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2004 Writers' Forum
Michael Kloss

Michael Kloss is a twenty-three year old part time college student of philosophy, classic art, literature and the Simpsons; he finds himself the most unlikely character to be found with pen and pad on the Board of Red Sky Poetry Theatre. He would write even if no one paid attention but loves that people do and tries to be as simple and plain spoken as he can in his work.
photo credit:
dean wong
Conversation with Curator Belle Randall
In this interview, recorded March 5, 2004, Michael and Belle discuss composition, memorization, art, faith, performance, and more.
Listen to this Interview (MP3)
19:16 / 7.7MB
BR







We're here, talking with Mike Kloss. Mike is by far the youngest writer in this year's Jack Straw Writers Program. And he's certainly the youngest member of the Red Sky Poetry board. But, in spite of your youth, for a couple of years I've been hearing you read at local open mic readings and things. So you got started early, right? How did you start writing? How did you get to these places in Seattle with open mics and everything?
MK











Well, it's interesting because, writing poetry started long before I ever went to an open mic. When I was a fourth-grader I had a schoolteacher who made everyone in the class recite poems on a particular day of the week, and so every Tuesday I'd have a memorized poem to read. And, how I started writing was, there were certain things about 'em I didn't like so I changed 'em. And then from there I started writing my own, and… I always wrote, like all through my teen years and everything. And it was a friend of mine at school-at BCC that suggested we go to Red Sky one weekend, and that was my first open mic experience, three years ago.
BR





I always thought you could tell the potential poets by the people who kinda sit around correcting the lyrics of songs as they're listening to them. I'm… trying to remember a song that a friend of mine did that with. Do you remember any of those early poems? Are they still among your work, or do you disown them now…?
MK






The earliest poem that I have, that I read, I wrote in sixth grade. And… I'm constantly finding things 'cause my mom's a scrap-booker, so she's always digging up things like notebooks that I had, so I'm always finding work from when I was a young kid. Yeah, there's one particular poem that I really love a lot and I wrote it when I was like eleven or twelve years old.
BR Do you remember it?
MK



Do I remember it? I don't know if I remember all of it, but it was about writing poetry and it was, sort of my first poem that wasn't about how I felt it was about something bigger than just, "I'm sad, or mad, or… glad."
BR

Why did you take to poetry? I don't imagine that's what most of your playmates were doing…
MK






Well… no, no, no… I played sports when I was a younger person and writing poetry was always something that was extremely personal and, most people had no idea that I did it, even to today, most of the people that know me don't even know that I'm a poet. I don't know why, I just… I am very good with language, I just, can't explain it I guess, it just always seemed to work for me.
BR Are either of your parents involved in writing at all?
MK No, no. I mean, not really at all, no.
BR

And so you started out revising poems that you were asked to memorize?
MK Yes.
BR








I think there's a real value in memorizing poems. At one time I was trying to memorize a poem every day and I thought, "oh wonderful, I'll have… hundreds!" Don't you? It seems like they really get into your system somehow at a level that isn't verbal, and become part of you, if you memorize them. But, so since you started out correcting other people's poems, even famous poems, what were your principles of revision? I mean, on what basis, do you think, do you remember any of those corrections?
MK





Um, well mostly I didn't really know anything about actually how poetry was written, but it was, things that rhyme you know, or exact meter and things like that, always were really boring, so I tried mixing it up a little bit and just adding words and making it not rhyme so much… that always really annoyed me.
BR


I would love to hear your versions of some of these poems! But, maybe that's not available right now. So, now, do you revise, is revision a part of your process?
MK











Well… in the last year and a half I've drastically changed how I did that 'cause… for a long time I just kept everything, I mean, if I wrote a line, that was it, it was in concrete, it didn't change. And then I sort of went through this period where I, just did a whole bunch of things over a period of time and then sort of… sewed them together. But nowadays, when I get an idea, I let it sit for a long time in my mind and just think about it and, just let it work itself over and then… when it seems right I just pick up a pen and write it down and… at this point, that goes on for so long I usually don't change it much after I write it down.
BR


