They think I'm more like The Dude from 'The Big Lebowski' than a traditional English professor. - Kip
When I first met Kip in this digital world, I saw his white beard and his credentials and assumed he was a stuffy, red-pen carrying professor who was waiting for a chance to tell me my latest poem could use some work. Boy, was I wrong.
Since bringing him and his dark poetry on as a Regular at Versification Zine, Kip has become one of my best friends, confidants, and most well-respected poets out there. His humor, honesty, kindness, and his willingness to not only read your work at a moment's notice, but to provide feedback with a gentle heart and an unmatched mind are just a few reasons he's a perfect friend to have not only in the literary world, but in your real-life circle.
I knew he had this manuscript lingering when we were bringing our publishing house to light, and perhaps we were more excited than he was about inviting him to work with us at Versification Publication House as our first signed author - after all, he had offers all over the place. We were all pumped to send him a contract; and perhaps we really wanted to let the world get to know him a bit more and to share the joy of his third full-length poetry collection, Hinterlands.
- C. Cimmone
a talk with Kip
Before you jump to conclusions, Kip's voice isn't gravelly, like you may think, but can teeter on 'loose gravelly' after a few rounds of whiskey. Keep that in mind as you enjoy his very personal interview I had the pleasure of hosting.
You’ve been in the lit community for quite some time, so let’s take a step back: How did you first get started with submitting to literary journals?
I didn’t write my first poem until I was 22, during my fourth year out of five as an undergrad at Ohio State back in 1985. I took a poetry writing class because there was a woman I was interested in who was taking the class. While things with the woman didn’t pan out, my real journey as a writer began in that class when the professor, Gordon Grigsby, liked the first poem that I submitted to workshop. He encouraged me to keep writing, even though he thought there was a lot—and I mean a lot!—that I needed to learn. About a year later, he was asked to be the guest editor for a now defunct lit mag called Gambit. He asked me to submit some poems to him, and he ended up taking two of the four poems that I gave him. That got the ball rolling for me. But even though the two poems he accepted are actually the first poems I ever had published, I consider the next poem I got published to be my first true publication because it was accepted by an editor of a magazine called Farmer’s Market who had no idea who I was. Even though Gordon wouldn’t have taken anything he didn’t think was good enough to be published, I still feel that the poem I had published in Farmer’s Market is a purer publication somehow.
You’ve got a long list of publications, but you’ve also been in the publishing world as an editor, too. Based on your editorial experience, what would you say to writers out there getting started with the publication process and facing tough rejections?
Don’t take rejections personally. Ever. You’ll never know exactly why the hell a submission gets rejected. But I can assure you that it won’t be for personal reasons. Unless you’re purposely sending your stuff to someone you know doesn’t like you or holds a grudge against you for whatever reason, which is never a good idea. If there are people like that who are in editorial positions, then don’t send your stuff to them; you’re just setting yourself up for rejection. If your writing gets rejected one place, just remember that there are a dozen other places to send it to. I would say that 99% of my writing that has been accepted for publication has also been rejected. Sure, you may get a hundred editors who say “No” to a piece you’ve written, but it only takes one editor to say “Yes” to get that same piece published. My grandfather used to say, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking until you do succeed.” Words to live by.
In addition to lit rejections, most creatives struggle with general life struggles. What has been your toughest life struggle and how did you overcome it?
