INCONVERSATION

An Increased Clarity of Address: KEVIN KILLIAN with Tony Leuzzi

 

Kevin Killian

“That’s an awful lot of me,” Kevin Killian observed when I sent him proofs of the interview that follows this introduction—“Do we need it all?” On the surface, such candid self-effacement seems unlikely in a writer whose work is so searching and confident, but Killian’s apparent lack of ego may be connected to his fascination with makeshift art. Born and raised on Long Island, Killian moved to San Francisco in 1980, where he discovered the importance of process over product. In a moving essay called “Tony Greene Era,” from his 2017 book of poems with the same name, he notes “how deeply California art has invested in failure and contingency,” and that “[a]ll our great artists had an attitude towards the market that was, to one degree or another, a big fuck you. They would make their artwork out of rags and biscuits if they liked, they would make things so ugly and so temporary they would fall apart when you brought them into the light of day.” This is not to say Killian’s writing, and by extension the work of fellow New Narrative progenitors, is slipshod or flimsy. Rather, his comments reinforce what he revealed to me in a 2009 interview for EOAGH: “It’s all in the gesture. It doesn’t matter if the poem is good or bad. What matters is the gesture I’m making with it. It doesn’t have to be great.” Despite this acknowledgment, Killian’s poems frequently achieve greatness: intellectual, playful, occasionally irreverent, and sometimes as ardent as a campy torch song, they appear to be channeled, or—in the manner of the poet’s hero Jack Spicer—dictated by a source outside of the self. If that seems a bit mystical, the poet’s use of modernist techniques directly responds to a more technical tradition. In the same 2011 interview, Killian discussed his collage-like approach to poem-making: “It’s not just pop stuff but also the very fiber of the canon, the ‘great works’ that I wind up tearing up and making my nest with.” One of the results of this approach is a poetry as allusive and occasionally crabbed as a Pound Canto, an eclectic blend of literary history, theater, Marxist theory, the visual arts, and popular culture.  Google helps, but sometimes Killian’s references are so intimate that what carries the poem isn’t a theme or message as much as the intensity of the language. (One can observe this in the three poems—“Apache,” “Get Outta My Way (A Sestina),” and “Cyborg”—reprinted in full with permission below the interview). Each of Killian’s four full-length poetry collections asserts itself as its own project rather than a continuation of what has come before. Nonetheless, the poet’s Tony Greene Era resembles his Argento Series (2001) and Action Kylie (2008) insofar as all of these titles have been concerned with reclamation and atonement—a twin project that Killian also brings to his fiction. 

Tony Leuzzi (Rail): Tony Greene Era is comprised of five sections. I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, each of these began as a separate project. Could you spend a bit of time outlining the focus of each of the sections and then discussing the degree to which these are either discreet projects within a larger book or interconnected segments that contribute to a larger, over-arching theme?

Kevin Killian: Very wise, Tony! A couple of the sections could stand on their own as smaller projects. “The Birth of Pallaksch” is a long poem, in five parts—just as the book itself is made of five sections—and it’s followed by two poems I wrote at the request of some editors who were editing an anthology of cyborg poems. I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, actually, but cyborgs have made huge inroads of the entertainment public, haven’t they? Like zombies! Fifty years ago, did people even know what “He’s a cyborg” means? I don’t know, but mass entertainment has trained all of us about the particularly poignant condition of the half-machine, half-human. Then I included some of the poems I wrote for the New York editor Loren Olson, who was creating a project and a book called Feelings: Soft Art (Skira Rizzoli, 2017). She asked me to create some poem drawings, such as the ones I had been working up for the Swiss-born, NYC-based artist Ugo Rondinone. When it came time to print Tony Greene Era, they couldn’t show the drawings for the poems, but rightly or wrongly we believed that the poems work with or without the expensive-to-print color drawings. All the material in this section relates to me, to the question of origins—our birth stories, creation myths, the beginning of consciousness, and so it seemed proper I should group them together—at the beginning—as I drew closer to me the materials of the book, like the sun drawing in the planets.

