Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brandon Brown Interviews Kevin Killian

Check out Aaron Kunin, Kevin Killian and music from Heads Across the Sky on Friday August 7th.

BRANDON BROWN: Kevin, you wear a lot of hats: poet, prose writer, playwright, scholar, editor, Amazon critic, art writer, and there are even more hats than all these. Because it would be impossible to ask about the relations of ALL of these activities, I want to ask about a specific one: your many-years-long engagement with the poetry of Jack Spicer. How do you, at this point, think of the relation of Spicer's literary works to your own? Are there motifs or ideas or parts of his poetics that seem particularly important to you viz a viz your own recent work? Can you separate the scholarly work and your own writing? What does that look like?

KEVIN KILLIAN: Hmm, trying to think of how to put this, but in brief, I find my own poetry more and more dependent on what Spicer called dictation, even as I have been arguing more and more that Spicer wasn’t as dependent on it as he claimed. Still, I don’t suppose I’ll ever write anything that doesn’t sound like me, and this applies to collaborative projects and even the conceptual ones as well. When I performed as Clifford Irving at the Positions Symposium in Vancouver last summer—a part written for me by the Scottish art writer Francis McKee—many accused me of having written the whole thing myself. As for my scholarly work on Spicer, I continue to try to demystify him, perhaps because he took me in at an early age when I was so impressionable. Peter Gizzi, Aaron Kunin and I are working on a collection of Spicer’s poetry and other sorts of writing that will really bring the reader right into his studio as it were. There’ll be some duds in it, perhaps, but they will be fascinating if so.

BB: As part of your reading at 21 Grand in December, you spoke at length about the musician Arthur Russell. We know you've got Kylie on smash, but what other music have you been listening to?

KK: Oh dear, I knew you would ask this! Well, since Michael Jackson’s funeral I must have listened to Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz massacre “I’ll Be There” a million times. I love her hands, the way she watches them like a mongoose watches a cobra. And what about “Will You Be There?” Wow, what a weird and plaintive track! First he had I’ll Be There, then Got to Be There, finally Will You Be There, completing the Be There trifecta, which led to constant comparisons to Being There, its eternally hollow hero just barely managing to stay in the conversation. I’m trying to finish a novel in which the narrator is continually speaking with the great divas of his childhood who give him advice on every occasion. I wouldn’t say I’m listening to Joni Mitchell, “Down to You,” Stevie Nicks, “Silver Springs,” nor Laura Nyro, “He’s a Runner,” but after a certain point you don’t have to, do you, they like heartbeats have become part of your own compost heap of a body.

BB: You've been a vital part of the Bay Area "poetry community" going back to the late 1970's. I'm not trying to live in the past, but what I'm really dying to know is what you think in general of the scene these days? Some people in my milieu find it to be a really vibrant, productive time; others think it's horribly depressing and superficial; and then every thing in between. What's your take?

KK: I don’t know, Brandon. I admire the young people trying to make a go of it in these difficult times. The scene itself seems astonishingly pleasure-mad, like the Weimar Republic, and yet what do I know? I haven’t had a drink in so many years I’m beginning to forget the urgency with which I had to quit. I’ve been in San Francisco only since 1980, so I missed out, say, on the Grand Piano period and the heroic age of Bob Perelman’s loft and talks. There’s always something that one missed out on, that one got in too late to enjoy. I think of Ebbe Borregaard as the poster boy for this feeling. He was the very last student at Black Mountain College and, it is said, arrived via his thumb on the very day the school closed forever. Some say he only made it up to the front porch and never got inside. I don’t know, didn't you feel you missed anything by lingering in Kansas City and not sleeping with Kathy Acker or whomever?

BB: What are you working on now? Last year you had a tremendous book of poetry
published, the first volume of Spicer's works was released to critical and popular ecstasy, and more. Do you have current projects you can talk about or plans? tells us all we want to know (and more) about what's going on with Def Leppard, and while provokes us, your fans want information!

KK: My new book of stories, IMPOSSIBLE PRINCESS, comes out from City Lights in November. Hooray for Garrett Caples, the poet, surrealist, editor and all around freak who has sponsored me there. In the spring, if I finish it by August 1st, my novel SPREADEAGLE will appear—it’s a book I started in 1990. David Brazil and I are editing a collection called THE KENNING BOOK OF US POETS THEATER 1945-1985, a massive compendium of plays written by poets in the long neoliberal moment. And what else? Oh, a book of my film writing called SCREEN TESTS. Yes, that sounds like a lot of projects doesn’t it? Dodie and I are also still working on the book we are writing together for Atelos Ptess. It is called EYEWITNESS and will describe what we saw in our years on the scene. It is like THE GRAND PIANO I suppose, only we started ours first, we’re just slow.

As for the website, Dodie bought the site for me as a birthday surprise, and hired a designer, but only put up one photo as a joke, and I’ve had no time to go in and fix things up to become a compendious place for all things Kevin Killian. What’s there is a photo from a marathon session from last autumn, in which the young photographer Job Piston worked with me to try to replicate some early photos, taken of me in the early 70s, also nude, stupidly drunk and nervous. And still I looked good and now just blowsy. Job Piston is sort of the West Coast version of Ryan McGinley, and he did fantastic photos of his young contemporaries naked and looking perfect, but he had his work cut out for him transmogrifying me into a subject fit for the camera, poor lad. He took literally hundreds of photos and winnowed them down to five or six pictures.

Brandon Brown is from Kansas City, MO. Chapbooks, poems in journals, readings and performances. He co-curates The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand until late August and publishes small press books under the imprint OMG!

Kevin Killian has written two novels, Shy (1989) and Arctic Summer (1997), a book of memoirs, Bedrooms Have Windows (1990), two books of stories, Little Men (1996) and I Cry Like a Baby (2001) and two books of poetry, Argento Series (2001), and Action Kylie (2008). With Lew Ellingham, Killian has written often on the life and work of the American poet Jack Spicer [1925-65] and with Peter Gizzi has edited My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008) for Wesleyan University Press. For the San Francisco Poets Theater Killian has written thirty plays, including Stone Marmalade (1996, with Leslie Scalapino), The American Objectivists (2001, with Brian Kim Stefans), and Often (also 2001, with Barbara Guest). New projects include Screen Tests, an edition of Killian's film writing, and Impossible Princess, a new fiction collection forthcoming from City Lights Books in 2009. A new novel Spreadeagle will appear in the spring.

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