Getting to Know Jim Lafond-Lewis and His New Book The Year There Were No Apples
When did you first encounter poetry?
Probably soon after my birth. My family loved to read and books of all kinds were all around the house. I had six older siblings who read to me.
How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
When I was a young grade schooler in the early 1960s, I was given an assignment to write a poem. I had no idea how to do that but went home to my parents’ library and found a book of haiku, The Four Seasons. I was lost in that book. Not that I was engrossed, but I felt at pains to understand the poems. I finally found one that I halfway understood. This was my window. I re-wrote it in my own words in a way that made more sense to me, so you could say my first poem was plagiarized. Luckily, I remember the poem very well, but my version not so much. It is long lost, but the act of writing it sparked what has been a lifelong interest.
Do you have a writing routine?
I don’t have a routine, except that I keep a journal and whenever an idea pops up, I write it in my journal, which sometimes develops into a longer effort. I sometimes write in my head.
A favorite time or place to write?
No favorite time, but I am nearly helpless without a word processor. When I was a young man, aspiring to write, I loved pens and felt the urge to find the one that wrote the best. I invested pens with nearly magical power. I owned far too many pens because there always seemed to be one that would write better than whichever one I was using at the time. I guess that’s the writer’s affliction of never being satisfied.
Before the advent of computers, I dreamt of owning a Mont Blanc pen. I could never afford one. I owned typewriters and word processors, the kind that predated computers, but when computers became desktop tools, I found my writing home and was freed of my pen obsession. Now, I write almost exclusively on a computer and because I am not a fan of laptops or tablets, I write on big clunky desktops and will cart them with me even when I go away for a weekend.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Most often a phrase will pop into my head and I’ll explore its sound and ideas. Often there is a world of ideas contained in a nugget. Sometimes I dream my ideas and occasionally will dream a nearly complete poem which requires me to get out of bed and go to the computer. That can be very difficult at 3am so I do keep pen and paper in my night table drawer.
I took up photography in the late 1990s and as I have developed I realize that often my poetic ideas come from the same place as my visual ideas, pure images.
I am also an obsessive listener to music. I love when a song gets stuck in my head, and have been known to play a new song that catches my ear on repeat for hours. I like to use its rhythms as a jumping off point. For years I was stuck on Van Morrison’s lesser known works and could guarantee myself a hypnotic poetic experience by listening to him repeat a lyric again and again and again. His music and lyrics opened my mind more readily to my own poetry, more than any other. This past week I have been listening to a Congolese born French Rap singer, Maître Gims, sing a decidedly lyrical and melodious love song, “Est-ce que tu m'aimes?”
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
The writers of the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Irving, Eugene O’Neill, Sterling Allen Brown, Donovan Leitch, Abraham Lincoln, William Shirer, William Shakespeare (mainly because his influence on English is ubiquitous and one cannot help but be profoundly, consciously and subconsciously affected), Theodor Seuss Geisel, and The Jamaica Pond Poets
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 is a project book? etc.
The title is an excerpt from my poem “Farm Hands.” For me, poetry is an effort to articulate that which is inarticulate. It’s about saying things that make no sense in the usual ways. I have always been a very self-conscious person and have tried to understand the why of everything. Impossible, of course, but I have not outgrown my adolescent obsessions with death, love, god, sexuality, communion in the non-religious sense, complexity and simplicity. I am an iconoclast and humorously subversive, and yet I find great comfort in traditions and continuity. This collection is an exploration of those tensions.
Read sample poems from The Year There Were No Apples here:
A Woman in Love
is a hand unclenched
fingers spread, palm flung open
from the wrist.
Out of love
a fist clenched
down to the toes.
On the Rocks
I held my breath
dove into her deep eyes
and swam to the shallow end,
out through the cracked red
of her enameled toes.
I want the air between us
to come unkempt and disorderly
so you'll sing your songs for me.
I want you
to feel yourself stroked
by the backs of my fingers
as if by horsehair strung on Pernambuco wood
frets raised to my fingertips.
I want to leave you
and get surreptitious notice
that a love lyric
has jumped up on the web,
I want to see red
and be soothed.
I want you to love me secretly, in public,
the sounds drifting across campus
and up the highway.
I want to be the pond
where your hymns go naked to swim.
Uncle Larry went to opera
on long journeys and short afternoons
to the city or the local house
where the voices rang the iron in his blood
and the costumes lit the cones in his eyes.
Aunt Mary stayed home.
God is subject to His own commandments
and is ashamed of His own imperfections
which cascade down generations
like gangliosides of Tay-Sachs
hidden in the love of unsuspecting parents.
He makes infants and rattles them insensible until dead.
The living huddle
against the shoulders of the dead,
rubbed with lingering smells of past lives,
ash and incense,
old bodies on the stoop,
another spent season,
another winter of white flecked with corpses,
no flying in or out,
the sun so low all the gold is a generation old,
fuel for the farewell ball
careful stores burned at a desperate feast,
until angled rays peel back into the hole
and the yellow and the black and the dust of useless wings
blow clear for spring.