The second section, “Yellow Clay,” is pretty much the same thing! I pay homage to a variety of influences: Pasolini, Mallarmé, Kylie Minogue, Elaine Stritch, Nabokov, and so on. I took my hand to haiku during this period, and I began a series of poems about the elements (a series that continues to grow). During this period, SFMOMA paid homage to a native son, the sculptor Mark Di Suvero; and Frank Smigiel, Andrew Kenower, Lara Durback, and I made a book in honor of Di Suvero’s 80th birthday—a maker of giant works, bigger than the moon, as Katy Perry would say! And all these poems seemed to wind up in “Yellow Clay.”

“Pink Narcissus” reprints many of the poems from my chapbook, Pink Narcissus Poems (The Song Cave, 2017), written to honor the great American physique photographer James Bidgood, whose work I got really into after reading my friend Bruce Benderson’s Taschen book about him. Bidgood directed one film, Pink Narcissus (1971), which I have always taken as his nod to Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947), as if to say, how great would it have been if Michael Powell had been gay instead of just British?

Part Four, “Valentine,” returns to the lyric formations of my very first poems, and Part Five, “Exhausted Autumn,” tells the story of the painter Tony Greene as an allegory for life, death, and life returned. “Soft Art,” “Pink Narcissus,” “Eyes on the Prize,” and the “Cyborg” poems might have each of them grown into full length books, but either I hadn’t the energy to grow them, or my strategy had changed, and it wasn’t necessary or wise to complete a serial poem. One must just act as if that was one’s intention and then stop anywhere. That way you stay fresh, no? 

Rail: In the lovely, penultimate essay, you identify Tony Greene as a Los-Angeles-based painter whose AIDS-related death in 1990 at the age of thirty-five robbed the art community of an important artist. In this way, Tony Greene and your observance of him in this book seem an extension of the same project of reclamation and atonement you began in your first book of poems, The Argento Series. Would you agree with this? Also, could you speak to ways in which Tony Greene and his work—two separate concerns, I suppose—serve as appropriate metaphors for the overall book?

Killian: I’m not trained as a historian, but I bring a biographer’s sensibility to poetry and I think your choice of “reclamation” and “atonement” to describe my projects is spot on. I took on Dario Argento, the filmmaker, as I had taken on my work on the poet Jack Spicer, and as I would in the future approach the Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, as unique subjects united (in my imagination at least) as three artists who were not being appreciated anywhere near enough. Like Carl Van Vechten and like Thornton Wilder, I’m an enthusiast. I wanted to change the map of cinema so that Argento would be revealed as the filmmaker who told more of the truth about AIDS than any of his peers or successors. I wanted Spicer to be the poet whom students would be able to turn to when they had finished reading O’Hara or Baraka or di Prima or—or Milton. And I wanted Kylie to be appreciated as the greatest entertainer of our time—after having first taken her as a talentless doll, so that was my atonement.

Rail: As a related question, in the same essay you acknowledge that in writing about Tony Greene you recognized “how deeply California art has invested in failure and contingency.” This is a fascinating proposition. Broadly speaking, how does a California (West Coast) aesthetic and/or artistic sensibility differ from, say, an aesthetic and/or artistic sensibility identified with New York (East Coast)? Does the former deconstruct certain assumptions about art, reputation, and permanence that have been developed on the East Coast?

Killian: When I came from New York to San Francisco, I experienced a sea change I couldn’t understand right away, but after a few years of living outside its orbit, I began to scrutinize New York’s hyper-realistic (capitalist?) drive for perfectionism, which before I had so valued. But it took a year or more living in San Francisco among untidy poets and frankly bad artists to realize, maybe New York’s too critical? Rebecca Solnit’s first book, Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era, made it clear that the Bay Area, at any rate, outside conventional markets, allows its artists to take risks, and to make work that did not depend on what the market demands. You could work, like Jay DeFeo did, on a painting like The Rose because nobody is waiting to buy it. It may just go into the junkbin, and that would still be all right. Writing works that way too. I think this is true all up and down California—that “failure” doesn’t have the death sentence that it does in New York.

