Remembering Kevin Killian

Remembering Kevin Killian

Photo by Dennis Letbetter

It’s shocking what can pass in a year. I met Kevin just a year ago. Actually looking back on the photo’s timestamp, I’m seeing we’re just a week short of a full circle around the sun. He was giving a reading at the North Beach Public Library, just on the tail end of Pride. My friend had been reading “Tony Greene Era” but because she was traveling that weekend insisted I go see him. I found a copy at the Green Apple bookstore in the Richmond and totally loved the plain spoken, somber language that came out of those poems. When I arrived at the community reading room, I recall it was just me. A few minutes before the reading was supposed to start, another fan arrived. Finally, Kevin. 

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He had such a delightful way of standing at the lectern. He’d be up on his toes, sometimes rocking it forwards and backwards, before jumping into the poem.

Kevin was reading from a chapbook of his about the periodic table. The poems all had titles of the elements — and he used the elements to unfold nostalgia for the things that make up the world. A poem called tin began something like “Tin is the oldest metal” — which he conceded at the reading was categorically false. His point was that materials like tin were no longer commodities to most people, having given way to plastic and aluminum. Being bygone in memory, it is the oldest metal.

Killian possessed a handiwork that seemed so natural, like there was nothing to it, that you too might experience a fascination and sadness with the world right beside your old friend Kevin. Sometimes in the middle of a poem, he’d start giving some sort of footnote, and it was only after a few moments you’d realize — “Oh, this isn’t the poem anymore, this just Kevin chatting with us.” Without transition, he would resume the poem’s narration.

You find a in his poems a lot of pop culture, and I think one of Kevin’s great accomplishments is the way he could evoke such intense and precise emotions by writing his life in parallel to the scenes of movies and tv shows. His poem “Gold” —that I so wish I could find a copy of right now — alludes to the scene in the James Bond movie Goldfinger where Jill Masterson is killed by being suffocated under gold paint. It ends with the poem’s speaker, ready to both give up and carry through, instructing another person, preparing his Halloween costume with golden spray paint to “Tag me”.

After the reading I went over to thank him and tell him I enjoyed his work. He was glad to chat and curious why I’d be in the library on a beautiful sunny day. He asked if I was poet too — I swallowed my fear and said yes.

“Well you should send me something!” he replied.

I was delighted. I remember getting home and putting together a packet of poems to send over. I think the next day he wrote back with compliments, as well as an invitation to read at a reading series he hosted at Alley Cat books, alongside two other wonderful poets, Dia Felix and Carley Moore. It was a kindness and spontaneity that I still can’t get over, a year later.

I’d been following along from abroad the updates Kevin’s wife Dodie has been making on Facebook about his health, its ups and downs, and this afternoon learned he passed away Saturday afternoon.

Kevin passed peacefully and painlessly this afternoon, after a fierce battle with numerous health issues related to his cancer/treatment. Last night as he lay under sedation, Dodie played him Kylie Minogue songs and I read him Jack Spicer's love poems. This afternoon a priest visited and read the Litany of the Saints with Dodie and two of his sisters sat at Kevin's side. 

I’ve been following many other memories from writers and friends of Kevin share their memories. I hope Kevin’s legacy can live long and spirited.

A Long Line of Mix-ups in Georgia.

A Long Line of Mix-ups in Georgia.