An Interview with Bill Kushner

In Three Parts



by Cliff Fyman

Bill Kushner lives and writes in New York, a place that permeates his work and his career. A student of many great teachers, including Kenneth Koch, Lewis Warsh, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Kushner received a Poetry Fellowship from The New York Foundation for the Arts in 1999 and again in 2006, as well as The Dylan Thomas Prize for Poetry given by The New School. His books detail the torments of an agoraphobic socialite in the country’s liveliest burg. Kushner’s most recent book, Walking After Midnight (Spuyten Duyvil, 2011), takes a more narrative approach to poetry than some of his earlier work. Cliff Fyman recently spent a few afternoons with the poet, listening to stories of Kushner’s childhood, his wilder times in the 1980s, and even a few stories still in the works.



Part One: March 7, 2012. East Village

Cliff Fyman: I know you’ve written a lot about Chelsea. Have you traveled much?

Bill Kushner: I’m agoraphobic, so I don’t like to get out too far away from home, from Chelsea. When I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and away from the Bronx. I was trying to fly away from something, just couldn’t wait to get out. I grew up with two older sisters, mother, father. My parents were mostly illiterate. It was during the Depression. I was born 1931. My father had trouble with English. He wasn’t a very warm father to me. There was so much unsaid between us. Maybe that’s why I write so many poems—I try to recreate my father in so many ways because I never really knew him so I was angry and hurt and felt unloved by him. Whatever it did to me—like my last book [Walking After Midnight] there’s a lot of father poems in that book. I guess I’m trying to work something out. It was problematic. But it’s inspired me to do some good father poems. For years we weren’t close, until he was dying. My parents both came from Russia. My mother came first to America, and the romantic is that he followed her because he was so in love. I don’t know which town in Russia.

CF: What was his life like in Russia?

BK: When he was in his teens he was a helper to a master painter—what’s the word? —an apprentice. He learned all about paint. He was a very good painter. Wherever he would go if there was a painted surface he placed his hand on it to see how many coats there were. He was very good. He eventually got nose cancer, I guess from the fumes of the lead paint. We got closer. When he was dying, my sisters were both married and they had families and were living away from my parents. So was I away but I came back to visit my mother and my father in the hospital. I would buy him food from the outside. He seemed to me very scared, very frightened. I moved back home with them—in the house I grew up in—to be with my mother. Eventually the hospital let him go. I guess there was nothing they could do back then. He was sent home to die. That’s what he did. He was wasting away from the cancer. All you could see were bones. Very tragic. I was there the night he died. I kind of knew at this point he was dying. I went into where he was, some sort of crib-like bed, very frightened and scared. And he was in a great deal of pain. It was excruciating for me to see him laying there helpless and dying.

CF: How’d your mother do?

BK: My mother was hysterical, especially that night. He couldn’t sleep he was in so much pain. He was begging her for whatever pills they had at the time to relieve the pain. She was sort of, just, beyond thinking. My feeling is that she didn’t—I don’t know—she was just in tremendous grief. So was I. It was one of the most terrible nights of my life.

CF: What was your parents’ relationship like?

BK: They were close. Pretty much as close as two people could be. My father worked as a house painter, and we moved around a lot. The supers would give my father a break on the rent when he painted the building. So wherever there was a break in the rent we moved. (Laugh.) But my mother was a seamstress in the garment district. She liked working there. There were people that she met at work that she liked. She had one friend that she was close to. Her friend would come over, and my mother would make special dishes for her friend and her husband.

CF: Did she like describing her work to you, the place?

BK: Not really. I think that was a special part of her life she kept to herself. I wanted to work in a similar situation as my parents: when I graduated high school I asked my parents if I could be a house painter like my father. They were very much against it. They thought my having a high school education—I graduated Morris High School in the Bronx—was enough to advance and become President of the United States. They had a misconception about a high school diploma. I learned how to type in high school but for the most part I didn’t have any skills.

When I went to work I started in a Mom-and-Pop GE light bulb distributor. West 24th Street around 6th Avenue. I worked there for a long time. I didn’t get paid very much all my life. So I was very poor most of my life. I wasn’t a very good office worker. I took orders for light bulbs over the phone. So I was taught how to be polite. I liked talking over the phone. I hate talking over the phone now.

CF: Did you have any thoughts about going to college?

BK: No, I more or less had to go to work. I wanted to live in Manhattan so gradually I became lovers with this guy who wanted me to live with him in Manhattan so I moved away from home.

