Synead, genre defying artist and innovator is a Teen Vogue Rising Star and founder of the Millions March NYC, the nation's largest protest in response to police brutality.
Synead: I was born 1991. I grew up in Brooklyn. My family's from Trinidad and Tobago. They immigrated in the late 80's and I popped out on the scene shortly after. [laughs] My mom had me when she was 19. I grew up in a big family--with things constantly going on. Because my parents were young we moved around a lot--often living with other family members or transitioning into finding their own place. We had a lot of support so the sense of community is extremely prevalent in my life.
So the early nineties--R&B was super heavy, Dancehall, Reggae...I grew up right around Utica, Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights. Very Caribbean area.
Mai: Oh, yeah. I used to live on Flatbush when I was in college--
Synead: All day, blasting music...24 hrs.
Mai: Uhm hum.
Synead: I have a strong tie to my Caribbean roots, and that's really important to me, in terms of just connection and knowing where I'm from. But also being a first generation American, my parents worked really hard for me to have accessibility to things they didn't have or weren't privy to growing up in Trinidad. So R&B, HipHop, all these things were really super prominent. Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey--my mom loves Pop music as well and was super big on the '80s. She'd played 80's music nonstop in the household.
And then going back to the Trinidadian aspect...you know Trinidad is very ethnically diverse, you have Indian, Chinese--all types of people. So something I was often exposed to would be Indian music--Bollywood music specifically. In Trinidad, every Sunday, Bollywood movies come on. You watch for three-four hours. And I had major exposure to that from a young age, so a lot of my singing is very influenced by that--a lot of runs. In classical Indian music, one measure is 16 notes. In standard American music it's eight. So when I found that out, it made so much sense as to why the Classical Indian singers in general sing for so long, they have a lot more breath control.
And that allowed me to be like OK, if that's what's going on in India, what's going on in Turkey? And then I came across Turkish belly dancing music, eventually got into Korean music and J Pop.
By the time I was ten, I had been to a few places in Europe and then we found our way to Botswana where my uncle was living. So we went from Botswana to Zimbabwe, to Zambia, etc...I think my first time on a plane was six months old, going to Trinidad. My mom was keen on me being a citizen of the world. Highlighting not just my experiences but those of other cultures. How do I fit in or not, how do I interpret it, learn to tolerate, what is diversity? From a very young age I learned to be very open. And I think that has benefited me in more ways than I could ever know.
Mai: That's a great segue into the concept of identity which is very important for many artists in their development.
Synead: Oh, yeah.
Mai: Given the depth and vastness of your cultural experience, how much of your identity as an artist is solid and how much of it is kind of loose...does that make sense?
Synead: Absolutely. That's a really good question. I have a friend of mine, his name is Brandon, we actually have our own band and sing and write together. He often tells me, 'I don't know how you're going to take this, but, you're like a canvas.'
Synead: I go, what do you mean? He goes 'you can just really paint anything on...and it's you...Wholeheartedly, you become this thing, you have the ability to adapt.'
And so for me personally, there's some things I'm grounded on, within myself, but for the most part, I do feel this connection with the loose sense of self. I'm constantly changing.
Identity is just so fragile. A lot of people often cultivate their identity through external circumstances. I always find it very difficult to do that. Just because of my nature. Even artistically, I'm dancing, I'm singing, I'm acting, I'm writing, I'm painting. It's like, I don't have to just be this one thing. I can identify as multiple things because if it applies to me, why should I have to reduce myself to one general idea. Identity is hard. 'Cause I'm just constantly going through it.
Mai: Could you talk a little bit about how that sense of being malleable and open influences your creative process?
Synead: I tend to start, for example dancing, it will start from an idea. I try my best to just breathe in sync...what am I trying to say...what's the answer I'm trying to question? I'm a very nostalgic individual and looking back into memories, and the feelings of those memories really strike me. They do a lot for me because I'm a very emotional individual. My emotional life is extremely vivid for me, very tangible.
