Jon Stone is a poet and editor based in London. His poems have appeared widely in various online and print magazines.
His pamphlets include No, Robot, No! with Kirsten Irving (Forest Publications 2010), Scarecrows (Happenstance Press 2010), Riotous with Kirsten Irving (Sidekick Books 2013), and Tomboys (Tungsten Press 2016).
Hi Jon. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on winning the Poetry London competition in 2014 with your poem ‘Nightjar’. I understand it is included in the third installment of the Birdbook anthology series. I wonder if you have any thoughts on why the subject of birds has proven to be such a rich and plentiful source of inspiration for the contributing poets?
Well, birds are part familiar, part alien, so we see particularly sharp and strange reflections in them. It’s the same paradox you get with the superheroes, who are simultaneously like us and not like us at all, except that birds are both inescapable and unapologetic.
We delight in them, and we may feel a kinship with them, but we never really know what they’re thinking, what they think of us, and that is always unsettling. I think poetry is well suited to mining these contradictions.
The Birdbook anthologies compile examples of how we try to reconcile our relationship with birds: as characters, as symbols and metaphors, as our charges, and so on. It’s an enduring puzzle, and any enduring puzzle is good material for poetry.
Thanks, by the way. I like my ‘Nightjar’ poem a lot. I spent a long time staring at videos of nightjars. The longer you look, the stranger and more beautiful they get. I’ve never seen one in real life.
A couple of your poems were also featured in the recent Double Bill anthology by Red Squirrel Press. Can you tell us a bit more about the poems you contributed and how they came about?
I had a Captain Scarlet poem in its predecessor anthology, Split Screen, after emailing the editor, Andy Jackson, expressing interest in the project. He invited me back for Double Bill. They’re both books about televisual pop culture.
I grew up on pop culture and I guess pop culture poems have become one of my calling cards. But pop culture is really just the new folk culture – stories that are retold with different emphasis, characters who’re ripe for symbolic exploitation. Captain Scarlet cannot die, so he might gain the same sense of godhood (and accompanying self-destructive drive) as a celebrity or Roman emperor.
One of the poems for Double Bill is a renga chain, co-written with Kirsty, that flits between different anime characters. I don’t think the poem requires knowledge of the source material – we can recognise shades of ourselves in even these fleeting glimpses. The poem looks like a Twitter spat taking place across Asgard, Middle Earth and East London.
I understand you have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with video games. As well as writing many poems on the subject yourself, you have also edited a couple of poetry anthologies on the same subject; you even created an interactive poem/fighting game for the GameCity festival in Nottingham last year. Do you have any other games-related poetry ideas or projects you are hoping to pursue or work on in the future?
I’m in the first year of a PhD on the subject! It’s going to be part practice-based and the working title is ‘Dual Wield: Adventures at the Interplay of Poetry and Computer Games’. To give a brief overview, I’m looking to explore various possibilities of what a hybrid poem-game might look like, and how such a hybrid could inform the way we think about both mediums.
I’m working together with Abigail Parry on some of these projects – she’s the writer-in-residence at the National Videogame Arcade this year. The interactive poem/fighting game you mention was part of ‘Control Room’, which we billed as a ‘poetry micro arcade’, and we’re taking it to the Counterplay conference in Denmark this week.
You also participated in a Proms Extra event last year, collaborating with the John Garner Quartet to perform some of your poems. Much emphasis is often placed on poetry having its own inner music and rhythm that arises out of the order and construction of the words. What extra dimensions do you think having the quartet play alongside you added to the performance that set it apart from an ordinary reading?
If you think of each instrument as having a voice, then in the case of the poems I read, it transformed them from monologues into polyphonic pieces. In particular, John’s violin gave voice to a character which the poems only reference in the third person – the mischief wind. A non-verbal voice is something you can’t easily do with poetry on its own, so that’s the obvious extra layer of composition that musicianship offers.
What does the rest of the year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to or are there any specific poetry goals you have set yourself?
I’m hoping to spend less time skulking on the periphery, bent over website code or swirling my drink in the shadows!
I recently published a new short pamphlet called Tomboys with Tungsten Press, who do high quality limited editions. It’s a set of three colour-concrete poems about (and in the shape of) Revolutionary Girl Utena, Cowboy Bebop’s Radical Edward, and Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
As co-captain of Sidekick Books, we had a late launch party for our most recent titles last month at LIBRARY in Covent Garden as well, and we’re hoping to build more events off the back of that – in collaboration with other small presses, if everything goes to plan.
We have new titles planned for later in the year, and will be having an opens submissions process for the first time. Our ‘phase 2’ plan for the press involves a shift in focus towards striking visual poetry, digital poetry and an expansion of the criticism section of the website.
And then there’s all the work I’ll be doing with game-poems, which I’d like to keep somewhat secret for just a little while longer while certain experiments start to bear fruit.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
It is one of a sequence of poems set in an imaginary city following its near-destruction. It’s called ‘Throne Room After The Earthquake’, but other poems in the sequence refer to floods, meteorites and various additional apocalypses. I thought it was the appropriate time to share this since it complements a recent article I threw together about the tendency to sneer at poetry.
The principle character in the poem is the Bored King, and he’s a caricature of a certain disposition that is rampant among people who are basically comfortable and jaded – which is most of us in the West. The Bored King is tired with politics, petitions and pleas. He finds contemporary art dull and contemporary culture risible. His interest isn’t even piqued by news of imminent disaster. He’s what we’re in danger of becoming.
The poem is written in pseudo-skeltonics, a form which many modern readers will associate with clueless bad poetry. I like to work with the difficult kids sometimes.
Throne Room After The Earthquake
This split in the seat, deep and snaking,
is older than the tremor that left every column aching,
broke the pediment and caved the ceiling.
It had been sneaking
underneath the haunches of the Bored King
all the time he looked on dismally, his leaden jawbone
sunk hard into its very own
as some mendicant or foreigner or woman
pointed to their bruises, trotted out their ghost-eyed son,
or some bloodied kid angel
lunged at him from balustrade or pedestal,
ending as a smear upon the floors and wall,
or some million massed outside and chanted “Go to hell”,
or some frenzied doctor unveiled detailed pictures
of ‘planar fractures’,
or some legion of actors
played themselves to death beneath heraldic battle-axes.
How he had sat and sat and sat,
chained and pinned by that dogged conglomerate,
seismically tired, while under his sprawled meat and fat
the little fissures had begun to plait,
the crack soon as deep as the crack in his arse,
then the crack in his heart.
So now the sow bugs squadron in and out
of its appalled, appalling mouth,
which presides, like the midday shadow of a crone,
over all you see here – this bleached reef of stone.
And because the world that bled here was a rich one,
there are many, many throne rooms just like this one.