Michael Keenan wrote "Song of a Man Who Has Come Through Dream Cars" and "Strawberry Well," both of which were featured in the debut edition.
What is the first thing you’d like to tell us about yourself?
When Carlos Lara and I auditioned for the characters of Damon and Stefan Salvatore on the Vampire Diaries in 2009, and at the last minute didn’t get cast, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. Hollywood made sense. The role of Damon Salvatore made sense. I was lost. Carlos moved to Argentina to work with Reynaldo Jimenez and I moved to New Orleans to study Voodoo. I ended up moving back to Alchemia a few weeks later and renting a room above a bar called The Salamander where I bussed tables for 20 dollars a week. This honestly felt like an odd move to make after two long, strange years in Providence, Rhode Island.
What do you like to do?
I like to drive around. I like to look for connections between unlike things. What I like most is finding connections between unlike things that no one else will ever find and then telling Paul Eluard about it and him nodding in that knowing, familiar way that he nods when I tell him something he understands completely.
Tell us a little about your day to day life.
On the trainride downtown I often think about John Berryman’s Dream Songs, particularly Dream Song 14, and more particularly, the lines “Peoples bore me,/literature bores me, especially great literature/Henry bores me with his plights and gripes/as bad as Achilles…” That’s generally how I feel on a day to day basis. New York seems to me to be about the most boring place I’ve ever been. In a taxi uptown the other night the poet Lisa Donovan said she sees horror whenever she stops for a moment to look around New York. I see boredom.
How do you feel right now?
Like I can’t wait to leave New York. I’m counting down the days. I’ve been counting down the days.
What exactly bores you about New York?
It’s not exactly New York that bores me so extensively, although it is. I suppose it’s the poetry scene, or the idea of any poetry scene. I feel by this point in my life that writing is a luxury, and writing poems in particular is a luxury. At a certain point in my life, I felt like I wrote to survive. Each line made existence just a little more bearable. Now I don’t feel that way at all. On the trainride home tonight I realized that what interests me, what truly interests me, in fact the only thing that interests me, is wisdom.
I mean wisdom as it’s seen through the lens of Buddhism, through Andre Breton, through the meeting of the marvelous and infinite awareness. Through chance encounters as enlightenment beyond language, as obtaining the ineffable, as really getting there, as waking up forever.
Would you like to tell us what you mean by all that?
I mean that there’s more to things than my favorite essays by Charles Simic and the best poems of Cesar Vallejo, and more to everyday life than new indie rock and hoping to sound intelligent around the right people at the right time. I mean I’d like to pull a Rimbaud and never write poetry again. And that I now understand how that’s relevant and real and perhaps the greatest decision ever made.
But you do have a book of poems coming out? Will it be your last book?
I do. And it won’t. The book, TRANSLATIONS ON WAKING IN AN ITALIAN CEMETERY, will be out from A-Minor Press incredibly soon. I’ve written other books that aren’t published so it most likely will not be my last book. And I most likely won’t stop writing poems. What I said is that I understand, at this point in life – after all the turmoil and heat and sickness and health, after participating in the perpetual rat-race to the American stars – that Rimbaud made an incredible decision. To not be a phony. To live a simple life. To live without the burden of culture. To live without the burden of living as culture as a means to survive and subsequently, fortuitously, habitually, as fitting yourself into the dream of this culture which will seem like science fiction to people much less than 100 years from now.
How do you feel about facebook?
I don’t feel about facebook.
Who is your favorite poet?
Duvey, as we like to call him, must be experienced. In person, as well as on the page. Although I will say that the magician Carlos Lara and I are convinced that he is the reincarnation of Frank Stanford.
Tell us about your poems.
My poems, like our friend Duvey’s, should be experienced in silence, and even as silence. In a dark room. In the stacks of the perfect library. In the Butler stacks, if you can swing that. On the seventh floor, at midnight, between the bright pink shelf that contains Goethe’s Werks and the adjacent bright pink shelf that contains Goethe’s Werks. If you don’t have a card, I can lend you mine. If I decide not to lend you mine, I can sneak you in.
That’s an awfully specific location.
It is. And while the aforementioned location would be ideal for reading poetry, specifically my poetry, silence and night is what I’m getting at. In fact silence and night is what I’m always getting at. These are the ideal conditions. Silence and night as space that feels intimate, unique, mysterious, even in love, in the old highway of love. Deja-vu. Transtomer taught me about silence and night. And I never forgot.
What I mean is I can’t tell you how to read poems or my poems in particular. But I can suggest conditions in which they might come alive more than not. Poetry is funny. It has nothing to do with logic. And it has to do with everything at once, as it exists inside you—
So can we expect to hear more from you in the future?
Absolutely not. But I do enjoy writing poems. I get a kick out of it. As Carlos Lara recently said in an interview with Entropy Magazine, poets forget that they can write whatever they want. I would like to reiterate this statement. Poets can write whatever they want without fear of invalidation or getting kicked out of Brooklyn or Brown University. They can dream like poets used to dream – Yeatsian, Keatsian, like goddamn heroes. Or they can write like Russell Edson and never look back to sanity or a thousand outdated and boring-in-the-first-place critical theorists for confirmation that what they write/want to write means something REAL inside them.
I’m getting the impression you must be a fan of Rainer Maria Rilke.
Rilke understands suffering as a means of transformation. As alchemy. As Alchemia. In fact, he lived for a while in Phillip Lamantia’s poem, Alchemia.
I feel like you’re referencing a whole lot of people.
“I’ll drop every name I know.” (John Duvernoy)
Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us?
I’d like to suggest that young artists move out of their collective holes and relocate to Lubbock, Texas, the border of Argentina and Uruguay, Greenland, Iceland, Ceske Tesin, the Moon, and begin to experience the uncanny familiarity of NIGHT itself, the depth of the first and last NIGHT themselves, in order to experience the marvelous, Breton’s marvelous, in order to begin to touch the faintest phantasm of wisdom or transcendent reality the way that Thoreau and Rilke and Neruda and Lara did, which can only be acquired, which can only be met, in the shimmering catacombs of mystical solitude.
Did you write the poems that appeared in Chronopolis, Song of a Man Who Has Come Through Dream Cars and Paula’s Song, in solitude?
I did. I was living many places in my mind when I wrote these poems, and always alone. I was living in 2004 and 2010, Binghamton, New York and Paris, France. And with the idea that there should be more trolls in the bible. Plus I was living in sadness, in Vallejo-sadness, that my greatest ally, my beautiful, sheer, black-as-Alaskan-summer-shadows cohort and companion, my car, Bullet, had just died for good. These poems are about pushing beyond this death by driving ever-softening circles around it. As poems they are old guitars, shrill and hollow and broken by blue bottles. They are also written in the shape of someone I love, or they should be.
In closing, is there anything you like about New York?
I like honking. I like honking at people. And the Shake Shack at the corner of Columbus and 77th is a spiritual refuge of the highest order.
Michael Keenan’s first book of poems, "Translations On Waking In An Italian Cemetery," was recently released by A-Minor Press. His writing has appeared in Poetry International, the PEN Poetry Series, Fence and Posit, among others. Michael currently talks to people at Columbia University.