Kimmy Beach has published four collections of poems with Winnipeg's Turnstone Press. She's worked on/through James Cagney/film noire (Nice Day for Murder: poems for James Cagney, 2001) and The Beatles/superfans (fake Paul, 2005). She's also taken her readers backstage at the theatre (Alarum Within: theatre poems, 2003) and behind the wheel of a 70s muscle car (in Cars, 2007).
The Red Deer-based poet's most recent collection, published by University of Alberta Press, is focused on superspy James Bond.
(We conducted this interview via email last week. But I was too befuddled to post it immediately...)
What do you want people to know about The Last Temptation of Bond?
I've been finding myself all over the web in the oddest places. Mostly James Bond blogs of one stripe or another. When I saw my book on commanderbond.net the other day, I started getting nervous. I knew that the word "Bond" would land me in all kinds of weird search engines and those other things that dig up stuff from the web and hurls it together. There are those people who nitpick everything I do in my books. After a launch of my fourth book, in Cars, some guy came up to me and told me I had the specs of the 1974 Mustang 5-speed wrong in one of my poems. I said, "Is that what you got from my book?" After which, I wittily quipped, "But it doesn't seem to bother you that nobody in the book ever has to BUY GAS."
I can already hear it coming. "Hey, his tux was eggshell in A View to a Kill, not ecru!" Yeah. I know.
I'd like people to know that the Bond I'm writing about is a Bond who never existed (not that Bond ever existed. You get my point). He's a composite of the fictional Bond of the Ian Fleming novels, the filmic Bonds, and the Bond I have in my head, who most closely resembles the faceless silhouette we see now and again. The book is about James Bond, yes, but it's not a Bond adventure. Bond fans looking for sex won't be disappointed, but those looking for me to be true to the Bond they love and, say, don't expect me to kill him off, will be. I'm fully aware of the fact that I'm playing fast and loose with Bond, but that's what I do with my work. I put him in the wrong clothing on purpose, I make him grow old, and I give the man an iPod, fergodsakes. He is no Bond who ever was.
My audience is not the guys who sit in their mothers' basements dissecting Bond texts for errors. There will be some of that, certainly, but I'm aiming for my existing readers who know what I do with pop culture and who get me. And maybe pick up a few new readers along the way if I'm fortunate.
Tell me about your best reading in Winnipeg.
I actually don't remember the reading itself, but I know it was my third book, fake Paul. Stu and I arrived in Winnipeg the day before and were staying in some hotel. We went down to the bar to have a drink. I'd been over to Turnstone earlier to pick up my copies: the first time I'd held the book. We were sitting in the pub, having a gorgeous glass of wine or two, and Stu told me how incredibly proud he was of me. He said that everywhere he goes (this is true, but I hadn't realized he'd noticed) people respond to "My wife's new book is just out," with "I'm going to write a book one day." I wish I had a nickel. Anyway, he said to me that so many people say they're going to do what I've done, but most never do. I'll never forget that.
I suspect the reading was awesome. I know I had a good crowd and I signed a bunch of books. I still like that old thing.
As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?
I'm a firm believer that it's not always our books that make people want to buy our books. I think it's our personalities as well, and how we present ourselves. I have a pretty steady readership, but I also have a bunch of people who buy my books to put on their shelves and show off to their friends, but who never read them themselves. That's all completely fine with me. However the book leaves my hand is great.
I'm largely an introvert and I need an insane amount of time alone, but I put myself out there at readings like nowhere else. I like being friendly and huggy and outgoing when I'm in WriterLand. Why be boring and aloof? I think I sell more books (but more importantly, connect with more people) at launches and readings than I do anywhere else, and I recognize the importance of generating warm feelings in the people who've given up their Thursday night (or whatever) to come hear me read. I'm very moved by that. I think it's wonderful that people actually put me on their calendar and then show up at the bookstore or library or (in the most ideal circumstance) the bar, and willingly sit there while I read my James Bond smut. I think the least I can do is be warm and open and friendly, and then to give the best reading I can. There's nothing quite like hearing fifty people burst out laughing at a line that I didn't even realize was funny. I did a reading in Calgary a few years ago. At the end of one particularly moving (I suppose) poem, there was silence. Then a friend of mine at the back whispered, "Jesus Christ". Those moments are golden. If you can, get Tim Lilburn or John Gould in the crowd. Those two guys listen like nobody else.
What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
I'm reading a great, leaning book tower of Pisa, which is normal for me. But specifically, I'm reading Burrough's Naked Lunch, the poems of South African poet Mongane Wally Serote, and I've just got my hands on Marita Dachsel's Glossolalia. My poetry stack is ridiculous. I don't know where I'd start and I'd explode your blog if I listed them all. The coolest thing I've read this year - hands down - is a short Coach House novel by Alan Reed called Isobel and Emile. I carry that thing around like some people carry around their smart phones. Well, I carry my smart phone around like that too.
I'm working on a couple of things. I have a MS of newish stuff under consideration right now (fingers crossed) and I'm determined to get my non-fiction book about Crete picked up somewhere before I hit 50. My newest project is experimental fiction/prose poetry about a giant puppet created by the Royal de Luxe street theatre company in Nantes, France. Don't ask me what that's about. I'm not being mysterious; it's that I've not got a hot clue yet.
Tell me about the pleasures and perils of writing pop culture. Of writing sex. Of writing.
Writing about sex is great fun till mom reads it. But my mom is very accomplished at separating writer-me from daughter-me. She's had to become good at that over the course of my writing life. My sister is an actor, and some of the stuff she has to do on stage in front of our parents? Oy. So we've trained them well. I like writing sex as it's fun for me to challenge myself and see if I can do something different with it. With Bond, it's not a big stretch to imagine there's sex on every page. There isn't, but it's always underlying. The most fun for me with James Bond's sex life is that unlike the books and films, my Bond occasionally has a little erectile dysfunction, or the odd woman who's faking it. I know *GASP*! How dare I make James Bond human?!
Well there it is. I can do whatever the hell I want.
I also love writing about pop culture, and the perils there are of the "He smoked 76 cigarettes in Dr. No. Not 77!" variety. I can live with all that, as I figure the people who get that kind of stuff out of my books and nothing else aren't big poetry readers. But maybe they are. What do I know?
Writing in general? You will never hear me say what we're all supposed to say to be good little Canadian writers: that if I couldn't write, I'd die. I like writing, but it's not the only thing that defines me, not by a long shot. And I certainly don't think I'm going to die if I'm not doing it. Give me Anne Lamott over Annie Dillard any day; I'd rather have fun that sit in a windowless garden shed, suffering for Art. Blarf to that. It doesn't define me any more than the guy working at Home Hardware defines himself by his red vest, and dies every moment he's not wearing it. Writing is fun, I'm getting pretty good at it (I think), and I like the people and the perks and the parties. What's not to love?