Thursday, May 06, 2010

Poet Jade Sylvan: A Railing Romantic

Jade Sylvan is a writer and performer living in Boston. At times she comes across as an angry young bard railing against the world, and at other times an idealistic romantic---pardon the pun, but "unjaded." Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Spark Singer, was published in 2009 by Spuyten Duyvil Press. Her first novel, Backstage at The Caribou, was published in 2009 by Ray Ontko & Co. She has performed across the country, appearing as the featured performer at The Cantab Lounge (Boston), The Green Mill (Chicago), and The Nuyorican Poets Cafe (New York City), among others. She has also lectured and facilitated writing workshops, most recently at Indiana University and The University of Cincinnati. In 2010, she began working as an Editor and Mentor for Books of Hope, a nonprofit that seeks to empower urban youth through writing, book production, performance, and social entrepreneurship. She is currently at work on a second novel, an album of songs, and more poetry. You can find her at I talked with Sylvan on my Somerville Community Access TV show: "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You come from the Midwest. Why did you decide to move to Boston as opposed to New York or L.A.?

Jade Sylvan: One of my best friends was moving here... his name is Caleb Cole. ( Cole is a 2009 Artadia Award winner) He is doing very well. So I knew someone here. I knew it was a literary town. I knew it was a very smart city. So I thought I would fit in here. New York just seems too big. I was coming from a small college town. I was raised in Indianapolis a much smaller city. I wanted a more college town feel, in terms of concentration of writers, places to read, places to meet good writers. You really can't beat Boston. It has been awesome to me. I love it here--it is wonderful.

DH: I have followed your blog "The Broken Watch" for awhile now. You seemed a lot angrier a few years ago then now.

JS: Well- I mean--I am getting older. I'm 27, I was 23 when I started the blog. I feel now--that I am on the right path. I feel that I started to accomplish some things. I don't feel as lost or hopeless. It is hard for a young writer. It is hard for one to establish his or her self anywhere and feel like your voice is being heard.

All I ever wanted was to do my art and get it out there. I grew up doing my art very privately, and it was a long time before I ever got to the point that I felt comfortable showing it. Even through college, until I moved to Somerville really--I wouldn't tell anyone that I wrote. It was very internal. And I wasn't happy like that. I had a lot problems so I found what really motivates me is to keep producing, and finding avenues to get out into the world.

DH: Tell us about your new collection "Spark Singer." How did you find a publisher?

JS: I actually had an agent for my novel "Backstage at the Caribou" for a year and a half. She introduced me to the Spuyten Duyvil Press in Brooklyn.

DH: You seem to rail against what you see as mediocrity, pretense--and you seem to constantly count the ticking clock of time.

JS: Yes. Very insightful. I know my father is like this. He is a law professor. He has always been obsessed with time, with doing the most he can. My brother and I were brought up to really, really value life. We were raised to follow our dreams and passions. I am always trying to do the best and most I can with any given moment.

DH: In your new collection you have a poem "A-Train" where you are vomiting in front of a cardigan clad, rather proper young couple. You seem to be taking a studied swipe of this conventional duo, and envision them remembering you in their comfortable suburban home,
over cocktails perhaps. Do you think you could wind up like them--I mean ensconced in a suburban home years from now--remembering fondly your youthful salad days?

JS: I think I could happy with my version of that. Talk to me 5 or 6 years from now. We all have the capabilities of living dozen of lives. It's not the lifestyle I criticize. It's the inauthentic expression of the lifestyle. It's the idea that people go along with things because that's what the convention is, rather than a reason I deem worthy. ( Laugh)

DH: Despite your hard edged and at times cutting work--there is definitely the romantic in you.

JD: I feel that anybody who has the ability to get angry and upset about the world as I do has to be a romantic. I think if you weren't a romantic--if you didn't value life--you wouldn't have a reason to get upset.

DH: Define yourself as a poet?

JD: Well, I hang out with a lot of Slam poets. I read at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge more than any other place. My closest friends are in that scene. I take that in with my performances. I am not a Slam poet however. I am trying to do something new.

DH: Do you think the poetry scene has been ghettoized into different camps?

JD: Definitely. Back in Indiana I didn't like the Slam--I thought it was silly. I didn't like the MFA crowd. I thought it was dry and terrible. It seemed that poetry was in two camps. It seemed if you were not in one camp, you had no outlet. Neither one was interesting to me. So I just decided to make up my own rules.

DH: Have you felt alienated by the "Academy" poets?

JD: I am not really concerned about it. At times I will read to a Slam audience and they won't get my work because it is not conversational, and I use a lot of big words. I steal from all over the place. I take from everyone from Tony Hoagland to Allen Ginsberg.

DH: What advice would you have for poets just starting out?

JD; Read for people--find a place for that. Make friends with other writers who will challenge you. Read as much as you can. Read things you don't like. Work, Work, Work, DO IT NOW.

by Jade Sylvan

for Maxwell Kessler

Head between my knees in black lace
green bra belt buckle eyeliner
on the A train uptown
to sleep on a boxspring tonight,
my companions off to sodomy clubs
no use to me. I just want some screaming sleep.

My lips drip acidic puke
of evian grey goose and cheeseburger
into a plastic bag leftover
from a blueberry bagel.

Across sit tittering man and woman,
red patent heels and cardigans
and straight brown bangs and
tasteful glasses and creased pants.

They are new acquaintances
subway coincidences, and on this
near empty car they have to watch
this tattooed medusa spew into a plastic bag.

Watch the makeup trail off her summer sweat
as her eyes water. Watch her try to wipe the snot.
Worse, near hellish, is her high hysteric
laughter, even as she vomits and cries,
her wild desperate mirth with the awareness of this horror.
Not what anyone wants to see before the first date.

They whisper eye-avert.
How alike they are,
they who are not this,
so different together
from this hungry purger,
painted and spangled
on this midnight banshee train.

And they, safe outside this nightmare
exchange names, numbers, a promise to text
all just below the rumble of existential moan.
It is so good to be a human, they are thinking,
and to know what you are supposed to do.

You give the guy your phone number,
cut your bangs, cross your legs
smell of fabric softener and shampoo,
thank your own personal star face that you are not
that puking snotting laughing creature
disguised so poorly as young woman.

If we're going to call it something,
let's call this my gift.
My shivering purblind with substance
and bleeding vision of bodies corroded formless,
this fragile dissection of both compass and clock.
I will do the work for you. The smoky breath
caught in these ribs is insurance
for your calm and grinning life.

Take it. It's much too precious for me to hang on to.
These types of things tend to get away from me
in bars, beds, taxis, trains, whirlpools, volcanoes, novas, and time.
Tonight I lost my last twenty-dollar bill.
Finding it will let someone believe in fate.

Your hair will keep growing
and you will marry in October.
You will have career paths and children and grow slowly fat
and your faces will wrinkle, eventually,
and for years over wine drinking you will remember
how you met, began speaking because of the thick discomfort
of that hideous vomiting girl on the subway,
so romantic, you will laugh, and kiss with tongues
even after all these years.
Such good lifetimes you are about to live.

Let this life of separate shapes and colors
and words that mean what the dictionary says
be my happy gift to you,
all you pretty people with your clean mouths.

I am glad to do it. I know it will be safe with you.
Your chests make better homes.
I never could teach it how to hold m

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