A: There’s a wonderful scene in the film Wonder Boys where Rip Torn stands at the podium to address a university crowd full of literature students and the first words that he says are “I am a writer,” in a professorial, masterful way, to which Tobey Maguire’s character (incidentally named James) roars out in laughter. I kinda feel that way. It’s a little silly to say “I am a writer,” in a overly assured manner. I’m a broken thing who somehow finds that words are a miraculous binding agent, linguistic glue for my soul. I grew up in a violent, drug and abuse ridden home. I remember when I was 13 finding a Rolling Stone magazine in which these prisoners who were serving life sentences had turned to poetry as a way to cope with their impossible situation. Their poems spoke to what I was feeling inside, also a prisoner to a harsh environment, I thought to myself (and I’ve probably never really stopped thinking this) maybe I can do this, perhaps this can help me to survive. And it did. I learned from these prisoner/poets that words can set a soul free, even if it’s all too painfully obvious that we are maybe never really free. Something in us, (in me) is broken. Words don’t fix it, but they cushion me against total darkness/oblivion.
My themes tend to center around trauma and dissociation. For me all words are coping mechanisms to begin with. Language is how we confront the void and chaos of a world without meaning, it’s how we contain our unknowing and anxiety of the unforgivably strange. Poetry, to me, is therapy in motion. I find psychotherapy is itself a shared poem between two people. Poetry starts when I see you as another strange me, as two lives intertwined and yet still separate. I speak- call out to “you” and you respond, this is a poem, a kindness. Therapy is about repairing the soul and I believe that’s what poetry is as well. A lot of what goes on in a consulting room is about shared enactment and creatively working with trauma’s, giving them new narratives over time. If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.
My Influences have ranged over the years. As a young man I was, as you might imagine, obsessed with Rimbaud and Sylvia Plath. In my 20’s my influences were William S. Burroughs, Kathy Acker, J. G Ballard, Bukowski, Kerouac, Miguel Pinero and the nuyorican and language poets. My influences now tend to be pretty small: Jorie Graham, Alice Notley, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Eigen, Helene Cioxus, Toby Olson. I don’t read nearly as much new poetry as I should. But there are a few modern poets and writers who have impacted my work in one way or another and for very different reasons, Sarah Certa, Julene T. Weaver Brian Jabas Smith and Rachel Custer.
A: I don’t really have a steady submission regiment, partly because I run my own lit journal now which eats into a lot of my time. I am constantly writing, I’m just not sending my own work out as much as I used to. When I get a publication I’ll share it on social media, that’s pretty much the extent of it. I have a book coming out this year, so there are promotional things that I have to do for that, like attend readings. The last one was at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamburg, Brooklyn. It is nice to be able to share my work with people in the flesh and blood. I’m probably not the best public speaker but it’s important to be able to put your voice into your words, like breath into clay. That’s the vulnerable part, to show up with poems in hand and risk opening your world up to strangers.
A: I am so excited for the release of my debut book, This Someone I Call Stranger, which is being published by Indolent Books and the incredible Michael Broder. I am so grateful to him and the whole Indolent team, including Samantha Pious, who edited my book. I can hardly put it into words without sounding maudlin, but I am beyond grateful. And to Jessie Janeshek, Sarah Certa and Kym Tuvim who wrote such kind, beautiful blurbs for the back of my book.
I’ve been collaborating for the past year and a half with my friend Elisabeth Horan, a wonderful poet who I got to know through AHC. I’ve lost count of how many full poetry manuscripts we’ve written together by now, it’s at least close to 8 full lengths so far, and a smattering of chapbook manuscripts. We are looking for publishers but haven’t had any luck so far. The greater part of that process for me though is just writing with her. We draw the best out of each other. Again there is that thing about two poets calling out to one another. Our collaboration feels a lot like that, creatively processing our lives.
