Keegan Lester Provides Us With Answers!

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What is your beverage of choice?

A Campfire made at Amor y Amargo by Souther or Lindsey or Austin <3

If you are ever in Manhattan check them out.  Beautiful space and the best drinks I’ve ever had.

Tell us a little bit about your work in REALITY BEACH.

“The Price of Various Handbooks” … is a poem that started out as an erasure from a project I was working on. I had hit a wall in poem writing and I found a children’s book by written Rachel Carson about birds. So it started with some riffs from her language and then I sorta wrote the hooks and organized it into what you see now. It’s about the moments where in you know you are capable of something, and are still trying to prove that capability to the world. It’s about wanting to be anywhere else than where you are because you know your spirit, and you have vision and you want to nurture that. For what ever reason we only tend to nurture our spirit in secondary ways and in private.

“Insipid”… draws its beginnings from the Daniel Johnson song “Devil Town”. I initially wrote it a couple years ago, when I was still single and had been binging on Friday Night Lights and was going on a bunch of OkCupid dates and somehow the girls all kept being from Texas (even though I was living in Brooklyn). And when I’d tell them about Morgantown, and West Virginia they would all say what a lovely place. But the truth is, it’s not a lovely place. It’s gritty. It can be a really hard place to live in many ways and I love the place in spite of that. Before I moved back to NYC, there was a chemical spill that cut off drinking and tap water (think showers, cooking, plants and lawns and farming… and everything else) to nearly 300,000 people in the southern part of the state, a state of only 1.8 million people. The politics are nasty there. If you aren’t aware of it, there is type of coal mining called mountain top removal where people blow the tops of mountains off to take coal out more cheaply. And the runoff from it has contaminated water sources and food sources and is very cancerous. And people get kicked out of their homes all the time so that these companies mainly owned by people outside of the state whom couldn’t give a shit about people from West Virginia, can take the state’s resources in as cheap a way as possible by hiring less workers and not caring about federal EPA regulations. And until you’ve seen a mountain your whole life and drive by it one day and it’s not there, you may never fully understand that kind of loss. These things we take for granted, even our topography, can be taken from us. But overall, people there are good. And I’ve come to embrace that struggle and I think without it I would not be me. I feel guilty when I’m not there though, as many people who leave the state feel. One of my dreams is to build a literacy project/ arts center in the southern part of the state. But I tend to be thinking about all of these things, always even on an OkCupid date, and when I hear people talk, I’m often am taken aback by how flippant they can be. I’ve always been sensitive to it, and when I was younger I would just sort of put people on because how do you begin to change someone that thinks so callously, over the course of a single conversation? But now I’m older and I’ve changed, and I’m much more earnest and I try. But I still wonder about all these people that sum up my history or culture with words like “white trash” or “hillbilly”. And it’s because I don’t look like that stereotype that they will say things like that to me. And it’s because by and large people in this country don’t understand that Appalachia exists as the “other”, that it’s not just a group of poor white hopeless people, that many people choose to live there, that this entire country destroyed the region by taking its resources during this country’s boom without helping contribute to any kind of infrastructure in that region, that Appalachia is complicated, gritty and beautiful. And it’s my home. I just got back from a tour in West Virginia where in multiple places, we were in towns with no access to cell service and there are still major towns that do not have access to the internet. The internet is the great equalizer in terms of education and as a platform to allow for voices to reach beyond their place and to last longer than their time. The Internet helps people control the narrative depicting them. There are places in West Virginia that in many ways do not have the same access to infrastructure that the rest of the country enjoys, simple things like the internet, or grocery stores or community colleges…for instance. When I talk to be people, if they know that West Virginia is a state, they either will talk about how beautiful the corner of the sate they drove through to get to somewhere else was, or they tell me something worse. And this poem is paying homage to all of my friends and loved ones and strangers who are better people than me, who stayed.

“The Care and Delicacy”… I had a crush on a friend that was pretty intense that spanned my late high school years to my early 20’s and maybe much of my artistic drive came out of the fact that I felt like I had to prove my worth to her, but she was always good to me, so maybe it was my own proving of self worth to myself. I saw the Phoenix at St. John the Divine on a first date with my current partner and there was a movie that was playing on a loop that explained how it was built from recycled trash. The county fair bit in Indiana was real. It was so real.

