Thursday, August 12, 2010

This week's poem

Kevin Killian's Door into Darkness.

The AIDS epidemic in San Francisco was the worst tragedy ever to befall this city: up to 18,000 have reportedly died, compared with 3,000 after the Great Fire in 1906. Given the almost Biblical proportions of the disaster, it’s remarkable that so little meaningful poetry has been written about it, one astonishing exception being Kevin Killian’s collection entitled Argento Series, published in 2001 by Krupskaya Books.

I’ve had these poems within arm’s reach at my desk for years. They conflate AIDS with the movies of Dario Argento, an Italian filmmaker who made giallo films, a genre of “thriller” movies featuring extreme violence and low budget (and therefore largely self-improvised) horror effects, produced numerously in the 1970’s.

AIDS, which is seen here as a cheap horror show, and the figure of Dario Argento hover spectrally over all these poems. But at the same time, layers and layers of complexity are interwoven: scenes from the author’s daily life, his apparently encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, interactions with wife and friends, and citations which range from St. Augustine to Kathy Acker.

I chose the simplest and most direct of these poems, which grimly embodies a common experience most of us had here in the 1980’s and early 90’s—three times in my own case—attending a dying friend or acquaintance or lover in hospital or hospice. The title references a tv horror series created by Dario Argento which played on the Italian station RAI in 1973.

In Kevin’s poem, the mind-travelling subject shuffles restlessly about the room, enters first as the visiting third-person observer, then it penetrates the mind and body of the patient, and finally unmasks itself as Death, the director and producer of the film, appearing in the form of a lover come to reclaim his own.


Reproduced here by permission of the author.
Kevin Killian’s Argento Series is available at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley.
There are several Dario Argento clips on Youtube, including his personal introduction to Doorway into Darkness.



  1. A very powerful poem indeed!

  2. Chilling. Wonderful.

  3. What astonishes me is the number of subjectivities that shapeshift and circulate in these 18 lines--there's Kevin, Dario, the Patient, Death, the past lover--even the wristwatch has a speaking part!
    I think you could speak of similarities with other poems in the same collection, but here the various personae come together to embrace and re-enact a scene experienced by so many during the AIDS epidemic.
    It seems to me brilliant, and for me at least this is really the core poem of the Argento Series.