Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writers Talk with Dick Jones

As proof that neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night can stay Robert Frost’s Banjo from the completion of its rounds, we have today’s Writers Talk interview posted on time!  This on the heels of an 18-1/2 hour power outage yesterday, following a power outage of several hours the day before—all, as you can imagine, as part of a #%$@! winter storm.  Enough said.

I don’t recall exactly when I first started visiting Dick Jones blog, Patteran Pages, but it has been a regular stop on my cyber rounds for some time, & I’m also most gratified to note that Dick is a frequent visitor & commenter here.  Dick Jones is, as far as I can determine on cyberspace, a kindred soul: a poet musician who has served an apprenticeship to the Beats & also loves old-time blues.  His poetry is of a high quality—his language is precise without calling attention to the fact, his poetic thought & expression are clear, & he has an admirable understanding of poetic form in the most important sense—not as an ability to reproduce poems in various set forms, but as an ability to allow for organic shaping of poetic line, stanza & expression.  Asked for a brief writerly bio, Dick offered the following:

"Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15.  Published in a variety of magazines throughout the years of rambling. Amongst them are Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Snakeskin, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Ouroboros Review. Grand plans for the meisterwerk have been undermined constantly either by a Much Better Idea or a sort of Chekhovian inertia. So I have no prize collection to my name; I have masterminded no radical creative writing programmes in a cutting edge university department; I have edited no recherché poetry magazines with lower case titles.

I’m a male version of the playground mum, looking after three young kids and vacuuming the stairs while my partner goes out to work. For fun and profit, I play bass guitar, bouzouki and percussion in a from-Celtic-to-the-blues unplugged trio. "

Please check out Dick Jones’ set of three poems over at the Writers Talk blog—& so: on to the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I self-identified as a writer one winter’s afternoon at the age of 11, on the completion of a short story that I was quite sure at the time was a small masterpiece. I was so impressed with it that I determined there and then to discard my ambition to become a space shuttle pilot and instead to become an author.

A little more realistically, I recognized in my mid-teens that, whatever was, in fact, to be my métier in life, I was unable to stop writing – that it was a compulsive activity that served needs at the deepest level of my being.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

My most recent poem arrived in bits while I was caught in traffic on the way to a hospital appointment. It was raining, not hard but persistently, and the windscreen wipers were on the setting whereby they only operated when there was a certain quantity of moisture on the screen. As I stared mindlessly at their patient, unhesitating response to the pocking of rain across the glass, I was struck by the notion of persistence in the face of certain failure. The confident sweep of the blades seemed to imply a calm assurance that a single 180-degree passage forward and back would eliminate the presence of water in one swift movement. But there it was again across the windscreen as the wipers rested horizontal, their task fulfilled. So back they swept...

And as they moved with undiminished energy each time, the first line of the poem arrived in one piece: ‘Sitting traffic-jammed in rain, the wipers’ all-effacing hand...’ The traffic was edging forward and although I had my notebook open on the passenger seat beside me I couldn’t scribble anything down so I pinned the line in place by repeating it out loud several times. Repetition established a sense of rhythm and propulsion and the increasing need for continuation towards an immediate conclusion and the initiation of the next line. At that point I had no clear idea of any unifying theme or intended direction to the emergent poem. But I knew that the hypnotic action of the wipers across the persistent reiteration of the raindrops had drawn up some current of creative thought, inchoate at that point but demanding content, form and structure.

By the time I parked the car I had the first stanza composed in my head and I scribbled it down immediately, relieved as I always am by the appearance of written words on a surface. Then, sitting in the grim waiting room for a good hour-and-a-half for my blood test, I wrote out the rest of the poem, my pen simply recording the arrival, spasmodic but persistent, of words, phrases and entire lines.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I have had poems published fitfully in journals during many years. Initially, this meant sharing cramped foolscap pages in floppy mags stenciled off duplicators in editors’ living rooms (my first at age 16), with occasional appearances in posher print mags via moveable type and offset litho. I was early online and in the mid ‘90s I thrilled to the sight of my name above a piece of deathless verse in one of the first online poetry journals (whose name, disgracefully, I now forget!)

I opened up the Patteran Pages within the legendary Salon Bloggers community in February 2003, posting poems from the start. The Salon Bloggers were, in the main, very articulate, very vocal liberals firing off flaming arrows in the direction of Dubya’s White House. So the company was good and the quality of writing excellent. I shared houseroom with several fine poets and the sharing of criticism and appreciation was enormously supportive and encouraging.