Rail: As someone who has read all of your books of poems, I found Tony Greene Era more accessible to an audience who might have otherwise never heard or encountered many of your references. Although numerous specific allusions to art, popular culture, literary theory, and historical events inform these poems, I felt a warmth and intimacy here. I didn’t feel as if you were writing for a small group of people. How do you strike this balance in your work?

Killian: Thanks, Tony. I don’t think that writing for a small group of people is all that bad. Jack Spicer wrote each of the poems in After Lorca and in Admonitions for specific people—a couple dozen altogether; and in the sixties he wrote much of The Holy Grail “for Tony,” and then a later section, for “Tony (another Tony).” Because of West Side Story, the name Tony jumped into popularity about that time, and because of Tony Curtis and Tony Conrad, Tony became sexy. You, Tony, must have had poems written to you, but that doesn’t preclude them from others understanding them, does it? But let me think about making that move, from O’Hara’s personism into the sort of address one might make to a whole host of imagined readers. To “everybody.” It makes sense, doesn’t it, that these times we’re living in call for an increased clarity of address?

Kevin Killian

Rail: In so many of the poems, song lyrics as well as dialogue from movies and other forms of media are seamlessly layered into the lines without preparation or mediation, as if these textures come of their own volition. Is this an unintended effect, or do you revise lines to make them emerge more percussively?

Killian: I’ve always used a lot of quotation, I suppose, but while answering your question, I’ve been going back and forth with the scholar Dale Martin Smith, who has been editing the correspondence between Charles Olson and Robert Duncan (as well as Duncan’s lectures on Olson) for University of New Mexico Press. Basically, it was about the way that the folk materials Harry Smith gathered into his famous Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways, 1952) wound up being quoted in all sorts of cultural contexts in the next ten years, so that you had Bob Dylan on the one hand, and Jack Spicer on the other, rewriting “The Ranger’s Command” at pretty much the same time and independently of each other. As you know, most of the records Harry Smith collected were from previous generations, going back to the earliest home-made recordings, so the material in them was even then antique—of another order of history. My contention is that, as Spicer entered his last years—last years! He was only forty when he died!—the old music of his grandparents’ generation crept into his own poetry more and more, and I think the same may be true of my methods today. Why write a poem filled with angry vows of revolution when Norman Whitfield already did it so much better with “Ball of Confusion,” or “War (What Is It Good For?)” Sometimes I think all my poems are but glosses from a couple of Laura Nyro LPs I listened to obsessively when I was sixteen and seventeen.

And also when I give a poetry reading live, I can interrupt the poem itself and sing eight or ten bars of whatever song it is I’m quoting. This seems to go down especially well with Stephen Sondheim numbers, like the line from “I’m Still Here,” from Follies, interpolated into my braggy poem about mastering the sestina, “Get Outta My Way (A Sestina).” 

One of the poems, “Leave It Alone, It’s All Gone,” is composed entirely of Harold Pinter’s lines from the 1964 Joseph Losey film The Servant. My constraint was that each line had to be spoken to Barrett, the titular manservant, played by Dirk Bogarde, who seems to wield a sinister hold over his supposed master, James Fox. I don’t know, we have a friend called Barrett, and I just started taking down all the lines where Barrett is addressed, or his name used in some way. A love song to an absent Barrett, yet with the insinuating undertone of a speaker in desperate straits. In the book, the poem appears without a single citation, and maybe I should have said who wrote every word of it, but I didn’t. Does my patchwork formation justify such appropriation? Perhaps not, and one day I’ll hear from Dirk Bogarde’s attorneys, I presume. 

Rail: Another feature of many of these poems are the various formal strategies you used in composing them. In “Get Outta My Way (A Sestina),” you write: “What’s the worst thing that could happen… / To be trapped inside this sestina.” How do formal exercises liberate you? In what ways might they become traps you need to break out of or escape from? 

