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The Poetic Landscape of Jeffrey Scott Janison



See when I spoke to god

He made me understand

There’s no peace on earth

Not for beast or man


The worms in the earth

And the birds in the sky

Ain’t no wonder the earliest

Chooses who dies


The blood in my veins

And the cars in the street

All come rushing along

Just to stop and repeat


It may not seem

Like that much to you

But if you knew what I do

You might lose it too


Revelations - J.S.J.




If reading a book is like grazing on a banquet table piled high with words, consuming poetry is more like doing finely cut lines off the reflective surface of language. Dylan Thomas defined poetry as "what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing." Simply put, good poetry has to hit you right in that sweet spot if you want to feel that elusive poetic high. For me, poetry is a distillation of collective voices, a simple truth chiseled out of a common experience. I can almost feel the words leap from the page to my own tongue. Yes, I think, exactly that. That is what I feel and think, what I fear and love. That is not just my truth, that is our truth.


The relationship between human beings and poetry is a long one, predating the written word. Every race, culture and generation has created their own form of poetry. African performance poetry, Greek epics, Norse sagas, shi and fu (classical Chinese poetry), Aztec poetry in its original Nahuatl, dirty limericks you learned on the playground, the birthday card you just bought from American Greetings, Robin Williams teaching an entire generation to cry “O Captain, My Captain,” and Christopher Nolan pleading with us through the words of Dylan Thomas to “not go gentle into that good night.” A buddy of mine, who is the biggest good ol' boy you’ve ever met, routinely busts out Frost's “Nothing Gold Can Stay” from The Outsiders with tears in his eyes, tobacco in his cheek, and a two-liter of Mountain Dew in his giant fist. I bet you, reading this right now, can easily quote Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Amanda Gorman's blistering performance of "The Hill We Climb" at the 2021 Inauguration left the world awestruck and sent poetry skyrocketing to the top of the national conversation. Call it whatever you want: hymns, love songs, rap, fiction, times tables, military cadences, memes, vines, it all tracks back to the verbal art that is poetry.


I first encountered the tight, honest lines of Jeffrey Scott Janison on Instagram. I like poetry, be it classical heavy verse or strict three-line haiku. But the one form of poetry I cannot resist is the deceptively simple, heart-on-your-sleeve honesty that is a hallmark of Janison’s work. While pithy prose has dominated the 140-character scene for the last fifteen years, Instagram has become the front line of modern day poets like Janison. Janison's poetry, with its gritty sincerity and vulnerable depth of feeling, is brilliantly juxtaposed against the airbrushed, filtered reality of social media's visual darling.


Interviewer

Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing poems?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Absolutely. Poetry taught in high school and college is far removed from the poems people are actually engaging with nowadays. I used to think poetry was emotion scribed onto paper. Now I realize that poetry is pretty much limitless. Unfortunately, that means there is a lot of empty platitudes that can be found just to get a like on social media. I am trying my best to avoid the cliches that have become so popular in recent years.


Interviewer

When did you first encounter poetry?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein in grade school. Rhyming books with funny pictures? Count me in!


Interviewer

Why were you drawn to poetry?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I think writing poetry is a noble act. We all know that there is no money in poetry. But when I can try to figure something out, an emotion, an idea, a common fear amongst men, I feel like I am adding to the collective consciousness of our being. Sitting alone, focused, and open to inspiration comforts me and stresses me at the same time. There is always a new feeling when I sit down to write poetry. Turning complex ideas into provocative thoughts that change people’s world views. That’s what I am after. Not to mention a mastery of the English Language that conforms to no one.


Interviewer

How has your work as an editor informed your work as a poet?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Editing helps me see how other people work out ideas. When I read something that needs to be changed, I always think that the author was intentional (for the most part) in writing the piece as they did. As a poet, everything I write, and the way it is written, is backed by intention. Finding the middle ground of intention & readability for another writer helps me find that in my own writing.


Interviewer

What poets do you continually go back to?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I am always amazed at the craft older poets put into their work. T.S. Eliot, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelly are poets I often look back to and study.


Interviewer

How do you begin a poem?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I usually start with a concept. Whether that’s an emotion, an event, or a line I want to expand on. Other times I am hit with an idea. I always have my phone on hand, so I am constantly jotting things down.


Interviewer

How long on average does it take you to write a poem?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

My average is a couple of hours. I have poems I’ve finished in minutes, and some pieces are three-years-old, buried within my notebooks, waiting to see the light of day again.


Interviewer

Has one of your poems ever surprised you?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Sometimes I don’t realize I have a problem until I write about it. I used to write letters I would never send as a way to cope with emotions. Now I turn those feelings into art. It’s amazing some of the things we lie to ourselves about that get completely shattered when we sit down and put them onto paper. You can’t lie anymore if it’s concrete.


