J. D. Nelson (b. 1971) experiments with words in his subterranean laboratory. His poetry has appeared in many small press publications, worldwide, since 2002. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Cinderella City (The Red Ceilings Press, 2012). His first full-length collection, entitled in ghostly onehead, is slated for a 2021 release by mOnocle-Lash Anti-Press. Visit Mad Verse for more information and links to his published work. Nelson lives in Colorado.
A few months ago, while reviewing poetry books for GAS, I came across a manuscript: In ghostly onehead
This was a curious manuscript. First, what did the title reference, if anything? Next, and more importantly, was the content of this book. This was not just a collection of poems. No, these were experiments, honest to goodness experiments! Yes, I could discern certain elements such as Dada or Surrealism and definitely a bit of Beat, but these were not the diluted imitation of some poetry super-fan. These experiments built upon certain aspects of these but did not copy, no, these were a push forward, these were NEW CREATURES! Who did this? Who is the mad scientist or poetic alchemist who discovered this technique? Who is J.D. Nelson!?!
Recently, to my delight, I had the opportunity to ask those questions and more!
Hex’m J’ai: To start, how long have you been writing? Have you always channeled your creative energies towards Poetic experimentation?
J. D.: In 1977, when I was about six years old, I was experimenting with my parents’ typewriter, and I showed my dad something that I had created. He said that it reminded him of the poetry of e e cummings. He told me about cummings' work, and he was the first major poet I was introduced to. I started writing poems and little stories in 2nd grade. I was encouraged by my teacher and my parents. For one week in 4th grade, my class participated in a poetry workshop with a young woman who was a poet. (I wish that I knew her name!) She took me aside and said that my work was very good, and that I would make a great poet. In my 9th grade language arts class, I wrote a series of about thirty prose poems entitled Chicken Noodle Ice Cream for extra credit. That was my first real foray into writing that was influenced by Surrealism. Twelve years later, I started seriously writing poems inspired by Dada and Surrealism, especially the work of the visual artists of these movements. The work of the Beat writers was also a big influence by that point. I had been writing lyrics for several years when I started writing poetry. I've always been drawn to surrealist imagery, nonsense, wordplay, and the mystical.
Hex: Can you think of, or is there a reason, why writing, specifically Poetics, is your chosen creative medium?
J. D.: I studied visual arts in college for eight years, working in several mediums. I also played in bands, primarily as a vocalist and lyricist, from my teenage years until my early thirties. I had always felt as though I wasn't able to express myself fully through visual arts and music. I've loved writing since elementary school, and in my late twenties, I found that through writing poetry, I was able to express myself more effectively, and with more fulfilling results. Although I did well in school, I found creating artwork to be a stressful and frustrating process, and I was never really satisfied with my work. Writing poetry is a more enjoyable and satisfying enterprise for me.
Hex: Your work has a very distinct voice/flavor (this is an aspect I truly enjoy!). Is this something that developed over time? Would you attribute it to specific influences or experiences?
J.D.: I have been working on developing my voice for almost 25 years, since I began seriously writing poetry. There are certainly writers who have influenced me, but I do not try to imitate their styles. Kerouac's spontaneous prose techniques and the cut-up technique pioneered by William S. Burroughs are my major influences. Most of my work is created through the cutting up and collaging of my own daily freewriting. My work is also influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and the work of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. The element of chance and juxtaposition are especially important in my writing.
Hex: It is no great secret that you have a prolific collection of work, many pieces of which have been published in various venues. Could you elaborate on your experience with this such as ‘how your work has been received’ or have you received any ‘weird’ comments or questions during the process?
J.D.: I have been fortunate that my work has been very well received, especially when considering its experimental and surrealist nature. I do receive some comments like, "Hmm," or "Not my cup of tea," etc. I don't let such criticisms get to me.
Hex: When selecting work to submit and who/what to submit to do you have a specific process? How do you determine which pieces or examples you want to submit? How do you choose which venue to submit to?
J.D.: It really depends upon which publications are accepting submissions at any given time, and which poems of mine are not under consideration elsewhere. I don't submit simultaneously to multiple publications. Sometimes I submit to publications with themed issues, but not very often. I often write poems with a particular publication specifically in mind. I keep a list of publications that I would like to submit work to, and I maintain a submissions log that shows me which poems are available to submit at any given time. I am always being introduced to publications by my friends on social media. I also search for publications online. I submit to publications that are open to experimental and surrealist work. I read a publication’s back issues and submission guidelines to determine if my work would be a good fit.
Hex: Recently I’ve had the honor of reading an upcoming collection of your work before it has been released. To my shock, I discovered that this is the FIRST full length collection of your work to be published! With such a large body of work is there a reason as to why you haven’t published a collection earlier?
J.D.: For many years, my goal was to focus on publishing widely in small press publications in print and online, and to build a name for myself. I have had several smaller chapbooks and e-books published over the years, but, as you've mentioned, my forthcoming collection, in ghostly onehead, is my first full-length effort. I had made a few attempts at putting together longer collections in the past, but I wasn't satisfied with them. In July, 2015, I set out to write a full-length collection from start to finish. Each of the 75 never-before-published poems were written especially for the collection. I feel that there is an energy, as well as thematic interplay, that ties all of the poems together. I finished editing the collection in January, 2021, exactly 2,000 days after I started writing the poems. (In late 2020, I noticed that the 2,000-day milestone was approaching, and I set a deadline to complete the editing at that point.) Upon its completion, I was finally satisfied with a full-length collection of my work. It felt like a working unit, more than simply a collection of loose poems. That is not to say that a collection must be assembled in this manner; I have simply found that this method has been successful for me.
Hex: All of this considered, is there anything you would like to add? Any words of advice for others or any pros or cons you would like to elaborate on the creative or publishing experience?
J.D.: Write every day. I have found that to be successful, it is important to develop a daily discipline. Sacrifices must be made. It is important to create a burning desire to succeed. One must be determined. A writer cannot be deterred by rejections from publishers. One must absolutely develop a thick skin to rejections, and learn to see them as being part of the process. Approximately 75% of the work I submit is rejected. Whenever I receive a rejection, I turn right around and submit it to another publication. It's a numbers game; the more one submits, the better one's chances are of being published.
rainbow grout arizoney
this is the morning of the world
this is the pab-bow
shawing that cob
this is the shape of the universe when I’m not looking
in the dream, we were kicked off of the bus at the expanded park-n-ride
earth is a planned community