rejection emails. Nobody like receiving them, but sending them is just as sucky. Do you go standard template rejection or personal touch?

The worst part of being a lit mag editor is sending the rejections. Here you have a creator sending you pieces of their soul so to say something it isn’t quite what you are looking for is always really rough.

At DC we have a few standard things we like to relay when rejecting submissions, but I always like to say a little more to alleviate that blow of rejection. If possible I like to tell the author how I responded to their piece. Though I don’t always have time to get in depth, I really try to say what I liked or what I think worked or maybe how to get where they are going. Not that my opinion or advice matters but I like to think maybe it is better than just a “thanks for sending, this isn’t what we were looking for”. No editor likes to send out rejections, as you know yourself, but it’s all part of the ecosystem that comes with running a magazine.

Do you read much poetry in your free time?

I read so much fucking poetry in my spare time. It is one of the things that keep me sane. I often feel I am so unable to communicate like an actual human. But somehow poetry is one of the ways that I can connect my alien mind to the others and feelings and stuff (isn’t that why we all need art though, to communicate). So I am always going through lit mags, online journals, new chaps, old collections I find in used bookstores. To be honest if I’m not reading (& or writing) then I feel anxious and get sour. To me poetry is much like my daily intake of caffeine, necessary and needed in cosmic amounts.

I also read a lot because it is the way you learn. Not that I am a self-taught poet, I did go to school for creative writing (and took the one and only poetry class offered), but I am always wanting to expand my mind. And without being in grad school or having a mentor, exposing myself to new things constantly is necessary. Anyone can educate themselves, I do by reading all the poetry I possibly can.

What was the last collection you read that blew your mind?

There are a lot of poems that blow me away but collection-wise: I just read BLOOD SONG by Michael Schmeltzer and wow! I cannot say enough good things about Ocean Vuong’s collection NIGHT SKY WITH EXIT WOUNDS. I also am kinda obsessed with GHOST MACHINE by Ben Mirov. ECHO, ECHO, LIGHT by Kit Frick is so freaking good. But there are things that catch me off guard or blow me out of the water when I least expect it. I like visceral, I like shocking, I like something that forces me to transform.

What, if any, non-poetry stuff do you read? Who are your favourite writers?

I read short stories and non-fiction. Anything by Michael Wayne Hampton is incredible; his short story collection ROMANCE FOR DELINQUENTS is like wowza. Raymond Carver is an always and forever. I also read a lot of physics/basic quantum theory and things about aliens. I really enjoy thinking about science and this subatomic world. It helps me cope with all the emotional BS I am always going through (but who isn’t). It is funny, in college and highschool I took astronomy to get out of physics and now here I am really getting into it wishing that I had taken courses when I had the opportunity. Recently I devoured SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli. Braine Greene & Braine Cox are writers I really enjoy when it comes to science. I also really dig Joseph Campbell.

Poetry and literature and books aside, what do you get up to in the spare time? How do you let your hair down after a tough day?

To let my messy messy hair down, I like to hang out with Carver. He is my best friend and we spend a lot of time bumming around being complete goofs. Hiking and driving into the sunsets is one of our favourite things. Pretty much any time I can be, I am outside (frolicking) with Carver. But that is so easy in Michigan with a great hiking spot/cool fire pit/lakes and forest every 10 miles or so.

Much like most, I also really enjoy having a good IPA (or four) and/or bourbon, so that is another way I can just chill. I like hot yoga to get unstressed and watching hockey to get my blood pumping again. I like playing Galga and pinball machines at the dives near by. Motorcycle rides (though I don’t own one YET) make me feel beyond happy. Going to local music shows and poetry readings, taking long drives, walks on the moon lit beach blah blah blah.

If you could get drunk with any three celebrities, dead or alive, who would they be?

Celebrities to get completely annihilated with, I would say has to be Allen Ginsberg, Jeff Vandermeer, Hendrik Zetterberg. I am bad at naming celebs, so that is the best I got at the moment (very very good choices).

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That is a hard question but I listen to BLOOD VISIONS by Jay Reatard A LOT, since forever. It is kind of my pump up writing music. So I guess that is my choice so I listen to it everyday anyway.

What does the future hold for C.M.Kheel?

To say what my future holds would be to limit the possibilities the universe has to offer, but I am hoping it involves a motorcycle and the open road. Lots of sun, lots of good coffee, lots of time to write. I am currently waiting to hear back about some manuscripts and am also working on a full length collection of poetry. As one of my good friends says: I just want to do cool shit. So hopefully I can find an awesome adventure to experience. I want to experience everything I possibly can and then more but then again, who doesn’t? I am just about to move so the future seems full of endless possibilities and it is fucking glorious.

Thank you so much for answering these questions, and good luck on your next adventure!

Stay up to date with DIRTY CHAI via their website. They are currently open for submissions until 30th April so get involved! Look out for C.M.Keehl in Issue #8 of PAPER AND INK and follow her on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment