JonArno Lawson today

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my guest, JonArno Lawson. Yesterday I posted our Q/A bio of JonArno but here’s another site where you can see some of his selected work. Thanks again to our friend Tricia Stohr-Hunt for making me aware of JonArno and his work. http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2010/04/poetry-makers-jonarno-lawson.html

NONSENSE

By JonArno Lawson

Lately, under the influence of Michael Heyman’s brilliant introduction to his collection of Indian nonsense THE TENTH RASA, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of nonsense in life and literature.Tom Bombadil, in Tolkien’s THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, is a nonsense poet. He’s much else besides of course, but clearly he loves singing and making up silly verses. For instance – “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!/ Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! /Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!” I think it’s noteworthy that he’s also the only character in THE LORD OF THE RING over whom the Ring of Power has no power.

In Beatrix Potter’s GINGER AND PICKLES, the Dormouse family sells bad candles to customers who become very disgruntled. How does Mr. Dormouse deal with his customers?:

”. . . when Mr. John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but “very snug;” which is not the way to carry on a retail business.”
See also Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s WIND IN THE WILLOWS:

“Hold up!’ said an elderly rabbit at the gap. `Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!’ He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. “Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!” he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. “How stupid you are! Why didn’t you tell him — — “ “Well, why didn’t you say — — “ “You might have reminded him — — “ and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

“Very Snug” and “Onion Sauce” in the face of reprimand and confrontation seem like very clever ways of muddling the issue in what might otherwise have become more difficult (even dangerous) situations. . .is it also a way of putting things back in their proper perspective?

Nonsense for the purpose of creating confusion (for socially beneficial reasons, or simply out of wiliness) seems like a very English strategy, but I’m wondering if these kinds of scenes appear in children’s books in other traditions?

In Robert Chenciner’s book DAGHESTAN: TRADITION AND SURVIVAL, he writes about what almost became a violent confrontation between groups of Kumyks and Laks back in the 1990s. A policemen, who was trying to keep the groups apart, finally said “If you’re going to beat somebody, why don’t you beat me?”.

This is nonsensical, of course, and it put an instant end to the tension – the two sides stopped, thought again, and finally decided to resolve things by negotiating.

This reminds me too of a psychologist my mother told me about, who advised parents with children who wouldn’t listen to them to behave in a bizarre manner – for instance, let’s say Michael’s Mom has come to pick him up and says over and over “Come on Michael, we have to go” but Michael never listens. Michael’s mother, instead of shouting, should start to tap-dance and sing loudly. Michael, baffled, and possibly embarrassed, now wants to leave as quickly as he can.

To me, writing nonsense poetry has always been very much about playing with (or being played with by) words. For instance, two sets of words with a similar sound start to repeat over and over in my mind, like “bare knuckles” and “barnacles”. Any sensible person might notice this for a moment, and then forget all about it. But my mind, for whatever reason, refuses to let it go. It has to be more than just a coincidence! Why are they suggesting themselves to me, over and over again? There must be a reason. They refuse to see it as a chance meeting, and my task is to find out what their relationship is – what do they mean to each other? A character emerges, a woman who swims to the bottom of the sea in search of treasure, who “barks her bare knuckles on bevies of barnacles” – now they’re satisfied, and I can forget about them. They end up in a book (which could also be seen as a set of formulas to neutralize my word obsessions), and now my mind can move on to other things.

This kind of work renders me harmless, in general, and I suppose that’s one of the valuable aspects of it. While I might be doing some sort of large scale world-damaging work, instead I’m playing about with (or being played about with by) words.My thanks to JonArno for today’s guest appearance. Please post your comments below. Everyone appreciates a little feedback.
David

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JonArno Lawson tomorrow

rubberman

Last month I read with pleasure the poems and interviews posted on the sites of Tricia Stohr-Hunt and Greg Pincus. Some of the poets I know and others were new to me. Now I have a list of those I would like to read and learn more about.

One of those poets is tomorrow’s guest, JonArno Lawson. JonArno was kind enough to agree to be my guest this week so you’ll meet him tomorrow. To help me become better acquainted with him, I asked questions and have posted our Q/A bio session here.

JonArno Lawson

Q
When, where, how, and why did you go about becoming a published author/poet?
A
I was first published by Exile Editions in 1997 – my first book (a compilation of poetry and aphorisms) was called “Love is an Observant Traveler”
Q
How many times did you fail before you succeeded?
A
I’m still failing every day! I was lucky in terms of my first publication though – I made a chap book just for fun, and sent a copy to an author I liked (Timothy Findley) and he liked it, so he sent it to Exile Editions, and they called me and asked if I had a manuscript they could look at. A real Cinderella story. But it’s gotten harder from there – I’ve had many manuscripts rejected since.
Q
Were you always a writer or have you done other things too?
A
I do other things, but these days mostly I’m a Dad and a writer. I worked for a long time as a group home counselor in a home for Developmentally Disabled Elderly Jewish People. I also worked as a clerk in a law library. And I’ve taught now and then, mostly workshops.
Q
Do you draw inspiration from your family?
A
They’re indispensible! My kids give me all sorts of ideas, first lines, and they help me edit too.
Q
What did you study in school?
A
I studied English.
Q
Has your work received any honors?
A
Twice I’ve received The Lion and the Unicorn Award. One of my books got a Bronze Moonbeam. All were nice to get, but the best thing of all is a note from an appreciative reader.
Q
Are you a native Canadian?
A
I’m a dual Canadian/American citizen. I grew up in Canada, I live in Canada, but I’ve spent long stretches of time in the United States – in Schenectady, Annapolis, Chincoteague, and Miami.
Q
How many other books have you had published?
A
I’ve got seven books out there right now, and two more due out next year.
Q
What genre(s) do you like best?
A
Anything well-written, whatever the genre. I love to be surprised by someone’s point of view. I’ve read a lot of travel books over the past year – “The Danube” by Claudio Magris is a very surprising book. “The Baby in the Mirror” by Charles Fernyhough, who’s a Dad and a child psychologist, was very surprising. Marilyn Singer’s “Mirror Mirror” really surprised me too. . .
Q
Do you have other books in the works that you can discuss?
A
I’m working on a number of things – which helps me a lot, because then I never feel stuck – but I’m not sure which are developing well and which aren’t, and I don’t want to jinx any of them. . .

As you can see from this exchange, JonArno is a straight shooter who answers candidly and shares the same dreams and frustrations that most writers face. You will enjoy his essay tomorrow so don’t forget to come by.

David