September 2010: Issue 34


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An Interview with Paul

The online Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry published an interview with Paul in which editor Michael Northen's focused on Paul's work as a writer.

Paul, you are known for both your poetry and your plays, but in this interview I would like to focus more on your work as a playwright. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to write plays?

My first involvement with the arts was as a visual artist, although I always did some writing, too. As my disability progressed -- I have a congenital neuromuscular disability -- I shifted my emphasis more toward writing. Playwriting seemed to come naturally because of its pictorial element. It also appealed to my interest in psychology and language. Another factor is that playwriting uses very limited means. All you have to work with is dialogue and physical action. You have to show, not tell. I always seem to do better work when I'm challenged by limitations. Making plays is also a collaborative process. When you're lucky enough to have a play produced you get to work with other creative people -- actors, directors and designers -- and that's stimulating and enjoyable. It's not as solitary and lonely as other creative activity. And then you get the immediate gratification of audience response. That can be a real rush.

As someone who began with visual art, it must have been an interesting experience to actually see what happened the first time one of your plays was performed. Can you discuss one of the plays you've had performed and what you think that you, as writer, learned from the experience?

In general, you learn what in your script really works or doesn't work on stage. You try to imagine and anticipate that while you're writing, but you never really know until you see the play up on its feet. Then you can tell if the characters ring true, if there is dramatic conflict, or if -- God forbid -- you're likely to bore an audience. When I first started writing plays I had a bad tendency to overwrite, to want to explain everything. That's not how people really talk. So, when I began getting some productions I had a chance to hear how stilted and unnatural that kind of dialogue sounded. I learned what I could leave out. I learned to trust the actors to convey the subtext, which is the meaning behind the words.

You have mentioned that drama is a collaborative process and certainly, that, obviously, is the case with the production of the play. I wanted to follow your observation with two not totally related questions about your feelings as the writer of the play. First, have you had the experience as a writer of a director taking over your play that you felt it was really changing the play beyond a point that you could accept?

Regarding your first question, I would say, no. And directors have changed my plays in some quite radical ways. One example that comes to mind is a director of the first production of a play changed the gender of a key character from male to female. That gave a sexual tension to the central conflict that I liked so well I rewrote the play slightly and encouraged subsequent productions to be cast that way.


Writings by Paul Kahn

Thanks to Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry

In addition to the following two poems, you can find Paul's three-part autobiographical essay "The Deepening Fog" published on Wordgathering in 2009-2010. Read it online by following these links.


When I am dead these pages will be my Eucharist,
reading them my sacrament. Do this for me:
hold them. Hold the words in your mouth.
You know how much I longed to be held and known.
Do not be afraid because they taste of blood and semen
and remind you of how I suffered for my desires.
All that will be over, even what I desired from you.
You will have nothing to fear -- for me or from me.
When you're tired of me put me down
and go on with your life without obligation or guilt

(Reprinted with permission from Wordgathering)


If I fell out of love with life,
I would not think that tigers were magnificent.

I would not long to hug a tiger,
to nest my cheek in his furry nape,
to stroke his massive face,
and chest to chest to feel
the thrilling kinship of his breath.

If I fell out of love with life,
I would not try to paint
the perfect painting of a tiger.

I would not try to imitate his coat
with gold and white impasto,
or mime his stealth with graceful lines,
or glaze on glaze recall the knowing in his eyes.

No more this aching worship and
these tributes to the surfaces of things,
if I fell out of love with life.

Instead a white, cold sleep, a hush of snow
that flake by flake obliterates
the edges of desire.

I dread this pall. And yet,
how long can I remain alive, awake
when tigers do not come to me to pose
or offer their embrace?

(Reprinted with permission from Ruth Kahn)