I met Stacy Doris in 1989 or 1990. We were both in our mid-late-20s and living in New York. We traded poems, we traded reading recommendations, went to a lot of poetry readings, and had many animated conversations that I wish I could now recall about what we hoped a poem could do. A year or two after we met, I moved to Buffalo and Stacy moved to France. In thumbing through my collection of Stacy’s books, I find a print-out of a message sent to my Buffalo email address in 1995: “Thanks for saying you’re still interested in reviewing KILDARE.” I believe I began to write the review, but never succeeded in finishing it. Now, almost two decades late, I will try to do justice to this wondrous book.1
I’ll admit I find the task as daunting now as I did in 1995; I’m not sure I’m cool enough to write about this work. Its world is so forward thinking, so prescient, that KILDARE still seems like a book sent from the future in order to critique the wayward activities of the contemporary moment.
Folded into my copy of the book I find another piece of paper upon which Stacy has typed up her own description of KILDARE. I don’t know the context for which this description was written, or where it might have been published, but I think it’s worth including here:
A Little Info on KILDARE
The first, or “micro” part of KILDARE, “Arctic Uncles (on Rollerblades) Advance,” is meant as a close-up examination of the lexicon or language of video, computer, and CD-ROM games, which is something of a sub-cultural dialect in its way. The text attempts to enter into the pace, rhythm, and sensibility of these games, in order to explore this precise cultural movement from inside. Poetry is uniquely useful to examine language, and I wanted to show and take advantage of this. Also, my idea extends the modernist principal of writing with what one finds around oneself in the world, since what we see is what changes.
The second section, “Kildare,” got started because I wanted to write a science fiction that did not use all the old novelistic narrative structures, but rather manifested its newness through its form. I felt that here, again, poetry could prove singularly useful in twisting the narrative away from its 19th-century constraints and towards a non- or neo-narrativity that is in keeping with how contemporary culture (and Western civilization) are tending. My attempt is to make poetry a tool for exposing and expressing such tendencies from within, by slipping inside them.
Much interesting poetry of recent times has included a critique of culture from the outsider’s or marginal position. I try simply, playfully, to explore a range of present cultural strategies from within, by using poetry, because it is my view that poetry IS (at least potentially) always central in culture and cultural inquiry. If I didn’t believe that, I would not find it so exciting to write poetry.
I also hope that the poetry in KILDARE is entertaining and even fun. You will notice that there is no use of “I” in the book, and that the action is propelled through a series of slippery, protean characters. I use the characters both because I think they are amusing, and also because I think their mutability is in keeping with my, and pop culture’s, changing sense of personhood and its limits.
In 1994, the year this book was most likely written, the most popular video games were Super Mario Brothers, SimCity, and the CD-ROM game Myst. The Wikipedia entry describing Myst explains that “the player is provided with very little backstory at the beginning of the game and no obvious goals or objectives are laid out. This means that players must simply begin to explore.” The same can be said for the reader of “Arctic Uncles (on Rollerblades) Advance,” as a cast of characters (Military Yann, Lassie Twin Nieces, TiK) morph and slide from loony-tune caricature to mechanized military hardware.2 There is no plot, no conclusion, no familiar logics:
after gorilla inhalation
what’s left of Monkey Island? (36)
Oh, loony-dump islet
the intestine bon-bon factory
cuts excess with poison
and in deformation thrills. (50)
Over by the slot machines
Uncle Ghoul loafs
beaming his ‘core’
into the pinballs of others. Recruits. (54)
That sense of “non- or neo-narrativity” is equally present in the second half of the book, “Kildare,” where a cast of characters circulate in a partial playscript. There are stage directions, reminiscent of the directions in a Heiner Muller play, where each direction is almost a play/novel in itself:
SHEILA: (in the violator’s head
meaning reptilian, slinky)
You fail! (aside) before being given much chance
(Raises whips. ) (68)
SHEILA: (plaintive) Scratch me! No lower (more plaintively). Ah!
(Trecks across time. )
(Memories from opera plots. )
(A flurry of postcards. ) (69)
And there are characters, which are in a state of constant flux; the poem is accompanied by a list of “character equivalents.” Sheila is also Tinkerbell, Contortionist, CARMEN, Herself dumped on Mars, and a Nurse Chorus. There is a similarly various list of equivalents for the character Kildare. In the same way that the characters resist a stable identity, so does the poem; it flirts with the conventions of drama, fiction, and poetry, but never lets any one genre stand for long.
