Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stephen Jonas, Neglectorino

Yesterday — 10 February — was the anniversary of the death of Stephen Jonas, as Ken Irby reminded me. (A death that came, Ken wrote, exactly one month after Olson's in 1970). One of our major neglectorinos, Jonas was core — with John Wieners & Gerrit Lansing — to the Boston poetry scene in its heyday in the early sixties, a scene that also saw the brief but essential passage of Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser. Jonas, gay and junk addicted, was a lively & mysterious figure who told different biographical tales on different days, and was of (probable) latino, african-american, scotch-dutch, and creole origins. But before all he was a poet — by all rights a major poet of his era. I first came across his work in London in the early seventies, as his two available books at the time — Transmutations & Exercises for Ear — were published by Andrew Crozier's Ferry Press in the U.K. Exercises especially was one of the books of poems that taught me the most — a "How to Hear (and Read)" for an age in which that new music, jazz, had become central. to any and all involvement, intellectual and sensuous, with art. As Gerrit Lansing wrote in the introduction to Exercises for Ear: "They are practice on the poet's keyboard, or for study for study by those who aim to listen like poets to the twang of the specific." Jonas' most ambituous work is however probably his Orgasms/Dominations series (or open-ended sequence) which, as far as I know, has never yet been published in its entirety. Checking with Amazon this morning it would seem that his Selected Poems, edited by Joe Torra & published by Talisman House in 1994, is now out of print. Time thus for a new edition, maybe a Complete Poems?

Given his composition-by-field techniques, involving multiple indents, the work is difficult to reproduce on the web — but here is one of the small Exercises, as a teaser, followed by an extract from John Wiener's introduction to Transmutations.

Here, from Wiener's intro:

How long ago Steve, it was
we walked along Arlington Street
throwing words to the wind,
Before junk, before jail before
we moved to the four corners
of the world.
Anf you lived on Grove Street
and wrote poems poems poems
to the Navy, to Marshall, to
Boston Common. A simple life.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you for this article. Have just discovered Stephen Jonas' work over the last couple of months and am enjoying what I have read so far immensely. I'm also looking forward to the release of Arcana next April.