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Isaac Kirkman: Craft, Soul, and Rising-Time for a Phoenix in AsheZ — Interview by Jamez Chang

February 5, 2013

With the publication of “Avian Theories” and “Solar Graffiti,” writer Isaac Kirkman has received some well-deserved acclaim for his gritty, twisted tales of loyalty and passage, amid urban rites…

Self Portrait #1: Isaac Kirkman

Self Portrait #1: Isaac Kirkman, © Isaac Kirkman

…Celestial bullets and tough-tongued roads: these are the early hallmarks of Isaac Kirkman’s writing, his flash-fiction pieces paved by third-person PNs (persona narrators). And while there is much to be admired in Kirkman’s mystical detailings of violence in “Graffiti” and “Avian”—of craft & bullets & valley spires—they’re just not the pieces I’ll be discussing with the artist today.

Today, I’m piggy-backing on comments made by author Ryan Sayles, who recently interviewed Kirkman in the January issue of Out of the Gutter. Sayles writes: “[A]fter I read your story ‘Portrait of [a] Sister with Insects‘ I honestly said to myself, ‘here’s one of Joe Clifford’s literary friends writing better noir than I ever will…'” (“Isaac Kirkman: Lewd, crude, tattooed…and mystic,” Ryan Sayles, Out of the Gutter, January 10, 2013).

After reading “Sisters” and savoring an earlier work by Kirkman, “Polar Bears Don’t Cry,” I was reminded of that first track off of Rubber Soul—“I’ve Just Seen a Face,” or in this instance, a raw new voice in literary fiction.

Friends, Romans, Editors, let me introduce you to Isaac Kirkman from Tuscon, AriZona. A writer who spells bombshellz with a Z. Enjoy the candid interview on Craft, Soul, and Rising-Time for a Phoenix in AsheZ.

Isaac Kirkman at the Shrine of the Outcast

Redact Wings 1: Isaac Kirkman at the Shrine of the Outcast (Tuscon, AZ) © Raechel Running

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Jamez: Let me just give the Jamez-side one-to-two trips-off-the-cuff, before we get formal-like, before we commence. Your work hits to the heart, man. Limestone. I don’t think you’re turning into a Hot Dog Factory Whisperer anytime soon!

Isaac: I never knew specifically what I did not want to be ‘till I heard you speak it into existence, but I do not want to be a “Hot dog factory whisperer!” BOO!!  Where did that perfect phrase come from?!?

Jamez: From saying “Thank You for Your Consideration” one too many times in cover letters to editors, then seeing Katniss Everdeen shoot an arrow through a fuckin’ pig’s mouth, right next to her sponsors, and me being like, “Screw that! I am not a roasted pig on a platter. I’m raising my voice so you might read my poem. Don’t go turning me into your Hot Dog Factory Whisperer!

Isaac: Emerging out of the dense wilderness you come across hoofed, poet archer by the fire. Nothing harsh: I expect honest from Sagittarius the Archer.

Jamez: Jesus, don’t go saying my age, bro—

Isaac:  —and to break bread and blunts with the Gods Son?

offline

Jamez: On with the show . . .

Author Isaac Kirkman . . . "Can We Get on with the Interview?"

Author Isaac Kirkman . . . “Can We Get on with the Interview?”

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Jamez: Polar Bears” is a much quieter piece, subdued, elegant even. I almost heard the musical chords, mixed with the pacing and patience. Can you talk about what you were trying to achieve formally and content-wise with this earlier piece?

Isaac: We were studying Rita Dove in class, her rhythms, and I was playing with a bunch of different music patterns in my head. I was aiming for something distant and controlled; I wanted the pace and sentence structure to imitate the sense of a shrinking space the Polar Bear is stuck on. I was trying for something more mechanical with the hard H sound anchoring it to represent that he is trapped in this pattern of pills and avoiding the reality of his world changing. The death of a daughter, the death of a climate system.

Jamez: A sort of dissolution & resolve here, sadness with an igloo vibe—no crying in baseball then?

Isaac: I try to separate tone and mood by making the darkest parts in my work the most lyrical.

