“I have strong ties to Louisville because I’ve lived here for 13 years, but I never really felt tied to Kentucky itself as a place the way so many Kentucky writers do,” says soft-spoken but spirited poet Erin Keane. Instead, her appeal broadens beyond the Bluegrass; her themes are relevant in a more temporal rather than spatial way. “The pop culture is really what binds all suburban kids at some point,” she says. “It’s cable television; it’s MTV, alternative music, all that stuff. It depends on when you grew up, not where you grew up.”
The 30-year-old spent her early years in various suburbs from New Jersey to Arizona to Paducah, in a family she says can only be described as “a rolling three-ring circus.” She recalls “awful” poems she wrote during childhood of the bunnies-in-springtime variety, a continuing interest that was rewarded in high school with a trip to the Governor’s School for the Arts.
“That was the first place anybody told me I was a writer, not just a kid who liked to write,” she says. “They treated me like an artist, and that had a huge impact on me.” She graduated from Bellarmine University in 1998 with a degree in communication and began a career as a graphic designer, which is still her day job.
Keane had her sights set on graduate school, though, and entered Spalding University’s fledgling MFA in writing program in 2002 with high hopes of emerging with enough material to publish a book. During that time she co-founded the InKY Reading Series, which brings literature and live music outside the world of coffee shops and universities and into the Friday-night social scene. She also found herself a part of one big, happy, creative family. “I learned to believe very strongly in mutual support,” she says. “Every time one of us (from the program) succeeds, it’s like we all succeed, which sounds really corny but it’s true.”
Amid all the activity, Keane still finds time to teach her dream course at Bellarmine, “Pop Music in American Literature,” and after persistent efforts has found a publisher for her first manuscript. The poems in The Gravity Soundtrack are mostly the edited fruit of her Spalding labors, and through precise and direct language offer complex insights into human histories and emotions. The book’s release will be celebrated on Oct. 20 at the Jazz Factory’s Late Night Salon, with music by local band Dangerbird.