In 1995, Stacy and I were having a conversation about jokes and humor.3 At that time, I was pursuing what has become a longstanding fascination with that moment when an object (like a doll or a puppet) appears to have human qualities and when the human proves itself to be quite machine-like. Stacy recommended that I read “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic” by Henri Bergson. That text, as I understood it, was an elaborate explication of the banana peel joke; a person slips on a banana peel when s/he moves through the world mechanically, losing the flexibility that an ever-changing world demands. Laughter, in response to the slip, is a way to wake the person up, to return them from their unconscious machine state to the conscious human state. In an email message, I asked Stacy if she felt the humor in Kildare was trying to wake the reader up along these Bergsonian lines. She replied, “in Kildare there is such a slipperiness of person, which is key to the work…the Bergson mechanization of the human is certainly something behind the whole writing project. Where I go for [humor] as the source in my writing is often Duchamp, the mechanics of sexuality, which is deeply pornographic and fundamental to some of our cultural production, and at the same time funny, and really, actually sexy.”
She’s nicked him
he’s strapped her
she boffs him
he leaks/he drenches her
he flips. (29)
Duchamp as a source makes sense to me. Whereas Duchamp’s “green box” annotated the mechanics of the Bride’s domain, and the Bachelor’s apparatus (including the chocolate grinder), Kildare outlines the erotics of its moment, mixing video-game violence and adult content with childlike glee.
The prescience of this work becomes more explicit as it ages. In 2002, artist Cory Arcangel created his video piece “Super Mario Clouds” by hacking the very systems that Doris hacked when they were still relatively new. And today we have military pilots sitting in front of computer screens, watching bodies as if they were game pieces to capture and destroy.
Assignment: Grab the controls/spread Democracy
Accurate and loaded, the Toucan Craw brig
is tactile/a maverick
It pays to sweat bullets:
Fly higher / fly longer—obsolescent pilot.
TiK’s radarless sidewind pairs. (47)
Stacy Doris’s book Kildare looks knowingly, without fear, at a future filled with such cruel comedies. She dares us to read our present culture with a similar fearlessness. That is the kildare.
1 Kildare was published by Roof Books in 1994. An electronic version can be found at the Electronic Poetry Center A version of KILDARE was also published in French in 1995, “adapted” by Stacy and Juliette Valery for Format Americain.
2A query to Jonathan Schoenfelder, a student in the Temple MFA program with a particular interest in game theory, tracked the following references to video game culture in KILDARE:
I'm having a hard time picking up on any particular references but it feels very late-80s/early-90s Nintendo. I started looking things up and I found a few hits:
In "Yes! Enter UNCLE today!" she writes "The LaComa Knight in Bizyland configurates." There is a game for Super Nintendo called Cacoma Knight in Bizyland. It plays a lot like Jezz Ball and has this silly storyline about saving the Princess. 1992
There's this game called Cool Croc Twins which reminds me of Cacoma Knight in Bizyland. The PoV is the same, this funky top-down view where the play clings on to these lines. It's about this set of twins trying to save this girl croc. The Twins in Kildare are twin nieces, but it might be worth a look. 1991
Lost Vikings is a platformer from 1992 and Artic Adventure is a platformer from 1991. The first one is about three vikings that get abducted by an alien and forced to travel through time to try to get home (the gameplay is based on switching controls between all three and using their individual talents). The second is about an archaeologist traveling through the artic in search of Viking treasure.
There's something very "Kirby in Dreamland" about some of this, and also very "Megaman," just in the language about new characters, new thrills new spills &c. and the suffixes "-Land" and "-Man," though those get a lot of use, in video games or otherwise.
Monkey Island (from But its Lonely at the top) is a pretty well-known point-and-click adventure series. Both the first and the second are from the early 90s (1990 and 1991, respectively)
A hug/smash combo is rubbing up against 2-d fighters like Street Fighter II and Samurai Showdown (1992 and 1993). Dhalsim, a character from Street Fighter II, has a "midair teleport", although I think it's from the "TURBO" version, and that was out in '94, which seems late to be in these poems.
That's all I get from it for now. I can think of games like Metal Gear, King's Quest (especially King's Quest IV: Perils of Rosella), but these are more like a sense I get from the military imagery together with the menacing "kookiness."
Myst is a '93 CD-ROM adventure game that was pretty definitive for the medium. Wolfenstein 3D is also a classic First-Person Shooter from 1992 on CD-ROM. I'm more inclined towards shooters, fighter, and medieval fantasy in these poems, since it seems really tied up in heroes and weapons and battles in a way that games like Myst aren't.
She also mentions the "MUD cataclysm.” I think she's referring to "Multi-User Dungeons," this old real-time multiplayer environment. They're mostly text-based game spaces and because of the real low-end graphics and game mechanic capabilities, it is and (I would safely say) always has been a computer hobbyist thing. Since it's text, you could play any kind of adventure you want, but the most popular ones are medieval fantasy.
3 What I really want to say, all I really want to write here, is that I miss her.