Mai: So you follow your feelings?
Synead: For sure, absolutely. Usually my feelings are right, if there is a right and wrong. I had many times where people have told me, ‘don't do this’! But my feelings, my gut will be telling me, hey, do this thing and it always turns out OK, 100 percent of the time. I don't get an immediate response for all the things that I'm doing, but I'll always get the response with time and see how that choice was essential for my life.
Mai: I'm always consciously trying to balance the thought and feelings in various aspects of my life. So in creating, how do you balance thought and feeling--I mean for you, are the feelings really in control? Or is it a balance between the two?
Synead: I think in order to live everyday, I have to find the balance, but to be completely honest with you, my feelings always lead me. A few months ago, I was struggling with a thought.
I had had my first, I guess, same-sex experience with a young woman. I had all these thoughts running through my head because of the feeling I had from this girl. We were just having a moment, and that feeling made me question...What did that mean? You know, in terms of my identity. Do I now have to identify as this or that? And it's like, no. I'm not obligated to anything.
When it comes to making choices, more times than not, I'll know to how take actions based on what I feel.
Mai: Let's talk a little bit about your activist work which kind of put you on the map. The Millions March NYC. Tell me a little bit about where that inspiration came from, I'm sure it was a feeling that you had…
Synead: That's right.
Mai: Having a reported 30,000 people engaged in that. Doing that at 23?
Synead: Yeah, 23. It was 2012. I was in college. That's when Trayvon Martin happened. I did not understand why other people around me, especially non-people of color, couldn't understand why this was such a big issue and that started to weigh very heavily on me. 2013 came around, then Eric Garner happened and then Mike Brown and what did it for me was the Mike Brown case. I was in my senior year, in my second to last semester, and I remember just sitting, watching the news, waiting for the verdict on whether or not the police officer who shot Mike Brown was going to be indicted.
...I felt a little angry but nervous. A lot of nervous energy. I couldn't concentrate. I left my schoolwork at home and ran pretty much to Union Square from Brooklyn, to be with a community of people who all were waiting for the verdict.
The verdict came in about 20 minutes later than it was supposed to. I think someone [in the crowd] screamed out that he [the police officer] wasn't indicted. I felt a sharp jab in my chest and I remember thinking about my little brother who lived closer to the south--you know, in Maryland. I remember feeling so hurt, I started to cry. And from there I protested with everyone in Union Square, we pretty much took over the streets from there to 42nd Street. And from 42nd, I made my way up to Harlem. On the way I remember speaking to my parents, we were pretty much in a shouting match. I can understand their fear. They were very scared. You know they're seeing what's on the news, and now their daughter is on the streets, potentially getting into conflict with police officers. But I felt this need to do this. And I felt like, 'that could be you.'
I made it up to 125th St. and 1st before the police ushered us home. Someone put a microphone in my hand, I didn't know why, but I just started shouting on it.
And from there I'm thinking, what can I do? My mind just went into work mode. And the first thing that came to mind was, oh, I know in Mexico, there were a bunch of students who used social media to garner 20,000 people and I know they all came out, and then I said, well Egypt also used social media to bring out the community and so I thought, if they could do that, why couldn't I do that.
So I went on. My phone was dead, I didn't have a laptop. I was staying with an ex-boyfriend because he lived in Harlem. And I got on his laptop and started making some fliers in Microsoft Word. I put up a status on Facebook, asking help from anyone familiar with community organizing.
I asked my friend, Umaara Elliott, who helped me co-organize [for support]. We made an event page and made me a host on it. The next morning, I wake up and I have hundreds, not like a hundred, hundreds of messages in my inbox of help pouring in. And that was shortly before Thanksgiving, like November 23, 2014. And we pretty much had two and a half weeks to make that happen. And the pouring in of help, I couldn't even fathom that that was the response that I was going to get. I pretty much sat down at my computer, responding.
