Bulimics Across Minnesota Smile Knowingly

As I was preparing over the weekend for my interview with D. A. Powell later this week, I ran across references to Kevin Killian, a poet I've told myself again and again to check out. I finally got myself to a library and checked out the only book of poetry ASU keeps by him: Argento Series. I just finished it on the way home today, partially because my bus was late twice in the past two days, and mostly because I couldn't (wouldn't) put it down.

I work through poetry very detectively: I attended an AWP panel last year moderated by Jim Elledge, whom I love, and heard David Trinidad read. I read David Trinidad's books over the summer and read somewhere a reference to Tim Dlugos. Then I read Tim Dlugos (LOVE*FAINT*SWOON). I read somewhere a connection between Dlugos and Killian. I added Killian to the list. I think Killian is also mentioned in the preface to Tea.

When poets know poets I like, hang out with poets I like, or work with poets I like, I tackle them in succession.

Anyway, Argento Series is a weird book, and actually timely for me. I find the universe refers me to the books I need to read when I need to read them. I'm hesitating to mention this is a book that discusses? mentions? memorializes? critiques? AIDS. I don't know how to say it, and the phrases "the poetry of AIDS" and "AIDS poetry" don't cut it for me anymore. How reductive. How irresponsible.

In a conversation I had with Sarah and Todd last night, we got to talking about AIDS poetry—in a roundabout way, I think—and I started to realize exactly what an emergency AIDS is. Unlike gay men my senior, it didn't happen to us: it was always there, it was something we talked about in high school. How traumatic to have lived through. And confusing, and horrifying, and uncertain, and emotional.

I don't want us to stop writing (talking) about AIDS.

AIDS is not banal. It's not controlled/controllable. It devastates other continents. Critics put down gay men's poetry and begin their review: As an AIDS memoir, Killian's book echoes much of what we've already read...

Poetry, in its most effective form, can be a bright light to clean up the shadows. But this monster doesn't run an hide when you flick the switch. It's reading the same books we are, knows the same things we know. Killian's book is a firm reminder to me that our work continues. We have this beast who knows us. But we make ourselves beautiful. Chains of words.

*climbs off impromptu soapbox*


  1. Charles,

    I can't imagine what would happen if we give into the impulse to stop talking and writing and thinking about A.I.D.S. and the impact it's had on American history. And don't you think there is sort of a growing and pervasive silence about it, now? As a gay man born in 1976, I share the kind of experience you describe with A.I.D.S.: I wasn't in the thick or throes of it, per se, but it shaped my subjectivity so very much.

    And when I read about it, I think about ACT Up and how they'd have "die-ins" where people would fall down in the street, and others would draw chalk outlines around them. So people all over the city could see, so A.I.D.S. and queer people weren't invisible to the Reaganite masses.

    And when I read about this, as I've been doing so much lately (tonight, it's Rebecca Brown's "The Gifts of the Body" tonight) I feel like a visitor who's come into the city the day after a huge rainstorm. I feel like I'm learning something about my history as a person in America.

    All this to say: Thanks for your post. I really appreciated it.
    -- James

  2. Charles,

    Thank you for getting up on this soapbax. It remains an important thing. As someone who came of age in the Reagan years, I remember the scary plague of AIDS. What is more scary is the fact it is still here living among us and people no longer seem concerned about it. I watched friends die. Many people who I cared for disappeared. There were no cocktails yet. And I remember men being afraid to be too thin for fear others would think they had AIDS. It was a different world. And I remember politicians calling AIDS a gay disease, something sent by God to return a real morality. The pure unadulterated hatred visible daily was heart breaking. Even physicians who should have known better just chalked it up to sin. Whenever disease and sin become equated, society is ignorant.

  3. So right-on, Charles, that I'll admit an ugly truth about myself: I know that, in the past, I have been guilty of starting to read a poem and thinking "Oh, not another breast cancer poem." Which is not to take the focus away from AIDS--just: why did I do that, feel that way? And I've heard people say "Not another Holocaust poem," Sep 11 poem, etc. Far more often than "Not another poem about cities" or pop culture or greek mythology or flowers.

    I'm thinking hard about it and not coming up with any good answers...is it because these things are so hard to write about well that we expect the same phrases will crop up, that we will be reading a poem that tries and fails to approach...? Is it because we don't want to think about these things? (for many I think this is it) Certainly we need to continue to write poems, maybe ever-bolder poems, about AIDS, and it is given to us to find ways to cut through the "saturation level" our readers may feel (whether or not we think they're bad people for feeling it. whether or not we think this should be our effing responsibility) by writing too kick-assedly not to shake them awake...not fair, no...just as it is often given to us to be the person about whom certain straight people say "Oh, I always thought gays were horrible and immoral, until I met you" (leaving me to think: yipes, what if I'd been a bitch the day you met me)?