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We're going to feature one poet every Monday that remains in October. Last week's interview was with Ricardo Nazario y Colón. Up this week is Keith Wilson, whose poem "rules of prejudice" rocked our 20th issue. Rocked it so hard that got a lot of feedback about it and we eventually nominated it for Best of the Net 2011. Find out more about Keith here.
Enjoy the interview!
TD: Some of your work, I’m thinking in particular of “rules of prejudice” (BL 20), uses humor to explore cultural assumptions about race. Can you talk a little bit about what motivated you to write that poem? Do you think the attitudes reflected in the poem are regional?
KW: "rules of prejudice" is interesting in that I was never entirely certain it was really a poem, and it was in part because of what some consider its humor. I wasn't sure what it was, but it began as a laundry list of phrases and ideas I'd heard working at the many jobs I was holding during college. Managers and customers and friends of friends who had said things either because they thought we "were cool," or because they didn't know what race I was, or didn't know where I stood on an issue. And the thing is, they were right--mostly those comments went uncontested, because it was my boss speaking and I needed my job, or because frankly, I was just too tired. And so there's something darker in that poem as well, I think, because it's not your sister or your boyfriend or your lover who makes that little comment about Mexicans or unwed mothers or Muslims, but everyone. We all sort of maintain a certain American atmosphere where certain Others are open season.
It is definitely a regional poem, reflective of a community which was, at the time, unused to minorities. But it is, too, American. I mean, what are regions? Just different entrances into the same house. The funny thing is, the first time I read that poem, it was at a local coffee shop I loved and had read at dozens of times called the Bean Haus in Northern Kentucky, the reception was cartoon-level crickets. Complete silence. I was very close to retiring it right then and there, but I decided to read it while touring with the Affrilachian poets and with a different audience, it created a little bit of an uproar.
TD: You recently moved to Chicago from Kentucky. How long did you live in KY before you moved to Chicago? Can you talk about the differences (or the similarities) between where you lived in Kentucky and Chicago?
KW: I had lived in Kentucky for about 12 years. I miss, of course, my family, but what I didn't realize is that I would miss the land. Trees are so purposeful in the city. They happen in zoned areas, in parks and in holes dug into sidewalks only big enough for the one tree. I've never really been a nature person, but sometimes you don't realize what you are experiencing even is nature until you're deprived of it. Chicago has many charms, but the hills, and the open spaces, and even the random deer jumping over the neighbor's fence are all things I miss. The other day, on the news, they were reporting that a dog had been mauled by a coyote. Is that news in Chicago? Is wildlife getting in the yard news?
But Chicago and my part of Kentucky, what the locals all call Northern Kentucky, are similar as well. They are both midwestern places, with a lot of midwestern values. I had to drive south before I really got to experience any sort of twang, or the food that makes driving so far worth it.
TD: Your new chapbook, Kinder-meal, is steeped in mythology. Can you talk about what drew you to these stories and how you pushed against the boundaries of the originals?
KW: I've always loved mythology, ever since I was little. I'd read these children books that were simple retellings of Hercules' labors, or of Jason's adventures, or of the story of Daphne. But what I think what still interests me about myth is how universal it remains, and how because it was not codified, that every time you read a story, it's as if someone is telling it again the way it was always told--which is to say it's different every time. Whenever you tell a story, or someone repeats a story, it is made in the image of that person, and Kinder-meal (and the larger, unpublished, manuscript it is a part of) was me coming to terms with the fact that the stories that might have been told by blacks in America were destroyed by the slave trade. But stories belong to the people, and so if I am telling the story of Minotaur, I will give to him the blood traits of my own tradition. And beyond that, what would the creation stories, the mythology, be for Otherness in general? Nations have boundaries and official languages and creation stories. They have the alphabet and the Iliad. But Otherness is often a forced national boundary on a people that might have more in common with those that forced the boundary than with each other. What myths do they have?
TD: Can you share a favorite memory or experience from an AP reading or event?
KW: I am drawn to the tour, and I'd have to say dinner. Always dinner. You do not truly know how hilarious Ricardo Nazario y Colón is until you've been around him long enough to eat a meal.