The Poet's Story: Interview with Jona Colson
As I was mulling over what to write in my next blog post, I realized it would be a great opportunity to learn more about some incredible local poets. An idea I’m excited about, not only because I want to know more about their stories, but imagine that new perspectives and approaches may strengthen my work. So many talented writers to learn from! First up in the series, the talented and insightful Jona Colson.
I’ve had the good fortune to hear Jona read a couple of times and the honor to read with him. The themes, phrases, and images in Jona’s poetry are beautiful and often surprising. He presents his poems in a lovely, natural way. From the first time I heard Jona read, I felt as though I were listening to a friend. Being so comfortable, it’s a bit shocking in a likable way when Jona’s poems twist and suddenly the goofy grin of listener is entirely the wrong response, one’s moved to feel wistful and contemplative. It’s wonderful work!
In addition to poetry when I think of Jona, I think of how gracious he is. I’ve watched him extend himself to new poets in supportive ways that must make a difference in helping them feel part of the community. Indeed he’s inspired me to look for opportunities to do the same. And he’s also a great editor. I’ve benefited from his suggestions on one of my pieces -- spot on! He just finished a huge editing project, This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry and Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, that he speaks about at the end of the interview. This Is What America Looks Like will be released tomorrow. It includes some terrific poets and I can’t wait to check it out.
Without further ado, here’s more about Jona in his own words.
When did you start writing poetry and why? Describe Jona Colson the early years?
I started writing what I think was poetry in middle school and high school. It was a way to express my feelings, however cliché that sounds, but everyone needs their artistic outlet. I started taking it seriously in undergrad, and I took a few workshops. I learned so much about the craft of poetry and the poets, often canonical, but they shaped what we know as poetry—though, of course, poets are want to “make it new”!
Who are some of your poetry influences? Were there particular people, friends or mentors, who inspired you?
I had two wonderful high school English teachers that encouraged me to write. At Goucher college, where I went to undergrad, the poet, Elizabeth Spires, was very influential. Also, during my grad school, Myra Sklarew, was huge influence. I was very lucky to have such amazing mentors and teachers over the years.
If you were to give a few words of advice to a poet starting out, what would those be?
Read. And then, read more. You can’t write without reading. Even if you don’t “like” what you’re reading, it’s important to see how other poets play with language and form. I was once in a workshop and one of the participants said something like, “I don’t read poetry, I just write it.” This is impossible.
What poetry projects are you currently working on? How has the pandemic influenced your writing in way of schedule, production, and themes?
Currently, I’m just trying to write poems. I don’t have any specific project in mind—though I would like to explore masculinities in some poems, which I’ve done with one that I’m very proud of. My writing has been quite sporadic—I feel that it’s hard to write during turbulent times. I wish I could have used some of this time at home to generate tons of work, but it just hasn’t happened.
How do you balance your writing life and the rest of it all? Tell us about your process.
Although I haven’t been writing many poems, I do try to write a phrase or an image, or a few lines, every day. I have a long-running document that I write in; it’s over a hundred pages long. The document is almost like a journal, and when the muse strikes, I build poems from my daily phrases and images. I teach ESL at Montgomery College, and when I am teaching, most of my energy goes into that, but I try to keep poetry alive every day.
Do you have a favorite publication or literary journal that you’ve been in or aspire to be in?
I was very happy with my poem, “The Last Time I Saw My Father,” that appeared in Ploughshares a few years ago. I have tried for many years to get a poem in either The Threepenny Review or Willow Springs, but I haven’t been successful. Both of those journals have published such exciting work—the imagery and play. I would love to get into one of those, or both, someday!
Aside from writing, what other pursuits occupy your interest and time?
I enjoy cooking, which I think does meet a certain creative purpose. I also love to travel, but, of course, that has been put on hold with the virus.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I recently edited an anthology, This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry and Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia. This was a wonderful project to work and showcase so many wonderful writers from the area. In some ways, having this project got me through the summer with the pandemic--it required focus and attention. It was an interesting way to approach writing from the editing side, and, of course, celebrate the Washington Writers' Publishing House, which published my first book, Said Through Glass, and I'm so happy to be a part of.
Jona Colson is author of the poetry collection Said Through Glass. He graduated from Goucher College with a double Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish and earned his MFA from American University and a Master’s in Literature/Linguistics from George Mason University. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Ploughshares, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. In addition to writing his own poetry, he also translates the Spanish language poetry of Miguel Avero from Montevideo, Uruguay. His translations can be found in Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, and Palabras Errantes. He has also published several interviews for The Writer’s Chronicle. He is currently Associate Professor at Montgomery College in Maryland where he teaches English as a Second Language. He lives in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC.
photo credit: T. Qualey