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SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Something About Steve

by Duff Brenna

Sui generis—one of a kind, unique, in a class of his own—defines the poet under consideration today. Steve Kowit...because, well, that was what we called him. But the trouble-free pronunciation of those three syllables belies the multi-dimensional figure they describe.

Trouble-free? Not a bit. Kowit was demanding when it came to his views about poetry, art of any kind, political beliefs, the rights of animals—vegetarian diets versus carnivore-omnivore-raptor-predators specific to the human species. Serious subjects for a man who was an idealistic, over-awed lover of nature as well—its profundities, its depthless wonder, its staggering beauty that brought forth lines such as:

A minnow
that had sloshed out of someone’s bait bucket,
& that I came within an inch of stepping on,
convulsed in agony.
Delighted to assist,
I tossed it back into its ocean:
Swirling eddies sucked about the rocks,
& the sun sank pendulously
over the Pacific shelf.
all the hills of Ocean Beach
in the rouged light
of midwinter sunset.
Even now
it pleases me to think
that somewhere
in western coastal waters off America
that minnow is still swimming.
—From “Joy to the Fishes” in Kowit’s collection Lurid Confessions
(Serving House Books, 2010)

Kowit was all that I’ve mentioned above, but he was convulsively funny as well. He had a quirky, sometimes absurd hilarity, neither jaded nor cruel—more Freudian if one could say Freud had a sense of humor:

A Swell Idea

One of these days
while demonstrating the use 
of the possessive pronoun 
preceding the gerund
I’ll tell her a little joke, 
grow playful,
stroke the soft hairs
on the back of Melanie’s neck, 
then slip my hand
over her breast.
Just as I’ve dreamed! 
She’ll groan.
She’ll giggle & put 
her hand over mine. 
She’ll love it!
If not, what have I lost? 
If she screams
& the others rush in 
I’ll deny everything. 
I’ll stand there 
shaking my head, 
“She’s crazy she’s 
making it up she 
practically forced me 
for chrissake I’m 
sick I’m a sick man
I need help 
Help me!” 
I’ll cry out 
in a hoarse, 
broken voice 
& slip to my knees
& bury my face in my hands
—from Lurid Confessions (Serving House Books, 2010)

In my youth I found out that if you wanted to get girls interested, it was very helpful if you made them laugh. I had memorized so many jokes, soft and semi-porn, that I could go on for an hour, get her giggling then laughing out loud.

When I was courting my significant other, many years ago now, I used Steve Kowit on her. I pulled out his Lurid Confessions and had her laughing until she was helpless. I’ve used Lurid Confessions on friends and visitors whenever it seemed to be needed to enliven the evening. He always works.

We grieve you, but damn it, Steve, it’s got to be said: you’re dead, but you still have the power to make us think deeply about the world we live in and, perhaps most important of all, you bring us together with joy and laughter.

Thank you, my friend of forty years.

SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Duff Brenna

is the author of nine books, including:

  • The Book of Mamie, which won the AWP Award for Best Novel
  • One of his favorites, The Holy Book of the Beard, which was re-released in 2010 (New American Press) and reviewed by The New York Times: “It is loaded with all the ingredients of an underground is nearly impossible to put down.”
  • Too Cool, a New York Times Noteworthy Book
  • The Altar of the Body, given the Editors Prize Favorite Book of the Year Award from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and also a San Diego Writers Association Award for Best Novel 2002

Brenna’s collection of short stories, Minnesota Memoirs (Serving House Books, 2012), was awarded Best Short Story Collection at the 2013 Next Generation Indie Awards in New York City. His memoir, Murdering the Mom (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2012), was a Finalist for Best Non-Fiction at the same Independent Publishers Awards.

He has received a National Endowment for the Arts award, Milwaukee Magazine’s Best Short Story of the Year Award, and a Pushcart Prize Honorable Mention.

Brenna’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Cream City Review, SQ, Agni, The Nebraska Review, The Literary Review, The Madison Review, New Letters, and numerous other literary venues. His work has been translated into six languages.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury