Kim Vodicka is a poet with a penchant for the provocative, but even she won’t risk tangling with the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Though she was gearing up for a busy spring to promote her new poetry collection, The Elvis Machine (Clash Books), Vodicka read the signs correctly and changed her plans.
Vodicka, author of 2018’s Psychic Privates, was one of the first of a slew of Memphis writers, artists, and musicians to change travel and promotion plans when she canceled a stop at an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was held on March 4th-7th, and though some events were canceled, it went ahead as planned — just before concern over the coronavirus meant a slew of cancelations, closures, and postponements across the country.
“I was aware of news about the virus even though it really hadn’t hit most of North America yet,” she says. “But by no means did I understand the gravity of it. The Monday before we were supposed to leave, AWP had an emergency meeting about plans.” Vodicka says the announcement of an emergency meeting kicked off “an entire day’s worth of tremendous confusion."
“At that point, to my surprise, a lot of people were saying to go ahead and go but just take precautions,” Vodicka says. “It wasn’t sitting well with me so I decided not to go.”
The next week, coronavirus got very real for people, as schools began closing or extending their spring breaks, and businesses were forced to adapt in real-time.
“I was scheduled to go to the New Orleans Poetry Festival to be on a panel,” Vodicka says, adding that she had been looking forward to participating in the panel discussion about witchcraft in poetry. Vodicka says that while she does not practice traditional magic per se, the act of creation and all art-making have roots in magic. She is also scheduled to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which has been postponed in light of the global pandemic.
“Fortunately I had not planned a full-on tour,” the writer muses. “I do have some events scheduled for May and June that have not been canceled yet, but we shall see.”
Vodicka’s tours are part poetry reading and part performance art, where she is often accompanied by a musician live-composing music to her readings. For a poetry reading, they are never short on spectacle — exactly what one would expect from a poet who sums up her work by saying, “The lines are zingers, and truth bombs are atomic.”
“All of Memphis is a Heartbreak Hotel,” Vodicka says to describe The Elvis Machine, which she started writing shortly after moving to Memphis from Louisiana in 2016. She finished the collection in 2018, and it was submitted for publication in 2019.
“The official release date is July 7th, but the preorders ship in May,” Vodicka says, adding that pre-publication events, especially in the small press world, are of vital importance for a book’s success. Still, even though The Elvis Machine has been four years in the making and Vodicka is working to adapt to a coronavirus-shaped wrench in the works, she isn’t exactly checking into the Heartbreak Hotel over delays caused by pandemic panic. “I haven’t been moping about this or trying to make this all about me because I’m more concerned about humanity and society crumbling.” She promises that, though the collection promises not to skirt past the dirty or grisly aspects of relationships, “no names are named.”