When I read Michael Klein’s memoir The End of Being Known, I circled my favorite passage: “I think the stranger’s desire for me is as strong as my desire for him because of the breezes between us, which carry hope into the unknown. Being in public makes it famous sex.” After I read that line I had infamous sex in the space between the breezes and found hope in running sneakers. In other words, I had public sex and almost got arrested. (I made all of that up, of course. I’m a virgin.) In Klein’s latest collection of poems, then, we were still living, which was just named a finalist for a 2011 Lambda Literary Award this morning, he reveals that we’re all made of bread and the encounters that encase our living lives. Yes, there’s more public sex, but this book is not about the sex. then, we were still living is about living because we are (or were) still living. Klein takes us into church and into his bathtub. He asks us to consider Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul. He pulls us in and shows us who he (we) is (are)–creatures of habit, objects of desire, and objects to be desired. And we don’t need a photograph to prove it.
Warning: partial nudity below, so keep reading. This is a Potty Mouth Interview, FYI!
Almost Dorothy: I’m obsessed with this question: what is a poem? But, I’m not that obsessed with it anymore. We broke up. So, what do you love the most?
Michael Klein: I love jazz (Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett) and theater and modern dance and Andrew and the sun and Ruby and the ocean and parts of the south and more parts of the north and salt water and night walking on the beach and laughter and Walker Evans, Charles Ives, shameless love, Jean Ritchie on the dulcimer.
AD: But I’m still in love with him (or her) (or them): what is a poem?
MK: A poem is a song and a prayer as opposed to a wing and one.
AD: Haha! In your latest collection of poems, then, we were still living, I want to be clear on this: are we still still living and when will this still living be over? And is it life like a still life?
MK: We are still still living and we shall remain so until we were living. And no, it is not like a still life. It is like a memory of the future.
AD: A future memory is like a past memory but it just hasn’t happened yet. In the poem “Five Places for Sex”, you write:
The sex we were having held on to the flimsy hangers
until we pulled them down with us into our orgasm
looking for its rightful place to land in the dark—our cum, I mean,
all mixed up with the sparks and streaming its white noose
into the very slightly serious tennis shoes.
No question. I’m just very distraught over the serious tennis shoes. Is there anything better than church sex?
MK: Yes, I think sex on a train and in a bathtub are two places better than church. Also, on the floor of a restroom of a gas station in Saratoga Springs, New York.
AD: Do you have a photograph of this?
MK: That was in the days before photography.
AD: I didn’t know you were so young. Seriously, “What War”? (Read the poem here.)
MK: Every war. Everything that is at odds at our staying human and vulnerable and fragile and beings who wonder and are drawn to wonder.
AD: I am drawing wonder right now. I heard that you like Tori Amos. My favorite T.A. songs are “Baker Baker” (always makes me cry for a day) and “Mr. Zebra“. Oh, and also “Hey, Jupiter” and “Upside Down”. What’s your favorite Tori Amos song and why?
MK: “Caught a Lite Sneeze” because it says at the end:
Boys in their dresses
And you’re not here
I need a big loan from the girl zone
AD: How is your dog?
MK: My dog is my guide.
AD: Favorite word & why?
MK: Rain. It says everything.
AD: In your memoir, The End of Being Known, you write that you see a lot of your childhood through water in three pools. Sometimes I see my childhood sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling. What does the view look like now since you wrote the memoir?
AD: Okay, who are you?
MK: Nobody. Who are you?
AD: A shoe. Are you everything you imagine yourself to be or have been?
MK: Completely different. My imagination doesn’t face back in my direction. It looks out.
AD: Good answer. Last question before the last question: Chris Abani writes, “that in order to have an honest conversation with a reader, I must reveal myself in all my vulnerability. Reveal myself, not in the sense of my autobiography, but in the sense of the deeper self, the one we keep too often hidden even from ourselves.” I don’t see you as a hider, but as a revealer and maybe a reveller. Are you vulnerable?
MK: Always, and always resisting what would change that vulnerability.
AD: Best pickup line.
MK: “Here’s looking at you and putting it in me.”
MICHAEL KLEIN is the recipient of two Lambda Literary awards (“1990” and “Poets for Life: 76 Poets Respond to AIDS”). His other books are “Track Conditions”, “The End of Being Known” both memoirs, and a new book of poems “then, we were still living”. He teaches at Goddard College and in the summer program at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he lives when he is not living in New York City. Read excerpts from then, we were still living here.