Kirby Olson

Photo of Kirby Olson

Education

B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1979
Ph.D., University of Washington

Biographical Note

I saw no reason to be writer as a child as it seemed a cheap substitute for hitting the elderly in the head with snowballs from behind on early winter evenings or putting trip wire across the steps of elementary schools before recess. However, at 17, when I was myself tripping on LSD, I happened to open a book of Jack Kerouac's and saw the words, "...motel, motel, motel loneliness..." and kept reading.

When I went to Evergreen it was to escape into what I could afford of the Counter-Culture prevalent at the time. I had grown up in a pile of mountains (called Poconos) about an hour west of NYC where my dad taught badminton and golf professionally at a state school. I considered Bennington, St. John's, and some other schools, but it looked like I would spend the rest of my life paying back the tuition so when the Evergreen offer came through I went west on a train with a green duffle bag and the Kerouac book.

At Evergreen, my first course was with Thad Curtz. I liked him immensely - he had clarity, laughed at my jokes and liked my papers well enough. I was so grateful to have had him as my first teacher. I took courses from a few unnameable goofballs at Evergreen, but I don't remember these - instead I remember Peter Elbow's writing seminars, and Leo Daugherty's excellent Shakespeare class, and spending hours in the now-sealed underground tunnels beneath Evergreen pretending to be a surrealist, or walking down to Cooper Point at four in the morning by myself and thinking that certain trees were incredibly scary in the half-light of the moon.

After Evergreen I goofed around in Seattle for a decade until it got expensive after an article in a national magazine touted it as the nation's most liveable city. That article ruined my life. I had been writing articles for the local papers and for art magazines and making a good living, and suddenly my rent tripled. I went back to grad school, and tried to understand what was happening in the arts. I was especially incensed at the Maoism which was another facet of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s - and which was only beginning to be present at Evergreen at the time in certain very feminist seminars.

In Seattle, this was a full-time industry, and to my mind it left out the only thing that makes life worth living which is humor. So I studied ludic surrealism at graduate school. After I got my first job at a large university in Finland I worked on a book called Comedy After Postmodernism which attempted to knock the Cultural Revolution on its ear and introduce the lopsided, the ugly, the stupid, and the baffling as a new kind of philosophy that would make Maoism outmoded and instead of a hundred flowers there would be a hundred kinds of guffaw and chortle.

Laughter has always seemed to me the only phenomenon worthy of my time but because I don't really have a natural sense of humor I have had to work at this day and night with great ardor.

I wanted to appreciate the humorists, especially surrealist humorists, that had been the best part of the 60s Cultural Revolution: Andrei Codrescu, Gregory Corso, and surrealists beforehand such as Philippe Soupault. I wrote another book on Gregory Corso and am currently teaching philosophy, French, and literature at State University of New York at Delhi.

The center shifted when I married a Finnish woman named Riikka Lahdensuo. We have had two kids, and are increasingly interested in things like church, and worried about our children's safety, and conceptualize kindness as an avant-garde activity.

Kirby Olson bookPublication Types

Fiction, Non-Fiction, Journalism, Scholastic

Latest Publication

Temping, Black Heron Press, 2005  

Additional Publications

Books

Andrei Codrescu and the Myth of America, McFarland & Co., 2005
Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002
Comedy After Postmodernism: Rereading Comedy From Edward Lear to Charles Willeford, Texas Technical University Press, 2001
Translator - Remembering Anna O.: A Century of Mystification by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Routledge, 1996

Current work includes a book-length manuscript on Romanian-American humorist Andrei Codrescu, and his relationship to time and space. The working title is Andrei Codrescu and the Open Society. Shorter articles on poet Larry Fagin and a theme in Shakespeare are in the works. In general, I am interested in aesthetics in 20th century literature and poetry.

In addition, hundreds of shorter pieces, including poetry, comic essays, stories, cartoon strips, dance and literary criticism in art and popular journals and newspapers, including Partisan Review, Exquisite Corpse, Seattle Weekly, High Performance, Rampike and Asylum. Creative work anthologized in Light Year (Bits Press), The Stiffest of the Corpse (City Lights Books), and Thus Spake the Corpse (Black Sparrow Books). Interviews with Stewart Home, Kathy Acker, Andrei Codrescu, Robert Colescott, Kenward Elmslie, Arthur Danto, Bob Black and Marine Hugonnier have appeared in art and literary journals. Short reviews of the poetry and fiction of Elaine Equi, James Laughlin, Gavin Ewart, Paul A. Barton, Philippe Soupault, Brian Evenson, and Helena Lewis and many others have appeared in American Book Review, Literary Magazine ReviewSeattle Weekly, Rolling Stock, Exquisite Corpse, Xavier Review and San Francisco Review of Books. Currently book reviewer for Canadian comparative literature journal Recherche Littéraire, with reviews of books by Jon Woodson on Jean Toomer, and Myriam Boucharenc on Philippe Soupault, and Michael Skau on Gregory Corso, among others.

Public Presentations

"Andrei Codrescu's Millenial Novel Messiah," Conference on Romanian Studies, MLA Chicago, December 1999. Convenor: Calin-Andrei Mihailescu (University of W. Ontario, Canada).
"Lyotard," Seminar on Postcommunist Discourse in Debrecen, Hungary, September 1997, during the European Society for the Study of English bi-annual conference. Convenor: Yonka Krasteva (University of Sophia, Bulgaria).
"Gregory Corso and Postmodern Christianity," Conference on Ecology and Literature in Swansea, Wales, March 1997. Convenor: Greg Garrard (University of Swansea, Wales).
"Bishop Berkeley's Theory of Vision," Conference on Aesthetic Disciplines and Politics at Stanford University, October 1991. Convenor: Kirstin Behnke (Stanford University, CA).
"Pierre Klossowski's Theological Vindication of the Graven Image," Conference on Christianity and Twentieth Century Art and Literature in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, April 1991. Convenor: Department of Comparative Religion, Louisiana State University.

Translations from French

"Five Poems," by Henry J.-M. Levet, Common Knowledge 1:2 (1992): 165-171.
"Two Poems," by Henry J.-M. Levet.
"Partisan Review 1," (1989): 52-53. Many other short translations from the surrealist and symbolist period have been published in Exquisite Corpse, Asylum, New American Writing, Jacket and other literary reviews.

Articles

"Joanne Kyger and Zen Poetry," Exquisite Corpse On-Line, #7 (edited by Andrei Codrescu).
"Mike Topp, Yoko Ono, and Deleuzian Order-Words," Exquisite Corpse On-Line, #6.
"Surrealism, Haiti and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God," Re: Artes Liberales , Volume 25 (2), Fall 2000.
"Tharmas: The Physical Poetry of Peter Orlovsky," Exquisite Corpse On-Line, #4, 1999.
"The War on the Home Front: Comedy and Political Identity in the Work of Stewart Home," in Performing Gender and Comedy: Theories, Texts and Contexts, Ed. Shannon Hengen, Gordon & Breach, 1998
"P.G. Wodehouse as Political Scientist: Bertie and Jeeves at the End of History," Humor (9) (1) (Winter, 1996) 73-88.
"Reading Frank O'Hara w/ Charles Altieri and Gilles Deleuze," Exquisite Corpse 56 (1996): 4-5.
"Edward Lear: Deleuzian Landscape Painter," Victorian Poetry 31 (4) (Winter, 1993): 347-363.

How did Evergreen help you in your career?

It allowed me time to write, and gave a lot of feedback.