I had moved into my friend's apartment, maybe about a week after that. That first night, someone from Amsterdam, he was the first person I spoke to and he was flying in that day. He was very familiar with community organizing. He came straight from the airport to my house--that I had just moved into and we started organizing. Mind you, I had no phone, no money, because it had all gone to rent. I didn't even have enough money to move in so I had to sell all of my music equipment.
From the first week of moving into my home, people were in my house from 2AM to 3 AM, organizing through social media, fliers--I had a friend from high school she created all the fliers. We did them in every language, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Polish, we did it all. We printed them out and gave them to as many people as possible and just spread it out. I was teaching dance, working at this school. I said, hey, to someone at my job--you should come to this march I'm organizing called Millions March NYC. She said, ‘oh, Millions March? I saw that on Facebook and RSVP'd’. I said great. She said 'you know you're up to 11,000 now right?' I said, 'Excuse me?' She said, 'Yeah, you're up to like 11,000 RSVP’s on there. I saw it this morning.'
I said 'What?!' ‘cause remember, I didn't have a cellphone or anything. She pulls up her's and shows me the Facebook event I had made with my own two hands. And sure enough, we were up to like 12,500 by that time.
And then she pulled up Twitter and showed me Taylor Swift tweeted it, then Kanye West tweeted it. And there were all these celebrities tweeting this thing I had made and obviously, they have no idea who I am, they're just looking to support this thing that's going on. And all I could think was...it was very surreal. It was the most surreal two and a half weeks of my life. We did all this making it happen, meetings, etc...we even were going to meet with police officers. They wanted to make an agreement with us or something like that. But by this time,16,000 people had RSVP'd. We're pretty sure at least 20,000 are going to come…
Mai: So their agreement was like, what?
Synead: I'm not even sure. I think that they wanted to talk to us about what was going to happen on that day, and we're kind of like, dude, we didn't even know that this was going to happen. I don't think that you're going to stop people from coming out at this point.
The morning of, I had all this running around to do. The city was so quiet. SantaCon NYC was also that day. But SantaCon got canceled because of us. And the city felt so still. When we got downtown, someone took me over to where all the media was on 12th and 5th Ave. I'm standing there, talking to Al Jazeera. All of a sudden, I hear this like, low rumble, and I look towards 15th Street and I'm coming around the corner and I see this big group of people with a Black Lives Matter banner and they’re overtaking the street.
I felt so filled with emotion because it was just like, wow, here's this thing that's happening not to just us, not just to me, not just to these young people but there are all these people affected by this, taking a moment out of their day, whatever they were doing, to come here and to really stand together against police brutality. To say that my life matters, this girl matters, we all matter. Just to see the amount of people. All different creeds, all different religions, all different sexual orientations, like, it was more than I could ask for.
‘Til this day, I think about it and I get emotional. It's just like wow. Look at the impact we could have, if we just say enough is enough. Or if you put yourself in someone's shoes, again, that empathy.
I'm empathetic to the core. We all have the ability to be empathetic. It was crazy. It was so crazy.
I ended up meeting relatives of Emmett Till's family that morning, it was so beyond...And I could not have done that alone. At all. The amount of people that I had helping me, and to be honest, the amount of women that were on this team, wow. Strong, powerful, driven women who really spearheaded this. Magical.
Mai: This is some powerful stuff.
Synead: ...And that's what made me realize, if I could do something like that. If I could stir something like that up? What could I really do? So there's nothing in my opinion now, that I can't do. That gave me so much power from myself and motivation.
We have a series of affirmations we say everyday [at the Alvin Ailey School] (Synead is a graduate), and one that always stuck with me is 'I will not use the word can't to define my possibilities.' There is nothing that we cannot do.
Mai: Forthcoming work?
Synead: [One of my latest songs is called] Zenith. We've been working on it for quite some time. We wrote it when I came back from Europe. I had kind of escaped from like this period of activism, from the heartbreak and breakdown of it all. I just needed to get out of here so I went to theater school in London for a bit and stayed out there for six months. Just working on music and writing and getting into myself. Then I came back and started working again with my friends. We've been working on these songs for some time. It's really about that positive feeling I was mentioning earlier. Striving for something bigger and better and greater than you. The song kind of incites that feeling. And every time I play it for people they're just like
'God, this feels big'.
