Kevin Simmonds on What Happens Because Reality Isn’t Enough
Kevin Simmonds is a writer, musician and filmmaker originally from New Orleans. His poetry collections include Mad for Meat and Bend to It, and he edited the groundbreaking anthology Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality. He founded Tono International Arts Association, an arts presenter in northeastern Japan, wrote the music for the Emmy Award-winning documentary Hope: Living & Loving with HIV in Jamaica, and composed the score and co-wrote the script for Emmett Till a river, a Japanese noh-inspired play that debuted at San Francisco’s NohSpace in 2013. He’s received commissions and fellowships from Cave Canem, Creative Work Fund, Fulbright and San Francisco Arts Commission, and received the Edward Stanley Award fromPrairie Schooner.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
Depends on where I meet them, the context. But I usually say one of the following: poet, composer, filmmaker or singer. People don’t like to hear that you do many things.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
- Remaining resourceful and vigilant enough to survive in a country that’s hostile toward black people.
- Remaining resourceful and vigilant enough to survive in a country that doesn’t value art makers.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I’ve had successes. That’s it.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better
For years it was the pas de deux (for men) from Ulysses Dove’s masterpiece Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven, with music by Arvo Pärt. But it’s been taken down. (Thank heavens I’d downloaded it.) The other lovely pas de deux (for men) is Dimitris Papaioannou’s Song of 99 — Human Thirst, with the incomparable Jessye Norman singing Strauss’ Morgen.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Victor Eugene McCarthy (1820-81), my maternal great-great-great grandfather, was absolutely brilliant. He was a composer, pianist, actor, writer, teacher and politician, among other things. He was a fair-skinned black Creole (the offspring of a white father and black mother), who studied at the Paris Conservatory in 1840. On January 19, 1869, he was escorted out of the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans because, after they wouldn’t allow him to sit in a section newly reserved for whites, he protested. Because he was such a prominent artist, the event was in the newspapers the following day and he later organized a boycott of the theatre and sued them. If he wasn’t already badass enough, he was among the first black state senators in Louisiana after the Civil War. I know all this because I wrote my master’s thesis on him, inspired years earlier while doing my undergraduate degree in music at Vanderbilt University. While flipping through a musicology journal in the music library, I saw his photograph (circa 1870) and thought, “Wait, this is the photograph hanging in my aunt’s living room!”
What’s wrong with society today?
We’re purposely anesthetized by the Internet, film, TV, magazines, music and other distractions so we’re numb to, and don’t put up much of a fight against, the State and its corporate interests.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Does nasal spray count?
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Depends on how much I’m on public transportation.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Nietzsche said, “No artist tolerates reality.” Art is what happens because reality isn’t enough. Reality is only bearable with art so, yes, it’s necessary.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
What are you working on right now?
Many things and here are just a few:
- RAZED, a poetry-based project about the history of gentrification in the Fillmore
- A new collection of poetry presently titled Upright
- Art songs
- 4. A second film about SF’s nudity ban
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I like meeting new people, teaching and travel. I’d love to be a tour guide or teach music on a cruise ship.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I really dislike this question because my list is so long and one is never enough. Complete Fantasyland: I wish the SF Board of Supervisors would mandate that 65% of all rental property be reserved for people/families who make less than, say, $75k annually. And that this would be upheld for at least a generation (with the amount adjusted for inflation).
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Seeing a live performance with friends, then food and dessert — lots of dessert.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
I don’t drink so that’s a really nice meal for me, or one nice coffee table book, or a ticket to a show, or a few movie tickets for me and friends.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Scents associated with memories of my mother: cinnamon being baked into anything, or filé gumbo, or Paris and Opium perfumes (what she wore when I was growing up).