Jackie Kirby – Rowhouse Residency Report

(Memetics 0/1, Jackie Kirby 2017)

My name is Jackie Kirby. I am a poet and comics author. I am twenty-two years old, and live in New York City. Recently, I graduated from The New School with a BA in Cultural Studies. I have been making comics and writing poetry seriously for three years now. As my poetic and comics practices evolved, they became more and more intertwined. Now, the differences between what I publish as “poetry” versus “comics” has more to do with marketing and publishing than it does with genre or form—but then genre is the formal violence of marketing and publishing. But, “whatever.”

I spent a week in Pittsburgh at the Rowhouse Residency this June 2017. As recent graduate without the privilege of a future in plastics, I was anxious on how to proceed. If I was to call myself a “poet” and a “comics author,” what should I do to validate or realize those claims? Additionally, I had a bit of a foothold in the world of poetry, through school and time spent in and around the New York poetry cliques. I didn’t, however, have anything of the sort in the world of comics. Poets can often be easily impressed by the integration of visual arts into poetry, and don’t know anything of comics. I was excited, albeit nervous, to see how I could enter into the world of comics, and if my work was intelligible or interesting to comics readers in contrast to poetry readers.

With the time and space provided by the residency, I was able to develop a routine and work ethic that works for my particular habits and skills. Through my conversations with Frank Santoro, I was able to visualize a path going forward with my work, begin to feel grounded in the world of comics, affirm my beliefs in the value of my own aesthetic project, and gain valuable tools and modes of thought towards the furthering of my craft.

(Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic, Jackie Kirby 2017)

Frank’s approach to composition in comic books clicked with me as a way of connecting poetry and comics. Without sounding too prescriptive, I think poetics should seek to emancipate possibility and meaning from language, or at least restructure it. Frank and I spoke a lot about meter and geometry, but I think the integration of comics into poetry and vice versa has a greater political value. In comics, “language” as we know it is subverted through its integration with non-alphabetic symbols. The job of a poet is to keep language alive, and if poetry is to be relevant it must be written in the contemporary idiom. The integration of words and images in everyday life is increasing, and pictoral languages are becoming more common. The integration of comics and poetics is only logical considering.

(Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic, Jackie Kirby 2017)

Before coming to the residency I had spent the last year working on a set of works called Finding Eurydice. The first is a poetry chapbook subtitled “Transmissions from Orpheus,” and the second is a comic “translation” of the chapbook subtitled “A Border Comic.” In these works, I used the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a way of expressing the experience of transfeminity, and experimented formally as a way of enacting that experience.

At risk of being too pretentious, I’ll quote the introduction from my reflection on A Border Comic:

Finding Eurydice is a comic. Finding Eurydice is a poem, or book of poems. It’s both, but it’s not quite one or the other. Words are often only images. Images are abstracted into words. Its “graphic narrative” is mostly formal, and moves associatively. Much of its “text” is illegible. It doesn’t fit right. Finding Eurydice is a hybrid work. It is a comic-poem which transgresses forms and signs. This formal transgression produces a new vocabulary for the enactment of transgender subjectivities and experiences historically made impossible to verbalize. Entering the project, I asked: If an artistic production is a body, or an extension of the body, and the body is always already gendered, how can the formal restructuring of and deployment of “trans-” trajectories of movement into a literary or artistic mode of production aide in the revelation of new possibilities of gender embodiments and transgender subjectivities?

In Finding Eurydice, the comic, the poem, and Orpheus are all made trans, opening up new space for transness to exist in language.

Both works can be read online:

Finding Eurydice: Transmissions from Orpheus
Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic

(Finding Eurydice: Transmissions from Orpheus, Jackie Kirby 2017)

My conversations with Frank were thoughtful, engaging, and exciting. Among the most interesting aspects of our discussions was comparing analogies of music and poetry to comics. I know very little when it comes to music. Half-kidding – it’s one of the few popular art forms I’m not a snob about, and I’ve tried to keep it like that. Frank, on the other hand, is a total music nerd. I came into his house for espresso one afternoon and he presented me with a piece of scrap paper on which he had written “2/3 3/4 rectangle riff seen from a poet’s pov in relation to ‘meter’ / and relation to ‘the Breath’ or Dylan’s ‘long line of spit.’ 

Frank and I chatted for hours regarding this. He would riff for fifteen minutes or so about music and I would respond with a riff on poetics. Forty five minutes could go by without comics being explicitly mentioned once, but the composition and formal techniques of comics practice underlaid every moment. When I brought this up, Frank brushed it off, saying “Of course we could talk about how Robert Crumb is this or that but we both know that.” What’s interesting is what we can learn from each other.

In conclusion, I will list a few highlights of my time at the residency:

– Frank took a class with Kathy Acker and said “She was so mean! In the best way.” This is exactly what I want to hear about Kathy Acker.
– Kathy Acker chose her pen name from her husband’s last name (Acker) and a nickname extracted from her birth-name (Karen) and not because the titular character from the comic-strip Cathy says “Ack!” as her catchphrase, and is therefore a Cathy “Ack!”-er. This is exactly what I don’t want to hear about Kathy Acker.
– I fell down all the stairs at the residency. In all fairness, however, wearing slippery socks, a maxi-skirt that’s hanging too low, and carrying forty things in your arms while descending a steep wooden staircase is the set-up to a punchline involving falling down all the stairs, and Frank provided excellent first-aid.
– When Sally picked me up from the train station, we went to a bar for dinner where Anthony Bourdain had recently shot an episode of some show he does where he pretends he’s in a scene in Coffee & Cigarettes and I find Anthony Bourdain conceptually hilarious (I believe Hayes Davenport called him “the misanthrope of food television”) but realized I don’t have any solid jokes to make and ended up asking a lot of questions about the ins and outs of Anthony Bourdain’s TV production.


Check out more work by Jackie on her website, and follow her on Instagram. For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

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