Thursday, December 07, 2006


This is my 1491st comment on this blog since I started back in August 2002. Over very much the same period of time, Kevin Killian has posted something close to the same number of reviews on Amazon.Com. Given everything else Killian has been doing with regards to his own creative writing, his Spicer scholarship, his ongoing non-academic day job, his role, alongside Dodie Bellamy, in the most significant power-duo in the San Francisco poetics scene since the heyday of Robert Duncan & Jack Spicer, the idea that Killian has found the time & wherewithal to post thousands of reviews simply boggles this blog. Perhaps even more amazing is that Amazon, which counts everything, notes that there are 127 reviewers who have done even more. But unless Adorno & Benjamin have started sending in pieces, I can’t imagine anyone doing them better than Kevin Killian.

I’ve been hearing about Kevin’s Amazon reviews now for years, but until Brent Cunningham edited Selected Amazon Reviews, out now from Hooke Press, I’d seen very few. Cunningham’s selection makes clear why. The first review is of a biography of Rock Hudson by David Bret, the second is of – I swear – Gerber Tender Harvest 1st Foods Sweet Potatoes, Baby Food, of which, in part, Killian writes

I first was introduced to Gerber as a wee laddie, when Mom never dreamed I’d ever graduate to anything but baby food, for I would sit in my high chair and refuse to eat anything but mashed-up Gerber’s vegetables. If Mom, Dad, or our extended family attempted sneak something else onto my tray, wham! It would hit the opposite kitchen wall.

Nowhere is there any mention of poet Dan Gerber, one-time editor of Sumac, scion of the family that created this taste sensation, nor of Gerber’s 1994 “merger” with the conglomerate Novartis, of which it is now just one of many brands (including Gerber Life Insurance). Just an intimate, personable discussion of the product itself, right down to the labeling.

This is followed with a review of a book listed as “currently unavailable” (as is the case, online at least, with the Rock Hudson bio): Alcatraz: The True End of the Line by Darwin Coon. Followed in turn by Poets Talk, a super anthology of interviews with Canadian poets edited by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy. Followed in turn by The Stripper’s Guide to Looking Great Naked by Jennifer Axen and Leigh Phillips:

For example, say you’re one of those unfortunates who have they call “butt-thigh syndrome” – that’s what happens when onlookers can find “no real distinction between your ass and your thighs” – then what you do is apply bronzer underneath each cheek to give the illusion of some 3-D depth.

Only one of the first five items here – Poets Talk – is a product that I’m likely ever to seek out on the Amazon web or anywhere else (I have no idea what my butt looks like). This string of what I might characterize as unusual choices – StarPet: How to Make Your Pet a Star¹ has a great reference to a baton – continues until we find a review of Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception. At this point, this little chapbook is nearly half done.

The new historicism as a critical movement took the tools of traditional literary criticism and applied them to nonliterary documents of the past, so as to create a reading of the past itself in deeper & presumably more meaningful terms. Killian’s strategy is not that different from this, save for the fact that he’s “reading” the present with a whimsical, but not inaccurate eye, and that his critical mode has as much of the gossip column as a literary model as it does the latest issue of Representations. Imagine, if you will, Wellek & Warren as read through Tonya Harding or a dialog that blends perfectly Roland Barthes and Melissa Rivers. Or, more accurately perhaps, what if John Waters understood that he was an urban ethnographer and took that role seriously. That’s exactly what Killian appears to be doing. It’s a bravura performance and a not insignificant reading of the world itself.

I should note that I’m not a fan of Amazon myself, although I sometimes use it. Mostly I use the site for data on the book involved and then go straight to the publisher or to SPD to actually order the volume – this not only puts more money in the press’ hands, it usually gets the volume to me quicker. But what Killian has done, as I read it, is not necessarily endorse Amazon as a sales engine, so much as recognize its role as a unique repository of information. Even the most recalcitrant of independent bookstores now seem to utilize the site before they turn to Books In Print. And that’s the spirit that comes through best in this collection of just 35 pieces. You can and should buy this book. But you should also look up all of Kevin Killian’s reviews online, which can be found indexed here.


¹ The online version is missing the first four words of the third paragraph – “The author has done…” – which are happily supplied in the book. Maybe that beef jerky allusion caused a brain spasm in HTML itself.


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