Vlad Interviews Kenyatta JP Garcia

Vlad Savich: Keny you look like a great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin or another of his names is “Sun of  Russian poetry” Are you the son of his poetry? Please, tell me and the reader of QMT about yourself. 

Kenyatta JP Garcia: I am a big fan of Pushkin. I always sort of knew that he was like the Shakespeare of Russia. Like, he was the top dog. So, I read Queen of Spades but then as I got older, I saw the love that other writers had for him. For example, Anna Akhmatova quotes him in her Northern Elegy and I love her work so I read more of him. I just ate him up and I really love his “gypsy” poems. I think his long narrative pieces are great. I’m a big fan of verse novels and he was amazing at maintaining a rhythm and flow while also creating and crafting a story. So, in many ways, I am also his child. Plus, I loved finding out that he was of Ethiopian descent. I was like, wow, there’s a mixed race writer in Russia. As another mixed writer, I have lots of love for our traditions. That is to say, I feel that even in another country, somehow there are similarities between him and the mixed folks over here. And, I absolutely wear my sideburns in tribute to his greatness


VS: Are you the son of his poetry? I meant whose poetry: American, African and etcetera

KJPG: Oh, I guess the sun for me might be Jean Toomer. I orbit around or out of his work as a mixed African American writer who was experimenting with forms. I mean, his book Cane pushed the ideas of what a novel could be. I think he’s essential to my being. He is sort of a sun for me.


VS: Let’s continue talking about Pushkin.  He created the modern literary language of Russia. Do you think about creating a new literary language for the United States?

KJPG: I wish. That would be my most arrogant and narcissistic dream ever come true. I mean, deep down or maybe even on the surface, I’d love to create a new literary language. I want more attention to be paid to the little words and what we’re saying in those things often overlooked. I want to build a literature built from articles, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, etc. I want us looking at the connective tissue of writing. From there we can look more closely at our world and the memories we have of it. If I could make us always remember and never forget, that would be a splendid thing even if our memories are filled with sadness.


VS: What do you think will be the language of the future?

KJPG: I think in the future our language will use lots more images like emojis and gifs. I think the written word as we know it will be different forever as we put down our pens and pick up our phones, tablets and laptops. I think abbreviations and shortened words will be more abundant but also new words and portmanteaux will spring into birth. It’s a beautiful time to be alive linguistically speaking. I think we’ll never have a single language but we’ll be able to communicate more easily with each other across cultures. Hopefully, we’re only a few emojis away from really understanding one another.


VS: The Divine Comedy. Hamlet. Don Quixote. Faust. Is all the best already written or do writers still have a chance for a new one?

KJPG: I hope there’s a chance. I want to believe that the best is yet to come. I mean, Lermontov was good but then came the beauty of Pushkin and from there there was Gogol. I think we can always build from our predecessors to build even more beautiful, rich and poignant pieces.


VS: Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol. You play Russian names as a juggler by his maces. What can you say about Russian literature? What is Russian literature for you? 

KJPG: I love Russian poetry. Boris Pasternak’s book My Sister – Life is one of my favorite books ever and the poem “Rain” is absolutely beautiful. Furthermore, the whole Stray Dog Cabaret group are amazing. Russian futurism was essential reading for me. Marina Tsvetaeva and Velimir Khlebnikov were geniuses and totally had a massive impact on my poetic style. And I was truly saddened by the death of Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko was my introduction to Russian poetry. One of my dearly departed friends who was also a mixed race writer was really into him and we bonded over his poetry. In many ways I’m more indebted to Russian poetry than I am American poetry. For me, I like the sadness, the absurdity, the mundane and political. Oh, and then there’s Chekhov. His vaudevilles are hilarious. Even though I’m a poet, I love his dialogue. His wit helped a lot with my work. It’s like he helped me learn more about timing and humor/punchlines.


VS: In my youth. I was influenced by American literature. Literatures of freedom, democracy… My teachers were: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger . I loved O. Henry short stories very much. The Last Leaf is I’m sure one of the best stories in world literature. As it turned out, the Russian translations of his stories were better than the original. Who is your authority in American literature?

KJPG: For me, I really like Jean Toomer. He’s my favorite. After that there’s Charles Chessnutt. But I also like Salinger, Douglas Coupland and Raymond Carver. And for poetry, Dickinson is big time and I can’t say enough about how amazing HD’s work is. But, all said and done for me there’s a Frank O’Hara, Delmore Schwartz and Ted Berrigan trinity. With Jim Carroll as maybe John the Baptist or St. Paul or somebody big but not quite as divine. And in the contemporary world, I love Bin Ramke. He’s my favorite writer working today followed by Danielle Pafunda and jj hastain.


