Under Pressure: Kayleb Rae Candrilli

2019 Whiting Awards winner Kayleb Rae Candrilli by Beowulf Sheehan

All The Gay Saints, Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is a 2019 Whiting Award Winner in Poetry and the author of Water I Won’t Touch, Copper Canyon Press 2021, All the Gay Saints, Saturnalia 2020, and What Runs Over, YesYes Books 2017. You can read more of Candrilli’s work here.


Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Kayleb Rae Candrilli: With particular regards to All the Gay Saints, I took an immense amount of inspiration from Hernan Bas’ painting titles, especially in the moments of the alternative title or the OR maneuver. I loved how much context he could build with one title, let alone with the utilization of two titles. A title, ultimately, is too important a rhetorical opportunity to miss. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about search engine optimization, too, and how that consideration effects contemporary poets. Ideally, I’d like my poem titles to help me be found in the mountains of data we’ve created and are creating. It takes a ton of moxie to go for that one-word title, moxie I often don’t have lol 

And too, with the continual reappearance of the Future Husband-Wife in the titles of All the Gay Saints, I credit Michelle Tea and her partnership with Dashiell Lippman, as it gave me a language for where my love is headed, and how to name it. 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

KRC: I would say I’m a pretty vigilant manager of myself. I never miss a deadline I want to hit. I always do what I say I will do. I make a point to say it out loud, though, if only to myself. 

Nobody tells you when you first start, that writing is 90% business management, and 10% actual writing (if you’re lucky). So now I try to shout it from the rooftops and let folx know that so much of poetry (if you choose to try and monetize/make a career of it) is efficient project management. You do your own writing, editing, submissions, grant applications, promotion materials, contract negotiations, manage bookings. You save your own receipts(!), do your probably complicated taxes, find reviewers, make certain reviewers get copies, make list of post publication awards and make certain you are submitted for consideration, etc, etc. 

But re: actual writing, I have always found self-imposed constraints productive, whether it’s Ekphrasis, an erasure of Creed’s “Human Clay”, somatic practices, still lives, a crown of sonnets, a sprawling sestina, a form I create, a pile of poetry magnets, I employ it all. I think I learned something valuable when my mother kept every single piece of ~kid art~ I ever made. Everything can be salvaged, retooled, reimagined. No idea is too small to find a home somewhere. 

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

KRC: I recently discovered Brian Ino and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemas. I’ve been loving those!

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

KRC: Michael Martone told me his goal for all of his students was to foster a sustainability, the sustainability to write forever. I think about that all the time. And forever doesn’t mean every day, it means your whole life, which is so different, and much easier to manage somehow. 

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  (Have you read there? Highlight bookstores/eateries.) 

KRC: I think Philly is a really wonderful literary city. I’m lucky to live in it. I probably make it out to readings less often than I should! 

But Berry Grass’ “Tragic: The Gathering” is an incredible reading series for Trans Writers, typically held at The Wooden Shoe (Philly’s anarchist bookstore). Boston Gordon’s “You Can’t Kill a Poet” is also a stellar series. & Manny Brown’s is my favorite dive—best bar food, in my opinion!

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

KRC: I really enjoy found photos, sifting through thrifted slides, finding these incredible, indelible photos. I’d like to find more time to figure out a way to present them, curate them into something beautiful. I think there are so many parallels between that love and writing, but I try to actively resist that line of thinking. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a hobby, for hobby sake. 

I also really wish I could produce EDM, which is very unabashedly my favorite thing. But have you ever opened Ableton!? So complicated. 

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

KRC: I listen to a ton of electronic music, and drink a lot of iced coffee, even in winter! Those are my morning rituals, and if I skip them, the day is typically a wash.

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

KRC: I mainly draft in the “notepad” function on my computer. Though, I definitely handwrite when my computer isn’t available. But the notepad is generally my jam. You should have seen my desktop when Macs still had “Stickies.” What a terrible mess. 

When the poem is ready to become a poem, I transfer it to a proper word document. That’s that “now you’re a real thing” moment. 

BRP: Would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

KRC: I like the idea of curation! The way I draft is such a modge podge of lines, that curation feels like the right word. I will have all these disparate images that I’ve collected in my notepad, and the work of the poem is to build strong connective tissue between them all—to use everything I’ve got. 

BRP: What advice would you offer to young writers on the topic of inspiration?

KRC: I think generative exercises are imperative—self-imposed restraints, assignments. Do whatever you can to foster a deep love and unending fascination with both words and your own ability to grow. I can point to so much of my human growth in my poems. We all have different vehicles for growth, but this is certainly mine. 

I don’t know that I love “inspiration” as a term, really. But I think that’s my, very particular (and often shifting), angle on writing. For me, it’s silly to call what is truly my “production,” inspiration. Living inside capitalism is a tremendous burden. There is a direct tie between my poetic production and my ability to buy the best dog food I can buy. I don’t think it’s useful for me to hide that truth. 

That said, I often still feel that “runner’s high” when I write. But much like running, you’ve got to get into the poem long before you feel that feeling. 

Order All the Gay Saints here!