Florence; Kafka Holding Three Tulips
By: Charles Kell
The weather carves my nose
into a helixed black hole.
I drink wine, watch the sapphire
wire coil to strike.
The sea rises. A fly lands
on my blue tattoo, enacts a mating dance.
Do you recall the song of Trakl,
how he warned the bleeding clouds?
I drink wine. Bring my partner
hyacinths, which are tossed
delicately off the balcony.
The collars of my shirts are frayed
into hieroglyphs. I taste almond,
hints of oak, splinter inside
a salamander’s throat. Drink gold
& purple wine. A scythe leans
against the shutter. A dog barks.
Pieces of a crystal chandelier
sway in the threnody wind.
Kafka Holding Three Tulips
The wind changes tense. Stranger,
whose eyes walk
back to the tree, over
and over, until night makes the shape
barely visible. Things last
longer in the dark. The way
wet splinters bend then crack.
The knots are birds that sing.
The sky is an uneven machine.
Bits of blue string
in a coat pocket wait to be
pulled, to fly away. In the window
of the garret a candle
is held by a hand that can’t let
So much distance after a loss, so little
to view the expansive horizon
in its new shape.
He waits by a swinging gate. Unlocks
the air with his eyes. In a cracked palm
vulnerable, a fine network of webs.
In the dark I am invisible, he thinks.
Somewhere a spider misses its corner.
Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and associate editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“I’m obsessed with Kafka. I think of him often, every day. Each year when the weather turns I reread The Castle then The Trial. The poem, really, has little to do with Kafka, I envision a minor character from one of these texts, Sordini or Sortini, maybe Gerstäcker, who helps K. at the end—being and wandering and living and working in this strange environment—what do these folks think about? The different ways they experience things, items, time, images; there’s such an unease mixed with exhaustion, such a beautiful strangeness. The poem always falls miserably short, but I just want to catch a corner of one of these worlds for even a brief second.
‘Florence’ can indicate the city, perhaps, and can also point toward an individual. The poem is dripping with ennui, or the speaker, at least I believe, is affecting a certain position of splendorous squalor, or as the painter Francis Bacon says, “gilded squalor” and “exhilarated despair.” I get image drunk often, and my usual rule is that if a poem has, say, eight images, try and whittle it down to three. Too many images can overwhelm the poem. Obviously I broke that rule many times over here, so excess reigns for this speaker in this room.”
Interview With The Poet
Cathexis Northwest Press:
I always love when artists reference other artists. It's like a way to continue giving thanks to our influences. In both of your poems you reference German Literary figures- I'm wondering if German Literature is an affinity for you, and if so, what qualities of it do you find yourself referencing/musing within your poems?
Yes! German literature has been such an influence as a style, a way of thinking, all the usual suspects—Hölderlin, Rilke—and also a great many contemporary writers. I can’t convey enough the importance of Rosmarie Waldrop as a poet, thinker, and translator. Her book of translations, Dichten = No. 10, 16 New (to American Readers) German Poets (2008), is quite amazing, everyone should get a copy. It features so many great poets, Ann Cotton, Franz Josef Czernin, Michael Donhauser, Ute Eisinger, Daniel Falb, Hendrik Jackson, Marget Kreidl, Bert Papenfuss…
These poets practice various kinds of grammatical fracturing and transgressive mixes of language and image. They do things I hope to do one day. And I love the art and style of Martin Kippenberger; he’s important to me.
Can you share with us some of your favorite poets/favorite poems?
An American poet I’ve been obsessed with is Mark Levine; the worlds he creates are unmatched in contemporary poetry; also, I love Danielle Pafunda and her startling juxtapositions of image.
I am really taken by your concept of bringing the secondary characters to life--particularly from a world as wild as Kafka's. Was there any specific inspiration for that, or any kind of "ah-ha", lightbulb moment?
I’m constantly thinking of Kafka, in my book, Cage of Lit Glass (forthcoming from Autumn House Press in 2019), I have a handful of “Kafka poems,” that use titles from his work. I have dozens of Kafka poems; I just can’t stop writing and thinking of him. No “lightbulb moment,” just a constant thinking of him. Another writer I love, László Krasznahorkai, says in an interview, “When I am not reading Kafka I am thinking about Kafka. When I am not thinking about Kafka I miss thinking about him. Having missed thinking about him for a while, I take him out and read him again. That’s how it works.” I feel the same way.
How long have you been writing poetry? What first brought you into the world?
I’ve been writing poetry, on and off, for what seems like years. I’ve only been seriously writing poetry, since the fall of 2013, after taking a class with my professor, the poet, Peter Covino, who, in his own right, is carving out a singular, transformative style in the landscape of contemporary poetry.
I adore the slant rhymes and echoes throughout "Florence"--The repetition of "I drink wine" and the way that plays with the perceived pacing of the couplets. "hyacinths/hieroglyphs", "oak/throat". Every time I read it something new pops out at me. How much thought goes into placing those echoes into the poem? Or is it more of a gut feeling and the serendipity of the right words for the right occasions matching with other words couplets apart?
In “Florence” it was simply a gut feeling. At first the “wine” repetition felt a little staid, maybe prosaic, but this is the speaker’s world. The other images and riffs come about, as we all know, after those first few glasses, when things grow a little distorted, a little languorously uninhibited, and images, thoughts come to mind…
What is your writing process like? How do you get yourself in the proper mood to write?
Constantly reading. Reading, to me, is the most important thing. Reading poetry, novels, philosophy, just everything. I also have a stack of newspapers and magazines taking over the couch. A word or an image will pop up. I was reading Jason Schwartz’s fantastic book, A German Picturesque, this morning, and images, ideas, and words just jumped off the page…
The imagism is these two pieces is just outstanding. I'm curious if there's a process, or method, that you use when conjuring images in your work, or if it's something that is more so guided by bursts of inspiration?
For me, image is the first thing, and then maybe sound. This is tricky, though, because I’m cognizant, as well, of story; of things happening. Peter Covino has been so helpful with this. I don’t want my poems to be just a string of images, there has to be something else. And at the same time, I don’t want to write one narrative poem after another. I’m constantly walking this line.
Following that, you mention in your "behind the scenes" that you like to whittle away images in a poem until there are only a few--obviously that process wasn't necessary here, but for fellow writers out there, what kind of advice do you have regarding how to cut images? Its always so hard to "kill your darlings". It seems to me that often writing is the easy part, its the editing that is the most taxing.
Learning how to edit one’s poems is the most difficult. Not being afraid to cut a part we love. And this takes time. A fearlessness in being willing to cut up our work, to look at it from as many different angles and forms as possible. A willingness to practice what is uncomfortable, to not do the same things over and again. This is an area I struggle with, especially when I feel like I’m writing the same poem. Also, being completely open to feedback. Each time I receive feedback from someone I trust, I incorporate it and then live with the poem for a short spell, most often that person is right. But there are times when I stick to my original thought, and then I’m willing to live with it.
Do you have any advice for budding writers? How to fight writers block, how to find inspiration, how to find a "voice", etc?
For advice on writer’s block: to just read everything, to constantly read, even if it’s not in our area. I care for ants a great deal and I’m constantly reading about ants, scholarly articles, etc. Read philosophy. I read as many novels as books of poetry. So read widely and with hunger.
Thanks so much for being with us!
Thanks for the kind words and insightful questions.