getting to know jason tandon and his new book: The actual world

Born in Hartford, CT in 1975, Jason Tandon is the author of four books of poetry, including  The Actual World ,  Quality of Life , and  Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt , winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection from Black Lawrence Press. His poems have appeared in  Ploughshares ,  Prairie Schooner ,  Beloit Poetry Journal ,  AGNI Online ,  Barrow Street , and  Esquire , among others. He earned his B.A. and M.A. from Middlebury College, and his M.F.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Since 2008, he has taught in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University.

Born in Hartford, CT in 1975, Jason Tandon is the author of four books of poetry, including The Actual World, Quality of Life, and Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt, winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection from Black Lawrence Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, AGNI Online, Barrow Street, and Esquire, among others. He earned his B.A. and M.A. from Middlebury College, and his M.F.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Since 2008, he has taught in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?

My first serious encounter with poetry was in college. I did not encounter poetry as a child, and no one in my family reads it or writes it. In high school, I was not much of an English student or writer, though I do remember loving my British Literature class, especially Hamlet and Hardy’s The Return of the Native. When I got to college, I was not sure what I wanted to study, but after my first English class, Introduction to Poetry, I was hooked. From there it was three years of Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, Yeats, and Stevens presented to me by professors with an intense, infectious love of literature. I began writing poems, blank verse lines with “thee”s and “thou”s, and graduated with the idea of teaching English. Looking back, reading and writing poetry has essentially shaped my adult life.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

I try to write almost every day first thing in the morning. It is much easier to do in the summertime when I am not teaching. During the academic year, the writing and the time to do so dry up, as I am focused on the practical tasks of doing my job. The last ten years have also been challenging in terms of writing and time because I have two young children, and my priorities often lie elsewhere. I have, though, learned to consider all of my life as poetica materiales, rather than reject it. I write in a corner of our basement, where I have a desk and a lamp next to the furnace, hot water tank, and washer/dryer. Perfect.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

My poems most often come from observing the natural world; next, they come from experiences I have had; finally, from reading the poems of others.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

The poets that I most often return to and re-read are Charles Simic, Robert Bly, Mark Strand, Jane Kenyon, James Wright, and Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of anything Japanese or Chinese. Other poets that I have come to recently while writing this book include Olav Hauge, Rainer Brambach, and Tom Hennen. I often re-read Merwin, especially his books from the seventies. I am always confused as to what to do or how to proceed afterwards—but I continue to re-read him.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was it a project book? etc.

The title of the title poem came to me before I knew it was a philosophical concept (i.e. the existence of an actual world versus other possible worlds). The title poem was always dedicated to Jane Kenyon. At that time, six or so years ago, I was coming to the end of my intense reading of her writing and life, and ready to move on. Call it a parting gift for how much she influenced my evolving sense of lyric poetry during that period.

The process for all of my books has been similar. Once I reach a critical mass of poems, say forty to fifty, a title comes to me followed closely by a framing epigraph. Then I begin the ordering process, during which I usually ask my wife for a fresh perspective. The Actual World forms a poetic narrative or arc loosely based on my life, and can be read that way from the book’s first poem “At the Orchard” to the last poem, “Then.” I am nearly finished with a new book entitled This Far North, for which I have roughly fifty poems, and I have recently discovered its title and a framing epigraph. And all along I’ve had the idea to order the poems chronologically as they were written and without section breaks. I think I remember hearing Auden did that once?

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