The football poem is from a 15ish page poem I wrote based on my own experience with football and identity and uses images from Friday Night Lights, the show, book and movie. I have always loved football and the older I get the more conflicted I feel about that love and the more I question what it means to be a person in that conflict and what that love makes me. It’s similar to that Oscar Wilde quote about contradicting oneself. I think that the questioning comes from the same place that a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem or a Lord Byron poem stems from, we romanticize something we could not participate in at the cost of another’s body, and are aware of the wrong in that, but captivated by the choice of the participant, and yet wonder how much that choice was theirs and how much was pushed into their subconscious by society. I wrote this poem because I wanted to focus on writing about the things in my life that people said I couldn’t write about. The things people said could never be beautiful, and I wanted to make them beautiful and complex. Football for me shares the same time and space as the beauty in a Beach House song, or see a Klimt painting. Try watching people use their bodies to form something that is in constant motion. Think about 22 bodies moving through space to create holes and to stop holes from being created and allow for an intricately choreographed dance, that is also a reaction to what a young man sees before the snap happens, and then the controlled chaos after the snap. And there are rules and as arbitrary as they are, all participants must be held up to them. It is the most beautiful, vicious, medieval and technologically advanced game I’ve ever encountered. I just hope I was able to do it justice.

What is your typical writing process?

My writing happens in manic phases. If it’s a writing month I am writing new work for about 3 to 5 hours a day. Producing one or multiple poems. Everything during those months, everything is about getting words on the page. I’m not fun to talk to during this time. During normal months, I write maybe 4 or 5 hours a week and revise work for maybe for 6 or 7 hours a week. I’m also spending at least two hours everyday reading journals, figuring out who’s doing what and where, and sending out work.

Generally I write an idea down on an actual piece of paper after having a phrase or a rhythm in my head. I sketch the poem. And then I transfer it to a computer and work the prosody, line breaks and form out. But nothing really ever feels typical.

If you had a talk show, what would the name be?

I Have dreams of Orca Whales and Owls But I wake Up in Fear, that You Will Never Be My Fool, wherein I talk all things with my panel of co-hosts comprised of Pat White, Victoria Legrand and my Grandma.

Do you have any home remedies for loneliness?

Music. When I play music and sing, I find relief. It’s the only I’ve ever found from life. It’s my form of meditation. I am able to turn my head off. I don’t think about anything at all. I just play and sing and I go to a place where there is no such thing as loneliness.

What have you conquered recently?

My first book is coming out. I guess that’s one thing. I try not to conquer so much though. When I was younger I was into that, and I am less so these days. I want to be more like an Orca. Gigantic. Beautiful. Living in peace with all around it. Plays. Only takes what it needs. Always swimming straight lines for hundreds of miles at night. Does not need invention to protect itself from the elements. Does not conquer. And I know what you are thinking “ Keegan, this sounds like some hippy crap”, but let me tell you I tend to take a staunch stance against hippies and hippy life. Orcas just seem to me like the most evolved species on the planet.

Where can we buy more of your work (if applicable)? 

Slope Books, in January/Feb. Maybe your book store 🙂

What motivates you?

My Grandmother. My Mother. My family. Myself. Teenage love. My fear of letting people tell my story, my family’s story, and my friends’ for us.

Any upcoming projects?

I have a manuscript that has been a finalist for a couple of awards. That’s the book with all the topography poems. I hope it get’s picked up. I’m currently working on a collection of nonfiction essays. And I’m also co-writing a collection of poetry about West Virginia with my friend Isabelle Shepherd, whom you should all check out. She’s fantastic. I’m hoping to do a US tour in late winter / spring of 2017, so if you want me to come to your town or school or know someone who might, get in touch with me.

If Earth is a mother, and Time is a father, then what is Art?

Art is my big sister who left me her records and told me to leave home someday to find myself and then saw me crumpled over in a row of airport chairs in San Francisco completely spiritually defeated by the world and told me, “It’s ok. We can still go where ever you want. You name the place”. And we left, and we went there together.

Make sure to read Keegan’s work in Issue Two!

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