The Write Stuff: Peter Kline on Passing and Having an Intense Engagement with Language

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.

Peter Kline's first book of poems, Deviants, was published in 2013 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. He teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco and at Stanford University. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he is also the recipient of residency awards from the James Merrill House, the Amy Clampitt House, and the Kimmell Harding Nelson Foundation. His work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Tin House, the Best New Poets series, and elsewhere. He lives in San Francisco.

What are you working on right now?

My first book of poems, Deviants, was just published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Deviants is a book of estrangements. As the title might suggest, many of the book's speakers are isolated, disaffected, excluded, or otherwise separate from society. My poems of the last few years have been concerned with passing of all kinds — with passing as a man or a woman, as gay or straight; with passing through unseen, passing by without stopping to help, passing over the threshold, passing from innocence, passing from consciousness, passing from life. My speakers wear many masks — they are loners and flirts, worriers and snarlers, supplicants and Jeremiahs. But they all share an urge toward both transgression and transcendence, and they all have an intense engagement with language. I want my poems to stick both in the mind and the craw, to be beautiful and memorable and at the same time strange and disconcerting. I am also interested in challenging the easy relationship between speaker and reader through the use of shifting personae whose designs on the reader are slippery and sometimes adversarial, in the tradition of Sylvia Plath and Frederick Seidel.

Most recently, I've been working on a series of poems in a form I invented, a slender, eight-lined “mirrorform” that begins and ends with the same line. To my surprise, many of these have come out as modern psalms addressed directly to the Divine — though a pretty cheeky kind of psalm.

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