A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Kevin Bertolero

with Kevin Bertolero:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?


I didn’t start seriously writing until around my junior year of high school. I was fortunate enough to work with poet Peter Mishler in a couple creative writing classes and he was an early mentor of mine who was very encouraging. My work was terrible back then, as most high school writing is, but he was the first person to really engage with my writing in a critical way and that kind of attention was invigorating to me. I participated in more workshops when I was an undergrad at Potsdam college, I started attending the Colgate Writers’ Conference each summer, and I started reaching out to other writers online… I was seeking these kinds of conversations wherever I could find them. This was one of the primary reasons I started Ghost City Press, as an attempt to build a larger community of poets and artists.

In terms of my own work, I found myself drawn to the New York School poets very early on. Frank O’Hara has had a huge influence on my work, and of course that led me to Schuyler and others. I was also drawn to the queerness of these works, too, and Oliver Baez Bendorf was another poet who really spoke to me in this way. He had this video online for his poem “The Ice” which really inspired me, just the conversational tone he was using. His poems focused a lot on the nature of Wisconsin which he wrote about with such care, the same way I was writing about the Adirondack Mountains. Gary Snyder was another early influence in this way, which lead me to Diane di Prima, and so on. There’s a quality to all of these poets which is shared, but difficult to articulate. They’re from different schools of poetry, but they’re all trying to get at the same kind of personal feeling, very centered on place.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Kevin: O’Hara, Schuyler, Bendorf, di Prima, and Snyder are all still very important to me. I would also say that Jameson Fitzpatrick, Tim Dlugos, Jack Gilbert, Robert Lax, Ron Schreiber, Aaron Smith, and James Wright have had a significant impact on my writing in the years since I finished undergrad, all writers who, again, are very focused on place in their writing. I recently have found myself enamored with the work of Robert Bly and William Stafford as well. There’s something about the Minnesota poets that really appeals to me, I guess.

I came across Ron Schreiber’s poetry not too long ago as well and he’s a poet I feel an almost spiritual connection to. I was wandering around Books and Melodies in Syracuse a couple years ago (the best used bookstore in the city) and I found all six of Schreiber’s collections on the shelf. I bought one, went home, read it and fell in love with it immediately. I went back the next day to buy the other five books.

Schreiber was a member of the Good Gay Poets collective (who published a collection by another mentor and friend of mine, the late Native American poet Maurice Kenny). In addition to his poetry, though, Schreiber was—like me—also a publisher who ran Calamus Books out of Ithaca, New York. Schreiber and I seem to share a similar aesthetic within our work which was what initially attracted me to his poems. Upon further reading though, I realized that him and I share a similar perspective; We both have backgrounds in publishing, we both write about place within our work—especially about New Hampshire, Buffalo, Ithaca, Boston, even Saranac Lake—and we both write personally about our past relationships and boyfriends.

For me, Schreiber is a poet who writes about gay domestic life in a way that I haven’t seen from many other queer poets. This is a quality I greatly admire in his poems. His collection Living Space (1974) feels to me like a revelation regarding the gay domestic setting. Tomorrow Will Really Be Sunday (1984) shows how sensually gay sex can be examined on the page without venturing too far into the erotic (almost in opposition to a poet like Aaron Smith who fully embraces the erotic). Moving to a New Place (1974) is a book about a breakup, a life in transition, stuck in a queer liminality that feels very familiar to me. And finally, his book John (1989) is about the last few months in the life of his longtime boyfriend who is dying from complications related to AIDS. It traces their relationship from the first hospital visit to John’s funeral and is one of the most devastating collections I’ve ever read. Schreiber has been completely overlooked and I’ve kind of made it my personal mission to recommend and share his writing with as many people as possible. He’s brilliant.

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?


All throughout high school, and even through senior year, I had planned on going to college for music. I wanted to be a high school band teacher. I had played percussion since elementary school—my main instrument was the marimba—and I was really passionate about this for the longest time. But then I found poetry and it was affecting me in a way that music hadn’t, I just couldn’t get enough of it. And when I started touring colleges, I went to Potsdam first because they’re known for their music school. The school was entirely underground though (literally, not metaphorically) and was actually a really depressing space. I couldn’t imagine spending four years down there locked in some practice room with poor lighting. It’s a great school, don’t get me wrong, but I just wasn’t passionate enough about my instrument, I guess.

