AQUARIUS PRESS Headline Animator

Monday, June 9, 2008

Aquarius Press Author Interview: John Jeffire

Poet John Jeffire is having great success with his new poetry collection, Stone+Fist+Brick+Bone (2008).
In the following interview, he looks back on his progress in the literary world:
Q: How did you first conceive of the idea for this book?
A: I’ve had individual poems published over the past twenty years, so the idea of one day putting together a full book has been in the back of my mind for some time. With this collection, I finally felt I assembled a group of poems that could in fact be read as one long poem both thematically and technically, where one work would play off of and lead to another. I had enough material so that I could be selective and say, “This isn’t a bad poem, but it doesn’t fit what the group of poems is saying and it’ll have to wait for another collection.”

Q: How long have you been writing fiction? Poetry?
A: I actually began writing poetry first, as a college undergrad. Fiction came much later, after grad school, with short stories eventually leading to novels. Poetry has taught me to be more concise and economical in my fiction, while fiction has given me a chance to expand beyond the narrative constraints of poetry and explore some other terrain, or at least explore similar terrain in a different way. The two disciplines have been mutually beneficial for me, and I’m at the point where I don’t think I could just do one.

Q: Which is your favorite genre for writing, poetry or fiction?
A. I go through phases. When I’m working on a novel, though, that completely dominates my thinking and energy. When I work on poetry, I’m more apt to occasionally change directions with some fiction, so for me poetry is the more lenient master.

Q: What is the overall message you want readers to take away from this new book?
A: I don’t know if I’m so concerned with a message as I am with a reaction. I’d like readers to come away having made some emotional connection to the words and say, “That was real.” I’d like them to go back after an initial read and make the journey again and see if the poems strike them any differently. I want that emotional connection to stay with them, like the lyrics to a song that get caught in your brain and you suddenly find yourself mumbling them at odd moments.

Q: What advice do you give to aspiring poets, particularly local poets?
A: In a basic sense, an aspiring poet must read. A lot. A beginner needs to devour as many great poems by as wide a variety of great poets as he or she can and always be hungry for more. It’s no different than a young athlete watching the pros and thinking about and studying what makes them so great. Along the way, the young poet then needs to begin to define what his or her poetry will be and how it will be created. And then somewhere later in the process, the personal voice has to emerge.

Locally, I think a young poet should attend as many readings as possible and get to know people. Be a pest. Well, a respectful and non-stalking type pest. Ask questions at readings. Spend some time with other poets after readings and see what connections you can make. I wouldn’t be doing much of anything now if I hadn’t hooked up with M.L. Liebler and made an effort to be part of the scene. It’s easy to sit back and complain that nobody is taking your work seriously; it’s a lot tougher to get out and hit the streets and try to make something happen.

In a larger sense, a young poet must be prepared for rejection and intensive criticism. Mental toughness is an essential quality to possess, and the ability to continue writing during long droughts when there is no praise or positive reinforcement to be found. If you’re willing to face those realities, you might one day succeed.