The Importance Of Being Earnest: An Interview Of Essayist And Poet Kris Kidd

 photograph by Cameron McCool

text by Keely Shinners


What does it mean to be honest?

For Kris Kidd, it might be the unadulterated, self-deprecating persona he projects on social media and in his essays. The day we meet, he posts a picture of himself in a studded choker and a t-shirt ripped to shreds, an ashy cigarette hanging from his lips. The caption reads, “i guess i’d have to say the greatest thing about being me is that i can show up an hour late to meetings & interviews, unshowered & w/ starbucks in hand, bc i literally have no reputation to uphold.” But if you think this is the honest Kris Kidd, you only know half the story.

Kris is not an hour late for our interview. In fact, Kris is fifteen minutes early, texting me that he’s showered and walking over before I’ve even gotten in my car. When we meet, he wrapped me in his thin, freckled arms offers me coffee and a Marlboro, jumps right into the interview as if we’ve been friends for years, just catching up on creative projects and intimate endeavors. When I’ve reached my final question, Kris says, “Let’s just talk.” So we do. We smoke, drink iced coffee, and talk about deconstructing masculinity. Our interview is cut short by a homeless man asking for a couple bucks to buy coffee. Kris jumps up, says, “Let me buy it for you,” and drops $6 on an Arts District iced latte for this random stranger.

What does it mean to be honest? Am I being honest if I am painting Kris as a “Punk with a Heart of Gold”? Still, I am withholding the complexity of what is real. Kris is not a slew of archetypes; he cannot be categorized or branded, not as a punk dream boy, an addict, a spokesperson for the millennial generation, an LA kid with a dark past and bright future.

If I can say anything truly honest about Kris, it is that he is open. On the page and sitting across from me, Kris is shedding the layers of self-preservation that weigh so heavily on our culture of self-absorption and individualism. In his new book of poems, Down For Whatever, he lays heart, mind, and body on the line. Kris’s poems blend hazy nostalgia and deep love with sharp, exigent issues like drug abuse, eating disorders, and sexual disenfranchisement. The book is a multi-faceted read, both dark and hopeful, unfeigned and well-crafted, entertaining and deeply moving.

Down for Whatever might capture a sliver of what it means to be honest. Not an honesty that is clean and shallow, but an honesty that is messy, contradictory, difficult to articulate but so, so sweet.

Kris Kidd and I sat down to talk about shedding bullshit, embracing the ephemerality of writing, getting addicted to control, and finally letting it all go.    

KEELY SHINNERS: In your new book, Down for Whatever, Poems and Bullshit, which are poems and which are bullshit?

KRIS KIDD: The bullshit was more of the blog posts. We wanted it to be four different sections, because I think I’ve grown a lot since I Can’t Feel My Face. It started out with the thought that blog posts would be a good division, because they’re all different years of my life. That’s the bullshit. There are some life lessons in there which are kind of just weird, drug-abusing things that I’ve learned. Yeah, it’s a good mixture of poems and bullshit. Some of the poems are bullshit.

SHINNERS: Is there something about having a physical copy of everything curated together that is important to you?

KIDD: That’s a part of it. I know the print industry is dying. In a way, we’re doing this print to publish. We’re not killing any trees. Well, we are killing trees, but we’re not wasting anything. I didn’t know that was an option. I’ve always wanted my first collection of anything to be printed. I want to hold it. I think there’s also something to be said about closing yourself off for a while, working on something, and getting the collection. I still post shit to Instagram all the time, like short poems. But I try to hold onto everything that I have until I have a collection of work.

SHINNERS: So you could do a little bit of both.

KIDD: Absolutely.

SHINNERS: Did you write all the poems together, or were you compiling a bunch of material at the end of a certain period?

KIDD: It started off two years ago, when I started compiling all the poetry I had written. I was so secretive about it. I didn’t really post any of that. I always thought poetry was over-emotional. With the essays, it’s really comedic and kind of jaded. I almost caricaturize myself in a way. I was scared of being that vulnerable. Once I got all of those together and read through them, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to say about what I’ve learned since. So I spent the last two years writing the other half of the book. It’s half and half.

SHINNERS: You include blog posts from 2009-2013. They are very haunting, like ghosts from your past self. Are you including those blog posts to contextualize the rest of the poems in a kind of reflectiveness?

KIDD: I think it’s reflective, for sure. Also, it’s so weird to look back. I started that blog not knowing if people were going to read it. It was more of a journal for me at the time. There’s an honesty in that that’s hard to replicate now that I know that people are reading what I do. They’re haunting for me too. It’s weird to see where my head was at those moments. Like I said, they’re really big time stamps for where I was emotionally.

