I am extremely proud of my good friend Monica Wendel who won the 2015 Coal Hill Review chapbook prize for her third chapbook, English Kills, published by Autumn House Press. (A chapbook is a small book or pamphlet of poems.) To celebrate Monica’s book, we visited the namesake English Kills Creek and then discussed her writing process, inspiration, and favorite local places over coffee at the Swallow Cafe in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Shane: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Monica: Many of my poems are inspired by dreams. I'm especially drawn to the moments in life that seem strange and dream-like (a city being the "lentil capital of the nation," for example) paired with the moments in dreams that are dull and everyday (like waiting for the subway). And dreams are always inspired by real life.
Shane: How did you choose English Kills for your book title?
Monica: Weirdly enough, that came from a dream. I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and I had a dream that I was by the Newtown Creek, which forms a border between Brooklyn and Queens. When I woke, I knew I wanted to write a poem about the dream; looking on Google Maps, I saw that Newton Creek branches into English Kills and Maspeth Creek. But -- perhaps more importantly than where I got the title -- it seemed to encompass many of the themes in the book. Language, and dead languages, weave in and out of the poems. English Kills has two meanings -- it's a place, but it also sounds more violent -- and many of the poems engage with the idea of perception. Finally, English is my "mother tongue," as they say, and many of the poems are about children and their parents.
Shane: What is your writing process like?
Monica: My process starts with dream, or a piece of artwork (collaboration with the artist Paulin Paris, solicited by 7x7 magazine, inspired many of the poems in English Kills). Then I revise with the help of my long-time writing group, which usually takes place in someone's kitchen.
Shane: How do you like living in Bushwick?
Monica: Hmm, that's an interesting question. I love being in the middle of so much art and graffiti and cool bars, but it feels very temporary -- I know the landlord is going to kick us out when the lease is out, and it makes it hard for me to settle in. Also, there aren't any trees on my street, just industrial buildings. Still, I love the mix of people and purpose, the cement trucks turning behind a wall while artists and tourists walk by, drinking lattes on the other side. But I don't plan on staying.
Shane: What galleries, restaurants, and bars would you recommend there?
Monica: Galleries: There are so many to choose from! We host art shows in our loft about once a month, though we're not technically a gallery. You can't go wrong by wandering into the 56 Bogart building and just seeing what catches your eye -- recently, Life on Mars showed a series of paintings by Paul D'Agostino that I really liked.
Restaurants: Roberta's is insane, but for a reason -- it's insanely good. They have a takeout window now, so you can get a pie and eat it in the park nearby.
Bars: I love 983-Bushwick’s Living Room (and I know you do too!). The bartenders are friendly and the mixed drinks are amazing, especially this habanero cocktail that they have (El Burro Loco).
The poems in English Kills have a geographic and topical scope much vaster than Bushwick as Monica passionately describes relationships, current events, and daily life from Long Island to Europe and beyond. English Kills is available for purchase directly from the publisher Autumn House Press or on Amazon.com.