3 Questions for Jonathan Penton

Delighted to add this highly thoughtful interview to the ongoing 3 Questions project. Miriam Sagan


1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

I always rehearse my poems aloud, so I have a careful and somewhat consistent relationship to the breath — variations on a type of breath, I’d say. I experiment with lines, seeking different ways to represent that breath. I almost never use traditional forms, unless I’m going for a specific spoken-word cadence, and even then I’ll alter the form. I do sometimes borrow the experiments of other form-breakers, Anne Sexton’s most of all. But usually I’ll use the line, and projective lines, to attempt to visually capture the experience of dramatic or operatic voice.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

Almost all of my poems are an exploration of my own body or someone else’s. I call the former category non-fiction, since I know my own body as well as anyone, and the latter category fiction, since I am speculating on the experience of someone else’s body. For the purposes of poetry, I make the assumption that the mind and body are eternally interdependent. I don’t believe that in a scientific sense, but this simultaneous interdependence is true for as long as we live, and I don’t write about the experience of being dead.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

I don’t necessarily compartmentalize my consciousness in that way, so that I might identify a part of my existence as “being a poet” or not. I suffer from major depressive disorder, which I suppose is more likely to cause the poetry than the other way around, and although I dislike that, I wouldn’t know how to compartmentalize it from the rest of my consciousness, either.

I suppose some poets dislike the practical aspects of being a poet — namely, that there’s a lot of us, and no one outside of the poetry world cares about any of us. That doesn’t bother me. Rather, I am grateful to not have my income related to my artistic output. I want as few restrictions on my artistic growth as possible, and reject financial, academic, or social systems which might inhibit said growth. Of course artistic growth comes from exploring the artist’s interaction with society, not from attempting to reject society. But society has its traps, and it’s good to be a poet who can ignore those.

Biographical Note: Jonathan Penton founded http://www.UnlikelyStories.org in 1998. Since then, he has lent editorial and management assistance to a number of literary and artistic ventures, such as MadHat, Inc. and Big Bridge, and technical assistance to organizations like 100,000 Poets for Change, the New Orleans Poetry Festival, and Lavender Ink. He has organized literary performances, and performed himself, in places like Arkansas, California, Chihuahua, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington, state and DC. His own books are Backstories (Argotist E-books, 2017), Standards of Sadiddy (Lit Fest Press, 2016), Prosthetic Gods (New Sins Press, 2008), Blood and Salsa and Painting Rust (Unlikely Books, 2006) and Last Chap (Vergin’ Press, 2004).

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

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