'Zenith' and Synead's latest music is available on Spotify, Apple Music and on all streaming platforms.
Contact Mastering the Craft for affordable EPKs
Mai: Miles talks about Paris being a place where he felt like a human being for the first time.
Austin: Oh, yeah. Because it's true. In America I think sometimes we tend to be more judgmental of our artists. Whereas overseas, especially in Paris, they appreciate your presence. I would say, it's such a beautiful city. It's so cultured and it exudes love. And so all of that creates a good artistic environment for anybody.
Mai: What inspired your trip there?
Austin: I went to Paris for the first time when I was a kid. My mom was doing some work out there. I always just loved the city. And it became a part of who I was. Luckily when I released Highway 85 and other songs in the last several years, I gained a little bit of a following out there. So it all kind of came together. I ended up doing acoustic shows. Really small theaters. Luckily people have showed up. That's why I shot the video out there too.
Mai: Talk to me a little bit about the creative process behind the Smile video and how the concept came about?
Austin: It was true Guerilla-style. The song is about coming to grips with a heartbreak or a loss--but at the same time, wanting to find a point of reconciliation. And being in Paris is the best way to try to get someone back [laughs]. So the whole theme of the video was just kind of looking beyond the aspect of being sad and feeling loss and finding hope. My friend Ellen (who appears in the video) happened to be down there at the same time. So she did the video and it kind of all just worked out.
There's a scene where after one of my shows, we went outside and sang Smile. We had like this Kumbaya moment with everybody. It just kind of came together organically. I wish I had a cooler story.
Mai: Some of the best work happens that way sometimes.
Austin: Yeah, it really does.
Mai: Just going back to Miles for a minute, I would say, my favorite album from him is Sorcerer. And my sister loves Bitches Brew.
Austin: Oh, so y'all like the psychedelic shit.
Mai: Oh, yeah.
Austin: I love the psychedelic shit too. In the 60s after he started hanging out with Sly Stone--that's when his shit really got turnt up. And he was married to that woman...I was just listening to her...what's her name? It was her that changed his direction. She changed him completely!
Mai: It was her?! I think he would resent that!
Austin: No! But you know what--she had a big influence on him. It's like the Erykah Badu thing. You women, you guys, have powers beyond.
Mai: That's what they tell us. The psychedelic sound...what about that appeals to you?
Austin: I love fusion. Anything that doesn't sound like it should go together. I love Blues. And to me psychedelic music, it kind of lives in all those worlds. You have sounds that are kind of molding together that sound like they don't belong. But at the same time you have a lot of grooves, a lot of funk, a lot soul, a lot of homage to [various genres]. It's all about the shit that you put into it. ...Betty Davis! That's her name (the wife who changed Miles' musical direction). I knew it would come to me.
Mai: Funkadelic, too right?
Austin: Of course Funkadelic. I mean, you can't say you're a fan of James Brown and not like Funkadelic. [James] basically invented that genre and then it was cats like George Clinton and Parliament that really took it to the next level. If you take James Brown and Sly Stone and you put them in a blender, that's Funkadelic, right there.
Mai: I would agree with that. Are you familiar with the British artist Lewis Taylor?
Austin: Nah who's that?
Mai: Oh my God. He sort of dropped out of the industry in the late 90s. But he's in the genre of fusion we're talking about--like you can hear Crosby, Stills and Nash in him--
Austin: Yasss…those are my guys too.
Mai: Yeah, you can hear like Prince and Marvin in him...He's just everybody.
Austin: Oh, nice.
Mai: So in listening to your interviews, you're an artist who really, really respects process. You talk about the need to invest time in developing your craft. It's something a lot of artists overlook in their haste to present themselves to the marketplace.
Austin: They get a lil' leary.
