We are proud to say that this edition of the Inpress Catalogue contains not one, but two, new books from a rising star of the poetry world, Kelley Swain. Born in Rhode Island in 1985 she is the author of Darwin’s Microscope (Flambard Press, 2009), Opera di Cera (Valley Press, 2014), editor of The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules (Whipple Museum, 2012) and Pocket Horizon (with Don Paterson: Valley Press, 2013). She is a freelance writer and educator in poetry, science, and the Medical Humanities, currently working on a historical novel based on the life of the famous astronomer Caroline Herschel. She lives in London. Despite her current prolific streak, we managed to catch up with her and ask a few questions.
KellEy Swain Opera di Cera or Atlantic?
I’m cheating to say both, of course, but they are so different. It depends on what you’d like to read. Opera di Cera is a sustained narrative, written like a book of individual poems, but in fact telling a story through a series of monologues. It’s a whole dramatic piece, but also a book of poetry. Atlantic, on the other hand, whilst also a book of poetry and also themed, is more loosely interlinked, and much more personal – it’s what I call my first ‘regular’ collection of poetry, rather than a history-of-science themed work, like my first collection Darwin’s Microscope and like Opera.
Poetry or Prose? So far, I’d say poetry. My novel, Double the Stars, took about seven years to write, and was an entirely different process from my poetry. It was a joy and a struggle, whereas the poetry rarely feels like a struggle. Whilst I feel the prose in the novel is poetic, the dialogue and narrative arc have taken a long time to work out, and in the meantime, I’ve written about two and a half books of poetry – so I’ll always call myself a poet first. It’ll be up to my readers to say which they prefer!
Science or Literature?
Science and Literature. I’ve been writing and teaching about the interplay of the two since 2007, and hope to continue along this path. It’s exhausting to continually have to say things like, ‘science and poetry may not seem to go together, but…’ because to me, they have always gone together. One inspires the other, and ‘a scientist’ has to be as creative and passionate as ‘an artist’. A person can often be both. Countless examples, from Nabokov, a novelist and lepidopterist, to Dannie Abse, a doctor and poet, break apart this false divide. This is probably
why I love working on subjects from the 1700s and 1800s, during the ‘Age of Wonder’ (that Richard Holmes writes so beautifully about) – before all of these fields were subject to false divisions.
Rhode Island or London? Rhode Island, the Ocean State is the perfect place to visit on holiday, and my immediate family and family history are strongly rooted there, so I will always love it as home. However, it’s a delight for London to be my other home now, and it’s where I can enjoy the literary and academic communities in which I thrive. There’s something endlessly romantic about living in London, England, for this New Englander.
Fact or Fantasy? Fact is most often my starting point, but after a good dose of research, I usually allow myself to break into fantasy. Opera di Cera, for example, began when I was intrigued by a reference in a paper presented at a conference, and led me to the historian Dr Anna Marker, who generously shared her research with me. After about a year in library archives, I began incorporating ideas from literature, including Pygmalion, Frankenstein, and Eugene Onegin – this is where passion took over from research, and why I couldn’t write the story as anything but poetry. Double the Stars is rooted in years of research on the Herschel family, with layers of imagination about what Caroline Herschel might really have been like, and the context in which she fit in Georgian and Regency society.
Valley Press, based in Scarborough, has been in operation for just five years but has published more than fifty books.
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