On Sunday August 25th a memorial for Kevin Killian (December 24, 1952 – June 15, 2019) was held in the Phyllis Wattis Theatre at SFMOMA. Well prior to the 1pm start time all 278 seats were filling up and it was clear the spillover crowd would be diverted upstairs to a secondary room in the second floor education center where 50-100 more friends and fans of Kevin watched the program via live video feed.

Kevin’s connections to various San Francisco arts scenes were as thorough and genuine as they come. He was in touch with and supportive of thousands of individuals working in quite nearly any and all the arts living round these parts and well beyond. If you were creative and stepped out putting your work into public in any way he was an open door of welcoming interest in what you were doing. And he was not being photographed for San Francisco magazine dining up at Danielle Steel’s Spreckels mansion in Pacific Heights with SF Symphony’s conductor Micheal Tilson Thomas and the like. Although he would have no doubt had a terrific story to tell and managed to look wonderfully at home among any crowd of celebrities. But San Francisco is not New York or Los Angeles, thankfully, at least not yet. No, Killian was down with and supportive of those of us who must work day jobs to eke out a living wage awhile also producing creative work at a full time pace.

Kevin himself worked a 9-5 office job in San Francisco, albeit for an understanding supportive employer, or at least his direct supervisors at ABLE management janitorial services seemed to be (mostly) on his side and had his back. He was still at that job after the “success” of some dozen published books, from novels to poetry, along with substantial work editing several anthologies as well as the work of SF’s own Jack Spicer, whose biography he co-wrote. He was also teaching in the MFA writing program at California College of the Arts. From all of these activities, at least ideally, he was making some however varying kind of income. He also hosted a regular reading series at Alley Cat Books on 24th St in the Mission. Then there was the decades long editing and publishing of Mirage literary magazine (the Wieners issue is epic) followed by its zine manifestation Mirage #4/Period[ical] along with his tremendous output writing directing and acting in dozens of San Francisco Poets Theater performances over the years. In addition, he regularly attended a far higher percentage of readings, gallery openings, and art film screenings than anyone else could ever sanely imagine doing.

Beyond all of the above, Kevin was also one of the most naturally gifted and amusing public speaker I’ve ever heard. I first caught him giving introductions to poetry readings, most likely sponsored by Small Press Traffic and held in the theater at New College of California (now The Chapel music venue—where thankfully Peter Brotzmann has taken to regularly playing when in town, blasting away at least some of the regrettable associations of place changing hands at the gentrification’s urging). Kevin’s delivery always came across as simply being made up miraculously on-the-spot in a dazzling display of impromptu virtuosity yet I do imagine he must have thought up quite a bit of what he said in advance on many occasions.

I was honored this last year when Kevin agreed to an “assignment” I dared request of him to write about this photograph for the POEMSCROLL for David Meltzer I was assembling. As the Poemscroll is deliberately designed to be consumed as a massive scroll-through document there is no list of contributors yet his piece may be easily rolled to as it were. Contents are arranged in reverse alphabetical order by last name and then repeated again in alphabetical order. So find him in the Ks. The fact that he contributed this piece despite his own sincere discomfort in doing so causes me no little angst. As he wrote to me in an email: “I don’t really have time to participate [and he was forced] to overcome my grimace at contributing to a website like Dispatches which I profoundly despise, a site which does publish some good things from time to time but is steeped in party jingoism.” He was also suffering from the debilitating symptoms of the cancer’s onset at this time which no doubt made his writing time dearly precious. Yet he contributed, demonstrating the remarkable willingness he possessed to embrace everybody attempting things in the poetry and art world. Even at his own expense: “I told myself to fuck my objections and do the right thing.” It’s a lesson I take to heart.

The hands down highlight of attending Kevin’s memorial, in addition to Robert Glück’s opening eulogy, was picking up a copy of Kevin and Dodie, a collaborative unfinished memoir Kevin had undertaken with his wife Dodie Bellamy during what turned out to be the final weeks of his life. They had “a target of a thousand words a week, for a year.” However, the writing only lasted from April 28 – Jun 7/11. Every week they took turns proposing a topic. A quick rundown: Week 1 Origins; Week 2 Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today; Week 3 Mortality; Week 4 Drawing; Week 5 Childhood Sex; Week Six Sylvia Plath; Week 7 Now Bruce Boone and ICU nurse visiting. The writing is a generous sharing of Kevin and Dodie’s give-and-take as a couple. Demonstrating their marriage, that of a gay man to a lesbian woman, was as natural a thing as any marriage ever is or can be. A factual circumstance that should be obvious to anyone but certainly wasn’t so during earlier years of their marriage. The cover, Joe Ferriso’s recent water color portrait of the couple sitting together in their San Francisco apartment backed by a wall of books, is the perfect visual homage to the lasting trust and tender companionship they shared. Kevin lived a terrific life.