I deserve to fail. I embrace that too. I will survive. It’s what I do.
Over the last few months of 2019, I spoke with author Kenning JP García over Facebook Messenger about the writing behind their newest book, OF (What Place Meant). The book is both a frenetic outpouring and a measured micro-portrait of a writer at odds and in love with writing, gratuitously denying and defying genre in bursts of commanding lyricism. García’s book-length experiment with daily writing is as at home with humor as it is with mourning—the conduit of feeling always at the pulse of this ambitious collection. OF tells the story-not-story of a writer-not-writer who must go on living-not-living. The inbetweenness at the center of García’s project feels especially relevant to the book as a self-published collection—as that which was fully envisioned and brought to fruition by an author who seems to write as closely to their life as it is lived.
Our interview, of course, began with Proust.
JACQ GREYJA: I’m fascinated by the almost three-dimensional quality of your ongoing relationship with Proust, both as you have discussed writing and evading Proust and as a kind of dialogue with him that has manifested in your work. I imagine it must be difficult to have this kind of kinship with a writer who is not only dead, but also from another period of time and place entirely?
KENNING JP GARCIA: It is kind of weird but we’re both queer, so we have that in common. Lol. And we’re hyper-romantics.
I think our urge is to love as we both doubt that we are loved. For me, Proust gets inside of an emotion and sets up shop. He goes to work within himself, and when you’re a disconnected person such as myself, all you have is yourself. Proust taught me how to write into emotions instead of out of them. I’m not a sentimental person in the ways that many people might think that I am. I have sentiments and resentments. I dwell in a lot of negative nostalgia, but Proust asks me to see the best of the worst. I don’t always do it but then again neither did he. This is what I needed from a writer. I wanted the permission to fluctuate and to eddy. To both go and to remain. I just didn’t get this from some of my other favorite writers.
Also, I don’t really like novels. I haven’t read many of them and I prefer to spend time with diaries and letters (and poetry, I suppose). Proust writes in a way that feels as if he is writing for himself. He wasn’t writing diary, but he makes us forget that. I want that in my work. I want people to look at this book and to feel. Just feel. Fuck your thinking.
JG: I can see the relationship between Proust writing for himself and your work—the attentiveness to life in your work seems as though it is achieved not just through habit, but also through a more rigorous practice—dedication? Love? This is something else I so admire about your work: the necessary acuteness of your language, the un-dissolving resonance of feeling which must be spoken.
You’ve spoken a few times about working nights as a maintenance worker at the largest Walmart in America, most recently in the Poetry Foundation article “Lines of Work,” where you say:
The everyday is always more of the same—except when it’s not. It’s my job to explore the ‘not’ both in cleaning and in writing. The details I retain in my writing are the exceptions. The stains that won’t come out. The debris that refuses to be cleaned up.
Speaking from my own experience, it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to write in almost any given capacity when it feels as if all of my time and energy has been syphoned (which is exactly how capitalism aims to function). Yet you’re still summoning writing from within and against major structures of oppression as they are experienced.
KG: I think I write sometimes to keep myself company. I’m certainly not in love with myself but I’m loyal to myself and I’m loyal to my work. Time has been hard to find recently. I’ve been oversleeping and so I’ve been trying to squeeze in some words before work and this is becoming a very slow serial shattered diary. On my days off, I try to deal with bigger projects, but time still runs away from me as I try to maintain a social life. So, I have to be careful with words. I need to get it right the first time.
OF was written extremely quickly and pieced together from bits written on break, on the bus, and of course in cafés and bars. Then I revised it over the past 5 years. I tried to keep the diary unrevised, but I did do some removing of names and places as a way of unwriting Proust’s names and places that were so important to him. With my newer work, I try to get it right the first time. I think and daydream a lot before committing it to paper when it comes to epics and series, I try to devise moveable outlines which tell me what “idea centers” I’m dealing with. I don’t do voice or persona. I try to keep my writing on my mind. This means I’m keeping me on my mind, and it means I’m not dead yet. I didn’t let myself go.
