Vlad Savich: Today, my interlocutor is Jake St John. Jake, can you tell the readers and me, who are you?
Jake St John: I’m not sure there is an answer to this question. It’s tough to say who we are. I think we’re always learning and evolving. We are what we’ve lived.
VS: “We are what we’ve lived.” Interesting. Maybe you can explain to me: what is the meaning of life?
JSJ: At times, I don’t think that there is a meaning of life. At least looking at it as the creation of life could be accidental. In the great ancient explosions. There is no meaning in accidents only chance. Now you’re playing with house money. Look to gain those experiences and live. Understand what you’ve questioned. Do it with kindness. Seek the meaning through kindness. It’s a short cruise, enjoy it.
VS: “It’s a short cruise, enjoy it.” This is even more interesting. But if I drop a ticket for a cruise called GULAG, how would you order me to enjoy it?
JSJ: Get off that ship! [*Laughs] I’m not ordering anybody to do anything.
VS: “It’s a short cruise, enjoy it.” Explain to me, what can people rejoyce in North Korea?
JSJ: Yeah that’s pretty bleak. I think as a human race we need to do what we can to fight for human rights and look to help oppose governments and places of power that violate those rights.
VS: “I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”
What do you think? Is it possible?
JSJ: I want to believe. I think you have to believe or you go crazy. There’s a lot work to be done. We’re in bad shape. It’s possible though. It’s going to take a drastic realignment of understanding and empathy.
VS: However, as they say “hope dies last”. Let’s leave philosophy alone. We are all from childhood. Where did you grow up? Who were your parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and teachers? What do you remember especially from your childhood?
JSJ: I grew up with my parents and my brother. Zack, he’s two years younger than me. We grew up on the hill behind my grandfather’s farm. We were in the woods all the time. This is in Griswold, Connecticut. We were outside in the woods or playing ball in the backyard. My brother was a hell of a ball player. It was beautiful really. I count myself lucky.
VS: All I know about Kentucky – it’s “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, but I’m not asking you about this state. Better, tell me what does happiness mean? You know! After all, you consider yourself a happy person.
JSJ: Happiness is up for interpretation.
VS: Your answer is short, like a real Spartan. I’d better ask you about creativity. You wrote poems for a long time, published them, participated in literary competitions. Tell me honestly. Do you consider yourself as a poet?
JSJ: I’ve been writing for a while now. Years go by quickly. Creatively I don’t really have a process. I hear poems in my head. Working in the yard, going for a walk, driving on an early morning highway, I hear poems, like a reading in my head. So I write down what I hear and then tighten it up, figure out what’s being said and hopefully clean it up so the reader sees the same picture I do. Do I consider myself a poet? I write poems, you can call me whatever.
VS: I wonder, what are you writing right now?
JSJ: Right now I’ve got a chapbook manuscript of new and older poems I’ve been editing and collecting. I’m hoping to send it out to publishers soon. Maybe it’ll find a home. I’ve got a handful of bones open that I’ve been working on too. I really enjoy the editing and revising of poems. It’s such an important part of writing.
VS: The Russian poet Pushkin also liked to revise his poems. Do you know something about Russian literature?
JSJ: I know Red Cats. The City Lights collection. That book was a favorite of mine for years. I know Mayakovsky of course.
VS: I often kill heroes in my novels, but I don’t know if I could kill a man in real life. What about you?
JSJ: No. I don’t think I could. I don’t believe in killing. But I also believe in protecting my family.
VS: Life is literature; or, literature is life?
JSJ: It’s one and the same. Relatable literature is based on life. Readers identify with what they know. When you realize that there are others like you or others that you can relate to, it gives the reader a sense of self. A sense of togetherness, the best literature is born from the life of the writer.
VS: “Born from the life of the writer.” I always thought literature is fiction, fantasy, fairy tale, even when it’s written in the first person. As Pushkin once said, “Or wet my thought with tears of joy and pain.”
JSJ: I can see that, but it all has to come from somewhere. Born from the bleeding of the sun.
VS: Do you think that everyday and stubborn literary work is the recipe for success?
JSJ: I don’t know what the recipe for success is. I write when I can, read when I can. Edit as much as I can. Success is all up to the individual. It depends on where you draw that line. I don’t know what success would be for me. I know I want to write more words. I want to live more adventures. I want to get out there in the sun and drive those highways until they jump over the horizon and then keep on going. Success is different for everyone. Success is getting a poem published vs. getting a book published vs. waking up in the morning. It’s all a point of view. And it all depends on where you are in that one moment.
VS: Success for an American is a large cash account in a bank. Cool car. Membership in a prestigious club. Condo in Hawaii. You are an American – it means that these are your goals too?
JSJ: HELL NO! Those are not my goals. Being “cool” is not something I look to achieve. Any sort of club or membership always made my stomach roll over. The ego that goes into needing acceptance. I don’t need money or a cool car to legitimize my breathing. I don’t care if I ever get to Hawaii. There are plenty of joints down the highway I haven’t seen. I want to get to a dive bar in New Orleans or an old forgotten cabin in the mountains of New Hampshire, give me a week in Flagstaff out under the sun. Give me solitude. Time to write. Money is nothing. Here in America where many suffer, more than people are aware of, that suffering is covered up for celebrity talk and empty conversations.
VS: “Suffering is covered up.” Does the artist have to go through suffering or is it not necessarily a condition for creativity?
JSJ: Suffering brings about honesty. When you write from a point of suffering you write honestly. You write what you live and feel and taste and touch. Great artists and writers have suffered because they go a bit further than the regular person. Like Hunter said, the only people that can describe the edge have gone over it, and aren’t around to tell the story. Art is suffering. Suffering is living.
