Douglas Kearney is an L.A.-based poet, performer and teacher. His poetry has appeared in journals including Callaloo, Gulf Coast, nocturnes and jubilat; and anthologies, including Bum Rush the Page, Role Call, the award-winning Dark Matter: Reading the Bones and the upcoming Saints of Hysteria. He has written/performed for audio recordings and television and has been a featured performer across the country, including the New York Public Theater, Minneapolis’ Orpheum, L.A.’s World Stage and has received commissions from the Weisman Art Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem to create poetry in response to art installations. He has exhibited InJury, a series combining poetry and image, at the 2005 Afro-Geek Conference at UC Santa Barbara. He has also designed a number of poetry books ranging from chapbooks to anthologies.

His libretto work has earned collaborations with John Duykers, Grisha Coleman, Erling Wold, Eisa Davis and Anne LeBaron, for whom he assistant-directed the premiere of Wet. Kearney received an MFA from CalArts where he currently teaches African American Studies/Poetics. He was named a notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America in 2007. His first full-length collection, Fear, Some (Red Hen Press) is available.

From “The Poet Writes The Poem That Will Certainly Make Him Famous”


here, navy waves toe the dirty shore,
this is what I remember—the actual beach
is like looking at a postcard through a screen door.

seaweed litters the sand like loosened Yaki weaves—
a rusty bicycle color. any Venus born here swims
from a needle and a Styrofoam plate. myth

is an airbrush. so are hymns.
I want to be god-like. Apollo in a Seville with
the sun in the backseat. this is the poem

that will certainly make the poet famous. I write
at night, looking at the stars through the screen, room
fading into light.

let me tell you who I am. let me write it in pitch,
in slippery shadow. the pages flee from me like fish.

The Poet As Setting

The jolt that comes to bones inside a tumbled streetcar

is what the painter considers as she strokes her-
self into story. There is less to the jolt that

comes as he shuts his eyes before the monitor, save

what he imagines—a lightning bolt, a god tapping
the shoulder. He imagines the sky swelling

with ceiling fans or the guano of extinct birds,

a jolt riding from his shoulder
blades to his eyelids, dropping with roller

coaster clacks to his fingers. Here, he dreams of Frida

Kahlo. Here, he says, let me spread my flesh out like a
table linen, let my bones be silver that touches,

making, again, that clack. My skull will be a glass,

set properly, I have class enough. What jolt is
it to chew over class, his body set before him as

a reader sips (perhaps) a glass of something heady? We give

books spines, we break them. The table will have
its legs, its head. The body is upon us. Does the table have

a stomach? Is it simply there to bear our hunger

without its own, like a eunuch bathing a stripper?
What is the poet without eyes or ears—reading, listening? He is

a platform—a place to set, that to set it with. And if this is

all, what will he do when the reader finishes a glass,
rises from the poet’s head, and passes

into the city? Covered with a linen, he is waiting for

something to spill, perhaps a girl in Mexico rolling
her ankle in a street-


From “John Henry Vs. The City”

5. in a station at the metro

first metrocard you bought
your hammer bent but
your eyes lit       near electrical
your funk ain’t wilt wan petals
at station       which still felt haunted
big negroes are expected
people pay for them but
tv’s a zoo-keeper     this here
natural John once subway
clanged tracks in your grave
you were run through         steel
machine devouring the corpse
of some America       that natural
blood of yours feel green yellow
get a move on John even you
shouldn’t block the automatic doors

Douglas Kearney Moonday poetry reading

© 2007 Douglas Kearney

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