Some thoughts on reading Stephen Jonas

Part One of Stephen Jonas' Selected Poems (Talisman House) is titled Exercises for the Ear and Part Three is titled Orgasms/Dominations. These titled capture the amazing fusions and poles of Jonas' work. Jonas accomplishes a fusion unlike any poet I've ever read. The urgency and passion of the language is tempered with cool classical grace. You could spend hours tracing the various allusions and references. In this first part I did see a lot of Pound and Williams as heavy influences. Derivative in the non-perjorative sense. (why is this a bad word in poetry and not in music?) But while images are important, they are not central in the same way as Pound and Williams by way of Imagism. Some of the anti-semitism of Pound leaks in, but it did not distract from my fascination with how Jonas' uses the line and incorporates various dictions and neologisms. The language comes off as hipster (beatlike) but the allusions run deep.

Jonas was self-educated (an autodidact) and his poetry has elements of projective verse (spatial poetics, breathline, heavy enjambment with some Olsen/Creeley tricks like yr for your and so on). His poetry differs considerably from someone like Lyn Hejinian, but to my mind they are similar in their investigative/probing approach to language and knowledge.

The tone of Jonas' poems are almost always conversational (read speech/bardic/Beat) but the lines delay and mutiply. Jonas sculpts his lines in the classical sense rather than letting them ride and accumulate in the bardic sense (i.e. Ginsberg). But like Ginsberg the language is jazzy and comes out of a world of junkies and hipsters.

I wanted to give some samples here, but they would not do justice to the work since the spatial dynamics/typography are vital. As a young poet I've really grabbed a lot from Jonas (most of it still raw and unarticulated if you couldn't already tell). Here's a few (among many yet to be realized):

1) the tension of the line for a delay-and-scatter effect

2) momentum via chewed-up language

3) strenuous thinking via "non-elevated" diction

4) Derivative as a vital component for new ways of thinking/being


A little more on #4. It is common practice (common wisdom) for a reviewer to say so and so is like X and influence leads to originality and so on. But what I mean by STRONG influence is really trying on the whole kit and cargo(hat, gloves, scarf, socks, underwear, mouth, nose, eyes, ears, place of composition and so on) Jonas takes Creeley, Olson, Williams, and Pound and spits 'em out like nothin I've ever seen or heard.