10 Questions for Jona Colson
- By Abby MacGregor
Outside I saw the flagstones movi ng like heads in a Picasso
painting—black beetles for eyes.The space unpeop
led yet so alive.The sky torn off but still du
sted with clouds.
My father die d in his bed—silent and cooling like the steel
kettle my mother used for tea.
—from “At the Open House,” Spring 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 1)
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I return to Anne Sexton. Her truth is a courageous. I also read Anne Carson—her experimental forms and metaphors are gods.
What did you want to be when you were young?
Educator and poet. Done.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Robert Frost once wrote, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” I wanted to write a poem that surprised me. The poem is not without a narrative thread, but the phrases startle given the subject and title. As writers know, content dominates, but style and form are the master. I wanted to extend the content, but find a form to hold it.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
There is no specific place, but my home state, Maryland, and my travels influence me—how can they not? I find myself returning to the summers of my hometown more and more often in my writing.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
No, but I often wish I could transfer the power of music into writing. Take pieces by Satie, for example. If I could funnel that play of strength and tenderness into a poem, I would be very happy indeed.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I keep a Word doc that is about one hundred pages long. I write down phrases or even words that I like, or I think are curious. I will play around with the phrases until I begin to generate what looks like a poem. It might take ten or more pages of nothing to get something. You keep hunting for something you want to say.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
For the most part, I bring all my new work to a workshop. I feel that my poems are not ready for the world until they have been workshopped.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I would love to be able to play a musical instrument—specifically the piano. The piano is so emotionally honest, and that’s often what I’m searching for in a poem, the truth, even if it is a poetic truth. In particular, this poem seeks the truth—what do you really think when you walk into an open house? Each house has a history and future; that is at the poem’s heart here.
What are you working on currently?
I recently had my first manuscript accepted Washington Writers’ Publishing House, so I am revising and revisiting it before it goes to press.
What are you reading right now?
Well, if I keep in spirit of honesty, I just read Hillary Clinton’s What Happened and revisted Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Odd, I know, but many commons threads. Women ahead of their time—situations and visions that, unfortunately, many are not ready for. I am also reading Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf. A wonderful, brave collection.
JONA COLSON’S poems appear or are forthcoming in the Southern Review, Ploughshares, Subtropics, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland and lives in Washington, DC.