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Welcome back, Kevin Pilkington!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Kevin Pilkington, author of the poetry collection Playing Poker with Tennessee Williams, which will be published in 2020. This will be Kevin’s third title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Kevin Pilkington is a member of the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College.  He is the author of nine collections: Spare Change was the La Jolla Poets Press National Book Award winner; Getting By won the Ledge chapbook award; In the Eyes of a Dog received the New York Book Festival Award; The Unemployed Man Who Became a Tree was a Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award finalist.  His poetry has appeared in many anthologies including: Birthday Poems: A Celebration, Western Wind, and Contemporary Poetry of New England.  Over the years, he has been nominated for four Pushcarts.  His poems have appeared in numerous magazines including: The Harvard Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, Boston Review, Yankee, Hayden’s Ferry, Columbia, North American Review, etc.  He has taught and lectured at numerous colleges and universities including The New School, Manhattanville College, MIT, University of Michigan, Susquehanna University, Georgia Tech.  His debut novel Summer Shares was published in 2012 and a paperback edition was reissued in summer 2014. His collection Where You Want To Be: New and Selected Poems was a 2017 IPPY Award Winner.  A new collection entitled Playing Poker With Tennessee Williams will be published in late 2020. He recently completed a second novel. 

Visit Kevin’s website or follow him on Instagram.

On Writing Playing Poker with Tennessee Williams

Landscapes ignite poems for me through an image or a sound. Then I show up for work at the blank page and search for the exact notes in the language to support the rhythm of each line or as Yeats put it to “pursue a more passionate syntax.” Many of the poems in my forthcoming collection, Playing Poker With Tennessee Williams began in Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Paris and completed at my desk at home, on the kitchen table, on the MetroNorth train and on the subway. I once read the painter Chuck Close said that waiting for inspiration is the sign of an amateur. I too found that the gods only fork over no more than 5% inspiration and the other 95% is intense labor. I can and do write anywhere since I have developed the concentration of an ancient monk. Perhaps that is why I have always considered every poem I work on as a form of prayer. The poems that comprise this collection have gone through at least thirty or more revisions. After a few years I found the poems that accumulated all had connected threads. Organizing them in this collection refined their focus, scope and metaphysical reach.

Excerpts

Playing Poker with Tennessee Williams

The streets are narrow, perfect
for horses or mules but 300
years ago no one saw cars
coming even if they looked both
ways. Traffic jams and music
are a kind of gumbo. A woman
the size of a parish fills a street
corner with her voice, then plays
her clarinet, each note so sweet
you can drop them in your coffee.
The next song she plays would make
Benny Goodman think about
switching to piano.

Beignets are covered in a snow
storm of powdered sugar that could
cripple the entire Quarter if winter
down here meant what it does back
home. And there is nothing louder than
clothes my cousin wears to parties –
Bourbon Street, night or day, is a thousand
of his Hawaiian shirts.

On St. Peter’s Street, I found Tennessee Williams’
building where he rented a top floor
studio and began Streetcar. I looked in
at the front stairs where he had Stanley
stand for the first time yelling like an abused
dog just kicked in the stomach up to the woman
he loved who would become Stella
in the next draft.

I’d be the first to admit when
I walked away I moved a little
like Brando before stopping
to watch a parade of school
kids dancing down Royal Street.
A few teachers were playing horns,
banjos and some were moving
umbrellas up and down like pistons
in an engine to keep those kids moving.

I found myself in front of the house
Williams owned according to a plaque
near the door. Across from it was
Marti’s Restaurant where he went
every afternoon to drink and play
cards. I stared at the porch where
he sat and watched myself walk over,
asked if I could play, pulled up a chair,
then beat him at poker. Of course
I should have let him win except
I knew it was the only souvenir I would
ever really want to bring home.

***

Bridges

I’m on the roof deck of a building
45 stories high that aren’t all worth
reading. This is the only place I can
stay above it all and by the time the noise
on the street reaches this height it turns
into Mozart. The sky is clear except
for a cloud a helicopter rips into shreds
with its blades. Queens looks like brail
I can rub my fingers over in case I want
to see even more. The East River lets another
ship slide by and I wonder if we are related
since I have been sliding by for years.
All the bridges can fit on the table
of the model train set my brother and I
had as kids. No wonder the freight train
going over Hell Gate looks Lionel and Wards
Island Bridge is small enough to pin on my lapel.

I walk over to look downtown, past the new
apartment building 3 blocks away that is all
glass, chrome and resembles Cary Grant.
Just below on 2nd Ave. there is a park the size
of a green mat. I’d like to pick up and place in front
of my door so anyone who stops by can wipe
their shoes on tree tops. The Empire State always
reminds me of a syringe a doctor is holding up
waiting for me to pull down my pants.
And back where the sky is torn and ripped
the World Trade Towers stood. There are new
buildings under construction all over and a flock
of giant birds who flew out of those Japanese monster
movies from the sixties nest on top of them like cranes.

This is a city that keeps changing, where block parties
are a new religion, dogs walk their owners, guys still
leave bars and piss between parked cars until their bladders
turn to sand, winters bring snow and ice and the police bring
heat. No one gets along, but everyone else does. There’s no
denying in back of me Billie Holiday died in Metropolitan
Hospital tied to her bed. This, however, is what I’m certain
of – somewhere down there a woman is waiting just for me
who smells like flowers.

***

Photo of My Grandfather Smoking a Cigar

So I had a grandfather who never
visited us much – my dad didn’t want
him to. I came across this old photo
of him in a box after cleaning out my closet.
He’s sitting in our backyard, a cigar
in his mouth so he didn’t have to talk
to any of us. It’s been years but I’ve memorized
everything he never said. I can see he really
didn’t have lips, the way I remembered,
his mouth is just a slash under his nose.
Hair he combed over his bald head hangs down
like a dishrag covering his left ear. We lived
thirty minutes outside of New York City but
when I look over his right shoulder I can make out
Dublin, two dead wives, empty glasses of Guinness,
the wagon he could never stay on and ended up walking
or crawling home most nights. He’d then punch
and kick anything that got in his way: wives, kids,
dogs. If I stare long enough, I can see him puff
on that cigar, smoke flowing out of his mouth straight
from the fire in his stomach, all that way, straight up from hell.