Mai: I wanted to get your POV on how you've developed your process, so many artists don't know how to access their own creativity. What has process been like over the years--just mastering your craft.
Austin: That's a good question. I think it goes in spurts. I was actually just talking to my production partner. There's times where I'm making a song a day. And then there will be a few months where I don’t touch anything. I think it’s just really about listening to yourself, to your body, listening to your heart. And at the same time when you're not making songs, you should be researching, listening to what's going on right now, listening to what happened in the past. It's really that moment of when you have something going on that you can't keep it inside, you have to put it out, you have to tell a story--the more life happens the more you have something to say. And then also, collaborating with great people--that's how you get better. That's the biggest thing. I have a lot of cats that I collaborate with. My friends are all musicians, producers and we all respect each other. So that’s a huge component when it comes to making music for me.
Mai: Can you talk a little bit about the Canyon Sessions [the album]?
Austin: Canyon Sessions is an acoustic album. Also a ballad album. I had a lot of emotional situations that have happened within the last few years. Loss of family, heartbreak. Just self-discovery. The songs on that body of work really represent what I've been through for the past four and a half years. I'm in a better place now, an excited place. And that's what this new work that I'm finishing now is going to be about.
Mai: I definitely noticed a shift to more acoustic sounds with you. Did that emanate from a feeling or was it a conscious choice?
Austin: It was both. Having to scale back, but still doing shows. Doing acoustic shows was not only a great way of continuing to go forward but it was the way I was writing songs and telling stories--the way easiest for me to emote was through my guitar and so that's kind of where the whole sound came from.
Mai: What's some advice that you would give to an emerging artist with regards to some basic business practices?
Austin: Don't be quick to sign contracts just to say you're signed because being signed doesn't really mean anything. It just means that your rights belong to someone else. Also, have a great attorney who will always look out for you and have an exit clause--if things don't work out. Give yourself some leverage.
...I always tell artists, most new producers are really laptop based which is totally cool, because the laptops and the computer is it's own instrument but I think it's important to have both. Whether it's learning C Major chords on the piano or the guitar--learn something musical because that will help you a lot.
Mai: Is that something you encounter a lot--musicians who aren't playing instruments?
Austin: Oh, yeah. A good friend of mine. He really doesn't know how to make a ballad. He told me, like, he doesn't do it because he's a laptop producer. It's blows my mind...
Mai: It's blows my mind. I didn't even know that was a thing. Could you talk a little bit about the Canyon Sessions [live shows]?
Austin: Well a buddy of mine, he's actually across the street from me. We live near this sort of hippie area called the Canyon. And his house is perfect to kind of showcase work. We were talking one day, like, we need to do a show here. So we said why don't we try to do something, some acoustic shows and we'll call them the Canyon Sessions. So we started calling friends of ours and the first one ended up being super successful! So we just kind of kept doing it, kept putting people together, inviting a wide range of artists.
The concept of it is, if you had to make music with the power out. So, there's no microphones, nothing but instruments and voices. There's no electricity.
Austin: And it's really cool. And my main rule is, whoever attends Canyon Sessions can't talk. You're there to hear musicians and it's there for people to network and get together. The first one we had started off with about thirty people there and we just had one a couple weeks ago and we had over one hundred people--so it's just taken on a life of it's own. It's really been awesome.
Mai: How did it grow?
Austin: It's been word of mouth. We also have a pretty big email list now.
Mai: What kind of music has come out of some of those sessions?
Austin: Oh, gosh. We've had rappers performing with upright bassists and acoustic guitarists. We've had an R&B Rock band. We've had a couple beautiful songstresses who are acoustic soul artists. Jenna Bell, Dana Williams--just the most beautiful music. We've had my buddy Corey Robinson who sounds like the dude in the bar who's just up there singing his heart out after a long day of work. It's just--I love the talent, the artists that we have there. It's a special moment. My buddy Evan Ross has played there with me. His wife Ashlee Simpson. It's been really, really cool. It's just a community where you can come and perform great music for a group of listeners who actually want to hear it.
