We’re continuing with our National Poetry Month daily poet interviews, and today, man are we excited to have the inimitable Douglas Kearney. Stay tuned all month for more featured poets.
1) Do you think poetry is still important, relevant, and vibrant in today’s culture?
God, I hope so. I’ve got more books coming out soon.
2) What makes you want to write poetry?
When I can’t figure out how I think/feel about something, poetry forces me to document a kind of reckoning. Thus, if what I come up with is a really kind of effed-up feeling or thought, I’ve got to cop to feeling that way. This makes me more cognizant and understanding of difference, which makes it harder for me to close myself off from other folks’ experiences. Thus, I have to deal with others and myself with that knowledge in mind. Accountability with a beat! This, of course, happens whether I publish those poems or not—that’s what makes the writing valuable for me.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and thinker.
Harryette Mullen. She has a history of writing these pun-filled poems that get into race, gender, class—all at defcon-5 level signifying. Serious play. I’ve based so many of my notions about aesthetics and poetics on the little corner of her ideas at which I find myself nibbling. I just used her work as a springboard for a theory on “Mess” I lectured on in March. S*PeRM**K*T rocked my shit, and her collection of essays, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be is right by my bed. Like a nightlight. Or a weapon to stun a burglar.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I don’t know that she’s lesser known, but folks have to get LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK—it’s a hyper creolization of language and pop culture, and it’s funny! It’s like a custom-made Gucci flightsuit off One-Two-Fifth matched with limited edition kicks and a diamond studded kufi—Fly shit. Not lesser known enough? How about Yolanda Wisher, who is pretty well-known in Philly, but has been quiet on the national scene since the early aughts. Her book, Monk Ate An Afro will be out soon, and it is BLUE (as in alert to Blues culture and “Blue” language). In it, there’s a woman with a demon in her purse and a brilliant sequence where the SEPTA bus becomes a slaveship. Not lesser known enough? Chaun Webster out of the Twin Cities—he’s got a series of chapbooks all done in Illustrator. The words are like thorns you read—sometimes visually thorny, always pointed in content. Webster is destroying the page with this work and interrogating advertising, protest signage, Black Nationalism, and patriarchy in these vividly colored textclashes.
5) How do you feel about poetry in the age of social media?
I “Like” it. Ha, ha! ha. ha…
Somebody can tweet a line from a poem she reads and then a bunch more people can read that line, follow a link to the source and maybe, just maybe, read that poem on a Tuesday during the living of their lives. When you think about it for a minute, that’s fantastic. It may not be vetted the way we assume books are, but it is activated in folks’ lives, which is what we hope books do, too. It’s not like people stopped reading poetry before social media, but the “Share” option makes that reading more public, which is important if one thinks poetry should have a social presence.
6) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
So: After finishing Patter, I sought a different compositional vantage. Much of Patter is autobiographical, and I felt a need to move my “I” around a bit. So, to help with that, I was reading Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans (Nielsen and Ramey, eds) hot on the heels of bingeing on a Russell Atkins collection (Prufer and Dumanis, eds) Tisa Bryant gave me. Tisa’s book, Unexplained Presence, has been PROFOUNDLY important to me for its beautiful writing, keen perceptions on film/art, and its investigation of the presence of “the peripheral negro”—the black figure who serves the narrative and the massa, but has no interior life. I began to think about how certain objects in black poetries act similarly as peripherals—there to signify blackness as, say, the presence of an objectified black maid signifies a white figure’s whiteness. Yet, I also wanted to give them dreams—because of the cultural value of dreams as associated with black uplift and because dreams are often used as quickie-proxies for ambition, desire, interiority. There’s more to say, but I’ll shut up for now.
Poet/performer/librettist Douglas Kearney‘s third poetry collection, Patter (Red Hen Press) examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. His second collection, The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009), was Catherine Wagner’s selection for the National Poetry Series. He has received fellowships at Cave Canem, Idyllwild, and others. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry, nocturnes, Pleiades, Callaloo, Fence, and The Ninth Letter. His produced operas include Sucktion, Mordake, and Crescent City. Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family in California’s Santa Clarita Valley. He teaches at CalArts, where he received his MFA in Writing (04).