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Poetry, Empowerment and Play: Q&A With Art Works Artist Kevin Devaney

Posted by on July 29, 2016

Photo by Farouk Algosaibi

Photo by Farouk Algosaibi

This summer, eleven artists are transforming the MAH’s Solari Gallery into a series of open, functioning artist’s studios as part of the Art Works Exhibition. This week, the MAH welcomed poet Kevin Devaney, who can be visited in the gallery until August 22. Find out more about Art Works and follow the artists’ weekly schedules.


Hi Kevin, first off—welcome to the MAH! What can MAH visitors expect to create when they drop by your studio?

I think the most appealing thing I’m bringing here is that people can come and play with a typewriter. I have five working typewriters that people can come and put their hands on — you don’t have to be an artist, you don’t have to care about poetry at all, you can just come write your name. They’re beautiful machines and really tactically pleasing to get your hands on.

For the folks who are a little bit more interested in poetry as an art form but maybe haven’t really tried it out, we’re going to have a lot of interactive writing prompts based on other exhibits within the museum. You can take your experience here and translate that through text in a guided way.

For folks who are a little bit deeper into poetry, I have every single piece of paper I’ve been given throughout my entire poetic education from middle school to grad school. I’m also going to have bookshelves lined with every book that I found helpful in the teaching of poetry that they can flip through at their leisure. If there’s a particular topic or a particular literary device they’d like to talk about—line break, repetition, stanza—I’ll sit down and give everything in my brain happily.

Also, if anyone wants to come in and put down a packet of work to send out for publication, let’s do that together. Let’s look at different literary magazines. Let’s talk about how to format a cover letter. Let’s look at what order you want to put these poems in. If you have ten poems and only want to send in five of them, let’s sit down and I’ll give you my opinion on which five to send in. I hope people take me up on this, because there are some really awesome poets in this community and we are underrepresented in publications.

You have extensive experience sharing your love of poetry with your work on Pacific Avenue. Can you share what you do and how that experience relates to being an Art Works artist?

I sit on Pacific Avenue behind a 1938 Royal Typewriter and I write people poems on the spot by request–any poem they ask me for–and I ask people to pay whatever they think the poem is worth after they’ve read it. Now, that’s a fun way to write poems and play capitalism. I’m not going to be playing capitalism here; I’m hoping to have all the conversations I can’t have out there because I’m “working” my “job”–heavy air-quotes on both of those. So this isn’t going to be something where someone comes in and says “Hey, write me a poem about popsicle sticks.”

What I really want to do here is make a place for the creation of poetry and, in a larger sense, the written word. If you’ve got a novel and want to come in and work on your novel–please. Even just using one of these machines changes the way you write.

You’ll be hosting a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” on Aug. 5 What is this reading all about—and why Whitman?

I was assigned in a poetry class to read all of “Leaves of Grass.” [The understanding was] you can’t study poetry if you haven’t done this. So me and bunch of friends decided to have a potluck, open a few bottles of wine, and have a good time and read it all the way through. We thought it would take a couple of hours, but it’s four hours of poetry all the way through. To do it in a way that you’re using one text by one author, and hearing it, and getting all of the sonic textures of the word, I found I was able to connect with it in entirely a different way. So we decided, hey, let’s do this again next year. And we did. And the year after that.

It’s always been a really great experience, and you end up finding things in the text every time. The reason I was assigned “Leaves of Grass” is because it has been cited as the first distinctly American work of poetry, branching off from the British tradition. And there is something fun and distinctly American about Whitman’s work, so I’m really excited to hop into that. One of the other things I find most fascinating about doing this type of reading is finding out who the heck else in this world thinks that’s a perfectly legitimate way to spend their free time. It always introduces me to interesting people.

You’re also hosting the Chapbook Completion Group on August 19th. Who is this event for, and what can people expect?

The idea is that if somebody has come in a couple times, maybe even sent in some stuff to a number of publications and has a body of work they feel they want to get out, to find a group of people that are ready to put the finishing polish on a book and get it out into the world. They come with a draft that’s as close to finished as they can get it, and work with a community of writers to take it to the next level.

It’s really a gift to the community as much as it is an empowerment to the poet. It can be a force for financial empowerment if you’re able to sell it, or it can also just be a business card as a poet to be able to give somebody a book that you’ve made. It can be as little as four poems–or one really long one–or as many as a hundred if you’ve got the prolific nature to do that.

When you’re time with Art Works comes to an end on August 22, what do you hope to have accomplished?

I would like to know that more members of this community are empowered to empower others with poetic knowledge. Whether that’s a new book binding technique, a new poetic device, or just a self-knowledge of how to jumpstart themselves into the creative process. That’s goal number one.

Beyond that, I’m hoping to spend some of my time here during off hours to plan my next steps as a poet. My next successes that I’m seeking as an individual poet are to book live shows throughout the fall and winter and to broaden my publication base. Those two things are what I’m looking for.

Visit Kevin in the gallery from July 26th – August 22nd, 2016. Find Kevin’s weekly schedule and follow his Art Works experience at @santacruzmah and @kevindevaneypoet.