Killian: I do admire people who can write sonnets and villanelles, and sometimes I have been moved by them, but in even the best one, there’s an element of braggadocio that in my fearfulness I find irksome—the Al Jolson “look-ma-no-hands” approach. But at the end of the day I empathize with formal strategists because a poem is such a tough thing to write that one does it any way one can. Dodie and I gave a reading at the museum here, and Stephen Motika and Photi Giovanis came, and afterwards at dinner one of them said, “I noticed that every poem you read had been commissioned by this one or that; is there anything you write for yourself because you want to?” That was a telling moment. The truth is I do have a lot to say—maybe too much—but a poem is so hard to write that sometimes I lean on formal devices (“This one is a pantoum!”), and sometimes a contract with one hundred dollars attached is the only thing that lights a fire under my ass hot enough to get me to finish the darn thing. Or even ten dollars really. Or just to be asked.

Rail: Do you see your books of poems as progressions, one emerging from another, or as discreet projects that have their own life? When we evaluate an artist’s work, for example, we tend to think of that artist’s work linearly and assume progression is part of the overall portrait. Do you find this to be the case with you?

Killian: Oh dear, again, I don’t really know. For me, each book is a different project, and yet when I look at my work in that steely, self-critical way one is supposed to, I realize it’s all pretty much the same bolt of cloth. If anything, my work is an eternal regression, for in each book, I find reason to include poems from earlier and earlier periods. For example, this book has “Pasolini” in it. That’s the poem first published in Shiny International, Michael Friedman’s magazine, thirty years ago, which somehow the late John Ashbery read and liked enough to put it into the very first volume of The Best American Poetry, and that put me on the map. “What map?” I know you’re asking, but for decades I’ve felt impervious to being ignored by, you know, the San Francisco Chronicle or Lambda Literary Review—by this invisible shield protecting me that was Ashbery’s esteem for my one poem expressed so tangibly in that one word “Best.” But my jewel, “Pasolini,” didn’t have the right context to show it off in, until the walls and landings of Tony Greene Era were hauled up on cranes to make a city. This backfires sometimes, too. In my last book Tweaky Village, I reached back so far into the past that I put in a poem I didn’t write! It was one David O. Steinberg wrote in 1982, and finding it in my notebook I was sure it was mine. Was my face red when the facts came out! The ironic thing was that Publishers Weekly named his poem the highlight of my book.

Rail: I was fascinated by your response to my “contingency” question. You stated: “When I came from New York to San Francisco, I experienced a sea change I couldn’t understand right away, but after a few years of living outside its orbit, I began to scrutinize New York’s hyper-realistic (capitalist?) drive for perfectionism, which before I had so valued.” What seized my attention more than anything was the parenthetical, which refers to the capitalist model of art production. I see this in a lot of writers today: a book must come out once every two or three years, and there must be a certain number of poems published in top-tier journals in order for it to be deemed on par with previous work. 

Killian: When you give a reading in New York you are always enjoined from reading anything that you didn’t write within the last few weeks. The appeal of the new. Though now that I’m a heritage artist that shouldn’t matter as much. Nobody says to Stevie Nicks, “Now please don’t sing ‘Landslide!’” Right?

Rail: I wish someone would. I’ve heard that song too many times. But you are right. A heritage artist—which you are not—is wed to his or her past achievements. Ironically, Stevie has been doing a bit of what you called in one of your formal answers “eternal regression”: most of her new material is based on very old demos. It’s great stuff.

Killian: Wow, I didn’t know that about Stevie working off of old demos! Anyway, I think my reference to capitalism was about the idea of the market. How to monetize poetry (or writing in general). Maybe I would have done better in NYC, and I might have landed an agent and still kept my outsider cool. But here there are so few markets—how can you even tap them?

Rail: Is that freeing?

Killian: Yes indeed!

Rail: With regards to your “outsider cool,” when I read books like Action Kylie and Tony Greene Era, I think, “These are entirely honest, uncompromised projects. They exist outside of certain PoBiz expectations.”