Over the past few years I’ve had to come to terms with some difficult truths in my life. One of the bigger truths had to do with the fact that I was sexually groomed by a 28-year old woman when I was 15 years old. For much of my life, I couldn’t accept the truth that I had been victimized by a sexual predator, and so I would spin the story of losing my virginity as a kind of macho bullshit anecdote with a wink and nudge. But as I’ve grown older and raised a son of my own, and in the enlightenment of the Me Too movement, I’ve come to understand the truth about that event and how it laid an unstable foundation that I had built my life upon. At various points in my life, things would fall apart and I would build them back up on the same unstable foundation of self-sabotage and self-destruction. I had become a master of compartmentalization, an expert at building up walls to block off my emotions when I needed to. I had become like a walking bag filled with shards of a broken mirror; when I needed to, I could piece enough of the mirror together so that whomever I was with could see a faint reflection of what seemed to be real person. Ironically, it was something very small that began the chain-reaction necessary to bring those walls down: my Chihuahua, Dosie. When my wife, Dana, and I had to have Dosie put to sleep, I completely lost it. For the first time in the 20-plus years that Dana had known me, I sobbed uncontrollably in front of her, which confused and scared her. Up until then I had dealt with a few very bad relationships, a failed marriage, several professional disappointments, and the deaths of loved ones with a kind of stoicism punctuated by diversionary humor. For whatever reason, though, the death of that 7-pound Chihuahua got to me like nothing else had. There’s that scene in the last season of The Sopranos when Dr. Melfi realizes that Tony is a true criminal sociopath beyond redemption, based in large part on the way that Tony shows empathy much more for animals than people. Based on my reaction to Dosie’s death, I wondered if maybe I was some kind of sociopath. I realized that I needed to figure out what was going on inside of me, and so I began therapy, which has been life-changing. Working with my therapist, who will not hesitate to call out my bullshit when needed, and with the support of Dana and my son, Callum, I’ve become a complete person who isn’t afraid to face the truths that I had avoided for most of my life.
What is something in your life that really keeps you going on a daily basis, even when things may be looking pretty grim?
I lived so much of my life as a fragmented person that, now that I feel like a whole person, I want to make up for lost time. It’s exciting to me to be a whole person for my family and to be a whole person as a writer. I feel a real sense of calm in my life, which is something I’ve not really known until recently, and something I don’t ever want to give up. Even when I might have a day when I’m feeling down, I know I can reach out to a number of different people who are willing to listen to me and help in any way they can. I used to believe that I had to have chaos in my life in order to be a better, more productive writer. Over the past 18 months, though, I’ve written more than I ever have, and I’ve been publishing things at a rate I never thought possible, which I think tells me that what I am writing isn’t a bunch of shit. My writing seems to be speaking to a larger, more diverse audience now. In a lot of ways, I’ve become connected to more people during the pandemic than at any other time in my life.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you and you always have great stories – funny, sad, and inspiring. Share an interesting story that would give readers a peek inside ‘Kip’.
I need to preface this story from my childhood with some info from my college years. When I went to college, my intent was to get a degree in natural resources, drive out to the Rocky Mountains, abandon my car, and hike into the wilderness and live the rest of my life like Grizzly Adams. But I couldn’t handle the math that I needed to get that degree, so I switched my major to archaeology (I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark!). I never knew that math played such a big role in archeology! You get the sense that math and I don’t get along, right? So the next year I switched my major to art history, but I didn’t really like much of the art before the Impressionists. So the year after that I switched to journalism, but then I realized how much I had to write for the tastes of a specific editor, so that didn’t work either. By my fifth year, I just wanted out of college. So I looked at what I had the most credits in and it just so happened to be English, which became my final major. And for the next five years after graduation, I worked as the Laboratory Preparator for the Department of Zoology at Ohio State, which had nothing whatsoever to do with my degree in English or writing.
But because of the creative writing classes that I did take those last two years of college, a seed that had been planted somewhere deep inside me when I was child began to sprout. I didn’t have any other co-workers to watch over me during my five years working for the Department of Zoology, and that, along with the fact that the job was relatively easy and mundane, I found that I had a lot of time to read and write poetry. I learned more in those five years than I had in my previous five years as a real student. And it was during those five years that I began to get things published, enough things to get me accepted into a couple of M.F.A. programs in spite of my horrible grades as an undergrad.
