There’s a lot of bullshit on the internet, and it just keeps accumulating. Wading through all the nastiness and fluff is a Herculean task into which I rarely delve. If it doesn’t happen across my social media feeds (and often when it does) I don’t pay much attention to it. Once in a while, however, someone comes along to get me to sit up and take notice. It happened the other day when Matthew Rettenmund’s ‘Boy Culture’ blog alerted me to the awesomeness that is Ben Kline. I immediately sent him a FaceBook request asking if he’d deign to be a Hunk of the Day, but upon perusing his site and his work, it was clear that Mr. Kline was much more than the average Hunk. (We’ll crown him as such in another post.)
As a poet, writer, and fellow-seeker-of-the-truth through the imagery of Instagram and Tumblr, Kline and his creative output resonate powerfully with me. He takes the acutely personal and transforms it into something universal, which is at the heart of any work of art. Getting at the core of the human experience and exposing the raw emotional circuitry between the heart and the head is a talent only the most courageous choose to cultivate. The exploration of one’s identity in such a public platform takes a big set of balls, as well as a thick skin. It also requires a certain vulnerability that can be frightening to many people.
Perhaps best-known for his poetry, Kline combines the written word with powerful, personal images. I’ve always held that contrary to popular perception, poetry is the most difficult style of writing. The thousands of words that comprise so much prose (and almost everything you read here) are designed to mask the ineptitude of content and style, whereas in a poem of a few lines there is nowhere to hide. Such an economy of words is terrifying terrain for any but the most talented writer.
Kline’s poetry seeks to further the eternal quest for finding meaning in our lives, in the ways we strive to connect with each other and the attempts we make to get closer to the truth. His first collection, ‘Going Fast in Loose Directions’ is an examination of those moments. His Tumblr website, Original Content Required, offers similar insight and intimate revelations with its of-the-moment observations. Time and distance can provide a safety buffer for intensely-revealing work, but so can the development of a persona slightly separate from the real person behind it all. That sort of dichotomy is befitting a Gemini like Kline.
“I definitely have created a character in my work on Original Content Required,” Kline explains. “Even though I’m clearly the writer of my poems, stories and essays, as well as the “model” in many of the photos, I tag them The Author. Which draws a line, yet allows the line to blur, because I am the author. Just not “The Author.” I like to say, My work is not me, but of me. Readers do not always appreciate that a poem, particularly in first person, is not about me, Ben, but is a character with or without name. Biographical critique has caused two generations of readers to seek too much information/gossip/context about the writer from the work, instead of just taking the work as presented. Throw that into the social media age, where every detail is scrutinized for real or imagined context…it’s almost too much… I don’t mind the two aspects being separate and also blending on occasion.”
There’s a certain fortitude required when you live your life so openly, and then put it all out there for the world to see. Some shy away from that because they’re afraid to face the truth about themselves – the negative, the raw, and the primal underbelly of basic human drives and needs. That’s never been an issue for Kline. “I have no fear of honesty, especially my own about myself,” he says.
He backs that up with some scorching sexual descriptions that once caused a Creative Writing teacher to advise that Kline back off from so much of the sex stuff. Fortunately, that only fueled the fire, and to this day Kline doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions of sexual acts. The line between art and pornography is one that he simply doesn’t recognize, and such freedom is a welcome defiance of all the banned FaceBook and Instagram photos that get reported. His is a far more progressive take on sex: “I don’t have or encourage a definition of pornography. I suppose I could be basic and say sex on film? Pornography also suggests something obscene and I find nothing obscene about sex. Now that I think about it, I’d like to have that word stricken from our vocabularies.”
As bold as that may be, and as sex-positive as his work is, nothing Kline puts out there is what I would consider offensive or rude. (Those are subjective terms, it’s true, but this is a subjective blog.) In all of his scintillating photographic work, the photos that reveal the most are the ones that hide any blatant explicitness. The hint of a cock is somehow more scandalous than the exposed member itself. In a way, it’s the perfect embodiment of his poetic intent: “I want to portray a feeling, not the actual circumstances.”
To that end, Kline has managed to make the internet more personal and more resonant in the way he touches the common, tender thread of emotional examination. He also reaches out and interacts with his readers. It’s a vehicle to enhance his message, and he’s one of the wise people who focus on the positive aspects of its power while maintaining a realistic notion of its actual effect.
“The internet is fun to me,” he explains. “I’m old enough to remember life before it existed. It will never feel “real” to me the way I see younger people behave in regard to online interactions. I don’t mind the anonymity and people trolling or acting crazy. Just ignore them… But the comment poems and stories, as well as some of my responses to direct reader questions, are just another way I enjoy taking the mundane and making art with it. It’s really that simple. It engages both parties, the audience and the ideas in play. I love it.”
It’s a love that is rabidly returned, judging from the popularity of his poetry and his photography, and Kline is the kind of authentic artist that reveals the best of this wild and crazy internet world. At a time and place where so many of us try to portray ourselves as something other than who we are, his honesty and openness are an inspiration.Back to Blog