Thank You, Steel China is Sean Kilpatrick’s newest collection of poetry. It’s a pretty good title, not as good as fuckscapes, but if I’m being honest, it’s pretty good. His newest is as deranged, perverse, antagonistic, and poignant as anything else he’s put out, but perhaps a bit focused in on his particular horrific vision of mankind. Sean and I talked about the book, about Dennis Cooper, and about his thoughts on writing school.
Something that makes Kilpatrick and his work so pleasurable is his obstinate refusal to give a straight answer. He never necessarily gives you what you want or even what you’ve asked for, and thank god for that. He and I corresponded in subversive and encoded language through the annals of the deep web at the wee hours of the morning because nothing is safe anymore.
Nicholas Rys: Let’s talk about the art for this book. Who did it? It was fascinating for me to learn that, in a way, the art from Sucker June inspired your text…did this happen similarly or was it the other way around?
Sean Kilpatrick: Gary Shipley designed and produced the book with irreproachable dexterity. He understood the proper Slayer-esque cover required and rendered one perfectly, on the spot, upon submission. While it was less of a sensually lingering staring contest, still there are loin variants at play. The usual screaming back and forth is thereabout unwound, but the narrative also displays my first weepy indoor voice.
NR: Can you talk about the title of this book?
SK: The internet (turns out Cthulhu can breastfeed us on just its fingerprints) is an advanced technological rendering of human stupidity memorialized by an amphibiously roving collage of our pants around our collective ankles and this will be the sole ennoblement future alien archeologists are amused by at our expense, if, big if, they are halfway managed into the mistake of existence as the first known colony to practice dignity by the ounce. Every generation of people ends up the worst exemplification of their zeitgeist. I happened into a generation horny to ladle soup on paper. Timid males begging permission, if we’re not retardedly aloof or feigning a gym bought grit. All your strengths are shopped for. And females who act like some imperious gang of skater brats. We almost deserve each other. Men have a flat arrogance, and women can only subtract from their conceitedness. That’s why my naïveté draws me to them. If you love someone all out, you usually come to hate their kind. Marriage is how an adolescent fantasy matures into a necessary delusion. I have retired from such dependencies, to the dismay of no one. Somebody will be on the bottom no matter what cosmetology gets fronted. I’m cleaning my sphincter with my tongue and I want you to hold a frame around it. I get how I’m the only one who might appreciate the shit I do. You’d have to counter with something as disgusting as knowing me. I prefer by now that no one will. The only public service to my efforts is their keeping themselves unread. The miscarriage I hoped to be shouldn’t rear itself so incumbently upon a reader. It has been posed to me that my depictions mean I am them. If fucking only. Who exonerates themselves from their art? People who carry their résumé into the bathroom. Kill yourself for real the second the page in some way hasn’t. No consoling from the manger, no lucrative makeshift scapegoats. Should we count the scapegoats hopping through our slumber? I wrote this book inverse clear, in a backward alt monotone that bequeaths no one the tongs to pick it up. I enjoy being underfoot, if the cool kids are tickled into an occasional, dismissive scoff. Why play fruitlessly with language? Because you need an extra strong thesaurus to describe hell. Those with the specialized wit to suggest we can be rescued sound like deputized wraiths to me. Hell is squeaky with glass ceilings. When I say hell, I mean the entire contents of Google maps. I hate writing because every sentence reduces potential body count. Posh mismanagement of time. I see the bitching against elbow grease tortured on a page. I see them out there blanketed in the politics of some boss empathy behind the veil online. A truer sociopath should slide erotically beneath your beds. Let what you wake up gurgling be the next art. You can accelerate through the sentence, or through the course of the entire piece, as long as some pedestrians get hit. Edit yourself as if a coffin mattered. By all that I mean to reference, in the title of this narrative poem concerned with how people chemically misuse one another (and we always will, unless duped into complacency), the factory inscription near the choil of many blades.
NR: Few people have as singular of a voice/tone/style as you do (IMO) – whether it was Sucker June, which was technically prose (yes?) or your movie reviews or the missed connections series I read at the Talking Book or these poems, it’s always crystal clear it’s your work. I realize that’s not really a question, but maybe I’m asking if that is all intentional and/or something you’ve worked very hard to achieve or something like that?
