Obituaries

Rudy Kikel, poet and longtime editor at Bay Windows, dies at 75

Mr. Kikel’s subjects in his poetry ranged from his childhood in New York City to his friends in Boston.

Mr. Kikel’s subjects in his poetry ranged from his childhood in New York City to his friends in Boston.

Rudy Kikel wrote many of his poems in quatrains with alternating lines of seven and eight syllables. “I love working within it,” he once said of the comforts such a strict form offers.

He also found reassurance in the surroundings of his adopted city. “Boston has history as an enclave for gay poets,” he said in an interview for “Award-Winning Men,” a 2002 book by Ed Karvoski Jr.

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“What I like to think my poetry is about is the reality of gay men’s lives,” he added. “I’m not at all interested in presenting a nice myth about gay life and gay loves, one that would calm the suspicions of straight people.”

Mr. Kikel, who was 75 when he died of a heart attack May 23 in his Jamaica Plain home, also was the former longtime arts and entertainment editor of Bay Windows, a Boston gay community newspaper. Over the years, he published and edited several collections of poetry, and his subjects ranged from his childhood in New York City to his friends in Boston — from his first loves to the sounds of desire.

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In “Wanting Time,” a poem from his 1993 book “Long Division,” he began:

Now! he meows in my ear:

Now! That failing, the framed bedside

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prints, tortured by his nuzzling,

begin to clatter on the wall.

“I’ve admired Rudy’s poems for a very long time,” said Lloyd Schwartz, a poet and a writing professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“They’re not like anyone else’s,” Schwartz added. “You could almost say there’s a kind of prosey narrative about them, but with a consistently surprising turn of phrase that detonates something deeper.”

In his 1984 collection “Lasting Relations,” Mr. Kikel wrote about the Boston artist Ralph Hamilton, who died in 2006. By “subtracting from his private experience,” Hamilton found “a ravaged, refined beauty,” Mr. Kikel wrote.

Ideally, he would have us doing it too,

taking satisfaction from things diminished:

contriving not to see in order to discover

the fundamental awesomeness of the familiar

scenes, realizing we always purchase

our actual treasures at the expense of potential

ones we have given or had taken away.

Throughout the passage and in much of his poetry, Mr. Kikel ended lines in unexpected places, letting his thoughts cascade from one line to the next.

“There’s a kind of charge to that almost willful refusal to let a phrase come to an end at the end of a line, so that each phase is kind of pulling you into the next phrase — which is not what prose does, it’s what poetry does, even though it may sound like prose,” Schwartz said.

Though serious about politics and social issues, Mr. Kikel brought to his writing and everyday conversations a “style that was witty, droll, with a kind of dry sense of humor and wordplay,” Schwartz added.

Another poem from “Long Division” began:

Off Berkeley St., whose gay bar

and twenty-four hour store between

them neatly define the word

“convenience” …

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Kikel was the son of Rudolf Kikel and the former Pauline Staudacher, two immigrants from Gottschee, a German-speaking region of Slovenia. His father had been a blacksmith before moving to the United States, where he owned a metal shop that made triangular supports for buildings and bridges. Mr. Kikel’s mother provided household help for an affluent family.

When Mr. Kikel was young, his family moved from Brooklyn to Queens, where “they bought a single-family home — an Archie Bunker home, literally,” said his husband, Sterling Giles.

Mr. Kikel attended St. John’s Preparatory School in Queens, “which was a nightmare,” he recalled in a self-interview he published in Bay Windows in 2007. “It was very sports-oriented and I was never picked for a team. I didn’t want to play anyway — I was a sissy. I don’t think I even qualified for ping-pong.”

At St. John’s University, he majored in English and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He received a master’s from Pennsylvania State University, where he first began writing poetry, and “where I found my first love affair,” he said for his Bay Windows interview.

“I always knew I was gay but I had to move away to act on it. One of my teachers had shown me how you could live a double life, but it seemed like such a bleak way to live,” he said.

Some of his work appeared in One, a pioneering gay magazine. “These poems were written under the pseudonym R.J. Stark,” he told Karvoski, and added: “I never thought I’d be living an openly gay life.”

Mr. Kikel moved to Boston, graduated from Harvard University with a doctorate, and taught briefly and unhappily at Suffolk University. “I hated teaching,” he said in a 1987 interview with Peter Stickel on the radio program “Boston’s Other Voice.”

Teaching took time away from the writing Mr. Kikel wanted to pursue, so he began freelancing and worked as the building manager of an apartment house, which allowed him to live rent-free.

He wrote for publications such as Gay Community News and was credited with coining the name of Bay Windows when that publication was launched.

“It seemed to me to signify the sense in which we were going to be open to all points of view,” he told Stickel. The architectural image was intentional, Mr. Kikel added: “I thought the bay windows were great because they looked out in all these different directions.”

He was the poetry editor at Bay Windows, and nearly every week invited people from the gay and lesbian community to his then-South End home, where he asked each interviewee a standard set of questions. Many of those Bay Windows interviews were collected in the book “One of Us: LGBT Voices from New England.”

One day when Mr. Kikel was on the Esplanade, he met Sterling Giles. They became a couple a few years later, and married in 2012.

“When I met him, I’d walk down the street with him in Boston. He knew everybody and everybody liked him. He was sexy — very, very sexy,” Giles said. “If Rudy and I needed to walk from the Public Garden to Mass. Ave., I’d say, ‘Let’s walk down Marlborough, it’s quiet and pretty.’ He wanted to walk down Newbury or Boylston because we would be interrupted several times.”

A service will be announced for Mr. Kikel, who in addition to his husband leaves his sister, Joan Danylak of Queens, N.Y.

In 2002, Mr. Kikel was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which slowed his writing. “It’s a gift when it’s happening, but you have to allow for fallow ground,” he told Bay Windows in 2014. “Things get stored up.”

His humor was undiminished, however. In his self-interview, published a decade ago, he answered the list of standard questions he posed to all his interviewees, including which physical attribute draws the most comments.

“It used to be my hair,” he quipped. “I had wavy blond hair, and I would flip it. Then one day I noticed I would flip my head, but nothing was moving. People thought I had a tic.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.
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