YOU MUST CONTINUE AT ALL COSTS
Kevin Killian is a prolific novelist, poet, playwright, photographer, and Amazon-reviewer known as one of the original New Narrative writers. He’s also the author of the new poetry collection TWEAKY VILLAGE from WONDER, 2014. It’s a wild and ranging collection of poems/narratives that deal with the author’s response to free-market capitalism, the constraints of the English language, the repetitious nature of porn, and much more.
I first met Kevin whilst TAing for Dodie Bellamy’s infamous “Writing on the Body” class at San Francisco State University. Kevin Killian taught (and still does) at California College of the Arts. One day Dodie was absent and her partner, Kevin, arrived as the substitute teacher. (What a pleasant surprise!) We performed one of his plays featuring Kylie Minogue and a host of 90’s celebs, unpacked some abject bodily poems, and left with our minds forever altered. I remember Kevin engaging a student who had very conservative/fundamentalist views about sex and drugs. Kevin kindly and patiently explained that sometimes you need those kind of experiences to figure out what kind of life you want to have. Here Kevin discusses making up for lost time, neoliberalism, genre collapse, loving Arthur Russell, San Francisco’s shifting economic landscape, Santa Claus as Bill Clinton, his photo project “Tagged,” and on and on and onward.
Matt L. Rohrer: Hi Kevin! Thanks for doing this interview! I LOVE TWEAKY VILLAGE Could you tell a bit of the story behind this book? What was going on in San Francisco, in your life, in the world that spawned these poems?
Kevin Killian: Thank you Matt. I suppose it is a book of defeat really. Just as while writing ARGENTO SERIES I came to realize how little I had done to stop the march of AIDS, TWEAKY VILLAGE is me wrestling with how little I did to combat neoliberalism, which manifests itself visually every time I walk out my door and see the new, hyperwired global capital that is San Francisco today. Another thing that happened is that I began teaching and thus mixing with younger people and the contradictions of their beauty (or youth, which is the same thing), and the shrinking possibilities our world, our country holds out to them makes me feel implicated in the very system I detest.
Kevin Killan’s summer reading picks:
While waiting for Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton to appear from Les Figues later on this summer, I’ll recommend a few books I know are already out. Fairyland, by Alysia Abbott (Norton) is the memoir of a young woman who grew up in the Haight-Ashbury, the only child of a single gay dad, and what happens when AIDS comes in to blow up her fragile world once again. Steve Abbott was a talented poet, thinker, novelist—and the man who coined the expression “New Narrative,”—one of my very first friends here in San Francisco. He’d be proud of the way his beloved and beautiful daughter has returned him to the world he left.
I’ve been reading Dance for Export: Cultural Diplomacy and the Cold War with much pleasure this weekend and last. In recent years I’ve come to understand generally that the Cold War of my youth impacted just about everything in culture too, as well as ideology, and that the US government secretly poured zillions of dollars into a propaganda game against the Russians to convince the world that, say, US abstract art was better than old-fashioned social realism. Naima Prevotz’ dance history brings us unto the Betlway and Manhattan boardrooms where specialized panels met to debate which US dance troupes were worthy of international exposure (Martha Graham, Jose Limon), and which were too avant-garde (Alwin Nikolais) or too politically suspect (Katherine Dunham). In general the US has always been eager to show the rest of the world what nice guys we are, and what great artists, and you know, for years I believed it. Now I see it’s all been a charade of spy vs spy, money vs. money.
Some of this general background plays out in Rachel Kushner’s new novel The Flame Throwers—a book that needs no introduction from me but a stunning one nevertheless. I’m one who loved Telex from Cuba and have resented the years that have limped on by while I’ve been slavering for a new Kushner novel! Now here it is and I’m still in awe. Her novel of a woman driven by speed and curiosity to flout transnational borders in the service of avant-garde art reminds me so much of one of my old favorites, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. But it’s as if there where a Joan Didion who knew about art instead of finding it, like all modern practices, ridiculous and appalling.
June 13th, 2013 / 11:05 am
by Kevin Killian
Publication Studio, 2012
590 pages / $16 Buy from Publication Studio
There are moments when Evan Lysacek or whoever is figure skating on video. Where what you hear is the intense carving sound of the blade on the massive expanse of ice (that and tacky music); where what you see are limb size hocks of sparkling lycra (that and wisps of breath in the cold); where it’s about precision, carnival and also about risk, and where it feels like so much is at stake. There are moments like this when reading Kevin Killian’s new novel Spreadeagle: his wit as sharp as any Jackson Ultima Blade, his prose as sparkling as any Sharene and this novel as breathtaking, terrifying and exhilarating as a five rotation axe.
A figure skating move isn’t all that the title Spreadeagle might conjure up. It’s also a heraldic symbol, a ballroom dance move, a bondage restraint, a sexual position in which the legs are splayed akimbo, a method of a particular species of jumping spider swimming and the shape of the body adopted just prior to undertaking a sky dive. All of these seem like apt references, all in one way or another appropriate to the power play and textual and sexual politics that play out in this book.
The novel itself is spread spatchcock into two quite different – though linked- parts. The first is the very best sort of comic novel, with all the wit, humour and deliciously droll dialogue of “A Nest of Ninnies” or “What’s for Dinner?” It takes place in the grand San Francisco home (so grand it’s mistaken for an embassy or a museum) of novelist Danny Isham. Danny is the author of the successful Rick and Dick series of gay novels (so wildly successful that he’s perennially mistaken for Armistead Maupin- even by Francois Ozon!) and his partner is Kit, an activist, who, as we meet him, is returning from Cuba surrounded by a troupe of Kylie Minogue-obsessed holiday makers.
January 28th, 2013 / 12:00 pm