Finally exhausted by the rickety steam-punk technology that drove the blogging software (or more frequently didn’t), I bailed out in 2005 and decamped to Typepad. Shortly after (but unconnected with) my departure, Salon pulled the plugs on their blogging platform and the resultant diaspora took the Salonistas hither and yon. Those with whom I’m still in touch remain amongst my most cherished of comrades-in-blogs.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Not a bit. It remains the solitary, sometimes almost hermetic activity it’s always been for me. Beyond a cheerful and forbearing acceptance of its importance to me, my partner takes no interest in my writing. I’ve always written most productively either surrounded by noise and activity (provided I’m left on my own as a single, still point at the eye of the hurricane) or during the long, silent watches of the night. So I neither intrude on family time, nor does it intrude on mine. (As I write now, 6-year-old Maisie is playing, alternately, a harmonica and a penny whistle, both at volume; Rosie [7] is looking for a pair of pyjamas that I know are hanging off the back of a chair only feet away from her; and Reuben [8] is watching a DVD of the highlights of a Manchester United versus Juventus game).

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I was, briefly, a member of a local poetry group and I enjoyed and benefitted from the interaction with the other members. But I never really penetrated the sanctum sanctorum at the heart of the group and eventually I drifted away.

I have regular interactional contact with a number of bloggers, many of whom are also in constant communication with each other. This provides a sense of community – the more so in respect of those bloggers with whom I have had long-term relationships, or those with whom I share specific offline interests.

But, like Groucho, I’m not a natural joiner of clubs and the strange, paradoxical balance that is held between intimacy and distance within online relationships suits me well. That having been said, I have met several of my blogger friends and have found that in all cases the personal closeness and commonality of interest and priority have been reiterated face-to-face.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

These goals are simple and shameless. a.) I would like to expand my constituency of Patteran Pages readers so that, without losing any of the particularity of relationship that I enjoy now with my current readers, I might achieve what all writers, if they’re being honest, want to achieve: widespread communication. And b.) I would like a reputable and well-constituted poetry publishing house to bring out a book of my poetry.

But even if neither of these goals are achieved (and my efforts to propel myself with greater force towards both have met with no success so far), the writing will continue because it’s an imperative – a bit like breathing in and out!

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

It varies, but most of the time I’m working my way down the sax section from a Branford Marsalis soprano, through Charlie Parker alto and Andy Sheppard/Jan Gabarek tenor to a driving, throaty Gerry Mulligan-style baritone.


  1. I adore the brilliant Dick Jones. He is a wizard with words. Excellent interview!

  2. Great interview , I loved the birth of the windscreen wiper poem!
    I'm off to read the posted poems now. Great series this , John.

  3. I am drawn again and again to Patteran Pages. Dick's language is delicious. Every word, tasty.

    Thanks for a glimpse into how his mind works. Very enjoyable.

  4. Great to get a bit of insight into this (for me) rather enigmatic character. Chekhovian inertia? At last I have a word for my entire existence!

    Grateful to be a small part of the Patteran coterie - Dick never disappoints.
    The describing of the windshield wiper-impetus had my heart pumping in sympathy.


  5. Hi Tess, TFE, Kass & Kat: Thanks all for stopping by to have a look at Mr Jones' interview. An interview is as interesting as the subject, so I knew this would be a good one!

  6. Yet another example of the fascinating places on the internet to which I would not otherwise have stumbled were it not for having first stumbled in to Dick's original blog those many years ago!

  7. Dick has recorded several poems at Patteran Pages. Go there and listen. Then you'll be able to read this good interview with Dick's own voice in your head. It will become even more enjoyable.

  8. Hi Carroll & Beth

    Carroll: Very glad you stopped by!

    Beth: That's a great suggestion--thanks!

  9. Thank you, John, for the hospitality round at yours. And thanks to all for the very gratifying comments. What a pleasing way to round off 2010!

  10. Enjoyable interview, and I liked the insight into the poetry-writing. And this image, the calm writer in the midst of happy chaos:

    I’ve always written most productively either surrounded by noise and activity (provided I’m left on my own as a single, still point at the eye of the hurricane)

  11. Hi Dick & HKatz

    Dick: Thank you for providing such a thoughtful & insightful interview!

    HKatz: It is startling to think of a writer in the midst of chaos, isn't it! Thanks.


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