Kevin Carey teaches in the English Department at Salem State University and Endicott College. He has published two books – a chapbook of fiction “The Beach People,” from Red Bird Chapbooks (2014) and a book of poetry “The One Fifteen to Penn Station,” from Cavankerry Press, N.J. (2012). He has recently completed a documentary film about New Jersey poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, called “All That Lies Between Us.” A new collection of poems, “Jesus Was a Homeboy,” (CavanKerry Press) is due out in the fall of 2016 . He can be reached via his website — kevincareywriter.com.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your book, “The One Fifteen to Penn Station”. How did you come to write it?
Kevin Carey: Oddly enough I was enrolled in an MFA program in fiction and I met these New Jersey poets and we became friends. Because of my association with them I started writing more poetry and going to retreat weekends with them. I guess I started piling up poems and somewhere along the way I had enough for a collection.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult writing a book of poetry?
Kevin Carey: Sure, like any good writing, it takes many rewrites. At least for me it does.
Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a single poem?
Kevin Carey: It takes me a long time to” finish” a poem. I usually bounce it off my friends and turn it over for a while before it feels like it’s done. And even then, months later, I want to change things.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?
Kevin Carey: I always wanted to write, to tell stories. I dabbled in it over the years, but I don’t think I got serious about it until I was in my 40’s. I’m 57 now so I’d say over the last dozen years or so, I’ve become a writer.
Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on?
Kevin Carey:So much of what I write is related to my own experience. I like to joke that “I may not be much but I’m all I think about.” Even with fiction, like the “The Beach People,” there is a healthy dose of real people and events floating around in some form.
Geosi Gyasi: Your new chapbook of fiction, “The Beach People” is out. Can you tell us what inspired the book and what the book is all about?
Kevin Carey: I worked for many years on the urban beach where I grew up outside of Boston. It’s a wonderful place for stories. I met a lot of interesting people there. I did a fair amount of inventing story while using the inspiration from the folks I worked with and waited on during those years.
Geosi Gyasi: You teach in the English Department at Salem State University. How do you combine teaching and writing?
Kevin Carey: Just being with students is stimulating, discussing writing ideas, reading each others work. It keeps the engine running. I often write with my students in the classroom. There is a wonderful creative energy to it.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write your poem, “Chicago”?
Kevin Carey: I was visiting my son in Chicago. I stayed in his apartment while he stayed with his girlfriend at the time. I woke up on one of those gray Chicago mornings. looking out his window, and suddenly feeling nostalgic. I think I finished that poem on the flight home.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry reading?
Kevin Carey: Sure. I read when I can. It seems to go in spurts. I have a few coming up the next few months. I love reading my work and meeting other writers and poets.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary influences?
Kevin Carey: Phil Levine is the first who comes to mind. His poetry was really what got me interested in it to begin with, especially those older Detroit poems, and Maria Mazziotti Gillan. I’m a big fan of James Baldwin, Andre Dubus Sr. And I love crime fiction – Tana French, Chester Himes, Elmore Leonard. I also love Chekhov. Uncle Vanya is still one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer?
Kevin Carey: I have a lot of different interests as a writer. Sometimes its hard to focus enough on one thing to get it done. I keep jumping around. Starting things is hard, too. Getting those first drafts out. Once I have something to work with, I think it’s fun to try and get it tight. And of course there is the rejection. All the small successes have long rejection histories. That’s why it’s so great to get something published or to have a publisher agree to do a book. There’s a lot of people saying “no thanks” before that happens.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?
Kevin Carey: I wish I could say I have a certain time, but the truth is I sneak it in when I can. I’m pretty busy, teaching at a couple of different schools, coaching basketball at another. I do a lot in coffee shops around those commitments.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?
Kevin Carey: I do think hard about last lines. But I only really know over time. I may read a poem for weeks before I find the right place to get out. Often it comes with the help of my fellow writers.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your work to friends before publishing?
Kevin Carey: Yes, always. I have a wonderful writer’s group in my area, Salem Writers. The people there help me so much. And I have a few close friends I can ask to read. I’m not sure I trust myself enough to do it any other way. I either think the work is too good, and it isn’t, or I think it sucks, and it doesn’t. Bouncing it off people I trust helps me figure that out.
Geosi Gyasi: If I can challenge you to name just one book that has influenced you a lot, what would it be?
Kevin Carey: New and Selected poems by Phil Levine
Geosi Gyasi: You write drama too. Can you tell us the major difference between poetry and drama?
Kevin Carey: They both deal with voice but drama is so specific to getting that conversation right. Not that poetry can’t be conversational, it can be and often is, but getting the dialogue between characters to be believable to whatever situation you’ve invented is vital to the stage.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any rituals you engage in before you sit down to write?
Kevin Carey: Tea with honey and cream.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you feel like not writing?
Kevin Carey: Sure, but even those times I think of Steven King saying, “fifteen minutes a day will get your novel done.” I might be paraphrasing but the point is to just sit down and start. Usually when I do that I can get something done, and usually it’s longer than fifteen minutes.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part about writing poems?
Kevin Carey: I don’t know if it’s ever really boring, but it can be lonely. I think that’s why I like coffee shops. Even if I don’t know anyone there, the noise around me is comforting.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you share your plans for the future?
Kevin Carey: I’ve recently rewritten a couple of novels. A young adult novel “The Junkman,”and a crime novel, “Rumney Marsh”. I have an agent for them and they are being shopped as we speak. Cross your fingers. I’m currently writing a third novel with my friend Ed Boyle, based a screenplay we wrote together a few years ago. And I recently got a contract for a new book of poetry, “Jesus Was a Homeboy,” (Cavankerry Press, N.J.) which will be out in the fall of 2016.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think there could ever be a time when poetry will no longer be relevant?
Kevin Carey: I hope not. I think there’s enough of us around to keep it going for a while.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind asking me any question?
Kevin Carey: What do you get out of interviewing so many writers?
Geosi Gyasi: A whole lot — for instance, a number of the questions I ask writers are oftentimes those that concern me as a writer. And by so doing, I’ve applied very good responses to my life as a writer. I will continue to learn from other writers insofar as I remain in the business of writing.