JG: I see that motion of active piecing “together” as alive in your work, where your pieces work collaboratively as an embodied, hybrid collage of dailiness:
These jobs and this work taking away hours on a set schedule. Chores cast a cancerous ambience over life. Ten minutes away from almost any workplace where this back has endured pain is near a bar. And there, so much more interest can be extracted from a pint; an unsteadiness in a drunk’s mind which can be tipped with slightest breeze of vowel held a bit too long in a slur. What falls out may not be true but it has survived.
While OF swells with its outpouring of language, the looming limitations of form—and, perhaps, of writing more broadly—are sharply critiqued:
Invisibility is undermined in diaries. Journals add too much shape to the unknown. Chronicling gives whereabouts to place. Give about to where.
It seems as though it is not just form that is political, but also the act and consequences of naming form. Speaking in an interview with Jiwon Choi, you discussed how “avant-garde” writing becomes typically associated with white writers:
Rarely do we hear about this [avant-garde] sort of work from POC or we hear the same few names over and over again. Part of the reason for this is not that POC aren’t working in various styles but that our styles aren’t often being understood for what they are.
Your interview makes me think about form in yet another way: form as it is defined by those who hold capital in the literary arts. Do you see writing for/with/to the self as a way of writing against both the constraints of traditional form and the racist, capitalistic structures embedded in the literary arts industry?
KG: Certainly, I’m always pushing back against form. I don’t believe that forms were meant to fit me. When American writing began to codify itself it didn’t give a fuck about the inputs of Black folks. Of course, many Black writers are great poets in both traditional forms and through avant-garde approaches, but I shrug off the title and classification. It means being published might be harder, but I write to talk to myself. I talk myself into some messes and out of some too. It’s the writing that does this, not the publication. Publishing is not personal, interior dialogue, but it does allow for correspondences between my sensing and others’ sensing. This can help others cope. If I can help, I should help.
As for constraints, I constrain I. I will restrict as restrictions arise. Whatever doesn’t work is fine. I deserve to fail. I embrace that too. I will survive. It’s what I do. I was born broke and I ain’t never gonna be able to fix that. I been living through almost constant poverty. I’ve been pushing through dreams shattered beyond repair. Writing can’t kill me. I keep going with or without monetary capital or cultural/literary. I want to free myself from my own miseries and maybe free others. I don’t want writers to feel penned in or cooped up within their own situations. We need to roam. To explore. We need to see the full range of ourselves as well as our surrounding conditions. Think about the inscapes.
JG: There’s risk with letting go of prediction based on “previous patterns,” too. How do you navigate vulnerability, risk, and the general unknown when writing?
KG: My life is mundane and miserable. I expect nothing but more of the same and that’s what I get so I try to throw some randomness at myself. I read several books at one time. I listen to books to keep a narrative in my head. I mostly hate music, so I tend not to listen to albums and instead go with streaming radio stations online to deliver some random lyrics into my head. My diaries tend to be a dialogue with that stuff since I’m surrounded oftentimes by people that I can’t really converse with.
So, long answer long, I try to break my patterns by making the media around me random and indulging in that. I’m then risking what will be triggered by that work. I’m left vulnerable to what memories and thoughts will erupt from that randomness. I can’t trust life and people to break patterns for me. Everybody has their own patterns. The big thing is removing the idea of outlines and the desire to return to the beginning to revise. Neither the beginning nor the end matter more than what is currently occurring. And nothing needs to work with rhythm, image, metaphor, causality, nor communication. It’s a process of continually being aware. As long as I pay attention to both the routine and the random, I’ll keep assembling something new. But never creating. I will never create anything. I am an assembly of my surroundings, even those surroundings that are hard to talk to.
Kenning / Kenyatta JP García is the author of the notvel, OF (What Place Meant) as well as the speculative epics, ROBOT and Yawning on the Sands. Xe is a diarist, performer, and pop cultural craftsperson. By day, xe is the editor of Rigorous and by night xe is the Good Will Hunting of the literary world.
Jacq Greyja is the author of the poetry chapbook Greater Grave (The Operating System, 2018). Their poetry has appeared in Bettering American Poetry, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Apogee, Hold: A Journal, Dream Pop Journal, Peach Mag, and elsewhere. Their poetry and collage pieces have exhibited at The Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and Bushel Collective. Jacq is a William Dickey Poetry Fellow and current MFA candidate in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. They live and work in Berkeley. More about Jacq can be found at greyja.com.