Other than that I am continuing to edit Anti-Heroin Chic. It’s hard to believe we are in our third year now. A lot has happened since it began, and I’ve learned and grown a lot through the process of being on the other side of things. Editing a journal can be grueling, but ultimately very rewarding. I am so humbled by the people who have shared their worlds and work with me.
A: Oh boy. How much time do you have? I could write 20 pages on this question alone, but I’ll try and keep it short.
Poetry, to me, means we’re not alone. Language opens the world up and builds bridges to one another. It’s true that no man or woman is an island, but I think that’s because of poetry, it connects us. This is what art does, it communicates the incommunicable, it’s a felt sensation, like that perfect song that brings you tears. It makes us vulnerable, hence ethical, if we’re exposed so too are others. Poetry, in that sense, is political. I say all the time that I firmly believe everyone is a poet, I’m not sure if people realize how serious I am about that.
We all have a story to tell, in other words we all have pain and trauma to process. We all have a need to call out to others, to be heard and to answer the call that comes back to us. That’s poetry. A shared experience of the sensible human world. Of our fragility, our brokenness. Many of us like to pretend we’re inviolabe, but we’re not. That’s both the pain and beauty of what it means to live. It hurts and it humbles us. A poem hurts and it humbles. It might not make us whole, but it will build us up in love, imperfectly holding us together.
In our era of irony, disposability, and impatience, the poems of This Someone I Call Stranger, James Diaz’s debut collection, reverberate with rare authenticity and lyrical pain. Threading through a past of blind forests and dark basements, empty cupboards, dirty needles, hospital floors, and bad men who won’t die, this book is a necessary example of duende for the twenty-first century. These poems will arrest you. They have hungry souls, and they ache without breaking. They will hang in your brain and settle in your bones, and they will also move you forward, bravely, toward uncertain light.
Publisher: Hideaway Fall
Release Date: April Eighteenth 2018
Average Rating: 4.5/5 🌟
The author of five novels, M Jonathan Lee is a tireless mental health awareness campaigner, working closely with organisations including Mind, Time to Change and Rethink and blogs regularly for Huffington Post. Having personally experienced anxiety and depression during his life, Jonathan draws on his experiences to inform his writing.
Richard feels trapped in his hectic life of commitment and responsibility. From the daily mayhem of having young children, an exhausted wife and pushy in-laws who frequently outstay their welcome, Richards existence fills him with panic and resentment. The only place he can escape the dark cloud descending upon him is the bathroom, where he hides for hours on end, door locked, wondering how on earth he can escape.
Often staring out of his window, Richard enviously observes the tranquil life of Bill, his neighbour living in the bungalow across the road. From the outside, Bills world appears filled with comfort and peace. Yet underneath the apparent domestic bliss of both lives are lies, secrets, imperfections, sadness and suffering far greater than either could have imagined. Beneath the surface, a family tragedy has left Bill frozen in time and unable to move on. As he waits for a daughter who may never return, Bill watches Richards bustling family life and yearns for the joy it brings. As the two men watch each other from afar, it soon becomes apparent that other peoples lives are not always what they seem.
available on KU
There’s something quite ethereal about the way M. Jonathan Lee writes. I have read two of his books now. You sit with one of his books, never knowing what is going to happen in between the pages. In part I think this is because its synopsis never seem to fully encompass the depth of which Lee goes into relationships, the family unit, and mental illness. He writes very well. In many ways his books make me think of Tony Parsons or Nick Hornby, in the charming banality of life, whether that be Sunday lunch with the in laws, or the way children mispronounce words.
If you like a book with pace Drift Stumble Fall isn’t for you. This book will make you tear out your hair.
Lee builds up a picture, with intrinsic details, and then shuts that down with a devastating finish. The picture he creates, with the nuances of human behavior, is the kind of thing that fascinates me.
The ending of Drift Stumble Fall is class. Especially in these times of social media I think many of us draw comparisons from those around us, and Lee’s end to Drift Stumble Fall reminds us that we should not always presume the grass is greener on the other side.
