Evan Kennedy is a poet and bicyclist. He is the author of I Am, Am I, to Trust the Joy That Joy Is No More or Less There Now Than Before (Roof Books), Jerusalem Notebook (O’clock Press), The Sissies (Futurepoem), Terra Firmament (Krupskaya), Shoo-Ins to Ruin (Gold Wake Press), and Us Them Poems (Book*hug). He runs the occasional press, Dirty Swan Projects, and was born in Beacon, New York, in 1983. He lives in San Francisco, California.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Until my first chapbook, Us Them Poems (Book*hug, 2006), I hadn't brought any project to completion. For years I thought I had moved past the stuff in that book, but now I understand that the same concerns play out in all I've written since, just differently.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather's attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne's poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Six months to a year to determine the ground rules or armature. I try to approach each project differently, to make one or two drastic changes to throw myself off balance, or step into the waters until they're lapping at my nose. On the other hand, I worry I'm fooling myself into thinking I'm innovating when I'm only repeating the past. I edit my drafts till they're slick.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My books are formed around a topic: Francis of Assisi, Ovid, my biography, a sex robot with body dysmorphia. Usually enough material or ideas accumulate and require they be cohered into a single poem that serves the manuscript's subject.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings provide an unequaled opportunity to shepherd the work into the world. I can best test and plead my case for the work by reading it. But I try not to let my voice get in the way. Early in a project, I like to debut a new project at a Bay Area reading for my friends. Preparing the writing to be tested is as important as gauging the room and hearing their thoughts.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Uniting it all in the tree of life. Making an appeal to its creator. Reconciling myself with it.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don't see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It's not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it's essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it's useless.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
My editors have been supportive but mostly hands-off. I like to submit a tidy manuscript.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
If you see an item of clothing that appeals to you, buy two. My distant relation Jackie Kennedy recommended that.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Because I work a job separate from literature, I have to find pockets of time. On days off, I read or write in pajamas until two or three, then hit up Amoeba Music in Haight-Ashbury. I check out what Doc recommends in the metal section.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I continually ask my friends for book recommendations and to read whatever they're working on.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
A mown lawn.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I'd love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there's no way I could approximate Myra Hess's arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Or Mozart's String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie's than any poet's. I'm interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My book Metamorphoses springs from Ovid, who becomes increasingly dear to me. I fantasize about writers the way people imagine themselves befriending Alyosha Karamazov or Elizabeth Bennett. Among them is Herve Guibert, Ovid, Kafka, Ronald Johnson, Simone Weil. Real friendships with Noah Ross, Jacob Kahn, Jackqueline Frost, and Jason Morris are crucial.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I wish I could sing but I'm incapable.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If I were capable, I'd prefer a career like tenor Ian Bostridge's. It's probably too late for me to become a priest, a projectionist, a mopper at The Cock. It's probably not too late to scalp tickets.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I didn't have perseverance for anything else. Abilities in other things like music plateaued.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Emanuele Coccia's Metamorphoses. David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A book-length poem with the same concerns as my Metamorphoses (transformation, talking animals) involving the two birds from the Scottish ballad "Twa Corbies," a poem I first read as a child in Texas public school.
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