Jamez: You extended the Henry’s-a-Polar Bear metaphor without it wearing on. What about the polar bear image/metaphor intrigued you? Whenever I’ve seen those poor bears on a floating sheet of ice, I feel a sadness I can’t explain…or just didn’t have the nerve to analogize.

Isaac: It’s an iconic image. I found such a connection between global warming and addiction/withdrawal. That sense of a world shifting and having no control over it. To be as powerful as Polar Bear but to be helpless just floating out there. To be a parent who loses a child.

Jamez: So who is Henry based on? Is he an Everyman, someone you read about, you?

Kirkman in South Carolina: Of Mohawks & Skeletons, Writing Down the Bones

Kirkman in South Carolina: Of Mohawks & Skeletons, Writing Down the Bones

Isaac: It’s based on someone I know who struggles with pain pills as I also once did. Someone I see from the outside of sobriety, trapped on the iceberg. But the sense of loss comes from fracturing some of my own loss through that character. There is a reoccurring theme in my work about people not being able to process tragedy or horrific events. They are masks I speak through.

Jamez: Do you see yourself revisiting prose-poetry in the future? Are you working on any poetry now?

Isaac:  For now I am focused on the short-story and novella path. But I know when I am older I would like to do a poetry or prose-poetry collection. I found Philip Schultz’s Living in the Past so intimidating and inspiring. There is something so precise and intimate about poetry. There are topics I would like to write about, but I have neither the emotional safety to write about them, nor the right persona to give me the ability to enter into the emotion.

Jamez: Moving on, to the sensuous and moving, your story “Portrait of a Sister with Insects.”

Self Portrait #2: Isaac Kirkman, © Isaac Kirkman

Self Portrait #2: Isaac Kirkman, © Isaac Kirkman

Jamez: I’m not going to get too personal here, but I did want to call out your device of using the insect. Again, literary device. Is it the insect itself or watching the insect that lifted the material for you?

Isaac: The watching. I think for most people, they would prefer to suffer than to watch a loved one suffer. The insect was a device to create distance on the theme of addiction, thinking of lost loved ones without becoming lost in the memory, and of course, the rise and falling imagery connected to the beetle/Sun-in-Egyptian Mythology and the Egyptian God Khepri.

Jamez: Some of my favorite lines come right after your Glee reference: “The last place where children should test the boundaries and limits of their little worlds. But they do. Testing how high they can swing on the swing set. How fast the merry go round can go round.”  Poetic endnotes. I’m curious, why talk about children there? Was it a conscious relating-back-to-the-sister character or “going off on a riff?”

Isaac: Conscious. I wanted to strip the “it-is-them-not-us” mentality, and root the experimentation of her drug use within a simple outgrowth of childhood desire to push the limits. A technique to connect the reader more emotionally. My editor Joe Clifford added the “But they do” part. I tend to be more ambiguous and elusive with my work. It made it more narrative.

Jamez: Most of all, what I love about this piece goes directly back to something Poet Philip Schultz said not too long ago: “When you don’t distract yourself from grief or some strong emotion, you experience everything through its prism, and it’s the job of a poet, the job of a writer to be able to do that for your reader.” Can you talk about the role of grief and emotion in your writing, particularly in this piece?

Isaac: I love that quote by Philip Schultz. I try to outsmart my emotional defense system when I am writing by fusing multiple moments of loss together, and approaching them from a different angle. I have known a lot of people who lost their lives to drugs. But to find the capacity to write about them, I go at it through the lens of another loss: my brother. And vice versa…

Joshua Alva Kirkman, May 19, 1977 - Sept. 23, 2009

Joshua Alva Kirkman, May 19, 1977 – Sept. 23, 2009

Jamez: I read about that and I’m very sorry. I’d like to steer away from past details; to respect that part. Straight to the moments of our borrowing: the techniques we, as writers, might use to resolve this pain. With masks. And in your case, easing the weight with the lift of a mask. Can you speak more about the persona narrator, as it relates with this?