While we toured the rest of the campus, though, we stopped in the English dept where I had a lovely conversation with some of the faculty there, and it was in this beautiful old brick building covered in lush ivy… I knew right then that this was where I wanted to spend my time. I majored in literature with minors in philosophy and art history (it sounds pretentious, I know), and I overloaded on credits every semester and took in as much as I could. All these classes came together thematically and ideologically for me in these interesting ways which really influenced my poetry over the next few years. There was also a significant queer community at the school as well and there were several boys who were a part of my life which influenced what I was writing about as well. It was a productive, important time for me.

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?


Oh gosh, there are so many people. As I said, Peter Mishler has been there cheering me on since the beginning. I studied with Rebecca Lehman at Potsdam who was wonderful (she was mad that I wasn’t studying in the creative writing department). I was an editorial assistant for Maurice Kenny in the final months of his life and he was a terrific friend and mentor. I met Bruce Smith, Kathleen Ossip, and Peter Balakian through the Colgate Conference, I worked with Christopher Citro and Georgia Popoff at the Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse (and there was a really great, inspiring group of poets there who gave me a community at that time). At New England College I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Chen Chen and Andrew Morgan, all of whom have helped me grow in different ways. I owe so much to all these people.

And then of course there are my friends. Jack Bachmann is my first reader and one of my closest friends and I trust his opinion above all else. I think we’re both careful readers of each other’s work. He’s seen my poems change through time and is often able to articulate these differences before I even realize they are happening. I always hope that I can give his poems the same level of attention and care that he gives to mine. I would do anything for him.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from influence your work?


I grew up in the suburbs of Syracuse which was fine, nothing really dramatic happened and I had a pretty quiet childhood. Being in the closet was probably the most notable thing from that period of time. My writing wasn’t very good when I was living there either, so I don’t really credit Syracuse too much as being an important part of my work. It’s where the name Ghost City came from, so it’s significant in that regard. It wasn’t until I went up into the North Country for college that (I think) my writing was really worth anything. That landscape really influenced my work, and if you look at my first two collections, From the Estuary to the Offing and Soft Boy, those were both written primarily at Potsdam and are very much products of that region.


When I moved to New Hampshire for grad school after I left Potsdam, things changed in my writing. My lines were becoming much longer and my subjects were growing more abstract. I was writing more prose poems and as a result of living on the seacoast, a lot of the imagery in my poems was being affected by the region. The kinds of art and literature I was researching were influential to me around this time, as were the people I was interacting with and hanging out with on the weekends, all of whom were much more intellectual than the people I was friends with at Potsdam. And this is not to speak down on anyone, I just mean that people’s priorities were different at the University of New Hampshire and the other students in my cohort were very dedicated to their studies and were passionate about their own research interests in a way that was refreshing. They shared the kind of dedication I felt at the time for more academic work. This all played a significant role in how my chapbook Love Poems turned out.  

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Kevin: I’m most proud of the new work I’ve been producing over the past couple years. Jack has pointed out a pretty significant syntactical shift in my newer poems and they’re much different than any of the stuff included in my other books. I’m doing a lot more with punctuation and white space than I have before. I’m very proud of how Love Poems turned out and am incredibly thankful to Bottlecap press for all their support in putting it out. But yeah, I think I’m always going to be the most excited about what I’m currently working on and the directions I’m heading in creatively. I think now that I’ve spent more time in New Hampshire and have had time to explore the areas surrounding, whether down in Massachusetts, up the coastline of Maine, or even into some more rural areas of Vermont, New England is very much finding its way into my poems (oftentimes without me even consciously attempting to do so). It’s mysterious to me, but very exciting.

Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Kevin: I have spent A LOT of time at the beach this summer. The school I’m currently teaching at is only five or ten minutes from the beach, so it’s been easy to head over there after work most days just to read for a few hours. I’ve gotten a lot of writing done that way.

I also really love visiting with friends when I can. I’ve spent some wonderful evenings up in Portland, ME recently. There’s so much great food up there and they have a very vibrant arts scene (and it’s also super gay, which is nice). I think these conversations and visits I have with friends are the most generative events for my poems. I find so much love in these quiet, late-night conversations, and it’s always interesting to find out what other people are reading and thinking about. That’s important to me, to have those experiences and interactions.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?


I don’t know if I’m ready to share anything from my new work yet, I’m still playing around with most of it, but I have been obsessed with this poem by Jack Gilbert recently. I actually came across it for the first time several summers ago, but I’ve been teaching it in one of my classes recently, so it’s been on my mind. The poem is called “Married” and it’s about the death of Gilbert’s late wife, Michiko. He writes,

I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got the from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

It’s one of the best love poems I’ve ever read. All my friends tell me it’s a sad poem, but I truly don’t think it is.

