Unapologetic collaborator Kevin Killian on Pepsi, Joe Jonas' eyebrows, and Action Kylie
Kevin Killian is an inveterate and unapologetic collaborator: even when writing solo, there's always another presence. Whether he ventriloquizes through this other, or assimilates or deconstructs it is the reader's call, and it's a difficult one to make. The poems in Killian's most recent book of poetry, Action Kylie (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 128 pages, $15) are places where T.S. Eliot's cats LOL, Antonio Banderas anagrams to "no brains on a date," and Kylie Minogue's derivativeness is more compelling than genius. In the process, Killian sinks probes into public-celebrity exchanges that increasingly substitute for news. On the eve of the book's upcoming release party, I spoke with him about Kylie, Amazon reviews, and Ted Berrigan's Pepsi addiction.
SFBG When I first saw you in person, I noticed that you were drinking Diet Pepsi. Pepsi is also mentioned in the book, Kylie having been a Pepsi spokesperson. And there's a video from a band called Ssion, a cover of the Young Marble Giants song "Credit in the Straight World," that starts with the singer drinking from a Pepsi can. So I've kind of had Pepsi on the brain. Didn't Kylie do a Pepsi ad and get shit for it?
Kevin Killian Yeah, at a low point in her career she did a terrifying ad for Pepsi in Australia. In it, she's on TV in a sexy video and a young boy, like 11 or 12, is watching. He opens a Pepsi, and she's there in his bedroom, sitting on his lap, and is really tastelessly grinding into him. That video was too raw to be shown very widely. It wasn't classy what can I say?
SFBG Since the cola wars are over, I was wondering if there was some sort of cachet to Pepsi.
KK It was Ted Berrigan's favorite drink. I didn't know him, but I saw him a few times, and he guzzled it down. He would get a little antsy if he didn't see a quart of it somewhere nearby.
SFBG There seems to be a kind of split between Action Kylie's first three sections, which are explicitly focused on Kylie as a subject, and the last four, where her relationship to the writing is less obvious.
KK The book was written roughly chronologically, and I guess my sense of her was so deep it's part of my identity now that she's in it equally all the way through. I'm thinking of incidents, circumstances, apparitions of her that maybe aren't visible to you in those later poems.
SFBG The Action Kylie essay "Kylie Evidence" and the huge number of Amazon reviews you've authored collapse a lot of different registers. They're not exactly straight criticism, or uncomplicatedly ironic. There's a strange cacophony in the way they're constructed, going from Wikipedia-style omniscience to something intensely personal. When you identify with Kylie as a "second- or third-rate talent," it's hard not to feel like you're giving yourself short shrift, because that kind of writing does something that's pretty rare to both "creative" writing and journalism or criticism.
KK It wasn't really a way of fishing for reinforcement, but I realize that's what it does. I had spent years and years writing about Jack Spicer [resulting in the 1998 biography Poet, Be Like God] and seeing his status change from a kind of cult figure into [an element of] the canon. When I started writing [2001's] Argento Series, few knew [Dario] Argento; now everybody does. There's something about the situation of the cult figure that's always exasperated me. I don't like it, for some reason. I couldn't figure out why.
When I started working on Kylie Minogue, I was drawn to her because she was a figure who seemed to me, at this one moment in 1998 or 1999, to have absolutely no talent. You know, she had something, but she had no talent, at all, period. And it's the same old story: she is fabulous, it just took me a while to understand how. But it was a great period to be a fan. I think my essay was written in that tone.
SFBG Your Amazon reviews could be a conceptual project. Some of the lines are really killer, such as your description of Joe Jonas' eyebrows being "like crow feathers feathers from a 600-pound crow."
KK Well, when you do something every day ... I had written about a thousand [reviews] before I realized that was an enormous number. I'd write three or four a day, and sometimes they'd be in themes: I'd pick up a dictionary and see a word "midnight" is one I remember. I'd realize I knew a lot about books with "midnight" in the title or movies, or records so I would just do 40 of them, all about midnight. Maybe here or there there'd be something I actually didn't read.
SFBG I wanted to ask about the Kylie lyrics that preface your book, "These are the dreams of an impossible princess."
KK It comes from an actual LP called Impossible Princess (Deconstruction, 1998). She took the name from Billy Childish, who had a book of poetry called Dreams of an Impossible Princess.
I'm having a book out next summer from City Lights, and it's called Impossible Princess. It's impossible for me to be a princess because I'm a man, beyond everything else, and there's that kind of futility, that ambition to be something other than what you are, that drove her, and that drove me, I guess. Every year you're alive, you'll see some possibilities diminishing behind you, things you'll never be. The good thing is, new windows open up, things you never thought you'd want. I never thought I'd write about Kylie Minogue, and what's worse is that I can't stop writing about her, either.
THE NEW READING SERIES AT 21 GRAND: KEVIN KILLIAN AND STEPHANIE YOUNG
Sun/14, 6:30 p.m., $5
415 25th St., Oakl.