Michael Klein: Poet, Anthologist, Retired Groom

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Michael Klein’s second book of poems, “then, we were still living” (GenPop Books) was recently nominated for Lambda Literary Award (his fourth nomination) and he has won the award for his books “1990” and “Poets for Life: 76 Poets Respond to AIDS”. He is also the author of “Track Conditions”, a memoir, and a book of linked essays “The End of Being Known” both published by the University of Wisconsin Press and recently Kindle-ized. Recent work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Bloom, Fence and The Awl and forthcoming in Ploughshares and Tin House. He answered questions on all of the above, and then some. 

First off, congratulations on your Lambda nomination. Will you be reading from then, we were still living on Wednesday? In general, are there poems you’ve written that you think lend themselves especially well to reading aloud? What drives your decision about what to read on stage?

Yes, I’ll be reading from “then, we were still living” and new poems.  I never know what I’m going to read on stage until the day, and very often, the hour before the actual reading.  I’ve probably done more than 200 readings over the years (believe it or not), and I’ve always liked the ones where I know the least about what’s going to happen.  I generally dislike readings intensely (i.e., being in the audience), and to make myself keep interested in the whole thing, I like to keep an open mind towards my own work.  I know the poems well and sort of instinctively know which ones to read, which ones to leave out.

How did the experience of writing Track Conditions, a prose memoir, differ from writing poetry about your life? Would you ever publish another memoir, or further essays?

Poems come to me and prose comes to me and I really don’t know nor plan on which I’m going to write.  At the present moment, I seem to be very much in a place where I’m responding to the world and to living with poems, so I’m inside a new book (almost half finished — number of pages-wise, anyway) of poetry and off and on will write these prose poems.  I’ve been writing essays when I’m asked to (for two anthologies recently — one about literary (or not literary) influences on my own work and one of gay writers writing to their younger selves about being out or coming out — a book like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better”), and so I know I’m going to write an essay called “What So Funny?” because I have to deliver it at Goddard College in the winter during a residency.  It’s going to be about why I am not a funny writer but wish, in a way, that I could be.

If you had to tell a total ingenue one key thing about the reality of horse racing, what would it be?

The only winners on the racetrack are the horses. And they don’t win all the time, either.

How does one go about collecting or soliciting poems for an anthology? Did you conceive of Poets for Life, or did you enter the project in tandem with others who were working on organizing the material? Is there anyone comes to mind doing good work today in promoting and collecting writing about AIDS?

Poets for Life came to me as a book because it was something I wanted to read and nobody had gone forward with the idea, so I did.  I was alone in the thinking process but, of course, as I enlisted contributors it became a wonderful group enterprise.  David Groff just came out with “Persistent Voices” which is an anthology of writers who’ve died of AIDS.  And Groff was my editor on Poets for Life, so she certainly knows the subject.

Michael Klein appears alongside Peter Covino & Eleanor Lerman on Wednesday, August 3rd at 6pm. Visit http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com or call 212/989-9319 for reservations. 

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