Isaac: It is much easier to deal with the image of my older brother laying there in a casket when I use the persona of a brother losing a sister to drugs. When I saw my brother in the casket I was not able to cry and still have not been able to mourn. Finding the right persona is the key. It strips the emotional anger out, the pointlessness—those I know who have passed away from addiction. It is much easier for me to say “orphaned of motion” or “enshrined in silence” than to tack the word “death” onto things. Filtering through the lens—the death of my brother—who wasn’t on drugs, I mourn through my persona narrator.

Jamez: Since we just quoted Philip Schultz, (2008 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry), I think the thing I respect most about you, Isaac, even beyond the lyrical styling, is your passion for supporting fellow writers. I’m of the mind that you can’t go it alone in this craft/business. Would you mind speaking to that, and how, if at all, fellowship informs your creative process, your work?

Isaac Kirkman Meets Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Philip Schultz, founder of the Writers Studio, October 19, 2011


Isaac Kirkman Meets Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Philip Schultz, founder of the Writers Studio, October 19, 2011, © 2011 David Anderson

Isaac: I am nothing without my fellow writers. And by that I mean the writers I met through the Writers Studio. And my Low Writers. When you go into class you are sharing, even if it’s filtered through a persona. [It’s] your most intimate side, a side that loved ones don’t even see; and session after session you stand naked before your peers, and they want you to get better and vice versa. So much of my deepest truths and emotions can only flow through the filter of the persona narrator, but my writing collective knows what I am really talking about, and they secure my realities together with subtle, supportive, warmth. I would do anything for them.

Jamez: Reminds me of the quote from Natalie Goldberg, something along the lines of fostering relationships with other writers, that if someone writes something wonderful, it’s just that much more clarity or wonder in the world for everyone else. Writing as a communal act then?

Isaac: I think the world is made better by a shower of voices, not a singular one. I would not want to succeed if my writers were not succeeding with me. I would rather know that my presence helped to bring into the world something wonderful, regardless of credit or “success” as a Writer. Better for something wonderful to enter the world than for nothing wonderful to enter the world. The wonder comes first.

Jamez: Isaac, we’re all grateful for your time, and I want to thank you so much for your courage and honesty. Keep inspiring us all!

Author Isaac Kirkman Celebrating the Holidays in 2012 with his Grandmother, Anne King McCuen

Redact Wings 2: Author Isaac Kirkman Celebrating the Holidays in 2012 with his Grandmother, Anne King McCuen

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Jamez: OK, man, we’re done.

Isaac: Dude, did you really drive Cornel West all the way to Albany Airport?

Jamez: Yeah, I did.

Isaac: That’s awesome! So what did ole wise Cornel chat with you about?

Jamez: Oh, I just told him about my music—how I wanted to remix the older stuff. Korean folk music with hip hop. Whatever. We must’ve talked for four hours.

Isaac: The strange dialogs we have in cars. For my first few sessions at the Writers Studio, my friend Thiep from South Sudan took me in his taxi. I was like, “Wow, you walk across three countries on foot, fend off lions, rebel attacks, and now you’re driving this strange white guy back-and-forth to class?!?”

I’d better write something profound—or not get in the car; I’d feel like an ass!

Jamez: Oh shit, that’s . . . It’s like . . . someone’s always “the great” in our cars.

Cornel, for me, was “the great.” Then—now. And what’s crazy is, right before he closes the door at the airport curb, he looks at me, totally serious-faced, freezing hair, and he says, “Son, even if you fuse that Korean folk music with hip hop you must still dismantle the Patriarchy that came with it first.”

Isaac: [Laughter]

Jamez: [Laughter]

my wife

Dude, I gotta go—my wife is calling.

hangupphone2

Publication Notes: If this post gets 20 Comments & 100 Shares, Lennon & McCartney won’t reunite, but Kirkman & Chang will collaborate on a prose piece together—20/100—so go virus up!

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Born in Greenville. SC. and currently living in AriZona, Isaac Kirkman is a student at the Tucson branch of the Philip Schultz-founded Writers Studio. He is also a founding member of the Low Writers collective. His work has previously been published in Out of the GutterShotgun Honey, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. His work is forthcoming in Zelmer Pulp Anthology and Hey! That Robot Ate My Baby! (Vol. 1).

