Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Kenneth Pobo Interview

Kenneth Pobo in conversation with Frank Burton. Kenneth Pobo's poetry collection, Fitting Parts can be read online or downloaded for free from

How do you feel about the term "queer lit"? Would you call yourself a queer writer, or just a writer?

I don’t mind the term “queer lit.” But I don’t like any term that over-defines a writer, tries to put the writer into a category or box. I am a queer writer. I am also a writer. I could often be called a “nature” writer or sometimes a “60s pop music” writer. It can be a challenge to get confrontational gay work published (though when I use the term “gay work” I don’t think work has a sexual preference). I’m grateful that Philistine Press doesn’t shy away from it.

Do you enjoy being confrontational?

I enjoy it in poetry, but not in “real” life. I’m a coward, I think. That’s one of the great things about poetry — trying on masks, many of them powerful masks. And like Tiresias, I can change genders if I so desire. I can be a bird as easily as a human being.

There is a lot of anger in "Fitting Parts" about battles that are yet to be won. Are you optimistic about the future?

No, I'm not optimistic. The stresses on our poor planet are leading us closer to more horrific wars. Global warming will cause enormous upheavals and nightmares, yet leaders and the general population are oblivious. Peak oil will lead to calamities for dwindling resources. For gay people in America where I live, our full rights remain a dream, not a reality. Many people are changing, slowly, but there is a fierce resistance. Hate is just another point of view.

Fitting Parts is, partly, an angry book. There is good reason to be angry - furious - and this anger is largely rooted in continuing oppression.

Do you think writers have the power to change things?

Like Auden, I suppose I think that art makes nothing happen. However, it can change perceptions of those who come into — deep — contact with it. And that is important and perhaps a catalyst for change. Some writers have changed the political conditions and raised the questions necessary for change, Martin Luther King, for example. And writers can help to provide the courage to challenge oppression. I think of Neruda or Chinese poets in the Tang Dynasty who were sometimes exiled and threatened—and still created. Their courage can give us courage now.

Who are your influences?

So many! Poets are with me every day — if they died centuries ago doesn’t matter. Their presence remains real for me. Some that come to mind: Du Fu, Li Bei, James Tate, Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, Tomas Transtromer, Jean Follain, Emily D, Walt W, Neruda, Lucille Clifton, Plath, David Trinidad… I’m going to stop there or I’ll fill up the screen. I will add D.H. Lawrence for his “Pansies” — of the writers listed here, “Pansies” are probably blooming brightly in Fitting Parts.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

Internet publishing offers a writer the world. Readers from almost anywhere can have access to your work. That’s a great thing. The one thing I miss is holding a book in my hand. Yes, you can print it out, but there is something magical about holding a book. The Net offers writers a chance to connect in ways that couldn’t have been imagined before its arrival.

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