That's interesting. How do you recognize a poem coming on? What's it like for you, how do you get an idea for a poem?
MK








Well that's probably the best question I'll be asked today because, I've often asked myself that very thing. There's no really telling when it's going to happen, it just is sort of an absolutely reactionary thing, and I just, I don't know, it's like, I don't want to be cliché or use some sort of weird metaphor, but it's sort of like when you see a really beautiful woman, is what I equate it to, because you just, you just know it, you see it for what it is, and it's just right there.
BR







Most people seem to agree that the best ones come fairly intact. I mean, even if you revise a lot as I do, still it seems my best ones come pretty much whole. But, it is like a gift or something, it's a nice thing to receive. It feels like finding something or being given something instead of actually sitting down deliberately to make something. Who are you influences? who are the poets you liked first, or who you like now, and admire…?
MK

















Well, often times in high school I could be found skipping class and sitting in the school library reading Edna St. Vincent Millay, and that was basically… I was sort of an elitist at a young age, so I either read Shakespeare or Edna and I didn't really branch out much but… when I started going to Red Sky—and this isn't because I know some of them are listening—it was mostly the members of Red Sky, really. The people that I work with, and the board, and people that I hear pretty frequently are a huge influence on me. And I sort of consider it a challenge to hear them because I think they're all excellent, and so it challenges me to try new things and not get into a rut. But… as far as poets are concerned, Kenneth Patchen is a huge influence. And, uh, Shakespeare is a huge influence, as far as form is concerned, and…. I'm influenced, in a lot of ways, by things that have nothing to do with poetry, like movies and music and lyrics have a lot of effect on me.
BR




There's one poem in which you mention Dylan, Bukowski and Patchen… and then when I was reading your poems I did think I could see some of the influence of maybe Dylan from the "Bringing it All Back Home" period, those long songs. Do you love those? I love those...
MK I do, I do, yeah…
BR






"Gates of Eden" and "It's Alright Ma," and those long songs…. What doctrine do you use when you write? I mean… actually I'm repeating a word that you used with me, and actually I think 'doctrine' was a bit strange, so is there, is that a different question than by what lights you revise to, I mean, is there a doctrine? As far as, what the subject should be, or…?
MK















Well, as I get older I find that I respond more to art that has sort of a grand subtext to it like, you know Renaissance High Art or… I had a friend who —Martin, who's actually in the program-who said one time, that "everyone's a surrealist, anyone who's an artist is a surrealist and all the things that we create exist together in their own world." And so when I write I've felt that it's always been really important to come from a specific place because I don't really respond to art that's sort of off the cuff and disconnected. I like art that comes from somewhere. There's a point to it like, 'all of it together equals a greater meaning.' Which is, that poem you were talking about, is, what I find—those people I'm talking about, Dylan and Patchen and Bukowski, there's sort of an underlying thing that they're getting at which has always had… I always love that.
BR




Yes, I do too. I always like Frost saying, 'poetry is saying one thing in terms of another.' I like the feeling that more is being said than is right on the surface, and I really think you can just feel that, it's a resonance that work has when it's… when it is about more than the ostensible subject.
MK Right, right.
BR







You've mentioned to me sometimes that being a Christian is a driving force in your work. But it's also a little-known part of you, I mean, even people who've heard you read often at Red Sky, I don't think… would necessarily from your work… identify you that way. So how do you feel about that? You're not being didactically Christian, intending to teach, or even propaganda, you know, it could be, but it's not like that.
MK









No. I think for me it's always been interesting and kind of scary 'cause people that hear that I'm a Christian sort of laugh and are confused by that because I don't obviously fit what they consider to be a Christian which is… why I find it very important to embrace that when I'm writing. Because there's certain doctrines that I have, and certain doctrines in Christianity that I feel are amazingly important and people just sort of have the wrong—you know, Christians have kind of a bad name over the years, and so…
BR


You think people have a stereotype of what it means to be a Christian, and there's a kind of negative stereotype about it—
MK







