Epilogue: Remembering Kevin Killian
These remarks were written for a memorial service for Kevin Killian, which took place on August 19, 2019, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. — Robert Glück
I suppose I have known Kevin longer than anyone here except for his siblings. But 40 years turns out not to be such a long time. I am older than Kevin by five years, and it was fully my plan for Kevin to speak at my memorial, rather than my speaking at his, which still is shocking and unreal to me. Like most of us, I have been rereading Kevin’s work in the light of his death, amazed that a consciousness of such splendor and exuberance has been stilled. The death of a loved one strips us of the notion that our present life is a dress rehearsal rather than the one and only performance, though I think Kevin was always aware of the shape of his own life in his grand gestures and also in his scrupulousness, like his attention to archives.
I spent the most time with Kevin during the era of my workshops at Small Press Traffic, where he met Dodie. He says he joined them in 1982. Of course he must be right, though it seems a little late to me. In his vast generosity, he proposed other projects through the years. He offered to edit my collected essays for example, and he offered to work on my archives. He did come to help me with it just three weeks before he died. We went to Office Max. I had to say Enough, he would have worked on them forever. Another time he said Bob, I have an idea—let’s write a story together, both of us completely naked in a room. The most pressing of the insecurities that proposition called forth was the awareness of how slowly I write. It seemed like a very long time to be without any clothes.
Through the years, Kevin would sometimes say with a wave of his hand, “Bob taught me everything I know about writing!” It created in me—as it does in this moment—the feeling of anxious hilarity. “God bless you for your enormous, skilled, intuitive intervention into my life.”
Did I ever teach him anything? Or, more to the point, what did he mean? In the workshops, I would make a few comments and suggestions about some brilliant poem or story. (For Kevin, pleasure and safety were opposites, and his work turned on the moment when our hero sees the broader perspective of someone who wants to damage him. Then he gains, not value, but lack of value. Sexual invasion and danger are accepted and the little that remains is ready to be entertained by death or romance.) The next week, Kevin would exclaim, Bob I followed your advice exactly, but the improved piece, equally brilliant, would be totally different from the one he’d read a week before, unrecognizable. Was this sincerity, ridicule? Where is Kevin coming from?—I often asked myself. In fact, I used to say Kevin was the only person I ever knew who possibly could have come from a different planet—an enigma who possessed superhuman knowledge, baffling productivity, and later, super-human kindness. He seemed to possess the secret of happiness—maybe that's the meaning of his work: that meaning is not in short supply—there’s meaning everywhere, everything is somehow connected to everything else, and you must surrender without restraint to the matter at hand. Even that is too prescriptive—because Kevin delighted in possibility and the penetration of all kinds of barriers, including the body itself, the mind itself, and our culture itself.
A few sentences from "Santa," my favorite story. “I’m content enough, like a bubble envelope. I lie down on my back and my hands are taped with black stickum gum, “relax now.” I tell them where I live and how I used to watch Santa Barbara every day. On the ceiling there’s some famous stars or windows of the far night. I’m breathing in, not breathing out. The air’s a faint blue, the color of speed and peace. I did not write this, this was my life, or vice versa.”