Mai: How has the challenge of performing acoustically impacted your style as an artist?
Austin: Hugely. Because when you just have yourself and an instrument it’s becomes about emoting personally. It's kind of like you're doing stand up. You're just coming from the heart.
Follow Austin Brown on Twitter, Facebook and IG for updates on his upcoming Summer Tour and his new album. His most recent project Canyon Sessions is available on Spotify.
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AUTHOR JONATHAN MCCLURE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY & THE VALUE OF ENGAGEMENT for emerging writersRead Now
Interview by Mai Sennaar
I started writing pretty late. It's a funny story. I needed a class to fill a requirement. I was an English major at the time. I was interested in writing, but it never really felt like something I could do. It was kind of like, 'be an Astronaut!' or whatever. [both laugh]
It was something that other people do. But I took the class. I thought I was terrible at the time, I thought I was going to fail but the professor totally blindsided me halfway through an office hours meeting when he was like, 'no, no. take the next class...' just kind of encouraging me to stay with it.
This was at UNC Chapel Hill. The way that the creative writing track works there is kind of like Survivor, after each level, the professors consult and decide whether or not you get voted off the island.
Jonathan: Yeah, it was a little terrifying. [both laugh]
Jonathan: I mean, I know now that if you want to stay in they're going to let you stay in but at the time, it was totally terrifying. Everybody who was there really wanted to be a part of it. It was kind of like doing MFA's in undergrad which was really cool. I don't think I would have gone on to do an actual MFA or even write at all if I hadn't fallen into that by accident.
Mai: There's something kind of enigmatic that happens when the artist discovers themselves. When did you start to feel a personal connection to your own work and creed as an artist?
Jonathan: I think it was a mix of things. When I was taking several classes in the major and spending a lot time with poetry.
I wanted to write something that would make people feel the way that I felt when I read the poems that I really loved. It took a long time to be able to do it that. But I think a lot of it was just becoming a good reader and wanting to recreate that.
I also enjoyed my academic work and there was a lot of research projects and things like that that appealed to me. But it never really felt essential somehow. I really wanted to feel like I was getting something important--I wasn't going to turn to essays about poetry--I was going to actually read poetry. I wanted to get to the source.
Mai: There's that age-old MFA or no MFA debate in the academic and professional writing world. Sometimes it's about prestige, honing the craft of writing or a perceived ability to increase access to the marketplace. What's your perspective?
Jonathan: I think you have to think about it in two ways. One, as you mentioned there's like a prestige element that is problematic. Every journal says like 'oh, we read for the work', but a lot of places aren't really going to take you seriously unless you have an MFA. That's not ideal and that's a problem.
In a totally practical way, I do think that sometimes it's helpful to have one. I don't think you need one. [In the sense that] 'no one can write a poem unless they have an MFA.' I mean, that's just clearly not true. But just like any other kind of education, like if I want to be a computer programmer--I can teach myself to do that, it's just going to be a lot harder than if I go to school for it and have somebody really work with me...I'm going to find it a lot easier.
So I think the MFA is valuable in that way. And I think it was really helpful to me to have that kind of structure.
Mai: You got to the point of accruing some publications under your name. As you know that's a tremendous threshold to cross for a lot of writers of fiction and poetry. How did you come to be published the first time and what would your advice be to writers who are having trouble getting published?
Jonathan: My very first one, I don't even remember it. I had a handful of publications in really tiny places when I was in college. [Publication] came on the heels of lots and lots of rejection. I would pick places that would only do simultaneous submissions and I would send the same poems to 100 places....[both laugh]. Once you get that first one--and it probably shouldn't be this way--the next [submission you send out] is taken so much more seriously. And so if you can just get that first one, it becomes so much easier, so much more quickly.
Some practical suggestions [are to subscribe to] a list-serve that will send out daily calls for submission, [joining] Poets & Writers, reading the Review Review, Duotrope. [So that a writer can see] where the types of work [that they write] are getting published.