CF: That was your escape.

BK: That was my escape. It’s funny that you use that word because it was. I was talking to someone about maybe going back to revisit where we used to live, someone who knew the Bronx. He said, “You don’t want to live there.” When we lived there it was a mixed neighborhood—Jews, Italians, Irish. Of course all the neighborhoods changed. What can I say? Can’t go home again. I wanted to get out so badly I’m not that sad about not being able to go back home.

It was painful growing up there. Growing up gay in the Bronx is a painful process. Even when I didn’t know I was gay it was still painful.

By the time I got out of high school I realized that I was gay, and I had a very nervous reaction to that. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like myself. That was part of the culture. Especially in the Bronx. You didn’t want to be called the faggot. It was a scary time. By the time I got out of high school I really was a mess. Emotionally. I got some mental therapy. I guess around 1950, late 40s. Freudian psychotherapy. The psychiatrist tried to reassure me that it was okay to be gay, but from my point of view it was a weakness. And being a kind of religious, freaky kid—to me it was not okay to be gay. So I mean I kind of hated myself, which is a terrible thing to give in to something like that. I didn’t think I had the balls to be able to go through life. I felt very weak and vulnerable. It wasn’t like it is today with gay marriage. Times have changed. There was no organization to go to. No gay and lesbian center to go to. There was really nowhere to go to.

Those were not good days. Those were not good gay days. Those were not good days to be gay.

CF: You mentioned as a kid you were ‘freaky’ and ‘religious.’ Could you go into that a little bit?

BK: I had a very innocent concept of good and evil. From the culture around me I felt that I would never get to heaven. I became ‘freaky’ because of my sexual problems. All of the culture’s problems with homosexuality I just reflected that all back onto myself. I believed that G-d was against homosexuality. But why would He have made so many? You grow up in the Bronx, there isn’t much intellectual life, no debating teams, stuff like that. You have a very raw idea of right and wrong. It’s all very John Wayne versus Montgomery Clift.

CF: Did your parents’ spiritual practices make any impression on you?

BK: Just a very superficial . . . heaven above, earth below—and a hell below that. That’s about as basic as it gets. Every now and then we went to synagogue. My father’s parents were very religious. I made my bar mitzvah. I went through the training, but I really wanted to rise above whatever intellectual propensity I had, and I felt I had to gain more knowledge and more sophistication. My sister Rose was a bookworm. She was my babysitter. She’s eight years older than me. She had her nose in a book all the time. She’s more or less responsible for me being a poet. She brought me to the library. As soon as I was able to read I was going there. Age eleven, twelve. I loved fairy tales, fables, Greek mythology. I loved comic books. I would sneak into the adult section, the novels. They seemed awful racy to me. They caught the language and then caught my mind. I lived through books too. I was a very romantic little soul. It was my escape. It was my escape out of the torture of being me.

CF: I wonder if you could describe when you feel you became a poet?

BK: Ah. I’ll let you know when that happens! The thing is, my sister Rose, when I was five, six, she would often say, ‘Go write me a poem!’ I can remember that. She was my love object—I hate to say this—more than my mother. She was my love object. Sort of my mother, and my true love. I wanted to be like her. I thought she was smart. Well, she was. She got married during WWII. Her husband was sent away to the South Pacific, so she lived at home until the war ended. I think they finally found a place for themselves in the 1950s. I liked when they were living with us, before they could afford their own place. When she left, I felt torn with grief. I felt abandoned by my true love. (Laugh.) I don’t know why I’m laughing. It was very serious at the time. She was one of the few people with whom I could have an adult conversation. She was my mentor; we could talk about books, cultural stuff. When she got married and moved away it was the end of our love affair. Love is exhausting. (Laughs.) Sort of a wacky life. You grow up the way you grow up.

