An interview with em/ilie kneifel

em/ilie kneifel is a poet/critic, editor at The Puritan/Theta Wave, creator of CATCH/PLAYD8s, and also a list. find 'em at emiliekneifel.com, @emiliekneifel, and in Tiohtiá:ke, hopping and hoping.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

i began writing-writing when i realized i was writing at all. i was writing-about the third or fourth album i had to (not had to, but had to) write something about, when i thought, oh. this. this is this. eventually, i belly-flopped sideways into what we might call poetry, but my starting point, criticism/ekphrasis, feels like a perfect case study for what i am always trying to do, which is to track (frantically!) how sounds/senses dislodge me.
the sounds keep me going. i have no choice. but now, unbelievably, there are also people who keep me.

Given you work in text and visual mediums, how do the multiple sides of your writing interact? How did you begin with visual poems at all?

this is such a nice question to get, because i’m in the middle of another “oh this” moment with visual work (aka just realizing that i have been doing it at all). so thank you.

i justjust crystalized a tentative aha moment last week, when i said to my friend, the poet-playwright-etc. Kevin Latimer, that the idea of a playwright’s role (“the idea” because i was making big provisional jumps that i think were ultimately reductive) is to imagine into the bodily (the stage!), whereas i think i, as poet/critic/whatever, am trying to cull the bodily back into the recesses of language. so i think, i think, what is happening is: i am always or often beginning there, in the seeing/feeling/heaving. and then my visual work is just a natural trace of that starting point. feet in wet concrete. or maybe messy fingers leaving marks.

You currently do editorial work for The Puritan as well as theta wave. Why are these important, and have you been learning through the process of working on literary journals?

i think i’m going to answer this question by saying this. Kelly Whitehead, my co-editor at The Puritan, is so smart, so kind, so curious about the world. i cannot believe it. and, well. Bára Hladík, the artist extraordinaire who runs Theta Wave, has been unspeakably important to my existing at all. she has been so generous to me in a practical sense, by so graciously letting me putz around Theta, doodle in corners, but she has also taught me so, so vividly about both radical patience and breaking things. living with a sick body feels like a deep gift when i remember it means that i got to know her.

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

honestly, if i really think about it, my influences typically work in other media, in the way that they allow themselves some opening, or create what could only have been what it was. so many of them are secrets (i know, i’m sorry, i’m just kind of superstitious about saying what’s precious aloud), but truly everyone should know Tierra Whack. as for poet-poets, i think they influence the way that i actually live (living: different from writing? maybe?). these, incredibly, are so often my friends (i can’t believe i get to be the kind of person who says this) (names are coming! i promise. skip to the last question if you’d like).

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

mentorship, hm. i think, beyond mentorship, i am always thinking about generosity. i have found much more lushness looking around than i have in looking up, you know? the people who have genuinely assisted me are the people who have taught me this -- that what is worthwhile about any of this, the hanging my legs out in the open, is that i might get to make a friend out of it, if i’m lucky.

What are you currently working on?

secrets (sorry! again with the superstition).

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

hm, if more attention means i wish i could bake them three cakes everyday to thank them for the way they pay attention: nivretta thatra, sanna wani, lily wang, trynne delaney, ava hofmann, nicole delcore-kaifetz, rachael mcdaniel, conyer clayton; of course bára and kevin again. i read poems by sasha debevec-mckenney and angelo maneage recently that i have very very stuck in my head. also the way devin gael kelly writes poems about poems. also joanna sternberg, even though they technically sing.

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