Kevin Killian (1952-2019) and Nan Hunt, R.I.P.

Sunday morning, June 16, 2019

Yesterday afternoon, Linda and I drove up to Venice for the book launch, at Beyond Baroque, of Ed Smith’s PUNK ROCK IS COOL FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, edited by David Trinidad and published by Turtile Point Press (Brooklyn, NY). Given that Ed Smith left Los Angeles a long time ago, and has been dead for almost a decade and a half, the event was very well attended. It didn’t hurt that the line-up of presenters included Amy Gerstler, Jim Krusoe, Benjamin Weissman, Michael Silverblatt, Jack Skelley, Jane DeLynn, Sheree Rose, and myself, as well as his book’s editor, David Trinidad. It was almost a reunion party, though a bit of a somber one, since it was shadowed by the news of Holly Prado’s death. David, in fact, started the event by reading one of her poems.

Amy read a single poem of Ed’s that meditated on the history of civilization and non-civilization, and in conflating both Saphho and dinosaurs in a manifesto of sorts, Ed Smith’s poetry demonstrated its continued relevance to the maturation of our current scenes. All the readers are superb veterans, but I especially want to note Benjamin Weissman’s ability to recreate the tone and cadence of Ed Smith’s own delivery. It was the personal highlight of the entire event, along with Michael Silverblatt’s very fine choices of Smith’s poems. His selection comprised a mini-volume, in fact, that was like an EP of Smith’s work. In addition, Michael delivered some deeply heartfelt recollections of Ed’s ability to perform. The best single line of the event was Michael’s observation, “You wouldn’t believe how Ed could work the room, even when there was nobody in the room.”

After Linda and I got home, we found out that Nan Hunt has just died. In addition to a fine pair of books of poems (Myself in Another Skin; The Wrong Bride), she was an activist in our community as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets, a reading series that nurtured many poets in this area at a time when there were not that many well-curated series of any substantial duration. I hope that Laurel Ann Bogen and I can place her literary archives at a local university. They deserve such a repository.

I have also just learned (from a Facebook post by Brian Kim Stefans in response to my post on Holly Prado) that the poet, playwright, actor, and editor Kevin Killian has also died. My first thought was that he must have died in the past few days, and I was just now hearing about it, but when I went to the Wikipedia page, today (June 16) is listed for the day of his death, so this must have happened sometime in the wee hours. I am fairly sure that I saw him walking with a friend at the AWP conference in Portland just a few months ago, so his passing comes as abrupt news. If “to queer a text” is to valorize its non-normative potential, then Killian’s work in every phase of his imaginative endeavors will prove to be a major resource for future scholars, and it would be my hope that Ed Smith’s work would benefit from that expanded context and be equally aligned for its transgressive accomplishments.

In remembering Kevin Killian, I would also like to cite in particular his support of Leland Hickman’s poetry, both through his participation in the book launch of TIRESIAS: THE COLLECTED POEMS (edited by Stephen Motika; Nightboat Books) in San Francisco, but also his written praise of that book. Here are a small portion of his review of TIRESIAS:

“(T)he value of the book is twofold, it returns to print the major work of an interesting poet, and in addition it simplifies and makes legible by re-arrangement, the order and the valences of this work. It is a prophetic, shamanic work fueled by rage, grief and sudden bursts of homosexual feeling….. This new book invites us into a dark wet cave where all the most exciting and painful things are happening all the time, awake and in dreams. Somewhere there’s a whisper, “sonny, hush, stop dwelling on it,” but the roar in one’s ears drowns out that quiet voice.” — Kevin Killian

Comments are closed.