Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Madwoman by the Sea
painting by
Comite Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Writing and publishing poetry will get you absolutely nowhere, unless you're a Big Name with a Huge Following. I'm a little name with a minuscule following but poetry was one of my (many) passions in my early years.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I read just about every poetry book I could find. Having already been a journalist by the time I was sixteen, I was fairly familiar with the rudiments of writing. For some unearthly reason, I thought that being a poet was a lofty endeavor. To actually be a published poet was one of my main obsessions (in retrospect, heaven knows why).

It didn't take long before I achieved my goal. When I was nineteen, a small collection of my poetry was published in a Los Angeles literary magazine - the name of which I can't even remember (I honestly can't, but I still have a copy of it somewhere).

To abbreviate a tedious story, within a decade I had over 100 poems published in an impressive variety of literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. I received numerous awards for my poetry and recognition that I never thought I deserved.

When I was only twenty, some of my poetry was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize (which had been awarded to such noted poets as Joyce Carol Oates). I didn't win, of course, but it was one helluva honor just to be nominated.

My poetic romanticism eventually dwindled, to the point that I now seldom bother to write a poem (let alone read one). There's absolutely no financial gain in writing poetry - - only spiritual satisfaction. Spiritual satisfaction is wonderful, but it doesn't pay the bills.

Writing poetry is a deeply personal endeavor and one should do it solely for personal enrichment and fulfillment. I find it to be an extremely effective emotional catharsis - as are all forms of writing (or so they should be).

I compiled many of my early poems into a book, which was published five years ago. Love Letters to Ghosts is, probably more than anything, a lament (and a sort of homage) to my romantic and turbulent past. It's largely what I would call an autumnal work -- dark, brooding, and often depressing. It reflects my inherent nature -  - but it's certainly not to everyone's taste.

Upon recently rereading the poems, I feel that a revised second edition is definitely in order. I'm in the process of doing this now - - mostly as a feeble attempt to fulfill my lifelong strive for unattainable perfection. And the fact that I'm presently snowed in.

Who were some of the poets that inspired you, Jon?

I'm glad you asked. Since I lived in L.A. when I began writing poetry, I was initially attracted to California poets - - especially Philip Levine, Gary Soto, David St. John. I also liked John Ratti, Louise Gluck, Lucille Clifton. I loved Carl Sandburg. And when I was drunk and in the mood to go slumming, I savored Allen Ginsberg and other residents of the "Beat" neighborhood. 

My favorite poet and greatest influence was Thomas James (1946-74) whose fiercely somber and introspective poetry collection Letters to a Stranger touched me deeply. I strongly identified with his troubled psyche. I was devastated, but not surprised, when I learned that he committed suicide at age twenty-seven. Had he lived, he would have been an extraordinary poet.

Thomas James influenced me. Sylvia Plath influenced Thomas James. Go figure.......

Most of your poetry is in prose, Jon. Don't poems have to rhyme? 

I've written many poems with rhythmic structure. It's wonderfully challenging, but I find it to be too creatively restrictive.

Isn't it rather - uh, effeminate to be a poet?

Hey, writing a decent poem will put hair on your chest and increase your testosterone level. I speak from experience. And I know some female poets who have balls.
(where the hell are these questions coming from?).

In conclusion (and not a moment too soon)
I believe that poetry shouldn't be over-analyzed. Extract what you want from it and savor the words. Savor the images that they inspire

Keeping in concert with my present Poetry Mode, I'm posting one of my early poems, which is included in Love Letters to Ghosts. 

Mad Woman on the Beach was inspired by a composition by French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, entitled la chanson de la folle au bord de la mer (Song of the Mad Woman by the Sea).

Mad Woman on the Beach

One of these cold winter nights
she followed the sand
back to where secret lovers
once lingered while watching
a last slice of sinking moon

but the moon and the lovers
were gone, leaving no trace
of their deception. Sightless fog
slipping in from the sea
weaved a pasty net around her.
the bite of broken shells
punished her trek.

Names long forgotten
stuttered under her breath,
faltered on her tongue,
stuck with the salt on her lips
like the dried-out memory
of an ancient kiss.

In shivers of jealous rage
the cold air thickened
and held her tightly,
fearing that she might find the moon
snatch it up
and keep it hidden within herself
from the lies of future lovers.

She struggled against the cold 
anchor of fog,
the dreadful hiss of the waves,
and laughed out loud -

grasping fistfuls of obstinate night,
climbing towards
what might have been sky.

Jon V.
from Love Letters to Ghosts

Yesterday on my previous blog post, someone (name unknown) left a nice comment that somehow wound up in my comment moderation file.
 When I pressed the "publish" icon the comment suddenly disappeared and I haven't been able to retrieve it. Whoever you are, I apologize for this. You weren't deleted deliberately.


  1. Jon, you've set out an excellent catalog of reasons why we write poems. As demonstrated by "Mad Woman On The Beach", poems contain an emotional charge that private memories can't hold or communicate in the same way --they contain the moment of a thing and are events in themselves. At once personal and universal, poems address the humanity we all share.

    1. Geo, you've expressed it beautifully. Poems are definitely "events in themselves".

  2. Jon,
    As I said before I'm not a poetry type of guy but I recognize your talent for writing beautiful, evocative poetry. My friend Larry M. , who I was with earlier tonight, is also a poet, published several times but (of course) never made any money from his works. I sent him a link to this post. I'll send you a link to his blog. I would be curious to know what you think of his poetry.

    1. Ron, I visited Larry's blog and was very pleasantly surprised. The video is a great idea because I was able to experience the poet as well as the poems. I think he's an extremely talented writer. Thanks for the link.

  3. Jon,http://lemelder.blogspot.comThis is a link to my friend Larry's post he just did today about his poetry.


  4. Love Letters to Ghosts is definitely on my 'must read' list! "Fistfuls of obstinate night" - what emotion you've conveyed. Wow.

  5. To savor the words is to understand that the poet writes to awaken something deep within himself and those who read it. You do that my friend.

  6. Maybe the comment that disappeared could have been mine, as you know how hard I was trying to leave one. Yes indeed, poetry is an expression of our feelings. I am a very private person and to even post one of my half-hearted attempts on the internet, unnerved me a little. Being involved with the AOL message boards and poetry groups way back in the days did help me come out of my shell, and yes - I have been published a few times, and I do like to rhyme a lot, but I have a few that are free verse. Like you said. "savour the words" and "savour the images that they inspire". This is why I enjoy yours, so much. Thank you for sharing.


I love comments. Go ahead and leave one - I won't bite. But make sure you have a rabies shot just in case.