Evan Kennedy on a Battle to Waken our Attention

Evan Kennedy on a Battle to Waken our Attention

An interview with Evan Kennedy, from The Write Stuff series:

Evan Kennedy is a poet and bicyclist living in San Francisco. He is the author of The Sissies.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

If I am honest and mention poetry, the conversation usually ends.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Reaching attentiveness.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

I wouldn’t claim any position to give advice. If pressed, I would say, “Do what you can do best, and if what you can do best is something that is already being done really well, get a different job.”

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

The distance I am from my first day doing what I do increases at the rate that I approach my future reconciliation, which is all the success I need. Viewed differently, success comes too late.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Iggy Pop in motion.


Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

When he was still young, my mother’s father hosted a party at his apartment. At some point in the evening, he was entertaining two women by telling a comically exaggerated tale. Neither woman was my mother’s mother; by then, they had separated. He told the two women that during the war, his fellow soldiers poked fun at him for the changes his accent underwent while he studied abroad. This embarrassment, he said, made him wish he were dead. I have to wonder if he genuinely felt this way or was only being flirtatious. I see myself having both tendencies. To demonstrate his anguish over the estrangement from his native tongue and countrymen, he produced his army-issued rifle, aimed it at his chest, and pulled its trigger. Though he never kept the rifle loaded, it remained in his home, and a friend who had visited, perhaps out of boredom, with unknowable intentions toward his host, decided to load it. I see myself evoking a similar response in a guest.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

That is easy: Nolan Ryan. And in more than a few ways, I have become him.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Whenever there would be wildness, I would raise mildness. If there would be mildness, I would raise wildness until I found more civil company.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

I’m too earnest to tease.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Enough to cover my debts.

What’s wrong with society today?

I am in no position to answer.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Yes, but I have had to innovate to address my deficiencies.

What is your fondest memory?

When I was a young student taking algebra, an hour of tutoring was offered early on the morning of every test. I remember joining almost a hundred students in the classroom. We sat at desks, on the floor, and stood in the back if all other space was occupied. It was still dark outside. Within us began a battle to waken our attention while our teacher wrote a few on an overhead projector. Because the room was kept dark so that we could read the exercises, my classmates tended to fall back asleep. It was great to see that happen, because it meant I had the upper hand if I could rally my concentration. I never slept, but I watched my mind fail, make excuses, and ache as it reached verifiable truths. I saw plotted within me some points of comprehension that were always threatening to vanish. I would need to regulate my behavior by those points. Set before me was a process through which I measured my boyish acumen.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

I am daily reminded of the love I have neglected.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

My aspirations are private but common.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

It is as necessary as solace.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Attain dissolution.

What are you working on right now?

I am writing my autobiography to force within myself a change that will develop new topics.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I would like to write reams of theory to keep PhD candidates as employable as possible. I most admire writing that makes PhD candidates appear employable.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

It could benefit from a few collapses.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Bicycling, anonymity, stealing affections.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

A dog swam across Lake Lucerne with a branch in its mouth. It emerged then crossed several intersections in obedience to traffic laws.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I can plead better with 50 words; if I had to plead in dollars, I would need more.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The subway in New York, Bleu de Chanel, mown lawns, freshly sharpened pencils.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I would travel far past these city limits.

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