VS: What do you think what kind of world we live in?
JSJ: The world seems to get crazier every day. You never know what the news cycle is going to be. It’s like reality TV hell or something. It’s all been taken over. Is anything real anymore. Surreal times.
VS: Surreal times. Something like the paintings of Salvador Dali you mean?
JSJ: Some days it seems just like a bizarre, evil Dali painting. Really hitting your senses in different way. I see what’s happening in America every day and I shake my head. It doesn’t seem right. The times man, it’s different today.
VS: “Happening in America.” What is America for you? A country, state, symbol, fetish, idea..?
JSJ: I don’t know what America is anymore. I sure as hell don’t recognize it. Nazis marching in the street, kids in cages. It’s insanity. There seems to be a whole lack of human decency. America has become some warped carnival funhouse mirror image of itself. And every day it’s something new. When I was younger, I viewed America as some sort of symbol of freedom. An open highway into the sun. That’s kind of faded away into the background at this point.
VS: Why has that “kind of faded away”? Has the political regime changed or is it just that you have become older, more experienced, more dissatisfied..?
JSJ: I think it’s a little of all of that. This regime really has a way of just punching you in the gut. But yeah I’m older now. I have a family. I see things differently. It happens. Each experience molds you. You can’t help but look at things differently. That’s not bad. Not always. I’d love to hit the highway right now. Pack up the family and just head west nothing but the sun behind us. But what the highway meant to me at 24 is different than what it represents to me at 38. I still got a few road trips left in the tank though.
VS: What does the future hold for us?
JSJ: The future’s uncertain and the end is always near. Jim Morrison’s words, not mine.
VS: If you had a choice, what kind of life would you choose: slave, Emperor of Rome, cowboy of the Wild West, President Trump?
JSJ: My heroes have always been cowboys man! The west has always held that allure of freedom. Cowboys have always represented that. There is something romantic about the cowboy riding off into the sunset. Making his own way. The adventure of it all.
VS: I know you live in the same city where Eugene O’Neill lived. How do you feel about drama? Maybe you write plays like your fellow countryman?
JSJ: I don’t know much about drama outside of Eugene O’Neill. I enjoyed Henrik Ibsen when I read him in college. My professor would play the Rolling Stones as a backdrop to Henrik Ibsen. Maybe I just remember the Stones. I wrote a play years ago. It took place in my old college apartment. But it was a bar. All the customers were some variation of my friends. I had a drink with myself. It was real indulgent now that I think back to it. It’d been done before. My computer fried. I lost everything. Two years’ worth of poems, that play, journal entries. Oh well. The lost years of youth. Jon Dambacher. That kid knows drama. The writer out of Chicago.
VS: “In the beginning was the word.” What is first in your work: the word, image, thought, impression…?
JSJ: It seems to happen the same way. I get a voice in my ear. It’s either reciting a word or a phrase and before long the voice is reciting whole stanzas and poems in my head. All I have to do is write them down. I have a poetry reading happening in my head at random moments. Sometimes the words come in dreams and I’m lucky to write down a word or two. Some of my best work has been written in my sleep.
VS: I am currently in correspondence with my friend. He started writing a novel, but stopped. I asked why. He replied, books don’t bring income. Why do you write, Jake?
JSJ: I write because I have to. I don’t look at it as having a choice. Those poems I hear in my head don’t stop until I get them on paper. They get louder and longer until I get them written down. Then there’s silence. For a bit. And I get to play with the poem, shape it, carve it out of clay in a way. I don’t write for money. Most people don’t get that. Most folks that don’t create don’t understand that. Money is fine. You know right? But I write because the words are in my head, my ears. It’s the only way to silence them, get the words on paper.
VS: “It’s the only way to silence them, get the words on paper.” Maybe creativity is a crazy thing?
JSJ: No crazier than anything else. It’s just more honest I reckon.
VS: What do you think, if God exists, is he an animate person? Does God look like a person or something like the wind?
JSJ: A cousin that died years ago visited me in my dream once and he told me that God looked like a giant green frog. That’s all I have to go on. I’m not much of a religious man.
VS: “Not much of a religious man.” And what do you believe in?
JSJ: I believe in trees, rivers and mountains.
VS: So you are a pagan? I’m kidding. I think literature is a crisis. Do you agree with me?
JSJ: Ha! I’ve been called worse. The way people are consuming literature is changing. It’s all going techno. Not sure what’s being read. It’s the instant gratification of today. People want information right now. They don’t want to sit and read literature. They want to read the quick synopsis and not put in the effort to enjoy it. It’s all moving too fast right now.
VS: The writer is a kind of seer. As a writer, what can you say about our future?
JSJ: The future going forward is in the hands of the Millennials now. We screwed it up. But these kids seem to be coming out and voting and of course I’m talking about in America. I can’t speak across the board but these kids seem pretty pissed off and they should be. So I think the future doesn’t look as bleak as the shadow of the Trump regime leads us to believe. It’s literally in the hands of the kids at this point.
VS: Thank you very much, Jake, for your interesting answers. Do you want to say something to our readers?
JSJ: Thanks for giving me the time. I’ve enjoyed it. Support poets! Buy small press poetry books!
Jake St. John writes out of New London, CT and is the author of several collections of poetry including In All The Cities, The Same Faces (CWP Collective, 2017) and Rotations (Night Ballet Press 2015). His work has appeared in numerous literary and arts magazines such as The Blue Collar Review, BURP, Big Hammer, Fell Swoop and The People’s Tribune. Since 2007 he has served as the editor of Elephant and co-editor of Flying Fish.
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader. Image: The Forest, Paul Cézanne, 1890-1892