SK: My lineage is mostly southern and half indentured, of the assembly line, guns and drink. If the individual part is properly refined, then the good of the overall machine can stay incidental. I’m big on if. The underdeveloped pinhole sight of bacteria that lingered too long in the epipelagic layer of ocean and were singed into extinction, whichever dinosaurs took up dancing because they could sense the comet, monkeys licking exorbitant amounts of fungus, the trees get crusty so we stand on our hind legs and learn to knife fight, our panicked grunts rhyme on occasion, myth weaving swinger gods and other rejected religious maniacs, Greeks huffing gas in caves to edit the future, Rabelaisian carnivalesque grotesques against kings, syllogistic German pessimism, the French prose poem, Emerson’s notebook fractions, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s syllabic flowering, the Russian minimalist sentence as a unit, Stein loop to dada corpse, Kenneth Patchen’s warped spine, Beckett arranging silences, Burroughs’s cutup, Silliman’s torque, Lishian consecution, flarf sculpting, these tools made to spasm in one instinct, trained innate, stained by layers, the diseased ancestry of influence as a mixed method. Add the cultural influence of being picked last for gym to learn about selection, getting the right amount punched, Talk Soup, Ernie Kovacs allowed on TV, nineties absurdist children’s programing carried into adult swim, the kaleidoscopic Sega Genesis for future poets, and the roleplay heavy Super Nintendo for future novelists. The invention of the cursor sped up and changed rewriting from starting over on a new page to condensing and collapsing lines at will. You sound like you give a fuck when you call upon technique, but that’s like saying a soldier worries about killing his enemy because he spent too much on his gun. He’s not worried. The page is a dynamic assault you can employ every method against during whichever revolving context becomes necessary in the moment. Every syllable is a siege – sieged in vain for the petticoat art’s become. Especially when they’re toying themselves for peace, everything a writer does in is vain.
NR: Sort of related to that question but also not really, did you go to writing school, and if you didn’t, do you hate writing school like everyone else who didn’t go?
SK: The only regrettable thing about the few who act, temporarily, as a nurturing exception is that they tend to prolong one’s existence. You’re still you even if you keep thanking them. Undergrad bogs the sucker with a mandatory salesmanship of unrelated and inconsequential classes. I was lucky, post-grad, to come across a rare hybrid sensibility at a school in the metropolitan area, still no terminal degree, and much pursuing debt. My criminology was already in place on the page. But I hadn’t spoken to many people. Turns out my MA works zero charm for being hired, as expected. Gee guys, must everything be this at my expense? Of course, certainly, of course, yes. Good, wouldn’t want to be handed any of the handouts I’m accused of indulging. Not a smart or diverse enough brownnoser, though I do, for sure, lack all dignity, but not politically breezy enough to be let into big (or minor) league academia as it stands currently. I hope I wind up their angriest janitor, but that’s a longshot too. Having any bad words show up once you’re Googled, ha ha, this era’s silent partners in the wimpiest inquisition imaginable, the brilliant judo of us against us. Tell the clouds we’re sorry, class. I only want to read erased fucking. Let’s pioneer the shortcut to young writerdom, free of charge: find a belt, if those still exist, or use the loop of your mother’s purse. Test a sturdy hook you have to stand on a chair to reach. Now envision puddles and circle your voice box, dangling there until you are hyper aware of your perineum. It should be like, “Oh there’s that switchblade I forgot behind my balls.” Punch that feeling until you crack the cord. Lucky for you, if it remains taut. That feeling clings still, even when they take everything else away from you, and the moment they do, you’re one of us. Tattoo the word “unfortunately” on where you camp. Woe is you if you oppose both the prodigy and its mentors. That we started out painting our food and invented writing to take stock is proof we shouldn’t have made the cut as a species.
NR: You put out Sucker June about a year or so ago, you’ve released Thank You, Steel China now, and you mentioned to me earlier that you are working on something else that should be out soon-ish? Do you ever sleep? What can you tell us about this next project?