Killian: Thanks. But I shouldn’t exempt myself out of the poetry business entirely, like St Francis of Assisi. I did in fact get an agent now that I think of it, and he’s in NYC. I’ve done well, but perhaps now it’s a case of what the art world calls the “EFAs” (Elderly Female Artists, who were all the vogue a year or two ago). If you keep doing the same thing for decades, eventually someone notices. Carmen Herrera had a great solo show at age one hundred!

Rail: And what—if it can be summed up in a few sentences—is the same thing you’ve been doing for decades that is now getting you noticed?

Killian: Well, it all goes back to being a member of the New Narrative school. It was a group of writers and poets who learned from Bob Glück and Bruce Boone that traditional narrative was a tool of the State—the bourgeois always ended with a wedding and a family, and beyond changing narrative around, we learned that genre itself is a trap, or at best a marketing strategy. And so, without fear of failure, I became all these things, instead of trying to be Henry James Junior as I was trying to in grad school. It was what I was good at, but in California, I learned that you don’t have to be good at something for it to be worth trying. I became a poet, a playwright, an art writer, a novelist, a photographer, a teacher, a biographer, a husband. All these things, none of which I was really all that great at.

Rail: Genre as a trap. I can see you pushing against conventions of genre even as you celebrate them: the sestina poem “Get Outta My Way (A Sestina),” an essay about Tony Greene sandwiched between poems. Heck, even your most respected poem, “Pasolini,” isn’t entirely conventional. I’m at a loss as to how to read its two columns aloud.

Killian: It’s like a game of charades. The speaker on the left gives the clues, and the speaker on the right supplies an answer.

Rail: Are you speaking both parts, or does someone read the poem aloud with you? Or does it even matter?

Killian: Either way is fine. It’s a riddle like the poems in the old Anglo Saxon book of riddles—can’t think of its name right now. The riddle part is cryptic, but the answer is always something earthy and indelicate, like “my scrotum.”

Rail: I know the poems you're talking about. How…Germanic.

Killian: The Exeter Book!

Rail: Ah, that’s right! “Exeter”—it sounds so glamorous, doesn’t it? And yet the poems are about scrotums. Back to genre: even as you push against its conventions, I see you reveling in its pleasures, particularly in your novels. Spreadeagle, for example, is a real page turner.

Killian: Thank you. I always wanted to write a thriller with a surprise ending, for my favorite writers are people like Agatha Christie and Charlotte Armstrong, and finally, in Spreadeagle, I wrote a book with a series of surprise endings.

Rail: I love that book. I remember reading about its imminent release back in 1994. When it finally surfaced in 2014, following the publication of a series of other very satisfying fictions, I was thrilled.

Killian: It took me so many years to write because of, oh, I don’t know, a delay in figuring out how to respond to a world that was changing so rapidly. I didn’t want to publish a book set in 1991 and the era of AIDS activism. I didn’t want to write another historical novel like my first two. I wanted something set in the present. I wound up publishing with Publication Studio, which had the gimmick as a press of printing a date stamp on the spine of the book when they printed you a copy on demand. I internalized that by including, on the day I sent in the final manuscript, the big event of that day—which happened in my case to be the day Whitney Houston died, so all the characters talk about that tragedy.

Rail: When you outlined each of the sections of Tony Greene Era, you mentioned that the fourth section, “Valentine,” “returns to the lyric formations of my very first poems...” Can you talk about your training as a poet and where that training led you? 

Killian: I picked it up as perhaps most kids do—from the books my mom and dad had lying around our house. They had Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Rilke and, well, not all of them were great—they had losers like Robert Penn Warren, and so on. In school, we learned some carefully culled poetry shaped by the politics of the era—the new criticism, developed to show the world that America’s vaunted freedom trumped leftist dissidents like Langston Hughes or Lola Ridge. My parents didn’t turn me on to the Beats, though. Those I found for myself—or what am I saying—on the cover of Time magazine—more marketing, I guess. But I was ripe for rebellion. My dear, I was growing up in Smithtown, Long Island. Even the flowers in our fields and the stones in our brooks were ripe for rebellion.

