Exclusive Interview with Mark Jason Nenadov
Mark Nenadov is a poet from Essex, Ontario, Canada. His works have been vastly published and a list of all his publications can be found on his website.
1) First, let me start of by saying that you are an amazing poet. What/who inspired you to start writing poetry in the first place?
Thank you! My earliest poems were simple hockey limricks and at some point I graduated to slightly more sophisticated birthday card poems. It wasn't until I started reading some Robert Service poems that something clicked and I started taking poetry more seriously.
The next expansion of my love for writing poetry occurred when I got married and had a child. The process of becoming a husband and father has stirred in me an incredible desire to write poetry. Perhaps the joys and challenges of this new phase in life became a fertile ground for poetic expression! I love my wife and child dearly and they are an incredible inspiration to me through the ups and downs of a writing life.
2) Who is/are your role model(s) in writing and, on a general note?
Limiting my answer to widely-known writers, Mark Twain, Robert Munsch, and P.G. Wodehouse have been huge influences. I feel like I have their words running through my veins and they've shown me the lighter side of life. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fyodor Dostoyevski's melancholy and profound grappling with the deeper things of life has really challenged and changed me. As for other secondary influences, there are many who have influenced my writing: Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Robert Service, Daniel Defoe, C.S. Lewis, W.B. Yeats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Bunyan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.
3) Poetry is undoubtedly a very hard career to pursue, it is very hard to capture the attention of literary magazines and audiences in general, how were you able to overcome these hurdles?
I think hard work and persistence have been vital, as has having trusted friends who will give good, honest feedback. It's been important for me to realize that getting published is far more complex than merely “writing good poems”. As I've struggled to define my poetry, I've repeatedly come to this question: “There are writers far more skilled than I am who are struggling at this, what sets me apart?”. I've also learned to be careful to not to read too much into rejections, and it always helps to remember that the best writers on earth have been rejected multiple times.
4) Do you think that poetry, as a career choice is a wise option? Would it be fruitful enough to sustain oneself or is it a lost dream?
Given the state of the publishing industry, the current economic climate, and the small audience for poetry, I think it is unrealistic to expect to earn a living from poetry. Unless you are as popular as Billy Collins or Maya Angelou, it is unlikely you could live off your poetry. At least not above the poverty line. However, this is no excuse to stop writing. Some of the best writers have had other jobs on the side, and you might even find that your job provides a treasure trove of material for your writing.
5) What do you consider to be the pros and cons of being a poet?
In terms of “Pros”, I think there is a wonderful simplicity to poetry. You don't need much equipment, you can write it just about anywhere, and at the best of times, inspiration is everywhere—poems just seem to “come out of the woodwork”. Also, a poem is a wonderful unit of work, especially compared to a novel! You can work on little chunks at a time. You can finish it relatively quickly. And there is the delightful fact that you get to play with words and tweak them! As a poet, I think you tend to enjoy words more in and of themselves. Also, there is the feeling of continuity, as a poet you are connected with a long and noble history of poets who write beautiful things.
In terms of “Cons”, I think at times it can be hard to feel “original”, sometimes it feels like everything has been said in every manner possible. And sometimes inspiration dries up and trying to write can be painful. There are also many preconceived notions as to what a “poet” is like and that it can become hard to shed those notions, especially with people who don't already know you well. There is also a good deal of tribalism and silly turf wars among poets. And due to a diminishing audience for poetry in general, it can be hard to find people who appreciate your work and rejections can pile up quickly! Even more frustrating than rejections is when inspiration goes away for a while and it seems you can't write anything worthwhile. Depending on how much of a community you have around you, it can be a very lonely endeavour Here's one that most people don't think about: If you write a lot of poetry and are constantly submitting it to publications, it's actually quite a big job to keep track of it all and keep up with all the correspondence. And, of course, the obvious one, the pay stinks!
6) Going further into your career, do you ever plan to publish any anthologies of your work?
Yes, I would love to release an anthology or two of my work at some point in time. It is not my top priority right now, but, it's certainly something I'd like to investigate in the future.
7) Literary magazines and other publications of poetry demand a certain ‘standard’ in other to publish one’s work. Doesn’t that call for conformity rather than individuality? I mean isn’t poetry about finding your own voice no matter how different?
Our lives are curious mixes of individuality and conformity. We don't exhibit “pure” individuality in any other area of our lives, so why should it suddenly appear in our artistic lives? If we ever arrived at “pure” individuality in our work, I think nobody would enjoy it and we'd be unhappy. Every medium we use to express ourselves will have certain standards or operating principles, and therefore will involve some conformity.
Literary publications face a tough task of balancing between having standards that are too stringent (and missing out on good poems) and having too lose standards (and therefore getting a bunch of junk that is unsuitable for their publication). First of all, we should remember that everyone has standards whether or not they explicitly state them, so they might as well be explicit and clearly stated! Second, we should remember that standards don't necessarily need to be the “enemy” of individuality. Most often, the times when our creativity soars best, is actually when we face tough situations and stringent requirements. Sometimes “form” forms the framework for our “freedom”. Third, part of the fun of being a writer is trying to surprise and ensnare our audience, including the editors who decide whether to use our work. And so, when conforming to a standard, we can exercise our creativity in inventing new ways to meet that standard.
8) What advice would you give to young aspiring poets out there?
A. Don't take yourself too seriously. Sometimes contemporary poets have alienated themselves from the masses by playing a strange ego game, and that's bad news. Have some fun and write a scathing review of your own work. Taking yourself too seriously is a big burden to carry, and you probably won't be able to persevere in the long run. Laugh at yourself and by all means avoid being stuffy.
B. Work hard. Don't assume you have the right to be heard, earn it! Many poets want to play the blame game instead of working hard to earn respect. Instead of sulking when there isn't an audience (as some poets do), why not work hard to create one? Get your work out there, don't wait until it is perfectly polished.
C. Don't forget to read (widely). Don't fall into the trap of reading only contemporary poetry books. Read history. Read fiction. Read other stuff. And, by all means, please read old poetry! Stuff like Milton, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Herbert, Hopkins, Coleridge, Yeats, and Keats. And perhaps the Persian mystics! The poetry of Phillis Wheatley (an 18th century slave who became a poet) is also beautiful. The point is not to slavishly copy them, but to learn and grow and enjoy. Contemporary poets should read more ancient poets. Also, read books by people of other cultures. One thing I've been doing this year is reading 5 African novels and 5 poetry books by poets outside of North America. It's been a great experience and has allowed me to travel to Libya, Persia, Serbia, Israel, Somalia, and Chile. It's been a fantastic journey.
D. Be sure to pay attention to the writing craft as a whole. Don't fall into the trap of compartmentalizing your writing. No snippet of writing is too trivial to pay attention to. Polish that e-mail to your mom or that text you write to your friend. Each area of your writing life spills into the others! Learn to love words and pay attention to them. If you don't love words and tweaking sets of them, then stop wasting your time writing poetry.
Thank you for conducting this interview and posing these thoughtful questions!