SJU Writing Studies Blog

Gender & Poetics: An Interview with Kevin Killian

This interesting piece is brought to you by Writing Studies student Krisann Janowitz. Thanks, Krisann!

Photo Credit: Brittany Humann

Photo Credit:
Brittany Humann

 

Kevin Killian Photo Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation

Kevin Killian
Photo Courtesy of
the Poetry Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, I attended a lecture at Temple University given by the San Francisco based artist Kevin Killian titled “Gender & Poetics.” Killian is widely known for his three novels, multiple short story collections, forty plays, and two collections of poetry, all primarily exploring LGBT issues. At the lecture, Killian presented his latest venture– “The Bulletin Board,” in which he took photographs of primarily partially naked men holding up a hand-drawn picture of male genitalia to their actual genitalia. He also read a few of his poems. After the lecture, he gave me his personal email and thus began the best email exchange I have ever experienced. Killian’s thoughts on gender identity and the art of writing poetry are utterly enthralling.

Krisann Janowitz: First, I’d like to say thank you for that very interesting lecture. I also really enjoy your poetry. I read quite a bit of it online. I find the unapologetic nature of your work enthralling.

My first question was how much do our genitals or gender have to do with our identity both as a person, and specifically as poets? Gender and also sexual orientation seem to play a big role in your work and I wonder if it plays the same role in everyone’s work. Are some people just ignorant of its influence whilst others (perceivably like yourself) are more aware and speak to it more often as a part of that awareness?

Kevin Killian: While maybe I’ve thought more about it after photographing so many guys (well, mostly guys) with their clothes off, and asking them about their feelings about their genitals, I expect almost everyone must realize to one degree or another that our gender assignment plays a huge role in our social development. If doctors and parents (you might say the “state” in general) see that I have a penis when I’m born, they set me on one track right away; if they see a vagina, I am raised and categorized in quite a different way.

KJ: To follow up, how does sexual orientation kind of mess with these “assignments?” Does the expanding understanding of sexual orientation, and even gender, actually challenge the black and white “categorizations” or do you think we will continue buying blue items and Tonka toys for boy baby showers forever?

KK: Yes, you are right, sexual orientation does mess around, as you put it, with gender assignment, leading all the way up to gender reassignment, actual corrective operations our great grandparents could never have dreamed of, and hormone infusions that induce in one the mindset of the gender one was meant to be. I was thinking that in the digital age, you have the age where sex partners don’t even have to meet each other so that I, for example, could pretend to be Rihanna, and vice versa, so that the actual status of our sex organs seems easily overcome, while they go sour on the vine from lack of use. Gender vestigial, and that’s why all those photos of the guys who have somehow lost track of where the drawing is in each photo, because it was no longer important to have it nearby, least of all as a tag to identity.

KJ: I also had a couple of questions about your poetry. Even with the poems you read at the event, pop culture seems to be a theme in your poems. Whether you are making references to famous actors and actresses or brands like “Oil of Olay” referenced in your poem “While you Were Out,” aspects of popular culture seem to appear often in your poems. My first question is if this is intentional and if so, why? Is it a statement on the prevalence and importance of popular culture? Or is that possibly an influence from Jack Spicer, who also seems to do this a bit in his poetry?

KK: It’s not a statement per se maybe, but think of the pop culture in my work as a sort of texture, or tone, rather than a theme. I have little to say about pop culture exactly; but I do know how it can flavor a poem and make it maybe not so assertive or didactic as other sorts of reference. Imagine if I quote from Britney Spears rather than, say, Aristotle. That will give the poem a more playful feel, won’t it?

KJ: At your lecture, you expressed that Jack Spicer is a major influence in your life. How, then, has your poetry been influenced by Jack Spicer?

KK: I have been working on Spicer for over 20 years so it wouldn’t be surprising if my poetry did take after his. I do believe that in general I don’t write my own poems; I try to make my brain empty, like a mayonnaise jar scraped clean of the last scoop of mayo, and trap the words that float into the jar, like fireflies, and the poem is the jar lit up by fireflies, but I don’t really know what they’re saying. That, Krisann, is my own version of the poetic mechanism Jack Spicer called “dictation.”

KJ: I read in a 2009 interview that you said “It doesn’t matter if the poem is good or bad. What matters is the gesture I’m making with it.” Many critics would disagree and say that of course poems can be good or bad, although they often don’t state the practicalities. So, what does it mean for a poem to make a “gesture” and how do you know what sort of gestures poems are making?

KK: Maybe I spoke too broadly or rather too narrowly, for I was thinking of the gestures one would make if one was Jackson Pollock—the sort of work art writers call “gestural”—that might be big jagged brushstrokes, or maybe Pollock’s drip, drip, drip style.

