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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Guest Author: Douglas Kearney

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.

Altadena, right?

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.

Altadena. Write.


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.

29 comments:

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I saw and heard the first utube video of Kearney... WOW, he definitely knows how to string words together... a lot of passion and rawness in the poem about his mother.... thanks for sharing...

Bellis said...

Love this description of Altadena: "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."

Only Karin can match that.

Petrea Burchard said...

I like the "mile of deodar decked with light as pistols and champagne corks drum New Years’ Eve." It made me think of the old days and people shooting off guns on Christmas Tree Lane. I hope they don't do it now, at least not there.

The videos are great, aren't they? So much energy and yes, "passion" and "rawness" are good words, Kalei.

pasadenapio said...

He was the guest artist at Mayor Bogaard's State of the City event two years ago, when he recited his wonderful poem about the Rose Parade. See it here (click on View Speech).

Trish said...

Wonderfully expressive, to the point and yet, broad enough to make you really think or it will go over your head. Love it!

Mr Kearney and I share a number of things, one of which is that our mothers are both in the earth that makes up the place we call Altadena--something I had not really thought about until reading this post.

Petrea Burchard said...

I can't get the video to play, Ann, but I'm pretty sure that's the night I was there with a migraine. I remember Doug's reading vaguely but we couldn't stay for the mayor's entire speech.

I find that true, too, Trish. It's not over one's head but you can't just skim through it. You have to pay attention!

Trish said...

Petrea---some folks just don't pay enough attention. I *love* folks who aren't putting people down with their performance, but making the audience THINK, for once, rather than being dittoheads.

Desiree said...

Quite a romp--great guest post.

Petrea Burchard said...

It's asking your audience to play with you, at the top of their intelligence, and assuming they're as intelligent as you are. ***** (that's 5 stars)

Pasadena Adjacent said...

He's reading with Wanda Coleman "the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles" at the La Canada Moonday Bookstore come Sunday. That ought to be lively

Margaret said...

So many poets in Altadena! And, of course, there is the fabulous Linda Dove.

Petrea Burchard said...

What a cool tidbit to know, PA. Thanks for pointing it out. Here's the link to the info on Doug's website:
http://douglaskearney.com/events/0129-segue-reading-series-ny-ny

I wonder if they know each other, Margaret. Linda was a guest author here last August.
http://bit.ly/nzF6UU

Douglas Kearney said...

Hey there, folks! Thanks so much for the kind words about my work.

The poem for the State of the City event is called "The Parade"; I was honored to be invited and at first a bit daunted. "Occasion Poetry" is tricky in that there are a number of expectations to meet, not least of which are the expectations one has for his or her own work!

The fire got lit for me when I decided to write something that felt kinda like the Rose Parade. For inspiration, I re-read William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Yachts."

Please do come to my Moonday Reading with Wanda Coleman. I’ll try to keep up with her. stiqua

Douglas Kearney said...

Drat! "Stiqua" was the dadgum word verification prompt.

To Trish: one of my favorite things about writing is that the writer often gets first dibs on epiphanies in the process. It struck me that my (our) mother(s) are a part of Altadena, now in a way that is somehow more true than when they were alive here.

Mountain View is actually right down the street from where I grew up. Alameda Street runs right into its green wall. In the early aughts, I would catch it on episodes of Six Feet Under.

That's another funny thing about Altadena (and L.A. in general) and notions of presence; in the last two days, I saw two different shoots within a half-mile of each other. I see that old gas station on Lake (it's got a new name now) in tons of films and commercials. Altadena is anywhere, but nowhere else.

Douglas Kearney said...

Note: Somehow these comments got posted out of order.

Hey there, folks! Thanks so much for the kind words about my work.

The poem for the State of the City event is called "The Parade"; I was honored to be invited and at first a bit daunted. "Occasion Poetry" is tricky in that there are a number of expectations to meet, not least of which are the expectations one has for his or her own work!

The fire got lit for me when I decided to write something that felt kinda like the Rose Parade. For inspiration, I re-read William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Yachts."

Please do come to my Moonday Reading with Wanda Coleman. I’ll try to keep up with her.

Petrea Burchard said...

Doug, that's very weird, because your comments came to my email in order but one of them never showed up here. Otherwise, "stiqua" would make sense. Still, I kind of like it, and everyone here knows what oddness word verification can be.

As for Moonday, I wonder if Ms. Coleman will have some keeping up of her own to do.

Thank you for doing the guest author thing, Doug. It's been really fun having you here. Come back any time.

Petrea Burchard said...

If anyone wants to go to the Moonday reading with me, shoot me an email.

Douglas Kearney said...

I don't believe I know Linda Dove! I'll find her work, though.

Linda Dove said...

I, of course, know Douglas Kearney, although I knew he wouldn't know me! ;-) We attended an LA poetry event together at Mount St. Mary's in...2008, I think? We were listening to a panel, and he asked the smartest question of the day, about whether metaphor had a verb, a conceptual question, and no one knew what to do with it...later, he read his swimchant slave ship poem and, OMG, the room just spun off its hinges, it was so fabulous.

Great guest post, P.

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm enjoying this! Glad you checked in, Linda. It would seem the two of you should meet, but as Margaret said, "so many poets in Altadena!"

Doug, you can click "guest author" at the bottom of this post and scroll down to find Linda and her links. Or use the search box at the left and put in Linda Dove.

Katie said...

Wow, thanks for this introduction to Kearney, and a new way to think about not just Altadena, but "place". I watched a few videos and have clicked on some links and definitely want to read and hear more.

Susan Campisi said...

Whoa, there's so much energy in those words. They truly do evoke Altadena. Love it.

Douglas Kearney said...

To Linda:

Does Webster's still have the book? I love what you said about trying something new. I try to think of every new poem as an opportunity to destroy my career.

Speaking of career destruction, the Moonday event is "Family Friendly" so I'll have to modulate my hollering a bit.

Petrea Burchard said...

Keep eyes and ears open for Doug. My whole point in the guest author posts is to introduce the authors to new readers and PDP readers to the wonderful authors in our midst. This one has been fun. Actually, they all have.

Petrea Burchard said...

Okay, I founds Doug's other comments. They were going into spam for some reason. So if things sound a little out of context that's why. He has now been unspammed.

Linda Dove said...

Hi Doug,

Webster's has my first collection and the more recent chapbook (based on the L.A. gang murder trial I sat on the jury for--another story in itself). It represents a big departure for me in terms of style--definitely killing off what came before (which sounds like a bad pun, given the subject matter)...

I'm sure the kids in the audience won't mind a bit of hollering. :-) I just hope you spin the book!

Douglas Kearney said...

Ha! We'll see about book spinning.

LGreenWriter said...

Okay, so I got chills just reading this...and I've never even been to Altadena. One of my first classes when back to school in '08 was a poetry workshop, and this reminds me what a joy it is to write poems. Thank you.

Petrea Burchard said...

Yeah, I like this. Read it again in a day or two and there's more. Stuff floats to the top.