The L Mag Questionnaire for Writer Types: Jon Sands

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07/05/2011 12:22 PM |


Jon Sands‘s first full collection of poems, The New Clean, was released this year by Write Bloody Publishing; he’s Director of Poetry Education Programming at the Positive Health Project (a syringe exchange center in Midtown Manhattan), and a CUNY adjunct ; and he recently starred in the web-series “Verse: A Murder Mystery.” He lives in Brooklyn, and reads tomorrow night at Pianos at the Freerange series, and at the Bowery Poetry Club on the 19th of the month.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
I recently had a massive book release party for my first collection. It was as if my book had a bar mitzvah. Two of my closest friends (also two of my favorite writers) said one thing each I tucked into my heart’s pockets. Adam Falkner said he knew of no one who had a better praise-radar—“who finds a reason to find some little nook or cranny of this city, where others ultimately would not find praise in it. He somehow digs his hand in it and fishes out something that is beautiful.” (Can you tell I have video from the party?) Then, Angel Nafis said (of the book) that she keeps “calling them poems. But really they’re spells for living.” It would do me well to not listen too hard and keep going about my business, but I don’t often consider what my work is “doing.” It’s more like a friend I run behind.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I have no idea where I got off thinking for so long that Moby Dick was some huge unreadable novel. Shame on me. I’ve got it now, and it’s worthy of each fleck of praise ever thrown in its direction. Listen: “Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for starve my soul, Jove himself cannot.” What the fuck? Go buy this book and love yourself.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
First, life is too short to be worrying about this hypothetical checkout clerk. I was just informed last night about a celebrity book from Charlie Murphy of Chapelle’s Show (or CB40 from the 90s depending on the size of your fanhood). A wildly funny guy who came upon his slice of fame in the shadow of his brother, Eddie. I’m a sucker when it comes to art and creativity’s influence on family relationships. That’s one I’ll reach into the bookstore to get my paws on.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I’d need a definition of “starving”. I’ve been a full-time artist for nearly four years now, and there have been easier and more difficult times. Mamoun’s on both McDougal and St. Marks makes it incredibly manageable the months I’m waiting extra long for a few checks to come in (with their $2.50 falafel sandwiches). I also do a significant amount of workshop engagements, which go a long way to ground any artist, and not just financially. Teaching forces you to, not only invest in the success of others, but also it continually facilitates the examination and development of your own creative process. As for if my art is better when I’m broke… I think the success or failure of the art is less based on current circumstance than on the willingness to allow work to be adventurous, unflinching, and steadily reaching for discovery.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
One where we get more time. So many of the conversations that follow a reading are fleeting and arrive in compliments and hugs. I love “embrace” as much as anyone, but the stuff that starts my boat sailing is when the work has provided a safe enough space for a reader to share a similar or converse experience. Art has such potential to be the skeleton key to human processing, but I feel like often discussion and decompression are the missing ingredients. My wish for these poems is that even if I’m not in on all the fun—they bring about the unlocking of some stories.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Even the whack art leads to the stuff you’re most proud of. It’s necessary to find love for all of it and appreciate the endgame. The goal is to learn, not to regret. If you get into the business of picking and choosing when you’re proud to be you, that paves a road with sharp rocks. I’m trying to be happy.