Kevin Killian, In Memoriam (1952-2019)

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Kevin picked me up in Berkeley in Dodie’s little sedan. It must have been 9am, or earlier, after a night with friends in the city. I’d met Anne Waldman the day before at the ALA, introduced via Kevin’s quick generous framing of even the most causal acquaintance. Nick Dorsky said something to me I’ll never forget. But then I was in the car with Kevin, his dark suit jacket, tote bag. I was exhausted, woozy. Kevin was excited, friendly, asking questions, already telling stories. We were on the new Bay Bridge, my first time going across in light. We drove to Jack Spicer’s grave at Cypress Lawn where he shot me for his Tagged series, sexy and bookish. I loved it. The space was all magic, doused in a misty green and red glow through the stained glass atriums in the mausoleum where Spicer’s ashes are interred. It’s called a columbarium, which sounds like it should mean “mystical card catalog.” All the named golden lists. The enormously heavy doors and marble echoes. There are these monstrous ferns growing in pots. Am I remembering this right? It felt like being in a nineteenth century orb. The hangover made everything simultaneously more and less beautiful. In the back atrium to the left, a little over head high, the thin plaque for “John Spicer”—catacombs section F, niche 16, tier 4—the site that Kevin had only recently, finally, been able to find. Afterwards, we went to a Jamba Juice in a shopping plaza by the highway and gossiped. It was finally getting hot. On the way back he told me about the Rose Library’s recent acquisition of a collection of errant Spicer papers. Questionable provenance and protective high profile booksellers. We arranged for me to send him digitized copies of everything as soon as it was processed. Kevin was very generous about this, since he knew the papers had an uncollected handwritten poem in them, a gem to be included in a forthcoming collection of Spicer’s uncollected poems. The Spicer papers also turned out to include an uncollected John Wieners poem. Everything that Kevin helped with felt like it had this cascading good fortune and ease around it. He facilitated that magic. And of course he’d set up a reading, too, where I read a long poem called “Alyson Hannigan Ordered Me To Be Made,” which Norma Cole called “beautiful.” Kevin made that happen, too. This was all in May 2016, so I only knew Kevin for about three years—which is nowhere near as long or deeply as others—and nevertheless he was a gigantic force in my world. He always had something to offer or tell me about. In our emails I was “Nicky,” “dude,” “pal”—I love Kevin’s unironic cuteness. He once sent me his own signed copy of Elio Schneeman’s In February I Think—the last book published by Ted Berrigan’s “C” Press—just because. Earlier this year he wrote me a gloriously sassy and selfless note to commend me on my essay about Bill Berkson’s memoir at the Poetry Foundation. I can’t imagine higher praise. Kevin’s style of scholarship—obsessive, personal, devoted, collaborative, sharp, aesthetically luminous, endlessly curious—is one of my central guides for how to do this work. Nothing was ephemeral to him. He was a collector and a fan, which made him an incredibly generous scholar and editor. God, what else is there. In 2014 I taught two sections of a modern drama class almost entirely out of Kevin and David Brazil’s Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater—a delight. I wrote a series of poems called “Flowers and Money” after a poem of the same title in Kevin’s Action Kylie—”I give you money // and flowers, because I’m so happy and / because I want to—buy your // friendship, I want to be pretty / and appropriate, I want to have fallen.” Kevin and Dodie’s Christmas cards. His Amazon reviews. All the cute boys and kindnesses and flirty spirit. Our last correspondence was about Dodie’s copy of the Jack Spicer tarot deck designed by Russell Fitzgerald. One of my students was doing a project on astrology and the New York School, and Spicer’s deck was a key precedent. He graciously sent a volley of pictures—“snaps,” as he called them. “Ah, for you, anything.”

The outpouring of remembrances about Kevin have already been so bright and loving. It’s absolutely unbelievable how vital he was for so many folks for so long. My deep condolences to Dodie and everyone for whom Kevin’s life and presence was a daily, local, loving fixture. KK forever.


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