Monday, January 18, 2010

The Story of “Johnny Jack Poetry”

A couple of folks remarked on my use of the name Jack Hayes on Friday’s poem post, so I thought I’d use today’s post to talk a little bit about the long-running “John-Jack” debate!

I was born John Edward Hayes, Jr—my father obviously was John, as was my paternal grandfather. In all honesty, I must say up front that I’m not a fan of the “junior” naming pattern—no offense meant to those w
ho’ve taken that route, but I found it confusing as a child &, perhaps because my father was at that time somewhat of a distant &, frankly, rather angry person, I didn’t tread happily in his footsteps.

As a child, I was called Jack or Jackie—I liked the latter when we’d watch the Jackie Gleason Show, because I thought he was
hilarious; on the other hand, it became a bit confusing when the President was married to a woman named Jackie. Mostly I thought of myself as Jack Hayes.

Then high school came around, & the onset of all the teenage angst, struggle for identity, & hyperbole such as only can be found in the adolescent of the species—I think I’d particularly say the adolescent male. Because I was a good student, my hometown gave me a scholarship to be a day student at a nearby New England prep
school (speaking of hyperbole & ostentation), so the millwright’s son was suddenly in the midst of all sorts of boys who’d come from much different backgrounds. No doubt in an attempt to be very serious, I corrected all my teachers the first day of school, telling them my name was “John, not Jack.”

There are probably a half dozen actions in my life—sins of omission & commission—that if, given the chance, I’d change were it possible. This is one of them! I think the name Jack is so much more light-hearted, & I certainly needed a lot more light-heartedness in my life for years to come. But I stuck with the name John.

We travel ahead in time now to 1986 in Charlottesville, VA. A grad school friend of mine,
a talented fiction writer named Molly Turner, began a literary magazine called Timbuktu. Because Molly had the resources to do so, she was able to produce a high-quality publication, also noteworthy because it captured some really remarkable writing that was happening in Charlottesville over the course of the next few years. Molly published a generous selection of my poetry in the first few issues—in fact, Eberle also was among the many talented writers whose work appeared in that publication; at that time she was not a novelist but was writing some breathtakingly good short fiction! B.N., whose poems are familiar to regular readers, also appeared in Timbuktu.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but around this time I let some of my friends know that I’d once been known as “Jack Hayes,” & that in some ways I preferred the name. Molly & I talked about me using the name Jack Hayes for publishing my poems, & she said she’d be happy to publish the Timbuktu poems using this name if I’d agree to always use this name for publication—I did agree to this, & in fact, other poems published while I lived in Charlottesville & San Francisco were published under the name Jack Hayes.

But things happened, as they have a wont to do. One drawback to the name Jack came when I became involved with a woman named Jill—probably enough said, without going into more detail
(for a number of reasons). So when I moved to San Francisco, I was once more John Hayes in life, if not in poetry, until one day—post Jill—I was talking with my friend Dani Leone & let her know about the “John/Jack” poetic dichotomy. Dani, who wrote & still writes the Cheap Eats column for the Bay Guardian, immediately dubbed me “Johnny Jack Poetry”—she had names for all her friends in her columns—Satchel Paige the Pitcher, Haywire & Crawdad de la Cooter are a few other examples. As I became once more publicly a poet, as I emphatically had been in Charlottesville, the “Jack Hayes” name became a bit more common amongst San Francisco friends, tho most knew me primarily as John.

Then a wonderful thing happened: Eberle came back into my life. Interestingly, she’d left Charlottesville around the beginning of the John to Jack transformation, & so knew me primarily as John. Also, even before Eberle came into my life, & as discussed elsewhere on this blog, I gave up writing & took up the guitar. My poems sat in notebooks, pretty much entirely neglected from late ’96 thru early ’08.

Then in ’08 I became re-connected with an old friend from Charlottesville, Eddie Gehman
Kohan, someone who has been a major force behind my writing for many years—not coincidentally, she herself was & is a very talented writer in a number of different forms, poetry included. Because we knew each other in the mid to later ’80, she had known me as both John & Jack. In ‘08 she, along with her sisters Meghan & Pleasant, was running a really marvelous blog called Haphazard Gourmet Girls—this blog is now entirely defunct, so I can’t post a link to it, but Eddie currently heads up a very informative & entertaining food policy blog called Obama Foodarama. One of the earlier blog’s features was a poem each Friday evening, & one afternoon in late May, Eddie emailed me to ask if it would be ok to post one of my poems as that week’s selection. I was really quite thrilled; she then asked if she should post it under the name “John Hayes” or “Jack Hayes.”