Rail: “Apache” is a visceral poem. What can you tell me about it?

Killian: Do you know the “Apache” dance performed by scornful professional dancing couples in French bar-rooms?

Rail: No. I can look it up later, though. Thanks again, Google.

Killian: Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalbán perform one in On an Island with You, and many MGM couples were put through this dance. Bob Fosse worked many variations on it. It’s a violent sort of dance in which the social relations between a pimp and a prostitute are exaggerated and made thrilling. 

Rail: And how does that conceit connect to the list of suicides mentioned in the poem?

Killian: James Bidgood, the sixties beefcake photographer, did a series of “Apache” photographs involving two men hurling each other to the floor in abbreviated costumes. So I wrote a poem about it. It involves falling, like the suicides I conjure up in the poem. Buster Keaton lost much of his bruited mobility by a nasty fall in an Apache number he did for a lesser MGM movie. There’s a romance to throwing yourself away, one I wanted to analyze in that poem, and also to think about the mystery of suicide and the cult of glamor attached to it. How many great artists succumbed to it? Right here in San Francisco, we have a huge suicide target called the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ll send you the link to a classic Apache dance, and you will see the connection right away. The French borrowed the name “Apache” from the tribe, for racist reasons I shouldn’t even bother you with right now.

Rail: I didn’t know the full context behind the Apache dance, nor did I fully understand how it connected to the suicides, but it doesn’t matter. The intensity felt right, and I felt that “zero at the bone” Emily Dickinson talks about, even if I couldn’t intellectually articulate what the language made me feel.

Killian: In effect that’s what I feel when looking at James Bidgood’s photos—impossibly saturated with beauty and excess and cunning. I go into shock.

Rail: I also appreciate the tie-in with MGM. It’s a way of linking the very unlikely realities of musicals with the gritty realism of desperation and suicide.

Killian: Maybe I lived too much in the movies, so that, like Myra Breckinridge, nothing can happen to me in real life that doesn’t remind me of Borzage or Bresson or Akerman.

Rail: You mention abasement at the end of one poem, “Pickpocket.” I’m wondering what being abased means to you and how that kind of experience figures into your work?

Killian: Hmmm, well, in the poem, the kid who is the speaker imagines the sun, which disappears at night, as being brought into the woodshed and “based,” and that’s ambiguous, but in my day, being sent to the “woodshed” implied you were going to get your ass whipped—and perhaps there’s a hint of sexual abuse in “Pickpocket” as well. The intrigue of sexual masochism (and sadism) has always been a big thing in my work. I took to Bataille the way some poets turn to Marx and Engels. I should add that it also implies an affinity with what Tennessee Williams called the “fugitive kind”—the nomadic, the desperate, those with nowhere to go, precarity awaiting them at every turn. So that there is a Marxist, utopic layer to Bataille as well of course. 

Rail: Do you think abasement as you describe it is particularly compelling to gay writers and readers?

Killian: I was about to say, “Perhaps not so much anymore, now that gay identity has been turned into yet another marketing category,” but on the other hand the astounding popularity of Garth Greenwell’s novel What Belongs to You suggests a yearning for abjection may never totally go away? So—yes.

Rail: Last question: If you were to take a cyborg as a lover, what would you want it to be like?

Killian: To lend me some of its propulsive, city-building energy, to raise me above his head as we careen through the burning, vertiginous chasms of the ruined city, to always carry a little supply of Goobers in his pocket—and yes, to support the same sterling ass as its progenitor, the Oscar statue from the Academy Awards.

 

 

APACHE

 

            His cap looked like a bicycle seat, Apache

            said to be a dangerous dance for tough louts in Marseilles

            dragging their dames behind them like cavemen in some

            Nicole Eisenman allegory of modern urban social pressure

and the transparency of nostalgia—

            Think of how many swear by Nabokov, still, the absolute

perfection of the word crossed by the smack of translation, one is

always moved by how Russians suffer here, where the language is too

small for their rivenings.