Mai: So your first major publication was from your own submission? With no sort of representation?
Jonathan: [Yes] I don't think there's enough money in poetry for most agents to really take an interest.
Mai: How did your upbringing influence the kind of work that you do and are interested in?
Jonathan: I moved around a lot as a kid. My Dad wasn't in the military, but his Dad was. I was born in Missouri, I was in Oregon, North Carolina, California, all over the place which is good in that it teaches you to kind of adapt quickly and figure out how to fit into a new situation, but it's not so good in the sense that you never really feel like you have a home base.
Mai: That's actually a great foundation for a writer.
Jonathan: Yeah! I mean it's good and bad really [laughs]. You learn to relate to a lot of different people and not feel tethered to one place but it's kind of bad in the sense that I would look at friends I had who felt like they belonged and I never really felt that. I think in the sense of having a curiosity about the world but also distance from it, I think that really found its way into a lot of the poems that I write.
Mai: How have you built your network as a writer and how has that contributed to your success so far?
Jonathan: I think networking is really helpful. I've tried to really use the internet and those kinds of tools. It's so easy to connect with people.
Part of it has been--like I write a lot of book reviews for example. And I get book reviews published in journals that I never thought I could get into because they're such big journals. But everybody needs reviewers so it's super cool and it helps to increase visibility and stay plugged in. Things like that--really participating in the literary community. I go to readings. I try to connect with the people that I meet there. I'll volunteer for a literary magazine and meet people that way. I teach a lot of classes. It's the things that come with writing--that aren't necessarily actually writing.
Mai:...One of the gaps that I'm trying to fill through this work is to help emerging artists develop healthy business practices. For them to learn how to market themselves and thrive in the marketplace. What tools are you using to promote your latest work?
Jonathan: Social media mostly. I also made myself a website--which is free and really easy to do. When I publish anywhere, I make sure to include a note about the upcoming book with a link to my website. Word-of-mouth is also important. Personal connections. I've met a lot of writers and readers in the course of participating in the literary community. And have found people that know and like my work.
Mai: Could you speak a little bit about The Fire Lit and Nearing? What was the feeling you were trying to convey to your audience?
Jonathan: The collection kind of charts the course of this failing relationship between these two characters who love each other, want to be together but they're both just in a bad place. Spiritually, mentally...they just can't make it work. What that sort of stands in for is the idea of connection in general. We want so much to connect to people, but there's always going to be this distance that you can never quite cross. In some ways, that's most noticeable in a romantic relationship. That's it in terms of themes.
In terms of what I want the audience to feel, I think poetry has kind of gotten a bad name over the years. A lot of that is poetry's own doing. The people who are reading poetry are mostly poets and it becomes very insular with lots of inside references and jokes, [etc...] you know?
If I'm someone who doesn't know a lot about poetry and I pick up a poetry magazine. I'm likely to kind of be like...what?? And put it down.
One of the highest compliments I've gotten at readings is people coming up to me and saying, 'I don't really know poetry at all, but I really like your poem.' Which I love! I read a lot of poetry--I am you know--It's not like I'm rejecting the tradition of it or anything. But I want to write in a way that is emotionalluy accessible and direct in a lot of ways. You don't need to be a professor of poetry to understand what [my work] is talking about.
T.S. Elliot of all people, who in some ways is like the worst for that kind of super obscure, show-offy, academic stuff--he says somewhere in his writings about poetry--something to the effect of--'meaning is the bone the burglar throws to the dog while he ransacks the house.'
There's this other quote that comes to mind from another author, something like, 'without clarity, there can be no truth.'
I want to write poems where the reader knows what's going on. They don't feel like...'I don't get this'
And if you have that kind of, I think, more open and generous relationship with the reader where they don't feel like you're trying to trick them somehow, then I think the poem can do it's real work.
Jonathan McClure's debut poetry collection,
The Fire Lit & Nearing, will be released on May 15, 2018.