Part Two: March 22, 2012

BK: It’s a weird kind of therapy to talk about myself. What I realized from our first session was that I grew up loving my sister Rose more than I loved my mother. It made me feel guilty. I felt guilty that I couldn’t love my mother as much as I loved my sister. And you know, I think, I’m not Sigmund Freud or anybody, but I think when you start feeling one little bit of guilt about anything it stays there and gradually you accumulate more stuff around it, the initial thing. What did that make me? An ungrateful son? In a way, at an early age, I was torn between two women, and the whole thing was . . . there was no resolution to my guilt. That was the way it was. I loved my sister because she was more educated in a way, she gave me an outlet because of her reading, she showed me a way that I could go in life. And of course it’s a way that I followed by reading, and I sometimes react to my reading with a poem. My mother’s way was kind of closed off. My mother couldn’t read English very well. My father couldn’t read English at all. It was a big deal for her to sit down with—I forget the Jewish paper she would read occasionally. It would look more than an effort than with my sister. All I’m saying is early on, I was torn about my love-life. What was I? Five, six, seven? But very early on I felt guilty about who I loved. It was a pattern that would settle in. Then I realized I was gay—and then the real guilt would pile up! I think the early guilt was there. When I realized I was gay, 1941, wartime, it was not a good thing to be at that time. Today what with Tyler Clemente and Matthew Shepherd, it’s still a stigma. I inevitably react to it by writing poems that are a take-off on gay porno. There are gay poets who are attracted to that aspect of my poetry. As I grow older I much prefer to write a purer kind of poem. But what is a purer kind of poem? I’m still in search of that. I didn’t think any of that would come out of me!

When I look back on my life the first thing I think is that I’ve done a lot of dumb things. There was a part of me that was self-destructive because of all the burden of guilt I was carrying around. And not just being gay. From the beginning kind of seeing myself as someone who wasn’t—how do I put it—a good person? I’ll just put it that way. I didn’t see myself as being a good person. In a way I still doubt. You don’t get over stuff just by snapping your fingers and doing a samba around the apartment. (Laughs). But still it’s the way I grew up. You grow up a kid in the Bronx and times it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out.

CF: You seem to have found a sense of belonging by moving to Chelsea. I think you also found that in life in and around the Poetry Project. How did you first hear about the Project? Was it in taking Kenneth Koch’s workshop at the New School?

BK: At the time I took that class there was no Poetry Project. Kenneth suggested I go visit Le Metro, which was situated near St. Mark’s Church. I think it was a furniture store, and the owner and his wife realized they could make money by having these weekly poetry gatherings. The first time I went to Le Metro I had a poem about a mouse (laughs) that I had written in Kenneth’s workshop that he liked. I figured I’d read it. I walked in and the place was kind of crowded with poets, most of them guys. I was still grappling with my shyness and my gayness—I think they were intertwined. There was Allen Ginsberg, very much like the head of the group at Le Metro. Ginsberg had a great presence, you know. He kind of filled a room. I don’t want to say in a supernatural way. His eyes were everywhere. He was really alert and alive. Kind of scary, to me (laughs). That day Gerard Malanga was there whom I thought was a dreamboat (laughs). Malanga was a very pretty young boy, especially back then. Elie Kazan with either his wife or his girlfriend, a very pretty woman. It was a very happening scene. Some guy came around and said, “I’m making up a Xerox magazine of the poems today so if you want to be in the magazine give me three dollars and I’ll Xerox it up and be right back. Allen has a poem in here, and a lot of the guys.” So I gave him three bucks. He came back with a very nice Xerox magazine. Allen’s poem was in it. I believe it was about the tenements of East 12th Street.

I was sitting on my secrets that I was a bad person, that I was gay, I was unlovable, and I didn’t think that was the place for poetry. I had this crazy idea from school that poetry should be beautiful thoughts. So there was no place for me in poetry land because I had impure thoughts. Impure, ugly thoughts of hot sex and penises and G-d knows what else! (Loud laugh.) I shudder when I think of myself then. It’s a hard thing to get over. Like I say, I studied with Kenneth and he liked what I was doing. I was auditing his workshop. I was his monitor. I got a big discount off from $200 down to maybe $50 for just checking people in at the door.

I had entered the contest that the New School had in the poetry division called the Dylan Thomas Prize for poetry, and I submitted the poems I did in the workshop. At that time, Arnold Weinstein was one of the judges. A very handsome Arnold Weinstein. To my surprise the award was $100—I won along with Catherine Murray and Mary Ferrari. The three of us split the hundred dollars so each of us got $33 (laughs).