There is. And because people always think that, because you're a Christian you're going to start recruiting them or something. And I think that… I'm not out to work propaganda on anyone. There's something that I believe very much in, and that I think is important to everyone, and I try to talk about that in a way that's important to me, and reflect… how it works in my life as an example for others to decide for themselves what they think.
BR You're also involved in acting, aren't you?
MK I have been on and off.
BR Are the two things related for you?
MK







Well I think what really opened up poetry for me was finding open mics, and taking the skills that I had as an actor, and stage presence, and applying them to my writing. When most people ask, I say I am a performance poet. I mean, that's just how it works best for me. There's more power for me in reading it out loud in contact with the audience than just, a piece of paper and people see the words…
BR









I can understand that. I think most of the poems that we write are dramatic. I mean, they're—like Stephen said 'the cry of the occasion,' someone's in the midst of a situation speaking out of it. And that's very close to monologue. And… it's probably helpful to you, because… when I'm teaching at the U., or have another kind of student that's not a theater person, they often approach writing as an act of description, rather than dramatic. And I think I sort of have to nudge them toward… drama. What are you working on now Mike?
MK











I'm working on the poems for this program. Which is interesting 'cause I've never written something specifically for anything, really. I've just kind of let the work be its own thing. So I'm writing poems now to be read at the reading for this program, and… it's going to be this great opening up of work that nobody's seen at that point, and aside from that I also write a lot of short stories, and my ultimate goal has always been to be a novelist, and so… I just began working on collecting all my short stories together and seeing what I could make of those, and to begin, sort of a character study for a novel that I'm working on.
BR





You're on the board of Red Sky Poetry Theater, Mike. And I mentioned that most of the board members of Red Sky have been doing that for twenty years or something and getting on. And now you're giving us this help. And… how did you start becoming involved? And maybe you could tell people listening what Red Sky Poetry Theater is.
MK











Well Red Sky Poetry Theater is a group of writers who put on an open mic every Sunday night, on Capitol Hill at the Globe Café Theater. And, I started going there when I was nineteen and just reading, and I went every Sunday for a year and a half, during the season. And then Paul Hunter asked me to read there, to be the feature one weekend. And then it wasn't long after that that people asked me to be on the board. I've always found that it was extremely uplifting as well as extremely humbling because I am so very young and I really don't know much about the scene as most people in the group do, but it's such a warm place.
I don't think I could write as well as I do without Red Sky because it's like my workshop, where I go and I can try anything and it's comfortable for me and I think for any young writer that's important, really important. And I think that's why I generally feel, not as a prideful thing, but a step up above people my age who write because I sort of have this place where there's a lot of wisdom and knowledge that I can tap into.
BR















It makes writing a more day to day thing, I think, if you have a place to read your poems and kind of keep current with them. And I'll think of that often 'cause I teach at the University and the Extension also, and the people there tend to be academic in their approach, and you know I compare in my mind the two ways of learning by going to Red Sky and reading your poems and just getting a sense from the audience of how much you're speaking to people or not, or doing the workshop and, you know, having fifteen people or something offer suggestions to a poem. And, the truth is, you know, that I encourage my university students to try the open mic, or even do that with class sometimes, just read poems instead of criticize them, because it does probably work, well certainly equally well, or it's a different approach but it's very valid.
Okay. Can we hear a poem or two?
MK Oh. Well… sure, I…
BR

Well, you said you remember some of your poems by heart, and...
MK

I do. I have two that for some odd reason just stuck in my head.
BR

Well, if you're comfortable saying them, I'd like to hear one. Or two.
MK


It's entirely different when it's just one person as opposed thirty people. But sure, why not. I have a poem called "The Weeping Name" that I wrote last summer.
[reading]
BR

That was very nice. I like that one a lot and I don't think I ever heard it before. Say another one.
MK



Well, this one I do a lot 'cause it's easy to remember. And I think that it's the most important poem that I've got… in the repertoire, so to speak. It's called, "Four Palms Down, One Leaf Low."
[reading]
BR



Well you seem to be very busy, you're doing a lot of things. And we really look forward to hearing your new poems. And I appreciate your being here to talk to me today.
MK Well thank you, I appreciate it as well.
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