VS: “Engineers of the human soul”. The phrase was apparently coined by Yury Olesha and it was subsequently used by Stalin.  What would you call a writer’s craft?  Is creativity a craft or a gift for you?

KJPG: Wow. Great question. I think a writer’s craft is to explore. We need to dig deep always into the connections and disconnections of time and space. Then we report back to the world. A writer is always doing recon. We’re reporters and spies. We have to keep our eyes open and senses acute. So, for me, creativity is a craft. I had to learn how to get better at being creative. Even as a kid, I studied comedy to be able to make fun of other kids better. I learned to watch people and I still occasionally do imitations of other people’s walks or gestures. I think for me, mimicry helped me with my creativity. You can explore something from the inside if you allow yourself to put on somebody else’s body. I mean, in the beginning I was being mean but now I’m learning a lot more about empathy. Really, that should be the goal of our explorations. We should always walk away knowing more and thus being more understanding.  Sometimes, that understanding is about us understanding how to dismantle something also. That’s important too. Empathy has its place but sometimes we need revolution also. But both begin with exploring.


VS: I am a Slav but I’m married to a Jewish woman. My daughter (because the Jewish nationality comes from the mother) is Jewish too. This was the reason why I left the USSR. Mixed races in the USSR were degraded. They mocked such children. Have you experienced the mockery of other children? If so, did it affect so that you became a poet?

KJPG: I’ve definitely been mocked before. I have curly hair and I was shorter than everybody else when I was growing up. I’m still kind of short now but as a kid I was always the smallest so I got made fun of for that and being mixed I got a lot about my hair and skin tone from all sorts of kids. Wherever I went, I was teased so I learned to tease back better, harder, meaner. I think that was the beginning of poetry for me. I mean, in addition to being teased, I didn’t have too many real friends and certainly no relationships so I had to go feel sorry for myself on the page. Now I do a little less crying into my poetry but it’s still there. And I’m certainly still a bit bitter about the way things went for me early on in life. But, as I move into my 40s I’m going to try to get over it. Finally.


VS: Joseph Brodsky has a poem tilted  “I entered the cage instead of a wild beast…” 

Now I’m forty. What’’s there to say about life?
That it turned out to be long.
Only with grief do I feel solidarity

My dear friend Keny, what can you say about your life when forty knocks on your door?

KJPG: Well, I just turned forty this weekend and I must say, I felt a lot of grief going into this birthday. And life has felt very long so far. I think, a couple days later now that it’s sinking in that I’m 40 I just want to say, I need to finish up. I feel like I need to rush. I’m running out of time. Even though I never wanted to get this old, now that I’m here I have some things I want to get done. I have books I want to write. I have lessons I want to teach which means I have to go back to school so I can become a teacher. And, I want to make all the friends I can and I want to help out a little bit in making this world just a little bit better. If I can’t start a revolution, I’ll provide some humor for those who need it while fighting the good fight. I’ll be the respite if need be. I just want to leave this world feeling like I helped.


VS: What do you do and what do you think the world will be like when you (like the Beatles song) are sixty four?

KJPG: When I’m not writing, I work overnights as an inventory control specialist. Basically, I count stuff, stack stuff and put boxes on shelves. And when I’m 64, I’m sure robots will be doing my job. I think the world will be highly mechanized and computerized. It’ll be Robocop, Skynet and Wall-E.


VS: “I think the world will be highly mechanized”. The robot will not panic (like a writer)  looking at the blank white sheet. No! But for me, a blank sheet of paper it’s like a snow-covered field that I can’t ever cross it. What is a clean sheet of paper for you?

KJPG: The clean sheet is a new chance. It’s my opportunity to begin. I love it. It’s a reset button.


VS: Tell me please. Do not you think that you are a character of some writer. The hero of someone’s book. If yes who writes about you?

KJPG: I hope somebody else is writing my life story because I feel so helpless to change or control any of it. With that written, my initial reaction is to say that Marcel Proust is writing this tale of sorrows and love loss but at the same time my life is a little too funny at times for him and so maybe Neil Simon is working on this for his next great play in the afterlife.


VS: Well, you remembered Proust.  There is a list of questions composed by Proust. One of them:

What will you say to God when you meet him?

I will continue the Proust question:

Suddenly it turns out that writing is a sin? God will ask you, “Why did you confuse people’s minds?” What will your answer?

KJPG: When I meet God I will ask them, “what is it like to be real? What does it mean to exist when so many folks doubt you?”

If God asks, “why did I confuse people’s minds?” I will ask God, “why did you?” I will say, “I had no other choice. I am but a reflection of you.”


VS: Someone sends us to the world without asking our desire. Knowing what life is would you repeat your life again. And the second. Would you be a writer or would you choose something different. What else do you like?

KJPG: There is absolutely no way I’d want to relive this life. I don’t think I’d miss the few good parts and everyday I’m alive I’m just trying to forget the bad parts but then I sit down to write and the bad parts come back. So, I don’t think I’d want to be a writer if I could repeat my life. I think if I had to choose what I would do next time, I’d probably do something completely different like something in math or science where there are real answers and facts. I want a lifetime of less emotions and exploration/explanation of those emotions.


VS: In your opinion. The writer is

1 The person who earns money

2 Who writes for the table

3 For whom writing is a drug.

Can you call a person a writer if he didn’’t publish any books and did not earn a one penny by (his or her) writing?

KJPG: Anybody writing can call themselves a writer. Being a writer isn’t necessarily the same thing as being an author. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re writing, you’re a writer.


VS: I can write “fuck” on the fence  Am I a writer or an author?

KJPG: Ha. I guess you’re both. You wrote it and made it public. Essentially, you published “fuck” on a fence. You’re kind of an author although absolutely anonymous to most readers.


VS: Do you think there is a difference if the fuck is written in Russian, or if the same word is written by an American, or by a Chinese, English, or German person? I want to say there is a difference between the world’s literatures or is it the same holy shit?

KJPG: The language totally matters. I think language carries a lot of cultural context with it so the Russian “fuck” and the English “fuck” are different. Translation is always only a close translation. Nothing is ever exactly even not even in a single word such as “fuck” which is carrying the cultural anger of the writer.


VS: You know Russian and American literature quite well. In my opinion American literature is cosmopolitan, and Russian literature is more spiritual. What do you think about this question?

KJPG: I think American literature over the years wanted to push back against religion and thus became more cosmopolitan whereas in Russia, to be spiritual is to return to the religion that was taken away over the years. Also, Russia has rich folkloric traditions that writers can weave into their writing and this can also be seen as spiritual in a more pagan or pantheistic sense. But, in America all we have are our folk heroes. From Paul Bunyan to Superman to these heightened versions of Lincoln and Washington, all we want is to celebrate the individual within their world. We don’t want to give credit to God nor fate for heroism. America ever since the days of Emerson has been trying to push the notion of self-reliance. I don’t believe Russia feels this way. In fact, I think for some Russian artists fate and luck and other factors outside of the self such as the government itself are essential to creating their work. That is to say, these Russian writers want to know that sometimes they weren’t in control. That sometimes all we can do is to live within the framework that we are given. Americans think they can work hard enough to defeat fate. Also, traditionally, many Americans like happy endings. To the Russian reader, they are not so concerned with that. Not everything ends well.


VS: I see meaning in the exact sciences: mathematics, geometry, physics. This knowledge makes life easier for us. Explain to me what is the meaning of art? I think literature only complicates our lives.

KJPG: I don’t think there’s a meaning to art. I’m not an artist. I’m a writer, a worker, a craftsperson so I’ll speak simply to writing. Literature does complicate our lives. It speaks to the lack of meaning in our world. Literature is here to question meaning. It may end up providing explanations and answers but it begins by questioning. Yet, that doesn’t mean that it is without any value. Just because it may not have solid and concrete answers such as science does, doesn’t mean that it is worthless. Instead, literature is here to provide the reader with hints and clues about bigger meanings. Literature is work. Reading is work but hopefully work that pays off in both enjoyment and a better ability to look at the world.


VS: Dostoevsky said “Beauty will save the world”. Can you say “Literature will save the world” ?

KJPG: Maybe. I think so. Writing is so abundant today in so many forms and genres that the potential to save the world is absolutely possible. I mean, just a few words can change somebody’s mind.


VS: “Kill him,” are also words and it can make someone take a gun in his hands and kill someone. Is this also literature?

KJPG: Sadly, yes, it is literature but hopefully the empathetic and sensitive writer will write the work to heal the world not harm it. Certainly Catcher in the Rye has lead some to kill but how many more folks have been lead to love by Romeo and Juliet or Cyrano de Bergerac or some other such sentimental love story? The writer has to be careful. Literature can incite violence and literature can also create connections. We as writers need to ask ourselves, “what do we want to do for this world?”


VS: Tell me, please, should a writer love his heroes?

KJPG: I don’t think loving your heroes is necessary.  Sometimes all we need to love is the work that goes into writing.


VS: I’m sure you know The Sermon on the Mount. Can we call Jesus Christ a poet?

KJPG: I am very familiar with the Sermon on the Mount and I think Jesus was a bit of a poet. I mean, he’s no David but we can imagine that he was familiar with the Psalms. He knew how to speak. He understood poetics well enough to spread his gospel.


VS: What do you think, is God is more a mathematician than a poet?

