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Interview: Poet Doug Kearney, Author of 'The Black Automaton' and 'Fear, Some'

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I don't remember where I first saw Douglas Kearney perform, but it definitely left a mark on me. He just doesn't read his poetry, he embodies it, complete with full-out energy, inflections, song and dynamics. In all, it's a heartfelt experience that can leave you laughing hard while swinging your emotion to tears -- for me, it's just one of those "wow" moments. Although he once shared with us a poem for publish a few years ago, we thought we'd interview Kearney in anticipation of his big staged reading this week. And who better to do that than Brendan Constantine, a fellow L.A.-based poet. ~ Zach Behrens, Editor

This Sunday and the next, poet Douglas Kearney presents a staged reading of his award wining poetry collection The Black Automaton. Kearney is renowned as much for his exciting, charismatic reading style as he is for his vivid craft on the page. I had a chance this week to catch up with him and ask about this very different poetry event, a mix of circus and oratory at Theater-Theater on Pico.

To start us off, I’d like to know what's the first poem you ever loved?

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. The line that always gets me is: “We/ Jazz June. We…” I’m still trying to get at that idiomatic compression, the breaks in the English where the dark matter lays in the cut. I have a recording of her reading that poem and she hangs those enjambed “we’s” so hard, it’s ridiculous. Each one teeters on the edge of her breath—just like it looks on the page.

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At what age did you first begin to write? What made you turn to poetry in earnest?

My family encouraged me to write and ramble. Language was big in our house. When I was 12, I wrote a Christmas musical for my church. It was called What is Christmas? and it involved four siblings going to planet Wooz where they each explain what Christmas means from their own perspectives. It was fun, the church was game and a few other churches performed it, too. I began seriously writing poetry when I realized I was more interested in language than stories—that would be about 1997.