1. Why did you start writing?
"I started writing poetry because I needed a new creative outlet. I found myself wanting to express who I was, but I didn’t have an avenue. So, I took my love of writing short stories and fan fiction and started researching poetry. I always liked poetry but I didn't understand it, or the ways in which poetry communicated ideas that I couldn’t communicate in other ways."
2. I am fascinated that you wrote a whole book about phobias. Would you mind sharing the origin stories of some of those fears?
"Of course! Some of my fears are more personal than others, mainly 'on Drury Lane' and 'iron balloons.'
My poem 'on Drury Lane' is about dementophobia, or the fear of going insane. This fear was derived from a panic attack I had in a grocery store. It felt like I was disconnected from reality and everyone’s eyes were on me, watching me as if they were waiting for me to erupt. It scarred me and left me with this concern that I could lose my sanity.
In 'iron balloons,' the phobia I write about is casadastraphobia, which is the irrational fear that gravity will suddenly stop working and I’ll float into the sky. I’ve had this phobia since I was a child and nobody ever understood that fear, so I put it into words. I ended up discovering that I had two strokes before I was born and this led me to having moments as a baby in which I lacked proprioception, meaning I couldn’t 'feel' where I was in relation to the space around me. As a baby, I would start splaying my hands and legs out and screaming in terror as if I was falling, even though I wasn’t. My neurologist explained it to my parents that it’s as if I was 'lost in space.' I believe this is exactly where this phobia stems from."
3. How did you realize that you could best communicate fear through poetry?
"I found I could only really communicate these fears through poetry following a few failed attempts at getting short stories published. I kept trying to write flash fiction and short stories centered on my fears, but never had any luck publishing them, so I turned to poetry and quickly found out that I could paint a better picture in a shorter form. Poetry also helped me to constrict my language and forced me to find more specific imagery which led me to better work."
4. Now tell me the story behind ir /rational. When did you realize you had material for a book in your hands?
"It wasn’t until I learned that chapbooks were even a thing in the poetry world that I dreamed up ir / rational. Sure, I wanted to write about my fears, but it wasn’t until I learned about chapbooks through Twitter that I’d finally found my medium. I wrote down a giant list of 40+ fears and phobias. Some of these fears and phobias are ones I personally deal with, such as dolls and outer space. Others, like parasites and hospitals, aren’t fears I personally deal with but I still wanted to communicate in ir / rational.
Then, I started narrowing down the most specific ones and the ones I felt most personally connected to. I kept shaving down my list until I came to my list of 19 phobias. It was a thrilling experience because I learned so much about myself during the process."
5. You grew up in Louisiana and moved to an island off Rhode Island. Do you mind telling me about your life in the South, and your life now in New England. Has the move affected your writing?
"Yes! That’s a great question. I never felt like I “belonged” in Louisiana, even though I was born and raised down there. I just always felt like an outsider - like an alien, almost. In a way, this question made me realize that my writing tended to reflect that. In my very first published poem, White Dwarf, I write about a star who was observed but never noticed. In a separate poem, Speak Upon the Ashes, I wrote from the perspective of an elderly woman who was betrayed and left alone by the ones who were meant to take care of her.
Now that I live in New England, I find myself writing more positive poetry, such as thermodynamic equilibrium, in which I write the importance of allowing your pain to make you stronger. I also write more fun, experimental pieces, like Policy on Research Involving Human Subjects, a poem I wrote using only titles from various CIA documents."
6. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"What I hope people take away from my writing is that they can control their fear only if they confront it directly. In the final poem, nature abhors a vacuum, I write about the dangers of ignoring your fears. If you choose to “refuse to face your distorted doppelganger” and “bypass invisible walls, cheat / exploit, glitch, flail, fall” then you’ll never overcome your fears. Instead, your fear will absolutely control you, and you’ll find yourself 'screaming in permanent / vantablack fear.'"
7. What inspires you?
"I am inspired by the strange, the weird, and the macabre. I’m drawn in by people who are thinkers - the ones who know our world isn’t the only dimension that exists. I’m deeply inspired by shows like The OA, Twilight Zone, and The Dark; books like The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories; and authors like Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe."
8. What other writing project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
"I’m currently wanting to tackle 3 specific projects! First, I’m planning a novel that is based on true stories from my mom who grew up in a genuine haunted home. Her stories are bone-chilling, visceral, and terrifyingly real.
Second, I’m in the writing stages of a short film that I’m planning on filming here on Prudence Island! I don’t want to give away too many details, but it deals with nightmares and lucid dreams.
Finally, I would love to one day work on a collaborative chapbook where I write poems with someone else and we create ideas together. I think that would be so much fun and so unique."
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"I absolutely despise when people say 'Just write!' Sure, it’s solid advice in terms of getting words on paper, but it really doesn’t offer anything valuable. If you’re trying to learn to improve your writing, and you 'just write' at the same level of quality from which you’re trying to improve, then you’re just forming bad writing habits. I find more specific, actionable writing tips are more helpful, such as 'Find a passage from a book you enjoy and write it down, so you get a feel for how the words flow.' The more specific the tip, the better."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I don’t talk about it often, but I’m actually a tarot reader! I enjoy it very much and I equally love reading Lenormand.
Video games are another huge source of joy and inspiration for me as I’ve played video games all my life. Some of my favorites are Uncharted, Detroit: Become Human, and Ape Escape 3. Oh, by the way, this answer may be a clue to my next chapbook… ;)"
Hear Kaleb read his poem “double-dutch.”
Kaleb Tutt (he/him) is an author and poet from south Louisiana, now living on Prudence Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. His three loves are his dog, Sookie, Taylor Swift, and of course, poetry. His debut chapbook ir / rational is available for purchase now. You can purchase it from him directly through his Twitter at @KalebT96 or through his publisher, Roaring Jr. Press. You can also find it on Amazon. Find out more about Kaleb at his website.