OK—I made a mistake—I said, “John Hayes,” which in essence broke my word to my old friend
Molly. Mea culpa. & a couple of my other poems appeared on that blog, again (with my say-so) as written by John Hayes. To compound a felony, when I first began posting my own poems on Robert Frost’s Banjo sometime late in ’08, I also stuck with the John Hayes name for poetry—when I began putting The Days of Wine & Roses manuscript & blog together—ditto. Then one morning recently I was looking thru the facts & figures for the blog thru Google Analytics & saw the search “Jack Hayes + poetry.” & that got me to thinking about my old promise.

So henceforth, the poems—both in their virtual & their material existence—will be published as by Jack Hayes—I’m glad I came to this decision with the “real world” publication of The Days of Wine & Roses slated for the near future. For day-to-day things—well, I’ve gone as John for so long now it would be difficult to change!

& that’s the rest of the story.

Pix from Top (all, obviously, of yrs truly)
Reading at Williams Corner Bookstore, Charlottesville, VA 1987
Showing off a brown trout, Westminster, VT, 1964
High school student - I believe this is '71. to quote Bob Dylan, "Ah but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" (thanks goodness!)
At the Timbuktu release party, also in 87 (but post shave)
San Francisco, 96
The shot of me that appeared on Haphazard Gourmet Girls in 08
Me now


  1. As I was reading this I swear I could hear the banjo in the background :)

    Loved it..sorry I haven't been around much...I need to correct that!

    Peace ~ Rene

  2. Hi Rene: The phantom banjo! Not to worry, too--so many blogs, so little time!

  3. John, I wish that were the case :)
    time is just stretched a bit thin these days. Hardly time to even write down what's in my head!... Which creates a bit of a cranial logjam.:)

    Peace ~ Rene

  4. Thanks for the story, John! I wonder if anyone has an uncomplicated relationship to their name. It's cool that going by Jack for your poetry connects you back to the earliest part of your life. Looking forward to your book!

  5. Hi Audrey: You're welcome! I'm quite excited by the process.

  6. Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane. I quite enjoyed it - and seeing that younger, smiling you.

  7. Hi Karen: Thanks! Really glad you liked this.

  8. I love the photos, and the journey through your development as a poet and as a person. Nice, Johnny Jack.

  9. I enjoyed the path of Jack-John-Jack. Several years ago, I embraced my childhood nickname, after being labeled with my formal first name, since the begining of school. And now, as I'm thinking of possibly publishing some poetry, I will most likely go with the nickname I'm most fond of.

    (love the name Jack, btw)

  10. Hi Jacqueline & Willow

    Jacqueline: Those early photos go back a ways! Glad you enjoyed this, & thanks.

    Willow: I think there is something to be said for a writing "identity," whether that involves a name or a place (a room of one's own a la Virginia Woolf, e.g.) or whatever "displacement" is required. Glad to hear you're thinking of publishing! Glad you liked the story.

  11. Well John-Jack, you certainly have detailed insight into the genesis of life, names, talent, unexpected blessings in life, etc. Very impressive reading. Caught my interest.

  12. great flashes from john hayes past (and present)

  13. It sounds great to me to have a ready-made pen-name.

    I always envied a friend of mine whose name was an anagram of Elvis E Trendy.

  14. Hi Mouse & Dominic

    Mouse: Thanks!

    Dominic: You have a point--Elvis E Trendy is really a name!

  15. Oh wonderful!

    I was so looking forward to this story, but haven't had a chance (until now) to enjoy it.


    I was smiling when you got to the part about returning to 'Jack'. It seems to fit you. Though I think of you more as John...but the poems, 'Jack', definitely.

    That's also my grandfather's name.


    I've got several names. It's the one thing you can change, right?

    Though I think Henry Miller said it's the one thing you can NEVER change.

    -- I'll have to look that up.


    Great story, John.

    And wonderful writing, Jack. ;)

    Thanks so much for opening up, and sharing.

  16. Hi Ginger: Thanks! I also mostly think of myself as John--I've gone by that name for so long now--but yes, it's great to have a writing identity--tho we all can't come up with something as great as Ginger Ingenue!


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