SHINNERS: Are you nostalgic, or do you think, thank god that’s over?

KIDD: Both. I know I wouldn’t be this person without that kid. I wouldn’t ever do it again. [Laughs.]

SHINNERS: Why poetry rather than prose? What can you say in a poem that you can’t say in an essay, a story, an Instagram post?

KIDD: It’s kind of the opposite. The reason I was so afraid of poetry was that you can’t bullshit anything. With the essays, I can make a joke. I can talk about my father’s suicide. I can talk about drugs. I can talk about eating disorders. But I can spin it comedically so that no one’s super uncomfortable. My biggest fear with poetry is that I would be inviting people to some kind of pity party. The interesting thing about poetry is that you can only say exactly what you need to say. It’s like packing for a trip. You can’t take everything. That makes it more… I hate the word raw… It makes it more vulnerable and intimate. That’s terrifying, but I wanted to challenge myself in that way.

SHINNERS: You kind of have to put it on the line.

KIDD: Yeah. Poetry is just very different. I wanted to work on that for myself. I still see a lot of the voice of I Can’t Feel My Face in these poems, but I stripped away a lot of the manipulative behaviors that were in that book.

SHINNERS: Historically, the central distinction between poetry and prose (before they were written differently) was that poetry was meant to be performed and enjoyed in the community, kind of like theatre. Is there a sense of performance in your work?

KIDD: I only read some of these poems last year when I only had rough half of the book. I used to read the essays. Reading poetry is different. Essays are performative too, but it’s kind of like a stand up comedy routine. Again, with this being more emotional, more vulnerable, you slip into it. Especially because it’s my life, the performance does transport me back there. It becomes a performance of self.

SHINNERS: Going along with the performative aspect of poetry, poetry was a historically communal space. Like, you would go see Homer perform the Odyssey on the street. Is there acommunity that you’re thinking about when you’re writing? Or is it more individualistic?

KIDD: I think it started off as individualistic. As the blog got bigger, and as I released I Can’t Feel My Face, it really sent it somewhere else. People all over the world were reading these things. I would get messages from kids in Russia who say they can’t be themselves. It’s really amazing to hear--not even in a narcissistic way, though I’m sure that it is--it’s really amazing to hear what these kids get out of that. That became, I think, a sense of community. Now, I think I owe that vulnerability in a sense. Things that I wouldn’t have said before, I found myself saying in this book. I know there are things I have experienced that other people will gravitate toward and relate to. I want to be open for them.

SHINNERS: You reference things like the hazy glow of your iPhone screen in the middle of the night, or facetiming a friend in your poems. Even though these technological apparatuses are ever-present in our daily lives, they aren’t so often included in poetry. Why do you think it’s important to include them?

KIDD: I’ve never wanted to create anything timeless. What makes our ability to write about now powerful is that it’s right now. We’re experiencing this generation. We were the guinea pigs for things like social media. All of the digital advances have been within our millennial age group. I don’t care if twenty, thirty years from now all my shit is outdated. I think it speaks to its time. The Internet and technology have influenced all aspects of my life. I think that’s true for a lot of people. I get that people don’t want to date themselves; I totally respect it. But that’s never been a worry for me.

SHINNERS: If it’s ephemeral, you want it to be powerful while it can be.

KIDD: Yeah, and we’ll always know what the iPhone was. We’ll always know what Facetime was. Even when it becomes the rotary phone of the next generation.

SHINNERS: Addiction plays a huge role in your poems, not just drug addiction, but addiction to things like intimacy, nostalgia. What are things that addicted to writing about?

KIDD: Addiction is a weird thing. Because I write so openly about using drugs for a long time, I get labeled a drug addict a lot. I combat that, because I don’t think I was ever addicted to drugs. I definitely abused drugs. But I’ve always been addicted to control. Down For Whatever finally comes full circle with that, because I included aspects like sex, love, and intimacy. And all of my personal issues with that. I’m addicted to writing about drugs, for sure. That’s always going to be an issue until it’s not, you know? We need to talk about it. I’m addicted to writing about body image and eating disorders. Especially for young men, it’s not addressed often enough. And just sexual intimacy. This is my first time writing about my issues with that. But so many people in my life are going through the same things that I am. It’s incredibly isolating. We tend to replace sexual intimacy with sexual violence. That’s fine, but it can get dangerous. It can really hinder you from any emotional growth whatsoever. I think addiction in all forms. It does go back to control though. That’s always been my issue. Control with food, men, drugs, whatever.

