Douglas Kearney

Acclaimed Poet & Librettist
Mixed-media Performer
CLMP Firecracker Award

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Texture In Writing
  • Deepest, Darkest
  • Spectacle and Violence
  • An Evening with Douglas Kearney


“Where, oh where would we be without the dynamic intelligence and feats of lyric daring that Douglas Kearney’s work has delivered to American poetry?”—Tracy K. Smith

“Douglas Kearney uses the weapons of poetry to write a curriculum of justifiable rage. Beyond anger, there is exasperation, grief, despair, and mischief.”—New York Journal Of Books

“I have never encountered poetry like this before.” —Terrance Hayes

The dynamic Douglas Kearney is a poet, performer, and librettist who has published six books that bridge thematic concerns such as politics, African-American culture, masks, the Trickster figure, and contemporary music. His most recent work, Buck Studies (Fence Books, 2016), was awarded the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, and the silver medal for the California Book Award in Poetry. BOMB says Buck Studies “remaps the 20th century in a project that is both lyrical and epic, personal and historical.” Kearney describes the non-traditional layout of his poems as “performative typography.” On the relationship between his poetry and politics, he notes: “For me, the political is a part of how I see the world. My art making doesn’t begin without realizing who I am and what it means for me to be writing a poem and not doing something else.”

Kearney’s collection of writing on poetics and performativity, Mess and Mess and (Noemi Press, 2015), is a Small Press Distribution Handpicked Selection. In it, Kearney writes, “If my writing makes a mess of things, it’s not to flee understanding, but to map (mis-)understanding as a verb.” Patter (Red Hen Press, 2014), Kearney’s third poetry collection, examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009) is a National Poetry Series selection, which “flows from a consideration of urban speech, negro spontaneity and book learning.” Someone Took They Tongues (Subito Press, 2016) collects several of Kearney’s libretti, including one written in a counterfeit Afro-diasporic language. He was the guest editor for the 2015 Best American Experimental Writing.

Kearney has received a Whiting Writer’s Award and the Cy Twombly Award for Poetry, and was named a Notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America, He has been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem and The Rauschenberg Foundation. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry, Iowa Review, Boston Review, and Indiana Review, and anthologies, including Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, Best American Poetry, Best American Experimental Writing, and What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Poets in America.

Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family a little west of Minneapolis, MN and teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.

Douglas Kearney’s Website


Douglas Kearney is a poet, performer, and librettist who has published six books that bridge thematic concerns such as politics, African-American culture, masks, the Trickster figure, and contemporary music. Kearney’s most recent work, Buck Studies, was awarded the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, and the silver medal for the California Book Award in Poetry. Kearney’s collection of writing on poetics and performativity, Mess and Mess and, was a Small Press Distribution Handpicked Selection; and Patter examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. He has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, was named a Notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America, and has been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem and The Rauschenberg Foundation. His work has appeared in Poetry, Iowa Review, Boston Review, and Indiana Review, and anthologies, including Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, Best American Poetry, Best American Experimental Writing, and What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Poets in America. Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family a little west of Minneapolis, MN and teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.


BUCK STUDIES (Poetry, 2016)

“Buck Studies remaps the 20th century in a project that is both lyrical and epic, personal and historical.” —BOMB

Buck Studies is a massive informational architecture of masteries and murders: tellings and re-tellings; legends, myths, sacred and profane narratives of race and Christs and media; pornos and pastorals of who-owns-who on what island and who gets to live in these paradises and who gets to die for them. Who gets to look and who gets to buy. Douglas Kearney addresses and redresses all the language that’s got away, with diagrammatic and dramatic compositions on paper, in the air and in the ear.

SOMEONE TOOK THEY TONGUES. 3 OPERAS (Libretti, 2016)

This collection of opera libretti explodes with verbal ingenuity that resembles as much a Marvel Comic as an Italo-Futurist cut-up. Stuck in a domestic cell or a tenement, Kearney’s characters bust out in song that riddles and rages and confounds.

MESS AND MESS AND (Poetry & Essays, 2015)

“Questioning the difference between rhetoric and poetry, Kearney posits risk as his answer as he analogizes the rhetorician and poet’s respective tasks. In this extraordinary book, Kearney illustrates the normalization of white supremacy and the psychological consequences it has on black minds.” —Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

Kearney defines the terms that mark his poetics, taking even prefixes as a call for semantic inquiry. Within are essays that explore the Negrotesque, gloss specific poems and poetry collections, the inspirations, from life, literature, and otherwise, he drew upon when putting his pen to the page as well as studies and drafts from his journals. Simultaneously playful and cutting, this collection interrogates that which inspires, troubles, and recurs in his work, the mess(es) there. Tisa Bryant writes, “The joy in reading Mess and Mess and comes from the way Douglas Kearney’s writing performs and transforms the sensations of the historic, imagined and real black body into a kind of jive signification system of pun, gesture and resistance through time, space, etymology, gloss. Jive meaning: some mess, some movements, some secrets glyphed behind the hand, continually decoding and decoying the code. “Here, the body shifts to its proxy, language,” as Kearney creates his own methods for naming and theorizing not just creative process but the experience of art and utterance as a relationship with the various phenomena of living, dying and getting free. Evoking the heady erotics of Nathaniel Mackey and the critical interventions of Adrian Piper, Douglas Kearney’s meticulous and playful ars poetica illustrates the unseen dimensions of what makes his work necessarily graphic, totally vulnerable and admirably outrageous.”

THE BLACK AUTOMATON (Poetry, 2009)

“Douglas Kearney’s innovative new collection makes me tremble like a ‘mouth and mind full of fish hooks.’ These poems literally vibrate with Kearney’s precocious intellect and passion. They hum, they bang, they bite. What else can I say? I have never encountered poetry like this before.” —Terrance Hayes

From ambivalent animals thriving after Katrina to party chants echoing in a burning city, The Black Automaton troubles rubble, cobbling a kind of life. In this collection, bodies at risk seek renewal through violence and fertility, history and myth, flesh and radios.

PATTER (Poetry, 2006)

For a couple struggling with infertility, conception is a war against their bodies. Blood and death attend. But when the war is won, and life stares, hungry, in the parents’ faces, where does that violence, anxiety, and shame go? The poems in Patter re-imagine miscarriages as minstrel shows, magic tricks, and comic strips; set Darth Vader against Oedipus’s dad in competition for Father of the Year; and interrogate the poet’s family’s stint on reality TV. In this collection, Kearney doggedly worries the line between love and hate, showing how it bleeds itself into fatherhood.