Kevin Burris

Pine Row Issue No. 3 Spring 2021 - Featured Poet


Red dwarf in a galaxy of green,

a match struck

against Sweetgum, Pin Oak, White Pine,

the choking greed of Autumn Olive.

Kiowa carried your blooming branch

inside to drive the winter out.

Cherokee called you liar,

Spring fire before a killing frost.

Heart-shaped leaves, late valentines

for your early flower,

once pale white above the dark bower

where Judas hung.

You blushed yourself to lavender,

so the story goes,

your shame the not-quite-scarlet letter

we read today, reflecting

brilliant Easter in an April lake.

Beauty redeems the world, they say.

It’s come again to trade

each sin for a new pink blossom.

Interview with Kevin Burris

by Pine Row Editorial Board

Has your relationship to poetry changed in any way during the pandemic?

Before Covid (or BCE if you like), I’d often go to write at a local coffee shop. I find that working in a public place provides a slightly pressurized atmosphere which enhances a sense of isolation and helps me focus. It’s a bit of a conundrum but it works for me. Enforced isolation at home has resulted in less productivity and focus - more ideas than drafts, more drafts than finished poems, lots of false starts.

What inspires you to write? Why do it?

Inspiration can come in the form of a detail or idea in which some larger sense of meaning is seeded. From there it may transition to a title or last line which further captures that sense. It’s exciting at that point to know you’ve hooked a poem and now have a chance to net it.

As to why I write, I often wonder. On a bright sunny day like this one when all the other kids are out riding bikes or flying kites or playing baseball, why sit alone in your room (or coffee shop) waiting for that special friend in your head to talk to you? This is the sort of question that starts a poem and can only be answered at the end of one.

How do your poems transition from inspiration to draft to final version?

I keep paper and pen or a phone app handy to jot down notes or an idea for a poem, often encapsulated in a potential title. I write drafts longhand on a yellow legal pad. There may be many such drafts before I proceed to a word processor.

Printing the typed version out for the first time provides a fresh perspective from which a new round of editing begins. A poem may gestate for some time at any point in the process. The final version may appear after a few days or, in some cases, years.

What book is currently on your nightstand?

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, edited by John Brehm.

Will you please name a few poet/s (or people/role models) who inspire you?

Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Billy Collins, John Brehm

Do you have access to a community of writers/artists/poets?

Not currently.

Do you have a routine, such as where and when you write?

I don’t have a routine as such. I try to write or edit every day. I write at my desk with coffee, usually late morning or early afternoon. Often I’m running lines through my head while running or out for a walk. I read poetry every day.

Kevin Burris lives in southern Illinois. His work has appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Poetry East, Atlanta Review, and many others. His first poetry collection, “The Happiest Day of My Life,” was published in 2016 by FutureCycle Press. His poem “Production” was selected by Mark Turcotte as the winner of the 2021 Mary Blinn Poetry Prize sponsored by After Hours Press.