Totally unrelated, but my oldest son is today 1 year older: That’s right, he’s 7 years old today. Go Benjamin!
Okay, I’ve known John Korn for a few years now through online social networks–we first met on MySpace. I’ve always enjoyed his words and his sincerity as a person. So when he mentioned he was coming out with his first collection Television Farm (A Menendez Publication), I wanted to use it as an excuse to pick his brain about poetry–from the perspective of an up and comer.
Here’s a John Korn poem I was lucky enough to publish in my (now defunct) online journal Faulty Mindbomb: http://faultymindbomb.blogspot.com/2007/01/fmb0002.html
What are you currently up to?
I have an interesting job. It is required of me to communicate with people who suffer from mental illnesses and encourage them to accomplish goals. I’m not saying I’m good at my job but I think a lot of the energy I once put into poetry is now being used here. As far as writing goes I am very interested in writing stories eventually. I’m also interested in digital filmmaking on a very low (maybe appropriately no) budget level. I have an idea for a series of poems taking place in a small city which I‘d like to be a small book.
How did this collection come about?
There are many moments which have lead to having this book being published. In short, when I began writing and posting my poems a woman named Didi Menendez began contacting me. She published me in her online magazine MiPOesias. After some time she began to do print issues as well as books. She eventually asked me to put a book together. She was very patient in that she let me take my time putting it in order. Didi is very active and creative with her magazine. There are also many interesting pod casts on her site. Didi is also a great poet and recently has been churning out paintings like a machine.
Who (or what) do you consider to be the biggest influence on your writing?
There are a number of things and people that influence/influenced me. I will just mention a few poets. Ron Androla was a big influence. I was writing mostly stories before, or trying to. I never really cared much for poetry. I had liked Bukowski as a teen and Edgar Allen Poe before that, but I never was captivated by poetry enough to want to write it. I had read others, but even still I didn’t really care or never found anything that really hooked me. Not that I didn’t enjoy poetry or appreciate it. I just didn’t crave it or want to write it. Ron had such a unique voice that was very new to me and seemed (and is) timeless. The range of emotion, thoughts, and imagination that was being expressed really moved me. He would paint a slice of ordinary life with a simplicity that I found beautiful, and then paint a very surreal manic landscape that was severe and dark. I found his voice to be intelligent, compassionate, and sometimes murderous. I loved it. Also his language was unlike anything I had read. It was addictive. I couldn’t read just one poem, I would read a series of his. There seemed to be a lot of experimentation in his poems, or that he had gone through much experimentation to get to the voice he had. I began to imitate that voice, I think. Eventually maybe I tried to come up with my own. Around the same time I began listening to early Bob Dylan. It was very exciting to have those two voices echoing down the hallways of my mind.
Also, I began reading a young lady’s blog. She wrote many poems there. She’s one of the people I dedicated the book to. Like many poets, much of her words seemed to be scathing reviews of people and their behavior. I guess you can call them “put down” poems which I see a lot of. Though there was something different about hers. She seemed to be compassionate about her subjects. She wasn’t ridiculing people seemingly to make herself seem like the “wise” poet, or to write them off to stroke her own ego. Which is very tempting to do in poetry. It was more like she was trying to reach the people she was talking to in the poem to have them come to their senses. She often seemed to be asking her subjects to offer her the same in return. She was very graphic and creative with imagery with a dark tone which I love. I began to write her and eventually talk to her on the phone. I was not surprised when she told me that many of her poems were spawned from things she wanted to say to various people that were her friends. She also didn’t seem to be concerned about being published. What drove her to write seemed to be the need to express something she could not bring herself to do in a social situation. She didn’t sound like any of the other poets I was skimming through with the same types of blogs. She didn’t seem too concerned about impressing any group although she accepted praise and asked for criticism. There’s a kind of faith there. Faith in what she was doing.
As with Ron, she had an interesting language. Two very different poets but the approach and attitude seemed similar. She was experimenting. Technically she would mold her poems with different styles that I found impressive considering that when I was the same age I could not do what she was doing. With both poets mentioned there was not just style but strong content. I guess many poets probably approach their work in this way. It can simply be that some poets moved me where others did not. These two did. Albert Huffstickler and Stephen Dobyns are two others that really grabbed me. For basically the same reasons. Currently I’ve finally read some Walt Whitman and got the same spark. These are the kind of writers that would motivate and influence me to write to the point where I was ecstatic about it.
