In this new Words Dance interview series, we’re going to be talking to some less established poets about how and why they threw themselves into the ring and what works inspired them to do so. We’re going to be taking a look at how what you’re reading shapes what you’re writing (specifically as a poet). Consider this series as a poetry recommendation followed by a budding poet to keep your eye on.
To begin, we’re having a brief chat with Jones Howell. She’s picked a poem by Clementine von Radics titled “For Nikki” as one that has personally influenced her writing style.
Appears in Mouthful Of Forevers available at the WAYP store or Amazon.
Trista Mateer : First, I just want to thank you for reaching out to participate in this little interview when I put the call out. Now, you’ve chosen Clementine von Radics as someone who was most influential to your own style of writing. How did you come across Clementine’s work? And what were particular parts of her style that attracted you to her writing?
Jones Howell : Thank you for including me! My introduction to Clementine von Radics came in the form of a printed copy of her poem “Mouthful of Forevers” that hung outside the elevator in Annenberg Hall at my alma mater, Northwestern University. I read that poem every day for at least ten weeks before deciding to find more of her work. I had just completed a year-long workshop in writing fiction the year before, where I learned that my blunt, aggressive style of writing wasn’t working–at least, not as prose. Clementine has a way of telling an entire story in just a few lines. She’s very selective about her poetic devices. Before her, I didn’t know it was possible to do that and still call it poetry.
Trista Mateer : What do you find about this particular poem of hers (“For Nikki”) so appealing? Why did you pick this poem as a major influence of yours over another one of hers, such as “Mouthful of Forevers”?
Jones Howell : “For Nikki” encapsulates everything I’ve wanted to do as a writer and, frankly, everything I’ve been as a person. Both “Mouthful of Forevers” and “For Nikki” are love poems, but I have never been a “Mouthful of Forevers” kind of lover. I am not delicate and neither is my language. I want to be the backhand across the face or the shot of whiskey on an empty stomach: whatever knocks you on your ass and makes you remember my name. In eight lines and two curse words, Clementine does all that and leaves you begging for more.
Trista Mateer : Out of curiosity, is the title of the poem you’ve selected to share with us today (“Sentimental Bullshit”) directly influenced by Clementine’s poem? And is there anything else you’d like to say about it before we share it?
Jones Howell : Absolutely. The title is taken directly from her poem. “Sentimental Bullshit” began life as one of those poems where you just can’t stick the landing, no matter how many different words and phrases you try. It was one of the first poems I wrote when I decided to turn away from prose. It hung out in a Google doc, ‘finished’ but still grating on me, for weeks. When I finally figured out how to rewrite it, something shifted for me. I’d done it. I’d written something I was proud of, that I would never apologize for. I think Audrey Niffenegger said it best: “I feel a tiny pang of regret, as though I’ve lost a secret, and then a rush of exaltation: now everything begins.”
SENTIMENTAL BULLSHIT by Jones Howell
i live in the south and in the spring
everything smells like honeysuckle.
as a little girl i used to pick
the yellow flowers and pinch
the ends off with a fingernail, to drink
the nectar. maybe a drop;
two if i was lucky.
a tiny secret just-mine kind
you’re kind of like that.
Jones (Jo) Howell is a 22 year old poet with an engineering degree. Her parents have stopped asking too many questions. Raised in the mid-Atlantic, educated in Chicago, and now setting down roots in Georgia, she recklessly dives headfirst into the open wounds of love, abuse, and family. She is a graduate of the Northwestern University creative writing program. Humor is her best coping mechanism.
Trista Mateer is a writer and poet living outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She believes in lipstick, black tea, and owning more books than she can ever possibly read. Known for her eponymous blog, she is also the author of two collections of poetry.