SK: A downhome double feature with two of the goddamnedest villains ever wrought between the hemispheres of a book spine, my friend! We got wobbly chicken zombie fuck plague chasing transsexual liberty after a severe punking out by a misogynist (oop, applause sign’s backfiring) reaper in camo (so mean The Walking Dead will seem like another soap) and the main feature is a sequel, of sorts, on spec, to Out for Justice. Nobodies welcome. Thirteen icons of the eighties and nineties make coked-out cameos under altered names, for legal reasons, and get their fucked, retro catchphrases and one-liners jangled into Shakespearean versus Beckettian monologue, including, but not limited to: Sir William Forsythe, of course, Drop Dead Fred, Laurie Anderson, Max Headroom, Michael Jackson, Sonic the Hedgehog, Ultimate Warrior, Jamie Gillis, and Miami Vice. I believe Pulitzer is the codename for a high-grade military targeting system.
NR: I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing you read IRL, but I have seen videos (nerd alert) and to say seeing you read is refreshing would be a dramatic understatement. Readings feel….so stuffy and boring and stale and often like a total waste of time. But watching you read was the exact opposite. Is this intentional? Are you railing against the boring, monotony of traditional readings, or is this just how it all comes out?
SK: In my day, one went to a coffee house to announce dumbass thoughts and fail at sex, instead of online. French intellectuals from the forties sprung this old English idea on the culture, but by the early 2000s, the scene was exceptionally bleak. You were easily outperformed by slam poets gesticulating for laurels from the crowd, leftover hippie elves conversing with their guitars, and every bipolar schizophrenic within walking distance of a hospital, so you had to annunciate theatrically to disrupt the Pokeman card games. Now, when I need subtitles for whoever gobbles the most impressive amount of horse apples, I just sign on. I fail the audience by surviving a reading.
NR: Can we talk a little about the movie reviews you do here at Hobart? I’m such a huge fan of them…mostly because it’s beyond unclear if you’ve even actually watched the films…
SK: These reviewers who recount a plot at me should be executed with laxatives.
NR: When we last talked about Sucker June I asked you about Lolita…I hate to do this sort of thing again, but while reading Thank You, Steel China, I couldn’t help but feel Burroughs influence…the vaguely futuristic/invented world, the sadistic/masochistic violence, the dark humor…was he on your mind at all?
SK: William S. Burroughs and the Marquis De Sade got me in this mess. If I could talk my fifteen year old self down from his dick and weapons, I’d suggest a career in business, where they really rack up the hymens and forge some lasting harm. Put the kibosh on your love life, kid. It’s not even unique as a hormone.
NR: How cool was it to have Dennis Cooper say nice things about TYSC?? I believe your book was one of the first to get a DC shout-out after his triumphant return. What do you make of that whole Google debacle? Should we all be afraid? I really liked this quote from this one piece I read about it that said “these hosts are not your friends”…
SK: Dennis Cooper is a god I’ve been reading since teenhood and it gives me delectable anxieties that he, in any way, knows I am around, sullying his field. With classic censorship, at least we can expect and point to a corporation doing it. Sure, every platform’s snugly corporate. But a defined nemesis helps by accident. Besides, we can carve our licentious valentines on the face of a tree, if necessary. But I suspect some outfit would gain the remunerative skill to shave them blank with statewide rapidity, not even to improve their numbers or for the sake of old school corporate Christianity. Remember when churchgoers convinced people books were dangerous in an unintentionally beneficial irony, the ole naughty media assist? Holding a bar over the offensive parts has become such a refined gymnastic procedure, a fellatio whiplash of society’s guilt meeting its misplaced comfort across the arts. This country should be on its knees begging sorry in every field but art. No border allegiances in hell. A block button, a finger in the ear, so annoying to read anything beyond a couple clicks, isn’t it? The trophy culture of scandalized putty evolved from right to left. Which means almost everyone claps for the scissors. I’m so decrepit I can’t even officially bleed out. I had a piece stricken, recently, because of content. I’m grateful for the quiet erasure of your occasional attention. Makes me wanna survive on spit. Have we yet to oust the tepid, faux-literate, ban factory stool pigeons from our earbuds? Set their fucking platform at the gallows alongside mine and I’ll ride them into safety.