Think of a poem that replicates some big gestures, and what I meant was that the poem itself didn’t have to be well crafted, but if an idea or gesture was visible in it, then it has a sort of integrity of its own.

I guess I’m talking about conceptualist poetry. But my photo project will perhaps better underline what I mean. If my photos are technically good or bad they are carrying out an idea that I had that interests people, and thus they will be interested in it, maybe more so than a series of well executed pictures that have nothing to say or show, or nothing to challenge people with.

What is good and bad is subjective, but what is gestural, not so much. I wanted to be an artist, not a poet exactly, and what I mean was to make a poem the way an artist makes art.

Outside of that, I am from California, where we have a great interest in the contingent, more than in other parts of the country—we welcome accidents, we don’t mind when things go wrong, we make work that won’t last, that’s partial, that doesn’t aim for the perfection of New York City or Philadelphia. That has long been a hallmark of the California artist—in the 50s they called such work California funk-junk assemblage. Make it out of junk, make it out of wax paper, it will soon disintegrate but in the moment of making, my God, it was vital.

I know a lot of this must sound goofy, and trust me, not everyone agrees with me about this, but that’s what makes a ballgame.

KJ: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer all my questions. It has been a thrilling exchange.

Krisann Janowitz writes poetry and loves connecting with other poets. Feel free to email her at krisann.janowitz@gmail.com.

To learn more about Kevin Killian, visit his link on The Poetry Foundation’s website.

2016 Villanova University Literary Festival

Here is the line-up for the 2016 Villanova University Literary Festival.  All readings are at 7pm and are followed by a reception and book signing.  The festival is free and open to the public.  

 

Gregory Pardlo

January 28: Gregory Pardlo

Cinema, Connelly Center

Gregory Pardlo’s ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Digest​ was also shortlisted for the​ 2015 NAACP Image Award and is a current finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors​ include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. Pardlo’s poems appear in​ The NationPloughshares, ​Tin HouseT​he Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American PoetryBest American Poetry, and elsewhere. Pardlo lives with his family in Brooklyn.

Daniel Torday

February 11:  Daniel Torday

Speaker’s Corner, Falvey Library

Daniel Torday is the author of the novel The Last Flight of Poxl West. His novella, The Sensualist, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction. Torday’s stories and essays have appeared in Esquire Magazinen+1, The New York TimesThe Paris Review Daily and Tin House. A former editor at Esquire, Torday serves as an editor at The Kenyon Review. He is Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.

Jean Valentine

February 23:  Jean Valentine

Radnor/St. David’s Room, Connelly Center

A longtime resident of New York City, Jean Valentine was named the State Poet of New York in 2008. Her first book of poems, Dream Barker and Other Poems, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1965. Subsequent collections of poems include The River at Wolf (1992), Little Boat(2007), and Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, which won the National Book Award in 2004.

Glenn Patterson

March 17: Glenn Patterson

President’s Lounge, Connelly Center

* In conjunction with the Heimbold Professorship in Irish Studies

Glenn Patterson was born in Belfast and educated there and at the University of East Anglia where he studied for an MA in Creative Writing under Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. He is the author of eight novels and two works of non-fiction. His plays and stories have been broadcast on Radio 3 and Radio 4 and articles and essays have appeared in the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Independent, Irish Times, and Dublin Review. Before coming to Queen’s University Belfast as writer-in-residence (1994) he was Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia and writer-in-residence at University College Cork. He has also presented numerous television documentaries and an arts review series for RTE. A film, Good Vibrations, co-written with Colin Carberry, was due for cinema release in 2013. In 2008 he was awarded a Lannan Literary Fellowship. He is a member of Aosdana.

Asali Solomon

April 14: Asali Solomon

Speaker’s Corner, Falvey Library

In conjunction with the Ida B. Wells lecture in Africana Studies

Asali Solomon is the author of the novel Disgruntled.  She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for her stories collected in Get Down, her first book; the volume was also a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. In 2007 she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. Solomon teaches English at Haverford College. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two sons.

Four Questions for Dr. Aisha D. Lockridge

lockridge

Dr. Aisha D. Lockridge

We have absolutely the best professors in the Writing Studies program!  Read on for Dr. Lockridge’s take on our four questions:

What is your current writing project? (Or do you have a link to a recent publication you’d like to share with our grad students?)

