Andrew Byrds: So, the first thing I noticed in your collection was your word play and twisting language. I haven’t felt such an uncomfortable cosines until I read the line, “Heartbreak hoe, tell ‘em all about our disirerrhea of the mouth.” Between language and narrative, what compels you more with writing?
Kim Vodicka: The sounds of language are often more interesting than telling the whole story. The whole story, or at least my version of it, might be interesting, but my relationship to writing poetry is more about capturing impressions of things rather than trying to blow-by-blow detail what I was actually thinking/feeling/experiencing. Most of what I write is at least semi-autobiographical, but I like taking it to absurd, nonsensical places because those places seem more relatable in an overall sense. I’m brash and open, but I still like to keep things to myself. I’m anywhere from brutally honest to hyperbolic about how I convey the narrative, but I save some things for myself.
AB: Would you say there is a certain persona you conjure when performing/writing? And if so, how do you use it as a means of fully expressing yourself, rather than escapism from those more autobiographical moments?
KV: I always feel like I’m being myself. If I conjure anything while writing/performing, it’s my own personal hell, or some version of it. Hell is the truth, the shadow, the blind spot, the thing you don’t want to look at—whatever that may be at any given time. I don’t just look at those darknesses and demons, I go to war with them. I relate very much to what Lorca said about the duende. It’s never just inspiration or conjuring or something coming from the beyond. It’s a struggle, a fight, a confrontation, a reckoning, but I see it more as an earthly struggle, a struggle with the self.
AB: Pop culture and sex are two overarching elements I’m noticing so far. Though you use them in a way that doesn’t take away from the emotional punches of your pieces. How do you see pop culture and sex as language?
KV: The language of pop culture is the language of machines. Pop culture is always already everywhere and yet nobody really ever asked for it. Like Elvis, it would feel dishonest not to include it because I think it shapes all of our lives, whether we like it or not. I celebrate and exorcise but also bury it in my work, which creates this subliminal, uncanny effect. Pop culture programs us, but sometimes it just sounds and feels so damn good, so like why not? I have a love-hate relationship with it, which I think comes across in the book.
There’s an interesting symbiosis with sex and language, language and sex. A chicken or the egg thing. Language is sexy, and sex is linguistic, and which came first only shows how you blow your load. It isn’t about shock value, though I’ve received criticism over the years about using sex just to shock people in my work. What’s actually shocking to me is how sexually repressed so many people still are. What’s even more shocking to me is how people will privately beat off to that which they publicly revile. I want people to confront their taboos and hypocrisies. That’s why sex as language is important. I want to force people to look at it, especially from the femme perspective, which has still never truly had its moment and may never. Language as sex fucks the shame away.
AB: I like what you said about confronting sexuality, and from the femme perspective. I’m thinking about all those gritty dude writers of the 30s, 60s, Miller/Bukowski, etc, you know the ones. And critics in those times praised the abrasive, hedonistic anecdotes of their writing. Still happens today with “masculine” writing, yet when a yet from the femme perspective it comes off as shock value or horny writing. Do you ever see this changing? Do you see a difference in the major publishing world and the indie publishing world?
KV: Female expressions of sexuality are more welcome now than they’ve been in the past, but I still feel like there’s a politeness about it. There are acceptable ways of conveying it, and if you don’t fall within those parameters, you’re othered, outcasted, accused of being an attention whore or just an actual whore, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s still a stigma. If a man writes about sex, he isn’t remembered for just the sex. If I write about sex, I get pigeonholed, regardless of the actual breadth and intelligence and dynamism of the work. I’ve often been referred to as an “erotic poet,” but I think that’s so reductive. I’m doing so much more than that, but people tend to only see or focus on that, probably because it’s still considered “shocking” for a woman to do that. I don’t see it changing unless female sexuality becomes normalized, which is what I’m trying to do by rubbing people’s noses in it.
AB: “What looks like love on an ordinary day looks a lot like a motherfucker in the moonlight” is such a badass line. Mind talking about what that line means to you?
KV: Moonlight is deceptive, and so are people. Sometimes you need to look at something in the wrong light to see it accurately. Things can and do hide in plain sight, in daylight. Sometimes you need a little bit of darkness to know what you’re really dealing with.
AB: What kinda music do you listen to? There’s something very post-punk about your turn-of-phrases. The brevity but layered use of your lines makes them echo, and they’re like rabbit punches to the heart.
KV: I cut my teeth on punk and post-punk in my teens, but I’m very genre-fluid at this point. I tend toward darker, more emotional and critical things but also have a soft spot for really dumb shit. I’m not afraid to look stupid for what I love because I put a lot of work into it. I think listeners/readers/viewers should always be active participants. I think about pretty much everything I consume—whether it’s already thoughtful and prompts thoughtfulness or is mindless and vacant and forces me to think about it in ways it probably never thought of itself. Both are interesting and valuable.
Actually, I made this playlist of songs that inspired me (whether tightly or loosely) while writing The Elvis Machine. It’s got everything from gangster rap and country blues to psychedelic rock and electro punk. So many of my all-time favorite artists are on here.