(Photos are from Pixabay.com. If you click on the photo it will send you to the photographer’s page. Book Photos are my own and cannot be used without my permission)
Very excited to share with you this interview. Kristie Shoemaker talks to us why it is important to talk about mental health, her inspirations, her book Do Graves get Wi-Fi, and what it was like working with Ghost City Press on that book.
Well, my name is Kristie Shoemaker and I am painfully and not okay with being twenty-six. I’m a Scorpio with my moon in Gemini so I think that’s why I am always moody. I love plants and crystals, especially Rose Quartz which I wear around my neck every day. I’m also learning how to play guitar so I can either impress my dead boyfriend Elliott Smith or become the new Waxahatchee. My therapist once told me I was ‘the most self aware fucked up person’ she’s ever met, and I took that as a compliment.
Words can’t even describe how much love and respect I have for Ghost City Press and Kevin. I remember messaging them on Twitter just to be a fan girl and then one thing led to another and I was showing Kevin my manuscript and we were ready to go! The book itself is a collection of poems, short stories and tweets. It covers probably the last four years of my life. It covers my angst living at home, falling for my first real relationship, moving to NYC, moving back home and how it all intertwines with my mental health. I think speaking about mental health issues is so important so that people can see that its way more common than they might think and to kind of try to understand things better. My mental health deteriorated greatly over the time writing the book (unrelated) but I thought it was important to document, and I have gotten back really nice thoughts from people who have read it saying that it’s very relatable.
Sure, one of my favorite poems in the book is
‘can you hear me buzzing in your ear as you fall asleep’
i am a lot of things crammed
in this stupid little body,
but stable is not one of them.
i want the self awareness of a fly.
to live a lifetime in a day and
never need to figure out why i am here.
I’ve learned so much from writing this book. This book has been my baby for so long and has witnessed me go through a lot. I never thought I would be able to sit down and write words that I even enjoyed reading, let alone other people. I learned that I am capable of completing something and I learned that it is okay to be proud of yourself.
As I stated earlier, publishing with Ghost City was a whirlwind. I had been sitting on my manuscript for probably almost a year (it went through a lot of edits in the meantime) and one night I was on Twitter and decided to message Ghost City just to tell them that I loved their work and to ask if they were accepting any submissions in the future. Kevin then asked if I was working on anything, and said that they were a fan of mine too, which made me blush so hard, and to send them my manuscript. Kevin looked it over, saw potential and then that was it! The experience has been incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better press to help me get this book to where I wanted it to be. Kevin was and still is super supportive and I honestly feel so grateful they took a chance on me.
It honestly feels weirdly not weird. I thought I would feel super different, and when I first got my book, I did, but now it just feels like ‘okay, you accomplished a thing you never thought you would, what’s next?’ At the same time though, it feels great to have a tangible thing that I made filled with my weird words that people enjoy. I always felt weird saying I was a ‘writer’ as I’ve only been published in online literary magazines which a lot of people aren’t familiar with (which they should be!) so now it doesn’t feel so strange saying that I am a writer, especially since it says so on Google.
My inspirations are very predictable and very dead. Sylvia Plath for one. Miranda July, but she’s not dead. Joan Didion as well, still alive. Elliott Smith is probably my biggest inspiration in my writing. His song writing style was so raw and pure because he wanted to share that part of himself with people, good and bad. He helped me learn that I can just sit and observe people, places and things and make up my own stories about it all. He showed me it is okay to write about the bad parts of yourself because they are still beautiful. He was a gentle spirit of which I can relate. My last inspiration is the book ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ because it is my favorite book of all time and I am too much like Charlie. Wait, I also need to shout out Ja Rule. I read his book, you should too.
2018 is going to be my year, even though I say that every year. I hope to have another collection completed, I am already at 30 pages. I plan on submitting more poems to literary magazines instead of hoarding them. I also plan on getting stable, because without that I can’t really do much else.