INTERVIEW: KELLY CHERRY
Your characters are delicious, and their lives continually break my heart, but it's always your finely spun perfect-pitch language that delights me most in your fiction. Can you talk a little about your writing process in terms of sentence crafting?
If you are right about what a character would say, you are probably also right about how that character would say it. To know the language, know the character.
Why spend that much time on a sentence that sings if most readers these days aren't interested in listening?
A question I ask myself a lot! But the music of language—the Bible, Shakespeare, Melville—swept me up from the beginning, seemed to me, always, an essential beauty. A writer makes sentences sing for the sheer joy of it.
What advice might you offer a writer just starting out about how to love language more fully?
I imagine any serious writer is born with a love of language. I've always read my drafts aloud to myself, testing rhythms, inflections, sounds. Not only poems but fiction, including novels, and essays, even book reviews. And if I'm really taken with someone else's language, I'll read the work aloud to myself. I used to buy recordings of plays and listen to the language as if it were music. Well, it is music. Laurence Olivier in Henry the Fifth—it was better than opera, because it was more interesting music. Listening to great language is a profound physical pleasure, like looking at art or nature, and the more one listens, the more one hears.
KELLY CHERRY's publications include Death and Transfiguration, poems, and the novel Augusta Played. This interview was conducted in 1998.