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Poetry collection reflects Squirrel Hill writer's roots

| Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, 6:29 p.m.
Author Chuck Kinder at his home in Squirrel Hill.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Author Chuck Kinder at his home in Squirrel Hill.

It's not easy making the transition from prose to poetry. For Chuck Kinder of Squirrel Hill, it's a natural progression and a return to his roots.

“Back when I was a prose writer, a fiction writer, my work was always language driven,” says Kinder, who will celebrate the release of two poetry collections, “All That Yellow” (Low Ghost Press) and “Imagination Hotel” (Six Gallery Press) on Oct. 10 at ModernFormations Gallery in Garfield. “That was actually an accusation. I heard critics say that. ... And I would agree. It was always language driven. Whatever gifts I had, my basic gift was lyric. Poetry was always my first love.”

“All That Yellow” and “Imagination Hotel” are the capstones of a landmark year for the West Virginia native. Earlier this year, Kinder, 72, retired from the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught creative writing for more than 30 years. He's in the process of relocating to Key Largo, Fla.

Poetry has sparked a creative rejuvenation for the author of “Last Mountain Dancer,” “Honeymooners” and “Silver Ghost” as he's recovered from two strokes, a heart attack and knee-replacement surgery over the past five years.

Kinder, noting that he still remembers his mother reading to him from Robert Louis Stevenson's “A Children's Garden of Verses” when he was a toddler, originally intended to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and other Beat Generation writers when he left home for California when he was a teenager.

“I became a hippie instead,” he says. “I kind of missed the beatnik era, so by the time I got there, I put flowers in my hair.”

The subject matter of “All That Yellow” and “Imagination Hotel” ranges from old black-and-white movies (including “Tarzan and His Mate,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Stagecoach” and “High Sierra”) to Kinder's experiences in San Francisco in the 1960s. A female character, Rainy McCall, appears in many of the poems and is partially based on the mythos of Janis Joplin and other women Kinder knew in San Francisco.

The new collections are “like double movies of one another,” Kinder says. “They're twins joined at the hip. I realized the best way to read them is to read them together or read them like a novel.”

Many of the poems in the new collections were culled from “Giant Night,” a self-published collection of Kinder's poems. Kristofer Collins, publisher and editor of Low Ghost Press, remembers reading the original text and being moved to tears after reading the first poem, “Dear Allen.”

“(‘Giant Night') just sort of sprawled out and took its time and built a real world inside it, which I honestly don't see a lot of in the way poetry is written today,” Collins says. “Line after line was just so beautiful.”

Nathan Kukulski, an editor with Six Gallery Press, thinks the poems are “freaking strange and shift between different universes,” but, ultimately, cohere into a single experience that reflects human nature.

“I don't know of any comparable work that engages with this hyper-reality in this way,” Kukulski says.

That hyper-reality may have another dimension. Kinder envisions “All That Yellow” and “Imagination Hotel” as perfect fodder for film and already has a director in mind.

“My biggest fantasy is Jim Jarmusch (‘Down By Law,' ‘Night on Earth') will buy the movie rights to both books and make a movie out of them,” he says. “That's unheard, making a movie out of a book of poetry. But trust me, it's going to happen.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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