* This post was authored by Jamez Chang  

"Z-Bonics" - Jamez - © 1998 F.O.B. Productions

25 Comments
  1. Sylvia permalink

    Great interview! I was very moved by: Finding the right persona is the key. It strips the emotional anger out, the pointlessness—those I know who have passed away from addiction. It is much easier for me to say “orphaned of motion” or “enshrined in silence” than to tack the word “death” onto things. Filtering through the lens—the death of my brother—who wasn’t on drugs, I mourn through my persona narrator. And I appreciated Isaac’s perspective on the importance of having a community of fellow writers. So true. Thanks!

  2. Anonymous permalink

    Isaac contributes lyrically to the genre of noir fiction, without sexploitative imagery. He is creative in text and in person, reinventing his image and lifestyle while remaining true to his internal ethics. A wunderkind anticipating greatness …

  3. Just one more layer of Isaac getting peeled back here. The dude is too deep to capture in an interview, but this was a good one. Great job, Jamez. Isaac, always wonderful to read about you.

    • Your one of my favorite people Ryan. You have opened many doors for me and I am blessed to be part of Zelmer Pulp. Thank you.

  4. Lilian permalink

    Deep, moving and hilarious. This is a great in the making and I am so proud to call you my friend, Isaac!! Keep up the hard and good work (you too, Jamez with a Z)!

    • LOW WRITERS!!! I am proud to know you my Super Lemurian magic verse forger from Naarden! You have made my so much better. It will be your time soon! Thank you!

  5. Jenn permalink

    More superbness (I dont’ think that’s a word) from you, Isaac. I keep finding out new and interesting things about you. You’re truly inspiring. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  6. Terrific interview, thanks Jamez. A pleasure to learn about Isaac Kirkman. You get great rapport with him. Forces of nature at work! Keep it coming, guyz!

    • Cheers Doris! And yes to another one of Jamez magical people. I look forward to getting to know you and the rest. Thank you!!

  7. Isaac, you are one deep cat. You write from places neither I or most writers have ever been and that’s what makes you so damn good. Keep it up- and we live in the same fricking town, when are we meeting up?

    • Thank you man. We really, really need to meet up, and get the ball rolling. Where can I order your book of poetry?

  8. Jane Kirkman permalink

    Though I have know you longer and more deeply than anyone, I am still constantly amazed and in awe of each new revelation of you talent. You continue to fill me with joy and pride.

    • Thank you Mom for all of your support. You and Papa have always been amazing! I will keep pushing on further!

  9. Kevin Singer permalink

    Yep, fusing multiple moments of loss and coming at it from a different angle entirely – that’s exactly how I construct my work. I tell people not to look for me in my fiction, because they won’t find me there, but I’m everywhere. Nice suit.

  10. Great interview! I love the extra bit at the end too. Here’s to hoping we see this collaboration in the near-future!

    • Thank you Mike. I really appreciate it. It has been a blessing getting to know Jamez. I am excited for any future projects with him. Jamez and any of his friends have my support. 🙂

  11. Sakinah Hofler permalink

    Wow, I really enjoyed this interview. Isaac, you’re one interesting guy! Thorough, deep, and thought-provoking. (I’m still trying to figure out ways to write about issues close to me and I love to read how others writers are able to go about this.)
    Also, your words just earned a place on my quote wall at work:
    “I think the world is made better by a shower of voices, not a singular one. I would not want to succeed if my writers were not succeeding with me. I would rather know that my presence helped to bring into the world something wonderful, regardless of credit or “success” as a Writer. Better for something wonderful to enter the world than for nothing wonderful to enter the world. The wonder comes first.”
    Thanks for the insight! Nice interview Jamez~

    • That means a lot Sakinah. Jamez is such a great cat, and when he told me that their were more writers, that he was part of a group called No MAPs I got so excited! I was like YES! Now we can really bring something awesome into this world on a grand scale and make the world better. Cheers to you Sakinah. I look forward to getting to know you better and you have my support in all things!

  12. Chris Leek permalink

    Great Interview. Isaac you are the source brother!

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  1. Meet…Isaac Kirkman: The Last Ancients (Part III of VI) | jamez chang

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