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Kevin: I’m currently in the process of putting together a new collection of poems, but before that happens, I actually have a nonfiction book coming out this fall with Another New Calligraphy. It’s called Forever in Transition: Queer Futurist Aesthetics in Gay Cinema. It was born out of the research I did for my masters thesis at UNH and is a combination of academic work and personal essay. I’m really proud of it and it’s the longest work I’ve ever written. It felt nice to get away from poetry for a little bit—but it’s also very nice to return to poetry after some time away.

Bio: Kevin Bertolero (he/him) is the founding editor of Ghost City Press and is the associate director of the Kettle Pond Writers’ Conference. He is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Love Poems (Bottlecap Press, 2020) and his nonfiction book on gay cinema, Forever in Transition, is forthcoming in 2021 with Another New Calligraphy. He is currently studying in the MFA program at New England College and lives on the New Hampshire seacoast where he teaches English at a residential school for at-risk youth. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinBertolero or visit kevinbertolero.net for more info.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Robin Sinclair

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Robin: As far as I can remember, I was always scribbling down some nonsense. It was more of a background passion or a thing that got me through the noise happening in my head.

My early influences were pretty typical, I think. I fell in love with graphic novels reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series in the 90’s, which then turned me on to his novels. I got into the Beats, like everyone does for a time. Sylvia Plath. Vonnegut.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Robin: Probably Diana Goetsch. She is, in my opinion, the single greatest living poet. She somehow is also a master at crafting non-fiction. She’s just ridiculously skilled. I return to her work both when I’m reading for pleasure and also for study.

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?

Robin: It was when I first saw Goetsch perform pieces from what was then my favorite book of poetry that changed things for me. It inspired a sense of focus in terms of what the craft and the artform of creative writing meant to me.

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?

Robin: My partner isn’t a writer, but they provide immense emotional support and space for me to be creative. All of the workshops, classes, and time spent studying craft wouldn’t mean a thing if I didn’t have this amazing partner who takes my dedication to creating seriously. They also get me just the right amount of drunk before I have to go on stage
and read, ensuring I don’t have the jitters but also don’t slur all over myself.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from New Jersey influence your work?

Robin: I grew up in New Jersey and then lived in New York. My 2020 chapbook, Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off of Shades of Death Road), is influenced heavily by
New Jersey folklore.

Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off Of Shades of Death Road) —  Ghost City Press

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Robin: The work that seems to have resonated most with people is my first book, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls. I supported it with a reading tour, which led to some
wonderful conversations about the book’s themes of identity, gender, and mental illness.

Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls - Kindle edition by Sinclair,  Robin. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.


Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Robin: I hang out with my partner. I drink bad wine or good whiskey. I love reading. I’m currently re-reading Sentimental Violence: Some Poems About Tonya Harding by Gabrielle Grace Hogan and A Safe Girl To Love by Casey Plett.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?

Robin: I don’t know if I have a favorite, but a stanza that people seem to like at readings is:

Reason to live, they repeat like a pop song,
The bones of a beloved emperor, and I, the
motionless chariot
trying to drag them home with forced hope.

Which is from a poem called “The Chariot,” from my book Letters to My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls.

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?


I’m currently trying to find the right home for a hybrid chapbook called Bridge Jumpers of the World, Unite, which is about living with suicidal ideation.

Folks interested in my work can find links to my published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction at RobinSinclairBooks.com, and anyone who’d like to support me can do so at
buymeacoffee.com/robinsinclair. Members get copies of my books as a perk.


Robin Sinclair (they/them) is a queer, trans writer of poetry, fiction,
and nonfiction. Their debut full-length poetry collection, Letters To
My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls (Cosmographia Books, 2018),
discusses themes of identity, gender, and mental illness. Their
chapbook, Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off Of
Shades of Death Road) (Ghost City Press, 2020), discusses
themes of revenge and local folklore.

Their poetry can be found in various journals, including Trampset,
Luna Luna Magazine, and Pidgeonholes. Their fiction and
nonfiction can be found in Black Telephone Magazine, The Daily
Drunk, and Across The Margin.

Find Robin at RobinSinclairBooks.com and on Twitter

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Judith Kingston

with Judith Kingston:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Judith: Like most writers, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t. When I was five, I started rewriting the Bible to include more informative pictures of God and chirpier dialogue, but I gave up after the garden of Eden because it was too much like hard work. Roald Dahl was also an early influence, as evidenced by my first completed novel about a girl travelling around in a giant nectarine. My first serious influences as a teenager, longing to write books you could get lost in, were Joan Aiken, Madeleine L’Engle and Australian author Melina Marchetta. Also Dutch authors Tonke Dragt and Imme Dros.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Judith: Prose I would say Catherine Fox, whose light-but-deep novels never fail to move me and make me laugh, even when I am reading them for the fifteenth time.