            Were you ever in love with red stripes on your pants,

            or were you teary-eyed then, your scalp ablaze,

            dragged along sawdust-slick barroom floor in the provinces,

where he was an Apache and you a kind of brass spittoon with

attitude.

            “Splat!” It is the sound of the sixties,

            Diane Linkletter from a great height,

            Ana Mendieta from a great height,

            Sherlock Holmes fell from the Reichenbach Falls, that great

soul stilled forever or at least until the adventure of the empty house.

Donny Hathaway, 15th floor of the Essex House in New York,

the windows rattling with soul, his beautiful body wrecked on the

courtyard.

            Hart Crane, Weldon Kees, look up at me and take pity on a

man so patchy.

            Crane, Kees, from the sea’s dark bottom your mocking

glances comfort me, you have gone to the place of apache.

 

 

GET OUTTA MY WAY (A SESTINA)

 

As a party game, we used to ask, like Kylie Minogue: “What’s the

worst thing that could happen to you?”

 

I don’t play that game no mo. I’m lucky I guess, but is there such a

thing as occurrence without agency? inside the belly of the sestina,

 

I survived just like Elaine Stritch,

The life inside the sestina of Scotch,

Bringing those key words back again and Stritch,

At the close of the sestina, I’ll have a Scotch.

 

She sang about all the things she survived, did Elaine Stritch,

The ladies who lunch, J. Edgar and Herbert Ho-oo-oover, and Scotch,

Plugged in my bowels a silicon of pewter, rub it, it will stritch,

What’s the worst thing that could happen to Scotch?

To be trapped inside this sestina with the Memphis blues a Stritch,

 

If so I could be the poster boy for Scotch

 

Now I’ve showed you what I’m made of, Stritch.

 

Now I’ve showed you what I’m made of, Scotch, Stritch.

 

 

CYBORG EVENTS

 

Matt Damon flat on his back, a needle in the skin between his thumb

            and hand, and when he awakes,

 

a metal apparatus like a cross has been thrust into and out of his

            nervous system, in Elysium, the aspirational luxury satellite

            all plebes hope to reach one day.

 

He’s Max, speaks Spanish,

 

with an Italian name, apparently the only

 

white man in Los Angeles in 2054,

 

the populace, unruly, is looking to get out.

 

When I got my arms and legs embedded I could crush walnuts

 

with my nuts, I was a rampage on legs,

 

a tripod shoots out of my butt should I choose to sit,

 

These, the cyborg events of my lifetime, were rubbed into my cortex

            like lanolin long ago, in childhood, when I knew one girl,

            and one nun, and wrote their names on my skin with my nail.

 

F + M with a halo over our names,

 

I guess it’s female and male, and the halo I meant as “forever,”

 

Funny how I died, but the cyborg events came true, Jack,

 

everyone became a citizen and Obamacare chambers flew down to

            earth in the belly of a big white bird.

 

It was on a treaty we signed,

 

with the human figments that became Jodie Foster in extremis, sort of

            a Jacobean period for the star I once loved the best?

 

Felt I could do anything—

 

                        —yet the power of correction remained with the state.

 

Contributors

Tony Leuzzi

TONY LEUZZI's books include Radiant Losses and The Burning Door, both collections of poems, and Passwords Primeval, a book of interviews with twenty American poets. His next book, Meditation Archipelago, will be published by Tiger Bark Press in early 2018.

Kevin Killian

KEVIN KILLIAN has written three novels, a book of memoirs, three books of stories, four of poetry—most recently, Tony Greene Era (from Wonder Books). For the SF Poets Theater Killian has written forty-five plays, and the anthology he compiled with David Brazil—The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater 1945-1985—has become the standard book on the subject. Recent projects include Tagged, Killian’s nude photographs of poets, artists, and writers; Selected Amazon Reviews, Volume 3, edited by Dia Felix (from Essay Press), and brand new, with Dodie Bellamy, a New Narrative anthology called Writers Who Love too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997, from Nightboat Books.

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