Much of what I write springs from common practices: teaching, participating in Black popular culture, and reading widely. Currently I am working on a manuscript chapter which examines the limits of racial passing set against the potential relief available in the vexed relationship between strategic essentialism and Afro-Pessimism in Matt Johnson’s Loving Day and will debut part of it at the 2016 College Language Association (CLA) Annual Conference. Initially inspired by Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, I am also completing a Revise and Resubmit article for Palimpsest on the performative possibilities of ignorance and ratchetedness as strategic tools for survival.  And finally, I am providing a link to an article, “Practice and Performance: Teaching Urban Literature at the Less than Liberal Arts,” published in Hybrid Pedagogy on my experience discovering the real value of, and methods for, teaching difficult texts in inhospitable environments for the good of students, teachers and institutions of higher learning: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/practice-performance-teaching-urban-literature-less-liberal-arts/

What are you reading, for work or pleasure?

I just finished Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and am making my way through Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, and a stack of undergraduate essays examining the gendered and technological connections between Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Alex Garland’s film, Ex-Machina.

What are you listening to (music/podcast/radio program)?

Last download: Erykah Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone. In current heavy rotation: Adele’s 25, Sza’s Z, Alice Smith’s She, B.O.B’s Strange Clouds, Bryson Tiller’s Trapsoul. I regularly listen to, and liberally quote from, the weekly podcast “The Read”.

When you’re not on campus, where’s your happy place?

Today, it’s reading a good book, completely undisturbed, in bright, natural light.

Website: aishalockridge.com     Twitter: @AishaDamali_PhD

Thanks for participating, Dr. Lockridge! Think I’ll check out those books you mentioned.

 

Ryan Halligan’s Parting Words for Writing Studies

Ryan Halligan is our next volunteer for the Parting Words questionnaire.

halligan

Ryan Halligan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any parting words or shout-outs to share with current students and faculty?

Thanks to the director, faculty, and administrative staff of the Writing Studies program—all of them top notch. Thank you as well to my classmates who dedicated thoughtful responses during workshops and raised the bar by sharing their fantastic writing.

A special thank you to Father Brennan for his guidance and valuable input as my thesis advisor.

Which Writing Studies course or course reading was most interesting or useful to you? Why?

Creative Nonfiction with Dr. Spinner and Poetry with Professor Stanford. Both were workshops, and both invaluable. The genres share a real kinship: writing as a journey to discovery.

How do you plan to use your Master’s Degree in your career?  

I plan to teach as an adjunct for a part-time second job. Coursework like The Writing Teacher Writing with Dr. Green has motivated me to consider teaching again. Also, I’m going to keep up my practice of writing and submit, submit, submit.

Do you have any tips for future students about choosing classes, juggling the workload, or writing a thesis?

If you work full time, go easy on yourself and maybe take one or two classes at a time. Working inside of your available time and space allows for getting the most out of the course. The program’s catalogue offers a good range, so choose the classes that suit your needs/tastes/career goals. Don’t forget to try something                   new, as well.

Thanks for your input, Ryan, and congratulations!

Four Questions for Dr. Jo Alyson Parker

Dr. Parker was good enough to answer our four questions.  Check out her musical interests!

Dr. Parker in Cape Breton

Dr. Parker in
Cape Breton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your current writing project? (Or do you have a link to a recent publication you’d like to share with our grad students?)

I’m currently working on a paper for the International Society for the Study of Time conference at the University of Edinburgh. It’s tentatively titled “Eternal Recursion, the Emergence/y of Metaconsciousness,and the Imperative for Closure,”and it deals with a genre of modern fiction and film that my co-author and I are calling time-loop narratives (such as Kate Atkinson’s novel Life after Life or the film Edge of Tomorrow). My most recent publication is “From Time’s Boomerang to Pointillist Mosaic: Translating Cloud Atlas into Film.” A brief excerpt from it can be accessed at the following link:

https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/substance/v044/44.1.parker.pdf

I’m also the Managing Editor for KronoScope: Journal for the Study of Time. We have an online subscription in our library, so you can check it out there.

What are you reading, for work or pleasure?

I just finished Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of her deservedly acclaimed Neapolitan novels, and Laura Lippman’s mystery Hush. I’ve begun reading Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink.

What are you listening to (music/podcast/radio program)?

My Pandora stations are probably a good indicator of my, well, eclectic musical interests: Elvis Costello Radio, Bobby Short Radio, Stephen Sondheim Radio, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Radio, Talking Heads Radio. And the Beatles, of course.

When you’re not on campus, where’s your happy place?

My happy place is the covered swing in my backyard on a not-too-hot day in summer. Sometimes I’m out there by myself with a book. Sometimes I’m with friends and family, ideally sipping Campari spritzes and nibbling on cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and cheese.

 

Thanks, Dr. Parker.  I plan to investigate those Pandora stations!