Love Poet: Jon Tobias issues challenge to find beauty everywhere

Jon's girlfriend Kimberly inspired the short story "Memories," which was featured in "5X5: Keeping the Dream Aloft."

As a writer, success would be to give readers an opportunity to see beauty in things which they hadn’t considered having beauty – maybe even to change people’s understanding of the word.

Although you’ve delved into short fiction (your work in both AWwYP’s “Elvis 101: All Shook Up” short story competition and the June publication “5×5: Keeping the Dream Aloft” anthology being key examples), you regard yourself as a poet, first and foremost. You’ve described your goal as a writer to be to successfully challenge people to find beauty in everything so that they “see the world in a different way”. This seems to match your professional background, which includes stints as a residential services technician for a major San Diego service provider for the developmentally disabled, and the assistant manager of a pharmacy in the California town you grew up in. It seems that much of your life has been focused on trying to support people doing good for others in their communities, no matter if it is in California, where you were born, or Texas, where you are today. If this is the case, what was the origin of that impulse, or if, on the other hand, this is too simple a description of what you want to achieve, then what is it that you are trying to achieve as a life goal?

He-e-e-e-res Johnny!

I agree with you that much of my life has been dedicated to supporting people. I think it is in my nature, which was probably nurtured by my family life. I spent much of my life supporting my family and aiding in raising my younger brother and sister, especially later on, when due to illness, my parents were not able to do much in terms of care for them. I think because of those times kindness has become an important virtue for me. It is something I practice more often than preach, but sometimes the theme works its way into my writing.

My life goal is to become a successful poet. Success for me would be to have a few collections of poetry published and to have those who read the poetry find something meaningful in it, to be moved by it in some way.

As a writer, success would be to give readers an opportunity to see beauty in things which they hadn’t considered having beauty – maybe even to change people’s understanding of the word.

 

What inspires a writer often is what moves that person as a reader. Is there a subject or style of poetry that moves you?

For a while I was really in to spoken word poetry, but have lost some interest in it over time. Now I think I find myself being drawn to shorter poetry, something that sits comfortably on a single page. I would say that all subjects can move me, but what I look for is playful/surreal imagery and metaphor. I also like poetry that challenges the reader emotionally and or intellectually.

 

In what way do you see playful or surreal imagery challenging someone in that way?

I think surrealist imagery sometimes forces the reader to consider meaning or even strive for it as if it were a game. I think back to college, reading Emily Dickinson and some of the absolutely crazy things people pulled from her work. If you give a reader an opportunity to find meaning in something, they will, so when you use surrealist imagery it is even more inviting. It’s like a puzzle. Sometimes there’s nothing there, and sometimes there is.

Emotionally is easier I suppose. I think attempting make someone feel anything other than what they are feeling in the moment is to challenge them.

C.A Conrad’s, “The Book of Frank” (2009) is a really good example of both surreal and playful. It’s a fun read.

More often than not what I like about the two types of imagery isn’t that they are challenging in any way, but more so that they are creative, and make me say, “Damn that’s so good. I wish I could think like that.”

 

What steps in life do you think you will need to go through before you believe you will be ready to produce the collection of poetry that will be your masterpiece?

I think first would be for me to simply make the time to write. I don’t know that I will ever be able to put something together that I could consider a masterpiece. I am way too hard on myself for that. I think I need time, and then a little bit of inspiration. I am hopeful.

 

Hopeful is always good. How would you define beauty? Is it something you can quantify?

That’s a tough one. I often find myself saying things are beautiful that others may not. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think of beauty as a feeling, a powerful reaction to something. I very often think acts of bravery as something beautiful. Honesty is beautiful. I think that’s the best way I can describe it. It is a powerful reaction/feeling to something, anything. The exact feeling itself whether it is sadness or happiness doesn’t matter.

Because of how vague and subjective it is, I doubt it could be quantifiable.

 

Is beauty absolute?

No. I don’t think so. Anything can be beautiful, and that is what I like about it. Learning how to find elements of it in everything is what makes me happy.

 

Can dishonesty ever be brave or beautiful?

 I think dishonesty can be brave. Lying to protect someone or to make someone feel good are examples. I think the reason behind the dishonest action is what would make the dishonesty brave or beautiful. It would also make it that much more subjective.

 

Can cowardice be truthful or inspire positive emotional reaction?

