Tam my mail carrier knocked at the door today at 1:14 p.m. & handed me — finally, finally, finally! — a book I have looked forward to for many years now:
A Stephen Jonas Reader
I have known about Jonas since he was brought to my attention in the late sixties when he was one of the best-kept secrets of the American poetry scene (yes, he should have been in Don Allen’s anthology!). The only book of his I found at that time was the 1968 Ferry Press edition of Exercises For Ear essential for me, the newbie in America mesmerized as I was by the subtitle: Exercises for Ear / being a / Primer for the Beginner / in the / American idiom.” That & Gerrit Lansing’s introduction. Major. Then, in the early 70s in London I found his other Ferry Press book, Transmutations, with drawings by Basil King & an intro by John Wieners. Well-travelled copies by now (sorry, Baz, your cover-wrap well-worn & even torn, having visited as it did, three continents), later joined by the lift double issue 10 & 11, & then the Talisman House Selected Poems of Jonas. The new book gathers that material & of course, much more, in terms of posthumous & previously unpublished work. And I want to get immediately stuck in the book, so this post will remain brief — let me just copy/paste some of the praise on the City Lights website below. If in New York, don’t miss the event celebrating the publication of Arcana at Poets Hosue this Saturday, 11 May at 3 p.m. with Derek Fenner, Randall Horton & Pamela Sneed — details here.
Stephen Jonas is a crucial missing piece of the postwar American poetry puzzle.
“A true poet of modern classic culture in mid-twentieth century U.S.A.”—Allen Ginsberg
“At their best the poems have an intensely oral, I would like to call it glossolalic, freedom, as if they captured the essence of what one might like to express in the moment of rapture.”—David Rattray
Beginning in the 1950s until his untimely death at age 49, Stephen Jonas (1921-1970) was an influential if underground figure of the New American Poetry. A gay, African-American poet of self-obscured origins, heavily influenced by Ezra Pound and Charles Olson, the Boston-based Jonas was a pioneer of the serial poem and an erudite mentor to such acknowledged masters as Jack Spicer and John Wieners, even as he lived a shadowy existence among drug addicts, thieves, and hustlers.
Arcana: A Stephen Jonas Reader is the first selection of his work to appear in 25 years. With a biographical introduction and a postscript delving into recent discoveries concerning the poet’s birthplace and background, Arcana is a crucial corrective to our understanding of post-war American poetry, restoring Jonas to his rightful place among the period’s vanguard. Featuring previously uncollected and unpublished work, a section of never-before-seen facsimiles from notebooks, and a generous selection from his innovative serial poem Exercises for Ear (1968), Arcana is a much-needed retrieval of an overlooked American poet, as well as a valuable contribution to African American and Queer literature.
Praise for Arcana:
“The work of Steve Jonas, though vital to many of his more illustrious contemporaries, has remained obscured far too long, particularly as we’ve become unaccustomed to the high stakes once involved in the life of poetry. Accompanied by a reprint of Joseph Torra’s invaluable introduction, as vital and fresh now as when it came out 25 years ago, along with David Rich’s extraordinary archaeological dig into genealogical records and biographical materials to clarify Jonas’s self-effaced origins, the publication of Arcana is an important event in our increasingly evanescent cultural history, evidence of what is real.”––Ammiel Alcalay