The mayor at that time, Abraham Beame, gave us our prizes at the New School graduation program. It was very nice. That was the end of that term. I was still afraid of poetry—really afraid of poetry. I thought I was being led into spilling all of my secrets, and I was very uptight. So the following term I I applied for a course in playwriting at the New School, taught by a very good teacher named Edward Mabley. Somehow or other in theater it was easier for me to let loose all the drama that was going on in me. Every person has drama in them, I think. But I was holding on tightly to my secrets, my drama, my inner drama. With play writing I got a chance to somehow work it through. It was more ease-ful. At any rate I didn’t go back to Kenneth’s workshop. A few weeks into that season Kenneth caught me in the hallway, and he was very angry at me for not going to his workshop. I said I couldn’t get the discount. And he said, “But you could’ve come in for nothing.” I may have realized that somehow, subliminally, but I was just scared. I was just scared that I would be “discovered” or something. Then he said, “I could’ve made you famous,” as a parting shot, a verbal knife into my kishkas [guts] (laugh). He never spoke to me again. He was right. He could’ve made me famous. He hung around with Frank O’Hara, Jimmy Schuyler. I lost a big chance to hang around with that group. It was also a big chance to be around gay poets who didn’t have any inhibitions around being gay. Certainly O’Hara didn’t seem to have inhibitions. So I missed out on having that chance through my sheer terror. I wanted to be a poet but I was holding myself back. It was my fault. I was holding myself back.

CF: That’s the guilt creeping in.

BK: Right, that’s the guilt creeping in. Soon after the Poetry Project was formed, I had dinner with Lewis recently, and I forgot to ask him about those days when he was going with Anne (Waldman). He calls her “Annie.” There’s no one else on earth I think who would call Anne “Annie,” but he does. I should have asked him about those days when Anne was becoming the head of the Project. It must have been a time of ferment. F-e-r-m-e-n-t. A huge amount of ferment with Ginsberg pulling this way, and who knows how many people pulling that way. So many people saying the Poetry Project should be this way, that way. The director of the Poetry Project must be a tough job, trying to assuage all those egos, rampant egos!

So I did the playwriting workshop with Ed Mabley, who got a few of his students together and formed his own private group of playwrights. I was sort of in the second wave of off-off Broadway. I worked particularly with a group called New York Theater Ensemble where I did one-act plays. Directed my plays and other playwrights. And acted in plays. I wrote a play called Fag. That’s the way I sort of came out to the world. Always afraid that if I came out the earth would open up and swallow me! (Laughs.) Oh, goodness gracious! But it was a fun play. It got good reviews in the The New York Times. Cue was a magazine back then. Good reviews are no guarantee . . . producers stayed away from it. Maybe it had something to do with the title. It had a nice run and disappeared from the face of the earth. I sent the reviews to several publishers but they never got back to me. I never promote myself very well.

Then the Poetry Project started giving free poetry workshops, and I took advantage of those because I wasn’t making very much money, and it was free. I was still exploring myself as a poet. Still unsure it was what I wanted to be. I look back now all of that was just a longing to be close to men. I felt isolated from my straight male friends. I didn’t feel I had close friends. I still consider the Poetry Project a very vital force in poetry. It’s very inclusive about any school of poetry. It welcomes most any school of poetry. Language poetry, gay poetry, lesbian poetry. There are many schools of poetry.

CF: Which school of poetry do you identify with most strongly?

BK: I think when you say ‘poet’ or ‘poetry’ to most people they have only a vague idea of what poetry is. They don’t know what it is to be a poet, they don’t know what that means. Do they think I’m some kind of anti-social rascal? (Laughs.) People are very confused about what poetry is. And also because there is so little press given to poetry. You pick up the New York Times Book Review and most of the time there’s no mention of poetry—and there are poetry books coming out all time. After Allen Ginsberg the excitement of poetry has waned. Although I feel I am a poet, please don’t introduce me as a poet. I’ve written a full-length play but I keep holding it back from the world. And I think it’s a good play, about a soldier who’s returned from not from Viet Nam—where did we fight recently?

CF: Iraq?

BK: Iraq, right. It sort of questions the validity of the war in Iraq. At the same time I’m doing a lot of poetry. Some of it is good, and some of it is not. I like to think I’m taking more chances. But you know that’s what writing is about, taking chances. At least for me. I’m not an academic. I don’t write as much with my mind as with whatever else there is that I have. I don’t think there is a poet today since Ginsberg who has managed to capture the imagination, the attention and the imagination, of America and the world. And there are so many good poets it’s just amazing how many of them bravely set out in the world as poets. G-d bless them all.

