Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about the poet Jack Spicer, whom you have written about, Kevin? Why he is influential to today’s young poets?
Kevin Killian: I have sometimes been asked why Spicer has influenced young poets. I often answer glibly that young people are the only ones who can swallow Spicer’s dogma abut the serial poems and perhaps most of all about dictation a glamorous sense of the writer’s life when I was a boy. I respect young people too much to blanket them all with the same wonderful willingness to fall into belief, and also, there’s another aspect to Spicer that kids like, his indifference to organized bullshit, Sometimes, one feels, he’s perverse for the sake of being perverse, a position some young people take when they want to feel different than other people.
JW: Jack was influenced himself by Garcia Lorca and other poets. Was it difficult for him to be gay, a gifted writer, and have his work accepted?
KK: Spicer was influenced by so many poets, it’s been wonderful to work out the connections, and not all of them entirely clear. Recently the poet and scholar Nick Sturm sent me one of Spicer’s unfinished poems from the Goldwasser archive, now owned by Atlanta’s Emory University. Reading this fragment would convince a skeptic that Melville’s Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852) was a book very important to the young Spicer. His connections to the other poets of the so-called “American Renaissance” of the 19th century—Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Hawthorne and Poe among them—had emerged previously, but not one to Melville, I don’t think. And why was a young man a hundred years later taking an interest of the poets of the Civil War period? Marketing, it has been cynically proposed: suddenly with the dawn of the new critics the American Renaissance itself had been theorized, named, identified and sold to academia.
Was it difficult for Spicer to be gay? I think it probably was, and perhaps that’s why he got engaged to a woman. I believe that when he had his first sex with George Berthelon, that it convinced him he had not been intellectually honest with Kate Mulholland, his fiancee, so I credit him with being a lot more “out” than most of his contemporaries. Was it difficult for Spicer to be gay and a gifted writer? Just the opposite; being gay doesn’t make one a genius, but it does provide a hearty helping of the “difference” molecule that a writer needs to write anything good. And his poems were not accepted very often during his brief lifetime. That might have been because of their gay themes.
JW: What will your next book be about?
KK: Thanks for asking, John. Next month, Kenning Editions of Chicago will publish STAGE FRIGHT: Plays from San Francisco Poets Theater, ten of my own plays written over decades, roughly from the years 1985-2018. The SF Poets Theater is an ad hoc group not only of poets, but of filmmakers, painters, artists, designers, musicians too, and I’m the head of it—well, the de facto head at any rate;
JW: Could you tell us about writing “Hustlers” with Eve Fowler? What attracted you to this subject. Are you influenced at all by Pasolini’s writings?
KK: Eve Fowler is a wonderful photographer from LA, with a great interest in gender and a similar interest in language. Stein is her pash. Fowler photogaphed many, many male hustlers in the Southland in what was then their native habitat, the streets, in the 1990s.How times have changed! By the time she began to develop the negatives 20 or 25 years later, sex work was largely set up in the online world. Many boys never see the sun today. Fowler didn’t want a think piece from me, she wanted a narrative, a fictional story that would tell her readers what sex work was like when these guys would stand on a corner, on their own turf, and the cars would slow down, a window roll down, the hustler approaches the car and he either hopped in or he let the trick go. Another world!
I don’t know much about Pasolini except for his movies and his biography, Eve didn;t pay me in money but in something more precious; very kindly she offered me a print of any of the photographed hustlers in exchange my story, “Prosper Street,” I chose the guy in the garish of outfits, a leopard skin bikini, basking in the sun. The assignment was all about trash and I went for it.
JW: How about writing “Extasis” with Peter Valente? What may have inspired this writing?
KK: A similar exchange. Peter, well known for his superb translations from European languages, got a camera and photographed a woman approaching orgasm and living through it. Just a young woman, photographed in the dark, you can barely make out her face in some of the pictures. Peter envisioned a text that would reveal what might run through a young woman’s head while getting off and for some reason he didn’t want to write it himself.
He asked me what I’d want to write this piece. And when I told him he chuckled and agreed. You know, John, that I make photographs myself. For a series called TAGGED, I have asked dozens of people, most of them guys, to take off their clothes and pose naked, or nearly so, for often they hide their junk with a lifesize, cartoony drawing of a cock and balls drawn by the US artist Raymond Pettibon. There are some variations, but that’s what I basically want them to do—it’s my attempt to investigate American masculinity and the cult of the penis. How abut you, John, have you done much modeling? Would you be interested in participating in a project like this? It’s fun. I’d have to get proof first that you’re “of age,” as they say.