Saturday, April 7, 2018

Q&A with Justin Jamail

Justin Jamail is the author of the new poetry collection Exchangeable Bonds. He is the deputy general counsel of the Metropolitan Opera, and worked as a mergers and acquisitions attorney based in Tokyo. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your collection?

A: Most were written in the last five years or so, but many are considerably older.

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems appear?

A: I asked a friend for advice. It is a funny task because I at least (but I think most people?) don’t read books of poetry in order, or even start at the beginning. It’s one of the minor pleasures of poetry, and a reliably harmless one. Possibly the expectation that I won’t enjoy a book of poems leads me to pick about in it until it seems SAFE to read more fully…

Anyway, except for the first six poems or so (some of which are new) and the last six poems or so (some of which are old), I believe the poems in this book are in roughly chronological order. One result of this is that the poems written during the years that I lived with my family in Tokyo are more or less together in the second half of the book…

Q: How was the collection's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: I came across exchangeable bonds in the course of my work as a business lawyer, was struck by the potential to happily misapply the concept, and found that it even more happily fit the “suggestive plural noun” structure for poetry collection titles…

Q: Which poets have especially influenced you?

A: I took up writing poetry in college in the first place out of a desire to out-do my classmate Carson Cistulli, who was already aggressively writing “poems” when we met at Columbia in the late ‘90s. Is that an influence? I hope not.

Kenneth Koch and Paul Violi were both very important mentors to me, and I am continually inspired by their writing. Charles North and Tony Towle, as well. I think I learned from them my interest in writing variously, what to take seriously about poetry - and what not to take seriously. 

I suppose that if there is anything to the notion of a “New York School,” a shared sensibility with respect to “seriousness” and “importance” might be central. Or, anyway, there are probably worse things to point to. I could go on…

I tend to recoil at quasi-spiritual or “transcendental” attitudes toward art - and generally that is what I like least in many Romantics and Modernists. These are negative influences.

Recently, I have read a great deal of later Auden - particularly The Age of Anxiety - and, to my surprise, Swinburne.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am pulling together a second collection of poems and three long poems, provisionally titled “A Taste for Ossian,” “Drinking with Men,” and “No Skating.”

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My last name is Lebanese and rhymes with “snail,” “fail,” and “jail.”

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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