Interviewer

Do you want each poem to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each poem?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Some poems I intend to stand by themselves. However, I do have several ideas for collections of poetry that would contain poems with greater connections to each other.


Interviewer

What does literary success look like for you?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I want to create something beautiful that will outlive me for years afterward. I want to be known for my mind. Poetry is my main focus right now, but I wish to publish stories and essays in the future. If I can generate income to support the experiences I want to have, I would call that success.


Interviewer

What is a common trap for aspiring writers?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Not getting the writing done. It’s easy to write one good thing and think you’re on a roll. Consistently writing, reading, and journaling. Aspiring writers must do all three.


Interviewer

What is your connection to Cleveland?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I was born in Burbank, CA, but shortly after I was born my parents moved our family to Parma so we could be closer to my grandparents.


Interviewer

How does your environment shape your work? Does your Cleveland connection play a role?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I have lived in suburbs all my life. The monotony of it all can really get to me sometimes. Any chance I get, I am out in the wild. That being said, I do love Cleveland, but as with any city, it has a harsh side we tend to look away from. I think it’s important to include all aspects of my environment in my work.


Interviewer

What are the challenges specific to living and working in Cleveland or the Midwest? The benefits?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Lake-effect snow in the winter and humid summers often irks me the most about living in Cleveland. Other than that I think Cleveland is one of the best places to live in the world. Great food from many different cultures, three major sports teams, fantastic healthcare, and not to mention the Metroparks as well as Cuyahoga Valley Nation Park just a short drive away.


Interviewer

Where do you find inspiration?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I try to take inspiration from everything. The more insignificant the better. Turning the mundane into the profane is a task I take on happily. Other than that, certain melodies in music trigger something within me that brings about inspiration from nowhere.


Interviewer

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I consider the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a minor pilgrimage. Seeing handwritten lyrics was truly incredible. I have plans to make my way into the wilds to write. I wish to travel to Paris before I die to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery where Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and other famous writers are buried.


Interviewer

What is your favorite childhood book?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.


Interviewer

What inspired you to create your newest work?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

A lot of my recent inspiration has come from social, economic & climate issues. I tend to focus my writing on the beauty of nature, issues in society, my attempts to find universal truths, and the trials of love.


Interviewer

Do you believe in writer’s block?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

In some capacity yes. I am always writing, but writer’s block comes between what I want to write, and what I should be writing.


Interviewer

Does writing energize or exhaust you?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

While I am writing, I am energized and in the moment. Depending on the subject matter or length, I can walk away from the keyboard a zombie.



Interviewer

What is your relationship to the finished product when you are working? Is it a thing you are building in real time or do you feel the thing is already in there and you are just clearing away the dirt?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

A little of both. I have to clear the dirt away to create a solid foundation upon which I can start building. The poem is in there, but I have to pull it out and finish it.


Interviewer

What is your work routine, if any?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I try my best to write at least 250 words every morning. A reflection on yesterday, a look towards the rest of today, and any lingering thoughts I want to expand upon. Recently I have started writing a short poem every day after these journals.


Interviewer

What about your early life influenced your work or your journey toward becoming a writer?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

My mother is an avid reader and instilled in me at a young age the same dedication to books. She showed me that stories can take you to places unimaginable. Until you start reading...


Interviewer

Do you find that your work has a theme? Is there something about this theme that has particularly drawn you in?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

I find that I am searching for some form of truth in every poem. Poetry forces me to consider each and every syllable, but the ideas I have force me to consider every word. It’s a strange balance between enlightenment and crafting I have come to love.


Interviewer

What is your favorite line (or lines) of poetry you have written?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

“See when I spoke to God, he made me understand

There’s no peace on earth not for beast or man”


Interviewer

How has your role as a reader informed your role as a writer?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

There is a market for everything. No story should be left unwritten or unfinished. Read to write, and write to read.


Interviewer

What is a poem that has really stayed with you?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelly


Interviewer

What is the title of the poem you wish everyone would read?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

The Hollow Men - T. S. Eliot


Interviewer

What advice would you have for someone who wants to read more poetry, but isn’t sure where to start?


Jeffrey Scott Janison

The Poetry Foundation is one of the best sources for quality poetry in the United States. Their website and monthly magazine showcase phenomenal work. If you want to read the best of the best, look for Immortal Poems. That anthology compiles poetry from its origins all the way up to the mid-1950s. And if you’re bored on social media, Instagram will be your best bet for poetry.



Jeffrey Scott Janison is a copy editor with Emotional Alchemy Magazine. You can follow him at @jsjpoetry on Instagram




Dana McSwain is a bestselling author and principal at Webb House Publishing. @writersofcleveland is a project dedicated to amplifying the voices of Cleveland writers. 2021 All rights reserved.



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