SHINNERS: Feeling a lack of control?

KIDD: Something will hit me, and then I don’t have control over a situation. But I know I can control my body. If I do this, I know I can get high. When I stopped using drugs, men became like that too. I knew I could get them to sleep with me, that sort of thing. Which is not healthy. It’s all a power play. But we’re learning.

SHINNERS: You write a lot about things like cheap motels and smoking cigarettes all the time. I think that’s really authentic to you, but for a lot of people, it’s this whole American Apparel aesthetic. Like, “Oh, that’s edgy. That’s romantic.” Those places and objects are romanticized. How do you grapple with that? Is it romantic for you? Or do you want to talk about it because it’s true to your life?

KIDD: The motel reference, that was just one specific night. We had nowhere else to stay. We couldn’t afford anything else. There is something romantic about that. People tend to romanticize any sort of tragedy. Tragedy is glamorized. Poverty. Any sort of struggle is romanticized. That’s a cultural thing. We have Sofia Coppola making depression the hottest thing in the world in all her fucking movies. Lana Del Rey. These artists are great, but we are romanticizing really dark things. I hope I’m not included in that. I’ve never tried to romanticize any of it. I’ve always tried to speak on it honestly. If people glamorize it, that’s more on them.

SHINNERS: The book includes a few “Life Lessons,” which kind of poke fun at the idea. But if you had to share a life lesson, what would you share?

KIDD: An honest one?


KIDD: The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last year is how important honesty is. And how specific honesty is. Somebody just told me recently, “Even if you’re saying the truth, if you’re omitting other things to get a certain reaction or endpoint, that’s not honesty.” I think I’ve struggled with that my whole life. Like, “I’m telling you my story. I’m not lying.” But there was still a manipulative aspect to everything that I did. In the long run, it doesn’t help. Even if it gets you what you want, that’s going to be fleeting. There are a lot of gaps. That’s hard. I’ve been struggling with that for a year. But it’s paying off.

SHINNERS: It’s hard to be honest, but people end up loving it.

KIDD: People crave honesty. It’s just rare that it ever gets that way. Because we’re all scared. It was actually a psychic who told me that. That’s such a white girl LA thing for me to do, see a psychic, but I was at a place where I needed some sort of guidance. It really hit me. That’s something that I’ve been working on.

SHINNERS: When you think about honesty, what do you imagine?

KIDD: Just totally letting go.

SHINNERS: Putting everything you have out there.

KIDD: Especially in intimate relationships. I’ve always developed really close relationships with women. I’ve always been terrified of relationships with men. I have this really close circle of girls, and those are my best friends. We’re all honest with each other. There’s nothing to hide. It’s all on the table. And I realized that’s why those relationships work.

SHINNERS: Even with guys who have supposedly undone their masculinity, do you find there’s this lingering feeling that they need to be a certain type of person? Especially when they’re with other guys? And that’s what it’s harder to be honest?

KIDD: Absolutely. I see what the masculine ideal is, and I feel like I’ve strayed away from it as much as I can. But there’s something to being socialized as a boy, as a man. You can feel, but hold it in, don’t emote it, don’t talk about it. That, as a social construct, is really interesting. That’s something I’ve always worked against. But I do feel like there’s repercussions to me being that honest because I’m a boy.

SHINNERS: I notice it in the relationships that I have with men. I don’t really have friends who are jock bros, but even my friends who are feminists and are trying to recognize masculine constructions, you get to thresholds with them every once in awhile.

KIDD: It’s so ingrained. It’s a lot to undo. It will take time. We’re making progress, but it’s such a slow burn, on all fronts.

SHINNERS: Right. And sometimes it just shifts. We think that it’s over, but really it’s the same power structure using different language.

KIDD: This reminds me of Orlando. We think we’re such a progressive country. We think that we’ve made changes, but we’re not that far from where we were. It’s great. We’ve been making strides. But we need to keep going. It’s so easy to fall back and come up against that threshold.

SHINNERS: There’s so much supposed widespread support in the mainstream media for the queer community when something like this happens. That’s really cool, and it maybe wouldn’t have happened decades ago. But there’s also so much rhetoric about, “Oh, this one stray homophobe. Our culture isn’t actually like that.”

KIDD: As beautiful as it is that queer issues are now in the mainstream, it’s also trending. We have to push past that. Trends die. And this shouldn’t be a trend.

You can purchase Kris Kidd's new book of poetry Down For Whatever here. Text and interview by Keely Shinners. Photography by Cameron McCool. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE