Flash Frontier: This is your second collection – congratulations! To start: how do you know when you have a set of pieces that feel, to you, like a collection?
Erik Kennedy: Another Beautiful Day Indoors, as a manuscript, felt more like a collection to me than my first book did. It was written in a much shorter span of time, during which particular events and preoccupations captured my artistic attention, so that undoubtedly is part of the reason why. If you start to notice double-ups (i.e., you’ve basically written the same poem twice), you’re probably close to the finish line. But unless you deliberately set out to write a series of linked pieces, I think there will always be a few stray sheep in the book that hang apart from the rest of the flock.
FF: What are the overarching themes in this collection?
EK: The phrase I usually use is ‘the depredations of late capitalism’. Almost everything else follows on from that. Pieces about climate change, injustice, our modern brand of ennui, even the love poems – they’re ultimately about a human-created economic and social system that cannot function without expansion and destruction. It’s impossible to keep living like this, so the poetry is about the challenge of having to keep on living like this.
FF: How did you decide to include some prose and poetry, together, and how to do you see them speaking across the pages to each other? Is there a connection, or are they like distinct parts between the covers?
EK: The honest answer – and hopefully this will give heart to some people – is that there was no specific plan. I’d written quite a lot of flash after my first book of poems, and a lot of it had been published (so I suspected it was mostly good). I personally liked the pieces, they fit thematically (the prose section, called ‘notes towards a definition of essential work’, is about working and labour), and I kind of didn’t want to waste them. Anyway, I’m no hybrid-mad formal experimenter, but why shouldn’t lapidary lyrics and spoken word–inflected jams and wee prose narratives all be in the same book? We can be very precious about these things for little reason.
FF: Does your voice / approach change, depending on whether you’re writing poetry or prose?
EK: Not really. I’m a little more comfortable writing as a bad person in prose fiction, and more content to let evil come out on top, but I wouldn’t say the fundamentals are different. I always like to play around. That’s where my writing usually starts: with some daft observation I’ve been playing around with.
FF: You are known for your sense of humour and your dry, keen observations about our world – from climate change to economic stress to other systemic flaws we live with. How do you think your humour impacts the way you write, from poem to poem? Are there some things where you just can’t see the humour? Or is there always a way to use it – to cope, so to speak?
EK: Interesting that you should ask this. I’m doing a residency later this year in which my stated objective is to work on material that’s a little more personal – the things that I have not found the humour in, I guess. ‘I’d like to finally bridge the gap between my politics and the actual person who has them,’ I wrote in the application. ‘I’d like to reckon with situations that still gnaw at me, with life-scale wrong turnings, with how I have never properly engaged with contemporary imperialism (I grew up in the US and was twenty on 9/11), with immigration as a Pākehā, with white privilege.’ Not exactly a barrel of laughs on the surface, but I’m sure there will be gallows humour there.
FF: What are some of the similarities, in terms of technique, between writing poetry and flash fiction?
EK: In both forms ‘Don’t wear out your audience’s good will’ is the first thing that comes to mind! If a reader of flash is ever thinking ‘How much longer is this going to go on for?’ you’ve messed up somewhere. So it’s not merely economy you’re aiming for, it’s drama. Arguably this is even more important in flash than in poetry, which at times demands expanse and rhapsody.
FF: You are going to guest edit the October INSECT issue of Flash Frontier. What kinds of things do you hope to see when you read those stories?
EK: Insects represent about half of all the animal biomass on Earth – far more than humans could ever dream of being – so, by the numbers, the possibilities should be tremendous. Putting on my vegan hat for a moment, I hope insects are respected as life rather than treated as objects. I suspect that writing as an insect will often go very badly, but when it succeeds it will be brilliant. And I hope to see lots of coverage of pollinators. Real wee engines of the food chain. Love those little chaps.
Three selections from Erik Kennedy’s new book
An Interesting Redundancy Package
Success is the second-best revenge
which is the best revenge.
I have turned the other cheek
until I was an ornate cylinder
of turned cheeks,
peach-coloured and weird,
like a sixties lampshade.
And I have succeeded
on my own terms, oh yes.
What else do you call it
when I rescue every single earthworm
I see on the pavement
after a brisk rain?
And surely it is success
to have made many people strangely happy
like a theologian who has translated
the entire Bible
into Christmas cracker jokes.
I have dignity-enhancing achievements like these
in many fields.
But the terms of my success are not terms
my adversary understands.
I’m performing in the wrong arena.
I am a beluga singing
to a vacuum cleaner.
Which is why you find me here,
at the corner
of Revenge Street and Revenge Parkway,
in my former manager’s office,
an action which—
to judge by the fact that I’m full of
adrenaline to my twitching earlobes—
is also success.
Agatha and Florian
I’d spent the summer in my wingsuit setting records: farthest horizontal wingsuit flight, first person to fly under the Glenfinnan Viaduct in a wingsuit, things like that.
To celebrate my achievements, my sponsor, Inventox, held a little do in my honour in Zürich. Inventox was a pharmaceutical company pushing a new prescription-strength party drink sold in grenade-size yellow cans. Conviviality blossomed like an evening primrose.
I was pleased when a familiar-looking woman, dressed all in yellow and wearing a yellow wig, introduced herself by saying, ‘I’m a big fan of your work.’
‘My work is partying until 6am!’ I said in English, translating my Swiss sponsor’s popular slogan. ‘That and setting wingsuit records.’ Her name was Agatha, pronounced the South American way.
‘I mean your work as a cabinet-maker,’ Agatha said. ‘Or have you forgotten, Florian?’
Now, only six people alive knew that I, the wingsuit daredevil Stefan König, was also Florian Moser, formerly a maker of cabinets for magicians, and none of them were in Zürich.
A server walked by with a tray of fizzing yellow cocktails. I took two glasses: Agatha’s first drink, my eighth.
I stayed silent, like a tree forcing itself not to sway. ‘Don’t worry,’ Agatha said. ‘I won’t tell anyone. But you’re needed. There has been a disappearance in a magician’s cabinet. It was at a children’s birthday party at the mountain hideaway of a notorious autocrat. I’m sure I don’t need to name him.’
I focused with an effort as she continued. My sponsor’s colours jaundiced the room.
‘One of the missing children is the autocrat’s only daughter, the Most Benevolent and Respected Flower of the Revolution. It has been snowing for a week, and there is no road access.’
‘Will I need my wingsuit?’ I asked, just as Inventox’s beaming CFO beckoned me to the stage to say a few words.
The Plot of the Nativity Play
A bright new star appeared in the sky. My friends Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior thought it was shining over Bethlehem.
‘I’m not so sure about that,’ I said. ‘I think it could be over Athens, or maybe Augsburg.’
‘Of course it’s over Bethlehem. You think I don’t know where Bethlehem is?’ asked Balthazar. I said nothing.
‘The star could betoken the coming of an infant god. Perhaps we’re being touched by the breath of something holy,’ said Caspar.
‘We could bring gifts. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh,’ said Melchior.
‘No one likes myrrh,’ I said. Now it was my friends’ turn to be silent.
We crossed the trackless wastes, buffeted by foul winds, menaced by mysterious temptations. We passed skeletons: dog, camel, human.
It was an awful trip, dirty, tedious, and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t shy about saying so. B., C., and M. mollified me with ecstatic flimflam. We were journeying deep into the country of belief, they said. Destiny was guiding our feet into the way of peace.
After a number of days, we arrived at the gates of Bethlehem and spoke to a watchman. Had anything noteworthy happened in the city recently?
‘A child has been born to Mary and Joseph, a young couple who have just moved here from Nazareth,’ the watchman said.
‘The pub up the road is doing a two-for-one fish and chips night tonight,’ he said.
‘Okay, my friends,’ I said, ‘you were right. This is a miracle.’
The star we had followed was blazing directly overhead, shrinking our shadows almost to nothing.
About the book:
Another Beautiful Day Indoors is more likely to end with a dark flood than a beautiful sundown. As these poems grapple with climate catastrophe, precarious labour, and love, they draw on the full, rich weirdness of the human-made world, with its self-driving cars, official geese and open-plan offices modelled on heaven. A sequence of magical realist short fictions explore ‘essential work’; elsewhere Erik Kennedy wonders what it is like to work in the satellite insurance sector. Somehow he gets away with rhyming ‘guesses’ with ‘yeses’. And somehow, even as this book comes up against the most ominous aspects of our future, it uplifts.
What people are saying:
‘A very moreish book of poems that are hard to put down. These are poems with a lot of pizzazz.’ – Harry Ricketts, RNZ
‘This book does what we need literature to do right now: show us ourselves slant and foolish, fitful and fragile, as we are. It’s a flare.‘ – Vana Manasiadis
‘Erik’s poems are wild, mad, and sustainedly brilliant. They heighten the weirdness of our lived and felt realities like good acid.’ – Michael Steven
Where to find it:
Te Herenga Waka University Press and local book shops near you!
Erik Kennedy (he/him) is the author of the poetry collections Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018), both with Te Herenga Waka University Press, and he co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific (Auckland University Press, 2022).
His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCE, The Florida Review, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, Southerly, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review.
Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch in Aotearoa New Zealand.