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Contributor Interview: John Allen Taylor

June 14, 2016
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John Allen Taylor’s poems have appeared in Booth, The Boiler, Dialogist, Devil’s Lake, and an anthology of Spokane, WA poets called Railtown Almanac, among other places. He currently lives in Boston, MA, serves as Redivider‘s poetry editor, and makes strong, bitter kombucha. He tweets at @johna_taylor.

TCR: The “w” and “m” sounds in “Vigil” work against the crispness one might expect from autumn leaves. How did you arrive here?

John Allen Taylor: There are elements of craft here that, had you asked, I could answer right away. But when I read your question I thought huh and had to go back to the poem to see for myself. I intended many things in “Vigil”, of course, but this particular sound was not one of them. Though I’m glad to know it’s there. I wrote this poem during a time when even speaking was difficult. As someone who has to read poetry out loud, especially as I’m writing, I suspect these sounds cropped up as I was actively avoiding more raucous consonance. That’s a poeticized memory I suppose, but perhaps it’s a fine answer.

TCR: Were you tempted to add two more lines and turn this poem into a sonnet?

JAT: Actually this poem began as a sonnet, and I submitted it as such for a long while. I revisited the poem shortly before I sent to The Cossack Review and realized that while it was wearing sonnet clothing, it just wasn’t a sonnet. I hacked it apart rather ruthlessly and found a clearer and stranger poem.

TCR: How did you overcome cliché when writing about changing seasons?

JAT: I added ghosts. Actually, the clichés I was most trying to avoid in this poem were clichés of grief. I only addressed the aspects of fall that directly affected the speaker during the poem. The second stanza of the poem is clearly the most “poetic” (and I say that in nearly a critical way) in that it’s lyrical and addressing fall. I figured the only way to maintain the lyric and tone from that point on was to move the poem into stranger and stranger territory. Into dream / near-nightmare.

TCR: What do you look for as Poetry Editor at Redivider?

JAT: I look for voices I’m not getting elsewhere. I’m looking for craft that is odd and surprising. Poems that create their own rules and then break them. Fragments. In terms of general aesthetic, I’ve grown particularly fond of YesYes Books, Black Ocean Press, and Cleveland State University Poetry Press. These presses are consistently putting out books that I will buy not knowing the poet. I’m sure there are other presses, but my wallet only stretches so far. What I’m looking for as an editor are voices and poems that are speaking to and doing things I don’t fully understand. I rely on intuition and curiosity first before I let my academic and MFA self come in to study the pieces of the poem. I’m learning all the time. I’ve learned more about craft by editing than from any book or class. And, frankly, I’m looking primarily for voices and poets who I’m not seeing often in other lit mags. It’s gotten to the point where I’m forcing myself to read some of the huge, white-male-washed literary journals just to re-understand the need to not be that.

TCR: Your profile says you make “strong, bitter kombucha.” Tell us how that works and how you got into it.

JAT: Kombucha! Kombucha is the cure-all. For a short time I ran a small “fermentery” and sold kombucha at market. This was at my peak granola stage. The brew I make for myself, though, has gotten much stronger. Kombucha is made by fermenting tea with a bacterial and yeast colony called a SCOBY or a mother. They look horrid, but they’re dream-things. You basically brew tea, add the SCOBY, and wait. The result is a hybrid vinegar / beer carbonated drink that’s extremely high in probiotics. If you have a stomach ache, kombucha. Hangover, kombucha. Sad and can’t write good poems, kombucha.

TCR: Who’s on your summer reading list?

JAT: This summer I’m watching Gilmore Girls. I just arrived at the 7th season, and I’m extremely grumpy about it. Also, poems. Of the collections I’ve read recently I recommend Meghan Privitello’s A New Language for Falling Out of Love (YesYes Books), Leora Fridman’s My Fault (CSU Poetry Center), and Aricka Foreman’s chap Dream with a Glass Chamber (YesYes Books). My list is not so much a list as it is a drift on my nightstand, but first up is Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which I’ve been steeling myself to read for a few weeks. I’m also on pins and needles waiting for Kamden Hilliard’s Black Lawrence Press chap, Perceived Distance from Impact, and Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf from Alice James Books.

 

Randall Weiss

Inteviews Editor

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