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Kevin Killian

1952–2019

Kevin Killian was born on December 24, 1952, on Long Island, New York. He received a BA from Fordham University and an MA from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. 

He authored more than thirty novels, plays, stories, and poetry collections, including Tony Greene Era (Wonder, 2017), Tweaky Village (Wonder, 2014), Action Kylie (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 2008), and Argento Series (Krupskaya, 2001). He also edited Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997 with his wife Dodie Bellamy (Nightboat Books, 2017); My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer with Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2010), which won an American Book Award; and The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945-1985 (Kenning Editions, 2010), among other works. 

Killian was one of the leading writers in the San Francisco-based New Narrative movement founded by Robert Glück, Bruce Boone, Camille Roy, and others in the early 1980s, in reaction to Language poetry. New Narrative writing celebrates LGBTQ identity, autobiography, poetic disjunction, critical theory, gossip, pop culture, fable, and sexuality. Other writers associated with New Narrative include Steve Abbott, Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Mary Burger, Dennis Cooper, Sam D’Allesandro, and Gail Scott.  

He led the San Francisco Poets Theater since 1986, and was a longtime volunteer with Small Press Traffic, a nonprofit literary organization at the center of innovative and experimental writing in San Francisco, California, founded in 1974.  

Killian taught writing in the MFA program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he lived. He died on June 15, 2019. 

Kevin Killian
Photo credit: Loring McAlpin
Tags:
New Narrative

By This Poet

4

Deep Red

Deep red • the submarine blips on the cold surface
in Antarctica • as Mariner’s ship draws near •
frothy surface on the blue wave •
Life is still • so catch as catch can • still evanescent, still

Red, an oar touches the water’s rim • muscular arm buff as
Meryl Streep’s in The River Wild • in Antarctica •   
frothy surface on the blue wave • life is still • “I don’t have
many T-cells left, but I used to have 8” • “now I have 9”

Under the gristle, vein, under the vein, deep red •
the blood of my pal • deeper and deeper this tiny wave, blue
on the surface • alone on the surface •
if you were one-dimensional what would you see?
a one celled mammal swimming for dear life •
to a shore strewn with protozoa bracken • still life
“now I have 6”

the flotsam and • jetsam of living • high
and deep • this the curve that
will kill you • pal
I’m living in • your disgrace
deep • red hatchet • cells
a doll with hands • scuttles across the face •
of the sea for you
come and get these • memories

The Door into Darkness

A hand within touching distance of the doorknob.
No light, no sound, the lintel black with absence and size.

The wristwatch that talks, “Time for your medications.”
Feeling, the cold drip inside your thigh, the scent of fear.

Quiet, the set is cleared and the long spaces grow still, dark.
Bitter scent of attempted, the light, the warm hatching eggs.

Open the door, pick its hinges, flood the house with darkness.
A short burst of steam, the mailbox slot hot as his asshole,

darkness within and the field of the open human page. The
check for his pills, and a glass of water from crystal springs

tipped to his mouth: he is old now, yodelling in a sleep
indecent, cracked, his hand furtive sly yanks at a single sheet—

Pull the tubes, throw open the black wooden door and let go.
All the world staring at him from inside his own eyes

and I’m like, the hand that takes the door by the knob, firmly,
uprooted, as once I made him come with my hand, till he

couldn’t stop gasping for breath. Now he can breathe, now
he can live, now he can come, now he can write “dead” in the dark.

The Flowering Face

He read all his poems twice, thinking,
                                           “they did not hear them the first time.”

They hired a team of gay men who do this
                                            gardening gig to do it for them

If his body rots in the mouth of maggots
                                                        let’s go to Zuni

Down his throat
                                                        poured a river of beer and rum

In the coercive moonlight of Diamond Heights
                                                       his red hair, gold

He’d like the symbolism
                                             and of course the spring flowers

He was subtle, always said, “Hello my friend,”
                               as though he knew us better than indeed he did

If the words I wrote, and throw up into the sky, in his direction
                                                    mean what I think they do

Then deep into the black earth a post I dig, that says
                                       retention must be paid

I found out who he really was
                          through the name on the bracelet, pink and white beads

A couple of guys from Ireland
                                   passing through town and one says, “Die faggots”

If there was no poetry there would be no
                               toy, face, torment, healing, gladiola, prix fixe, heaven