CF: I remember when I was 20 years old and I drove cab that summer. I was coming up out of the Central Park transverse to 81st Street and Central Park West, and I was driving an elderly woman, elegantly dressed, she seemed intellectual, wore a nice hat with a wide brim, who lived in one of the apartment houses. She asked what I wanted to do in life. I said I wanted to be a poet. She liked hearing that. She responded immediately, encouragingly, saying, ‘Poets are poor—but it’s a poor world without poets!’

Part Three: March 27, 2012

CF: It seems like Head was a breakthrough book for you. You’ve spoken about your reserve, hesitancy, and confusion about your sexual orientation and identity. Head is forthright in its openness about sex. What brought about the change in expression? Was Bernadette’s (one of the book’s publishers) writing helpful to your personal liberation?

BK: Yes. But there was Lewis Warsh (the other publisher) who freed me of a lot of my inhibitions about my sexuality and being gay.

CF: How did he do this?

BK: He would not take any bullshit! He taught the workshop at the Poetry Project, and after we would go for a drink at the Orchidia which was the famous hangout place for class [Second Ave and 9th Street, NW corner]. There, Lewis got to know me on a more personal level, not just from the poems I turned in. He would go into who I went out with if I went to a gallery or movie. And if I would lie about anything he would call me on it. My whole personality was addicted to lying, and you cannot lie in poetry, and in life. He called me on every lie, and I began telling the truth more and more, that I haunted some of the gay bars in my neighborhood (laughs) and would pick up guys. I was “out” in a more social way. He would encourage me to put everything I said about picking up guys and cruising, the whole cruising scene, very active—I was very young and pretty cute—of course I’m still cute at 80 but it’s not the same cute—he would encourage me to put it into the poems. I became very explicit in my poems. I wanted to write sonnets because he had a couple of sonnet workshops using Ted Berrigan sonnets as an example. I tried using the male porno that I was reading at the time, trying to put that kind of language into my poetry.

I don’t know if the gay cruising scene is any more frantic or full of pathos as the straight pick-up scenes going on in the bars but it was all very intense. I really wanted to get that into whatever poems I was writing, along with the fact that Lewis was accepting of this work every step of the way, which astonished me that a straight male would at that time find them interesting or amusing or revealing.

I owe him a lot. That’s why I dedicated the newest book, Walking After Midnight, to Lewis. I had this insane idea that poets lived in ivory castles (laughs) and as soon as I started studying with real poets like Bernadette and Lewis and Ted I got to find out pretty quickly that they were real people who led real lives, and somehow made poetry out of their real lives. It was a revelation in a way. Almost like a religious revelation that these were real people who themselves had real sexual lives . . . I mean, when I first met Lewis he was going with Anne. They were a hot-looking young couple, and somehow something happened and there was Bernadette. I mean they were leading kind of fast-paced lives, real lives. The Poetry Project was a very fermenting time when I was going there. A lot of stuff was happening. A lot of sexual experimentation. I wasn’t the only one having mystic revelations. I wasn’t the only one. I was in good company.

CF: In Head and Love Un-Cut you describe moving through this harsh nightlife. The poems are like night landscapes through an underworld that’s at times hard-hitting. But the narrator is a sweet, sensitive person, as if carrying a rose in his hand.

BK: I brought a dark attitude to the whole gay scene because my upbringing taught me it was wrong. I was an innocent person. Honestly, I didn’t like the actual sex. I liked the closeness, being close with a male person. Usually a kind of life-threatening male person which may have been my feelings about my father but I was transferring it to the whole sexual scene.

Once Lewis said he’d be interested in publishing a gay book—United Artists hadn’t done that before—it was like some kind of god-like figure had said, “Billy, it’s okay to be gay.” So I went out a lot along Christopher Street bars, down to the docks where there were very cruisy scenes, and would keep a notebook with me, and I would cruise around writing lines, always aiming for fourteen lines for a sonnet. So I was literally writing with a hard-on! (Laughs). Writing with my dick dipping (laughs) in red ink! (laughs).

CF: There’s a sense of forgiveness and hopefulness to those sonnets, and to all of your poetry. There’s a movement that many of your early poems go through: the narrator greets the world and the situation is described briefly, the middle of the poems complicate and present the conflict with grief and confusion. Then finally in the last stage of the poem, it swings around with a final sense of forgiveness, resolution, and hope. You’ve gotten through the lonely underworld of the night, and now it’s day and you’re starting all over again. This form isn’t a strict sonnet, but a loose form. Would you say Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets influenced you?

