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Douglas Kearney: “I Killed, I Died: Banter, Self-Destruction, and the Poetry Reading”

September 25, 2020 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

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This lecture is a part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series on Poetry, which supports contemporary poets as they explore in-depth their own thinking on poetry and poetics, and give a series of lectures resulting from these investigations. Lectures are delivered publicly in partnership with institutions nationwide. Find out more about past, present, and future lecturers, and explore the archive at www.bagleywrightlectures.org.

While reading from early drafts of Patter, a collection about miscarriage, infertility, and making a Black family in the U.S., Douglas Kearney’s relationship to audiences at poetry gigs changed. Informed by stand-up, improvisational music, and artists from Nina Simone to the Black Took Collective, Kearney began engaging the time between poems—the banter—to activate the imaginative space of association, mess, and discomfort he pursues in his written work: live. This lecture will get into the tension between pain and its performance, comedians’ ideas of “killing” and “dying,” along with tips on how to sprint into a stone wall without getting hurt much.

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Douglas Kearney has published six books, most recently, Buck Studies (Fence Books, 2016), winner of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, and silver medalist for the California Book Award (Poetry). BOMB says: “[Buck Studies] remaps the 20th century in a project that is both lyrical and epic, personal and historical.” M. NourbeSe Philip calls Kearney’s collection of libretti, Someone Took They Tongues (Subito, 2016), “a seismic, polyphonic mash-up that disturbs the tongue.” Kearney’s collection of writing on poetics and performativity, Mess and Mess and (Noemi Press, 2015), was a Small Press Distribution Handpicked Selection that Publisher’s Weekly called “an extraordinary book.” His work is widely anthologized, appearing in Best American Poetry (2014, 2015), Best American Experimental Writing (2014), The Creative Critic: Writing As/About Practice, What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in AmericaThe BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, and more. He is also widely published in magazines and journals, including Poetry, Callaloo, Boston Review, Hyperallergic, Jacket2, and Lana Turner. His work has been exhibited at the American Jazz Museum, Temple Contemporary, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and The Visitor’s Welcome Center (Los Angeles). A librettist, Kearney has had three operas staged. He has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, as well as residencies/fellowships from Cave Canem, The Rauschenberg Foundation, and others. A Howard University and CalArts alum, Kearney teaches Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Born in Brooklyn, but raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family just west of Minneapolis.


September 25, 2020
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
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