Cowardice can be beautiful, too. It makes me think of a short story by William Saroyan in the collection, “Madness in the Family.” The story is actually titled, “Cowards.” The last paragraph is very beautiful. It offers a little bit of insight into human nature and questions masculine culture.

“Cowards are nice, they’re interesting, they’re gentle, they wouldn’t think of shooting down people in a parade from a tower. They want to live, so they can see their kids. They’re very brave.” (Pg 73.)

 

That’s certainly something to think about.

Jon’s beloved dog, Penny, inspired his melancholy-laden short story “Bird Watching,” also featured in “5×5.”

You have three poems published so far by Long Island, New York’s Local Gems Press, “A Scarecrow in a Field on Fire” within “Bards Against Hunger, 5th Anniversary Edition” (2017), “What the Body Knows” within “Beat-itude’ 10 Year Anthology (2018), and “A Reminder to Those Who Read Love Poems” within “Poets to Come” (pending). You suggested that most of the people who have read your poetry would describe you as a “love poet”, indicating that emotion plays a strong role in your creative processes. Could you share with us the processes you use to create? How do you go about producing the poetry you write?

I think people would call me a love poet because I often write about it. It’s not that I write about what and whom I love, because I do, but mostly because I like to write about moments where love happens.

Emotion does play a strong role in my creative process which can make the process difficult at times. Because of that, I am always searching out inspiration. Sometimes I will read poetry or listen to it until I hear or read something that moves me, and then I play with the idea or feeling that the poetry inspired. Sometimes I get drunk and watch sad movies.

What I most often do if there is something I want to write about is try to think of strange ways to present my subject. Is having to get out of bed in the morning like being tied to a sinking ship? While scraping the bodies of butterflies off my windshield during butterfly season, can I see myself as a collector beautiful things rather than the owner of a small graveyard? Can I be both and it be the same thing? I really like to juxtapose sad and sometimes violent imagery into my poems. I think it creates balance.

 

Do you have a style of music that you gravitate toward? What songs would typically inspire you to write?

I’ve always liked lyrics more than the music itself. I remember buying cassettes and CDs just so I could read the lyrics to the songs that were on the inserts inside the cases. I don’t really use music as part of my process. I find it distracting, probably because I like lyrics so much. It also explains why I can’t dance. I can’t move to the music because I’m busy listening to the lyrics.

If I were to listen to music before writing I might listen to Prince or Queen – maybe Allen Stone or TV on the Radio. I like music that amps you up a little bit and gets you in a good mood.

 

Have you ever tried your hand at writing lyrics? If so, have they ever been sung by a musical act?

I wrote songs in my angsty years for sure. You know those years where “music is life,” and it is your best friend and therapist. I don’t have an ear for music however, and I think in order to write music a person needs to be at least a little musically talented. I am not at all.

I wouldn’t mind trying again, and then maybe giving the lyrics over to someone who could change it and make it something worth turning into music. It would be really cool to see. I love watching talented people do their thing, and to be incorporated into that talent in some way would feel pretty amazing.

 

Is there a difference of experience that you feel when you get drunk on one kind of alcohol over another?

My go to is always Vodka and soda. If not that, then I’m drinking beer. I’m not too big on IPA’s like a lot of people are though, so it’s usually lagers or wheat beers. Sam Adams is my favorite beer.

 

Which works best with sad movies?

Beer or vodka work best. I’ll get too drunk if I drink whiskey and really bad hangover if it is anything else.

 

Does tragedy from the daily news ever inspire you?

I can’t say that it does. It saddens me, but I’ve never written about anything I’ve read or heard on the news. There are many authors who do, and it is an important thing that they do. For me however, the news is not something I really use as a sort of inspiration.

Continued in Part 2.

3 comments

  1. Avatar
    Michael Stang says:

    Jon, you are an inspired writer who has a timeless gift that brings the reader to an emotional threshold. The work comes to us filled with sensitivity and a sense of relationship, a clarity so welcomed as to the simplicities of love. You are a pleasure.
    Best of luck.

  2. Avatar
    Jayne E. says:

    Hey Jon, I just recently read some of your stuff on hello poetry, and fell in love with your way with words…as a striving ‘poet’ myself (ughhh not a fan of labels), your lines are both inspiring and dig deep into the emotional well spring. Thank you for all the feels delivered through your poems…one of the best I’ve read at that site..sad you do not contribute there any longer…

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