BK: The way Ted Berrigan talked about poetry was amazing. I went to a workshop once that announced he was giving some lectures on poetry. At least one hundred people showed up, dangling on his every word. He had magic in his mouth. After you heard him you were dying to write. He certainly inspired me. For him poetry was an open field. You didn’t have to go to college to learn how to write to be a poet. You had to have some kind of inner, furtive life. For him, as long as you wanted to write you could write. He was very freeing when he talked about poetry. I ache now when I think how I wish I could’ve been closer to him than I was. He was little stand-offish with me. I remember I took a workshop with Alice, and I’d turned in my poem which was called Dorothy (which is the poem that appears in Walking After Midnight). One week, Alice couldn’t come to the workshop and Ted took over. He said he was going to read a poem that “I like and Alice likes,” and it was Dorothy. To have Ted praise a particular poem of mine, it was like my father opening up his arms to me and saying “I love you.” It was everything in the world. It was absolutely heavenly.

CF: Usually when I hear and read references to a bar scene, alcohol is implied. But your poems about the Chelsea nightlife, though not tame, are very sober. Alcohol is never mentioned. Are you a teetotaler?

BK: A Coke and cock totaler. I would just have Coke, the soda. I had to be fully sober. I had to be totally sober to write my poems. I was on a mission. It wasn’t just a sexual conquest. It was to capture a poem in that whole scene, in the streets. Behind the trucks. And in darkened hallways.

CF: There are some explicit descriptions of sex in your early poems. But often I have the impression the mention of sex is like a prop, a way of getting into the poem. Would you agree that your poetry isn’t about a single love conquest, but about embracing humanity at large?

BK: I love to sit in a restaurant and watch the people moving along the street. To me it’s always like a dance. Human poetry. Father with his kid riding on his shoulders. Mothers wheeling carriages. The gay guys, the muscles guys walking along Eighth Avenue. It’s like I’m in a gallery watching moving pictures. I’ll usually get a poem if I’m sitting there undisturbed and, and a line may cross my head like, “A man in blue, it’s you,” might be a way to start, “when last I saw you.” I could go on. Now rather than being sexually explicit it’s more reflective and maybe a bit sad. But nevertheless I get poems out of watching the stream of people floating along.

CF: Jumping ahead to two of your later books: usually, young poets try out various forms, are influenced from many places. Then they settle into one style. With you it may be the reverse. In the Hairy Arms of Walt Whitman and Walking After Midnight have a variety of forms you’re accomplishing. To an extent, the Bob Dylan line, ‘I was so much older then I’m younger than that now,’ seems to describe your career. The search for partners you had in earlier books now seems to turn into a search for new forms. Are you searching out various forms in your recent work, and is that a progression from your intimacy-seeking youth?

BK: I recently went on a poem-a-day spree in January and February. I found I had to be less picky or censorious of my subject matter if I was going to do a poem a day, and I wrote a bevy of short poems, short lines. It was a surprise to me that I had short poems in me because they were about anything and everything. Maybe just a sharp, small portrait of a guy on a bike. It fascinates me that someone is in your view for one quick second and is gone. I think that’s an allegory for life. Whether you’re 80 or 90 or 100, it’s all short. It’s just a short quick glimpse into what I think is a great miracle.

It’s a quick way of communicating. They’re all kind of ‘nothing-is-forever’ kind of works. But I’m fond of them. I kept sending these poems to Lewis because he had broken his arm and he was more or less homebound and I wanted to amuse him with these short works. After writing a poem a day for a month it was like I’d been on a marathon race. I write pretty often. But to be forced to write someone every day is kind of a magic trick.

CF: The feeling of being pursued that haunts some of your earlier books is not there in your later books, including Walking After Midnight. It’s as though you have arrived somewhere, and now you’re looking back. There was a lot of complicated love in your early work for your parents and family, and that didn’t change. There’s the same surge for love and understanding in your latest book, a glance back at your growing up that is as strong as your earlier efforts to break away from that background. But this current book has a more relaxed and peaceful feeling. Is that intentional, or just a natural side effect of time and perspective?

BK: As I come to what I perceive as pretty much the endings of my life I want to find some peace, to make some peace with myself, which is the most difficult task of all. As I look back I see I took so many wrong turns. I expended so much energy so much nonsense when I should’ve been staying at home reading War and Peace. There’s a feeling that I’ve wasted so much of my life in frivolous pursuits. But really, there was always a poem that came into being. And that makes me feel good about myself, in this present day.




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