My sole contact with poet, librettist, performer and teacher Douglas Kearney has been online, and it's all been a pleasure. Read his post, click his links and definitely watch a video or two. This is one poet who doesn't just stand there and read.
Many thanks to William Goldstein of Pasadena's Red Hen Press for putting me in touch with smart, funny and thoughtful Douglas Kearney.
Horses mill before liquor stores that scowled with St. Ides posters.
Jump cut to a mile of deodar decked with light as pistols and champagne corks drum New Years’ Eve.
Turn to a tuning dial teetering between stations, song to hiss to talk to bzzzzz.
Sometimes—ok, a lot of times—I wonder what it means to be a poet of place. Home, block, town, city, state, region and on. How does one write of a place? “Of”, of course, as “about” AND as “composed from.” Like some of those dudes around those liquor stores would ask, “What you claiming?” which, for them, was a question of geography, allegiance and too often, life. For me, it’s a question of how to see and how to be seen seeing.
I set myself to write about Altadena. I cull my memories and I do the external research. I exaggerate, I lie, I shift a street, say Calaveras, back into its Spanish mouth and a skull leers back. And in that skull’s teeth are photographs of times I can’t remember in the house behind the house, next to the babysitters’ and ivy ivy ivy and daddy long legs. I write Altadena this way sometimes, about it. I’ve got poems that show it off like a forearm tattoo or a customized t-shirt. I boosterize like those license plate holders trilling “Beautiful Altadena” to everyone who lives anywhere else.
But more often, I write of Altadena. Composed from. The clash of coyotes and cockapoos; of the Tudor on my street and the ranch home a few doors down. Of mispronounced boulevards and illegible graffiti tags. The horses, Christmas trees and what the foothills used to do to my radio. Tension, juxtaposition, coexistence in the face of contradiction. I find that more and more, my work is of Altadena; my poetry, libretti, performance style, all seem to locate their syntax in this land.
I moved back about a year ago and I’m leaving again in a week. It costs too much, I wrote in a poem. But then I was writing about keeping the Christmas Tree Lane lit in war time. And I was writing about the darkness in my father’s house after my mother died.
She’s in Altadena’s earth.
Like some of those dudes who claimed some of its concrete and dust.
Like my poetry.
Douglas Kearney’s SkinMag, a new chapbook from A5/Deadly Chaps will be out in January. Come to the release reading at Machine Project January 28 at 8. His second book, The Black Automaton (Fence Books), was a National Poetry Series selection in 2009. He has also written a chapbook as broadsides as an lp called Quantum Spit (Corollary Press, 2010) and his first collection, Fear, Some (Red Hen Press) was published in 2006. He’s performing around town. Visit www.douglaskearney.com for details.