When it comes to poetry, there are three specific poems that I am always trying to write – except of course they have already been written. One is “Het Verlangen” by Dutch poet Toon Tellegen, for that one perfect bit: “desire breeds roses and delirious dogs, / rows across lakes at midnight, / shouts”. Another is “Le Pont Mirabeau” by Apollinaire, for its incredible flowing rhyme and wistful beauty. The final one is a titleless poem by Wayne Holloway-Smith (https://thescores.org.uk/wayne-holloway-smith/) about Joseph Figlock catching a falling baby, twice. I want to be able to tell a story this innocuously, pulling the reader in, and then knifing them in the heart at the end.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your writing?


I grew up in the Netherlands and also spent part of my childhood living in Queensland, Australia.

Dutch poets have had a massive influence on my writing but obviously few people would actively notice. I was delighted when an old friend recently spotted a reference to Paul Rodenko’s “Bommen” in one of my poems. In a less lofty way, the Dutch December tradition of writing a poem in rhyming couplets(ish) to go with each present we give to our family has left its mark on my writing too. I really want to rhyme and it not to be weird. A lot of my work has internal rhyme or end rhyme. I just keep coming back to it, trying to use it to create that magical Apollinaire flow.

Living in Australia is entirely to blame for the fact that I mostly write in English. It is because of the time I spent at school there that I am bilingual. Other than that, it meant I discovered a lot of less well-known but incredible writers, including poet Gwen Harwood. A brilliantly zany person and a very versatile writer, she is everything I aspire to be: a serious artist who is also an entertaining dinner party guest.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?


Two spring to mind:

  1. I wrote a piece of performance poetry for an immersive theatre show called Morningstar that only one person per evening ever got to hear – only the bravest one. I still love the way it flows and the way it lands. Most of all, I love how things you write for theatre become something more in the interplay with the actor who lifts it off the page.
  2. I wrote a poem called “Those Last Impossible Inches”, which was published in Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, which came straight from the very depths of my soul and sort of sums up everything I believe in, in a very simple way. A friend recorded it for me. I was sitting in McDonalds when I listened to the recording (fun fact) and it just floored me. Those words spoken back to me were exactly what I needed to hear.
    Both of these pieces I wrote in one go, with minimal editing. I am not saying this is how things should be – in the editing process you often lift David out of the block of marble – but in these cases they just seemed to be ready as they were.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Judith: Although I was always writing and drawing and performing plays, it was reading Anne Frank’s diary that decided it for me. Somehow, reading about this young girl’s dreams of being an author that were tragically cut short made me determined to do what she could not, and see my poems and stories in print.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Judith: Watching TV and completely switching my brain off is honestly my most effective way of properly relaxing. I also love reading and drawing but those require a bit more concentration.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?


Recently, one of my poems was included in Broken Sleep Books’ brilliant anthology “Crossing Lines: An Anthology of Immigrant Poetry”. You can buy it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Crossing-Lines-Anthology-Immigrant-Poetry/dp/1913642313/

Coming up soon, the theatre company I sometimes write for has a brilliant show coming up called Crisis, What Crisis? at the New Diorama Theatre in London – your chance to be a parliamentary adviser in 1979 and see if you can stop the country descending into chaos. https://newdiorama.com/whats-on/crisis-what-crisis

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Judith: Possibly the final stanza of my poem “Sostenuto”, about my great-uncle’s journey back to the Netherlands from camp Bergen Belsen:

“Whenever I saw him he wore a suit – his own, but / under his clothes lurked the bleached bones that / rattled in time to the train he was still on, which / could not take him from that place he never left.” You can find the poem in the Fly on the Wall Press Anthology Persona Non Grata. https://www.flyonthewallpress.co.uk/product-page/persona-non-grata

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Judith: I would not get anything done without my husband, Owen, who is incredible at big picture plotting and story arcs. I love talking through my story ideas with him and he will always help me lift them to the next level. He is also just generally a very inspiring person who works incredibly hard to make his ideas a reality.

So many people have helped me in so many ways, often without realising they were doing it, but I would like to briefly highlight novelist Ericka Waller, who almost literally kicked me off the time out bench where I had put myself for years and made me submit my poetry. It is her fault that anything of mine is published at all. 



Twitter @judithkingston