Do you spend a lot of time on revision?
Oh yes. Although I tend to shape the poems in appearance to not have a specific shape. If I had a typewriter or wrote my poems out longhand with a pen, it would really show how much I rearrange, cut out, and put in. There would be piles of crinkled paper. I tend to write long poems, but if I didn’t revise they would be three times as long. I wrote mostly on a computer which makes it easier to do this, because often I would change the poem before I brought it to a close. Going back to it later, sometimes months or a year, I will change things, even if only a word or two. When I had a blog, I often put up things rather quickly. It did not bother me so much if there were typos. With the book I went back and cleaned up. It was tedious at times.
Much of your poetry seems to describe people and how they interact. Do you intentionally try to do this?
Well, there are certainly intentional things I try to do in a poem. Since communication and interaction in various forms is something that fascinates me and I often want to explore this artistically, then yes, I intentionally do this. Though I can’t recall ever sitting down and telling myself, “Okay now I’m going to write a poem conveying how people interact.” It is something that I just naturally gravitate to.
I guess the idea of a farm that grows televisions can be all about interaction. I day dreamed that image while listening to a piece of music that was very soothing. I imagined a field at dusk. Then I began to imagine spots of colored light pushing up out of the ground. Eventually it became apparent that the spots of light were televisions growing and breaking though the dirt like pumpkins or watermelons. Immediately after this I imagined a young man and woman walking through these rows of TVs and touching them. When they touched the TVs the screens would flicker images as a reaction.
You asked if I drew the cover and I did not. My friend Jeremy Baum did. He read my poem and asked if he could draw a picture for it. I was excited to see his interpretation of it because he can effectively create surreal landscapes. I liked his vision and asked if I could use it for the cover. Unfortunately, though, I forgot to put his name in the book. Sorry Jeremy.
As a follow up question, is your poetry more influenced by fiction or reality? Or a blending of the two?
Both. There are poems in the book which are completely nonfiction.
“The Bridges in West Virginia Look Like Spider Webs” for example is a poem that is completely true about a drive I took through that state with some friends. In this case my imagination was very active that night, so my reality of that moment was influenced by fiction and fantasy. Taking a nap during that drive and having a vividly strange dream added to the experience. In other poems, the actual event was not so fantastic until I sat down to write it. In those cases the telling of it was influenced by fiction.
I will often fit a few actual experiences into a poem though they happened at different times. Other poems are just made up though always seem influenced by an actual experience. To me it really doesn’t seem to matter. It seems to me that our reality is very influenced by make-believe, and make-believe is constantly trying to mimic reality. The two seem constantly entwined and both are revealing of the other.
Do you have any specific things you try to avoid in your own writing?
I have not been writing as intensely as I was with the poems in this book. I can recall sitting down and certainly being conscious of avoiding something, though not conscious enough to know specifically what I was trying to avoid. Looking back I think one thing I tried not to do was to have a voice that sounded like a guy straining to sound like a profound poet. When I read poetry I consider to be not interesting or moving, it always seems that the poet is trying to sound too much like a poet. I may be failing in my explanation of this, but hopefully you get the idea. I don’t think I’ve always succeeded in this, but I found it very important to avoid it as best I could.
Also, when I write I often have an imaginary audience in my head that I am writing to. I tried to avoid having my audience be made up of poets. Like I mentioned poetry was rarely an interest of mine. So, in turn, it was rarely my interest to want to write poems aimed towards poets. To me, when this is done, it becomes like a language shared only between poets. I’m not so interested in that. I wanted to be more accessible to others. That does not mean dumbing down your poetry by any means. To try and interact with different people with different perceptions and convey an image or thought to them that they could relate to and hopefully provoke thought or emotion. I liked the idea of attracting even one reader that may not normally be so interested in poetry. It was something that I kept in mind to make the experience of writing poetry a mostly happy and interesting one. Even if I failed it doesn’t matter because it was what motivated me to experiment and keep up the practice at that time. Though, obviously, when the poem is complete the first person you want to take it to is a poet or someone who is familiar with poetry so you can get some feedback.
If you were to impart one piece of wisdom to another poet, what would it be?
I would most likely send them in the direction of another poet. The obvious “wisdom” is to read and write. Whatever you are looking to do in writing you cannot start until you begin this.