I also realized during that time that the seed of my creative writing pursuits had been planted when I was six years old. Even though I didn’t write my first poem until I was 22, the very first thing that I ever wrote was a story when I was six. I’ve always been a fixer, someone who wants to do whatever I can to fix someone else’s problems. It’s kind of comical, really, because it took me nearly 55 years to be able to fix myself! One of the things I’ve been working on in therapy is to NOT try and fix things ALL the time. My “fixer” mentality began when I was six and I witnessed my dad cut off part of his big toe with the lawn mower. My dad had to have a series of skin grafts taken from his thigh to repair his toe, and the result was that hair began to grow on the tip of his big toe. I thought that anyone who had to deal with hair growing on the tip of their toe must be sad, so I wrote, illustrated, and constructed a small picture book titled The Hairy Toe. The story focused on a big toe that had hair growing out of the end of it, which caused all the other toes on the foot to make fun of it. When the big toe couldn’t take the teasing anymore, he ran away from the foot to find another foot to call home. When I gave my dad the book, I told him that things could be worse and that he was lucky to still have all of his toes, even if one was hairy. The image of my dad laughing as he read that story, and the feeling of the hug that he gave me when he finished reading it, have never left me. Even though I never consciously dreamed of being a writer until I actually became one, I think that making that book for my dad was the beginning of my career as a writer, an editor, and a teacher.
You’ve had fantastic, dark publications with Versification Zine, both on poetry and Misfit Micros. Why were you originally drawn to Verse and why do you think your work has such success with us?
Dana actually told me about Verse one night while I was looking for places to submit. She said, “There’s this cool zine called Versification. I like their vibe. I think they would like the vibe of some of your darker poems. You should submit.” So I read the issues that were online and I really liked what you were doing. I’ve always loved micro poetry, so that instantly drew me in. I wasn’t sure that I had enough punk in me, though. I had been called a “Punk Ass” a number of times, but I didn’t think it was the same kind of punk Verse is looking for. But I did have a lot of poems that dealt with darker themes, so I submitted a poem that was a bit dark but that was also trying too hard to be clever. Within five minutes of me sending it, you rejected it. But you also told me to send you something else. So I did, and five minutes later you rejected that one, too. But with that rejection you told me to send you multiple poems at once, which I did. Five minutes later, you wrote back, “Kip! I really love the divorce poem!” And the rest is history. (That “divorce poem,” by the way, is the poem that leads off Hinterlands, so we’ve really come full circle!) I remember when you accepted that poem that I looked over at Dana and told her, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had submitting work!” So I was really happy—and a bit shocked!—when you asked me to apply to be a monthly contributor. But once you accepted me in that role, I got a bit nervous. I thought that I had to purposely write poems with a Verse vibe, and the result was a string of rejections. I finally figured out that if I tried to write a “Verse Poem,” it would come off as disingenuous. Damn if I wasn’t right! So I stopped doing that and instead just wrote things without thinking about where I was going to submit them. I found that the more stripped down, straightforward, and unapologetic a piece was—either as a micro poem or a micro fiction—those were the pieces that I wanted to submit to Verse because I knew that if they were accepted, they would be enhanced by all the other great pieces that were equally stripped down, straightforward, and unapologetic. That’s the greatest thing about Verse: the poems in every issue scream in harmony!
OR STAY HERE TO READ MORE...
Kip on a Panel Discussion
Ohioana Book Festival 2021
Kip is currently represented by Claire Taylor, in-house agent with Versification Publishing House
OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE
Praise on TRAGEDY, ECSTASY, DOOM, and so on
These poems are a measuring of hope and dread, a collection that shows us the beautiful, bright photograph then places it next to its dark, disturbing photographic negative. As the poems move easily into Mark Rothko’s art and life, the discourse continues but in the form of colors, of juxtapositions, guiding our understanding of them from canvas to soul. In sum, the poems stay true to exploring an initial, profound insight: The other man that I am. —Alberto Rios
"Afraid of Heaven"
I couldn’t tell you on your deathbed
that I believe angels are dead
things, that I’ve only seen them in the dark wells of my dreams, their white faces smiling
like bleached skulls shining in full moonlight.
Excerpt from AFRAID OF HEAVEN
"Lying in a Mound of Leaves"
I lie buried
under leaves, the ground
cold beneath me
like the floor of an Indian burial
mound, roof beaten by rain,
broken windows of light
scattered through mica hallways.
I lie still
and wonder if, when I get up,
the outline of my body will
shine on the earth like snail silver.
I hear my son calling and calling.
When I burst from the mound
he screams, then laughs, then runs
into my dead arms.
Excerpt from WHISPER GALLERY