AB: If I’m remembering correctly, you’ve collaborated with some artists/musicians, yeah? Wanna elaborate on the work you’ve done, and how it influenced your book?
KV: I’ve collaborated with several musicians over the years, most recently with Jack Alberson (Memphis songwriter/musician/producer/all-around magic man) who collaborated with me on The Elvis Machine EP and really has a way of bringing out my best and driving home my worst when’s it’s had a bit much to drink. Music is my first love, and it’s more accessible than poetry, which is one of the reasons why I’ve made so many efforts to blend the two together, even though the overall effect probably just makes the work even more alienating. But I think adding guitar or synths or beats or whatever else makes the work feel more striking and powerful, more in-your-face. There’s a Flannery O’Connor quote I’m going to butcher in my paraphrasing here, but it’s something to the tune of needing to whack people upside the head with the work to really get them to see/feel it. I think that’s what music does. It intensifies and magnifies the emotion of the writing, which is important in an age when so many people are feeling numb and dead inside.
AB: I know you do performance work as well. I caught your reading at the CLASH offsite AWP event last year in Portland and you really held the audience in your palms. When you’re writing, do you envision how you’ll perform these pieces? Or do you see it as translating performance to page?
KV: I think about performance almost constantly while writing, or at least how the words will sound when delivered. I don’t write purely for sound, but it’s enormously important to me because sound always registers before sense. My poems are like sheet music insofar as there’s a built-in musicality, and poetry almost always begs to be read aloud and make its readers its performers.
AB: Do you have a theatre background at all?
KV: Not in the slightest, but I relate to the sad clown archetype quite a bit. I guess I’m sort of a born performer. I like to make things entertaining because attention spans are low. But also because being entertaining is just fun for the pure joy of it and usually makes other people feel more comfortable, which makes me feel more comfortable.
AB: I had a theatre mentor who always flashed this quote: the purpose of art is to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. Would something like that apply to your work? I’m thinking back on what you said about forcing people to confront sexuality.
KV: Absolutely. I love that. “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” My work shakes and disgusts some people while simultaneously making others feel seen and at home. It’s an uncomfortable space to occupy, but it’s also comforting when it works, even when it works against me.
AB: Speaking of which, most of your books have covers that mix sexuality with violence, especially for The Elvis Machine. There’s also a lot of doll imagery. Wanna talk about your art style, and the process that goes into making the artwork for your books?
KV: Clearly, I have a thing for Barbies. I’m not a visual artist, so I usually just go with my gut and pretty abstractly convey the general mood I’m trying to accomplish with the book cover to the designer. For The Elvis Machine, I think I said to Joel, “I want the vibe of poster for the Suspiria remake, the violence and intensity of that, except if Mattel had designed it in the 1950s.” I love camp sensibility, and it shapes almost everything I do. I also love humor, so I always want the covers to be at least somewhat funny. But I also want them to feel vaguely threatening. Cute and girly and seductive but also dangerous and ferocious and intimidating.
AB: Is there a specific piece in The Elvis Machine that hits a certain way with you?
KV: “Blunt Force Drama” is one of my favorites because of its power and intensity. It’s about how women are willing to go against each other and betray one another for the sake of male attention/approval/companionship. It was inspired by the movie Ms. 45, which is an exploitation flick from the early 80s, but it’s so much smarter than people give it credit for. I can’t really speak to the movie’s relationship to the poem without spoiling it, but the poem expresses frustration about the tendency for women to stick with men rather than band together. I see it all the time, how we call off the revolution as soon as the dick arrives, or on a less dramatic level, how female friendships and intimacy often come second to the romantic love of men. I hate it, but I get it. I get it, but it bothers me. Women should be loyal to one another first and let the men take a backseat.
AB: While reading The Elvis Machine I found myself viscerally reacting to your poems, while feeling a strange sense of comfort in the blunt, in-yer-face method of writing. Reminds me of Sara Kane. It’s like an anti-comfort or freak-folk approach to comfort, mainly because of being confronted by sexuality and all the grittiness that comes with it, but it’s still beautiful in a way. More of an observation than a question, maybe there’s a question somewhere in there.
KV: I love that comparison to freak folk, which has long been one of my favorite genres. I like things that feel damaged. Most of my favorite things are imperfect, and those imperfections are what makes them. Things that sound a little off or woozy or unsteady on their feet but have a uniqueness and pristineness of consciousness and an ability to cut straight to the heart—those are the things that speak to me, and I think my work embodies them.
AB: Finally, where do you hope to see this collection taking you in your development as an artist?
KV: I’m ready to move on. By that, I mean I’m in a place where I want to move away from the rawer, more emotional and self-indulgent stuff and try new things. I’ve been pretty loyal to poetry exclusively for the past decade. I already have a whole ‘nother poetry book written and ready to go. I want the next thing I do to be totally different in genre and mood and intent. I’m ready to write more fiction and essays and focus more on topics/ideas that don’t involve me personally.