KJPG: Maybe God is both. Maybe math is a sort of poetics. Maybe poetry is kind of like math. I think God likes rules which is very mathematical but God also likes the unexpected twists and turns like a poet does.


VS: If you were almighty God. How would you create the world?

KJPG: I wouldn’t create the world that’s too much responsibility for me. I wouldn’t want to be the cause of so much sadness.


VS: So the author is not responsible for his characters?

KJPG: The author is responsible for their characters but sometimes things get out of hand. An author can lose control over a story sometimes.


VS: What is more important for the writer of suffering or pleasure?

Cervantes lost his hand. Dostoevsky was sentenced to death. Solzhenitsyn was in the gulag. Oscar Wilde was in prison.

KJPG: I’d guess suffering is more important. I haven’t had much pleasure in life. I don’t know how that works for poetry. But, with suffering comes hopes, dreams, resiliency and the desire for the truth.  One always wants to know the cause of their pain. One will examine the pain and speculate about how to be rid of it. Suffering is a powerful motivator.


VS: On Earth, there are many countries in which suffering is normal. Can you go to North Korea for example or does a writer need a country

like the US?  The USSR was a country of difficulties. I would have never been published there but imprisoned. How many writers have rotted in the Gulag without having written any books.

KJPG: On one hand, writers can benefit from being free to write about almost anything in a nation like the U.S. but a lot of great samizdat literature has been written also. I don’t know how many writers have been murdered or suppressed in other nations but even here lots of folks have been blacklisted. Writing is risky. Art can be life or death in some nations. Our work is always political and as such we can make enemies.


VS: You wrote  “Our work is always political”.  What are your political preferences. Knowing a little bit of you I would call you an anarchist. Am I right?

KJPG: I’m definitely a bit of an anarchist and a total socialist. I always say I’m not a total anarchist because I’m worried that without some sort of system we won’t be able to keep the buses running and the water flowing but fuck the government, military and cops.


VS: Your political tastes are clear to me. Let’s talk about aesthetics tastes.

What kind of women are your muses: blondes or brunettes ? 

KJPG: Well, I like all sorts of folks not just women but I do like redheads and my ex is a redhead and maybe I even wrote a few epics after we broke up. Maybe. And, in more recent years I’ve definitely written some stuff while thinking of brunette folks. But, really I don’t see anybody as a  muse so much as I record my pining.


VS: What do you want to accomplish or surpass – or should this not interest the writer?

KJPG: Right now, I’m alright. I don’t really care about accomplishments anymore. I just want to write and maybe some folks will enjoy reading it.


VS: What do you think is your main drawback as a writer

KJPG: I’m stubborn and I don’t like working with others. I don’t value a lot of input and once I decide I’m going to do something, I do it no matter how disastrous the results. I used to be impatient also but now I’m learning how to slow down.


VS: Through a hundred years you, me and many other writers will forget. Are you worried about this?

KJPG: Wow. I’m really sensitive about this. I don’t ever want to be forgotten. You can forget my work but I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to be somebody to someone somewhere forever. It’s sad and vain but truthful. It’s been a lonely life, I’d like for death to be less so.


VS: Alexander Pushkin once wrote

A monument I’ve raised not built with hands,
And common folk shall keep the path well trodden

Do you want to leave a monument behind you?

KJPG: No. Just a memory. I don’t need anything so solid. I prefer to be fluid. Or to be the gas that expands to fill any available vessel.


VS: Imagine a picture. One day you will have a meeting with your girl near the monument of Kenyatta JP Garcia.   But it will be in your other life. Would you like to know that the monument is dedicated to you in your past?

KJPG: No, I’d rather be more anonymous. Whoever my mate might be in the future doesn’t need to know who I was in the past.


VS: The past is already gone. It can not be returned. The future can not come. But I want to ask. What do you think about the future of mankind?

KJPG: I’m worried and I’m not. I think our president is making some bad decisions now in terms of global climate change and race/international relations. Yet, I feel like we have the technology and hopefully the empathy to undo whatever Trump is doing now.


VS: If you were a writer who wrote the history of the our earth. What finale would you make for this story? Tragic or happy?

KJPG: I’d want the ending to be happy.  That’s all I want for this world. Whatever I have missed out on, I hope everybody else can have.


VS: On this positive note, we finish our interview. Would you like to say something else to the readers of the magazine?

KJPG: I think I’ve said enough. Thank you, Vlad, for this wonderful interview.


Kenyatta JP Garcia is originally from Brooklyn, NY but currently resides in Albany, NY. Kenyatta is an editor at Five 2 One as well as Rigorous. Their most recent books of poetry/diary are Slow Living and They Say from West Vine Press. When they're not putting their mind on the line for words, they're putting their back into lifting lots of boxes while most other folks are fast asleep.

Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.

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