Celebrating Contributor Successes: Q&A with Jona Colson

One thing we love at Little Patuxent Review is to celebrate the success of past contributors. Our latest opportunity comes from Jona Colson, whose poem, “The Orange Speaks,” we published in our Winter 2014: Science issue. This poem will be included in Said Through Glass, a poetry collection released on October 15 which won the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from the Washington Writers Publishing House.

Jona is an associate professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, and he lives in Washington, DC. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Subtropics, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. His interviews and translations can be seen in The Writer’s Chronicle, Prairie Schooner, and Tupelo Quarterly.

We’re very grateful he’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Here’s a line from “The Orange Speaks” spoken in the voice of an orange: “I did not know what would become of me.” Did you ever feel that way on your journey to this debut poetry collection? 

Absolutely. I have been writing poems since high school, then seriously in undergrad. I worked and reworked these poems, trying to place them in manuscript form, and there have been many doubts.

Q: How does a poet go from having a bunch of poems to having a collection? I suppose there’s two questions there. First is in terms of the work itself, second in terms of the logistics of publication.

For me, getting the collection together in a form that honored the poems and made sense was the biggest challenge. I, literally, as many writers do, placed all the poems on the floor and fit them together into bunches, into narrative threads, spacing and creating tension and surprise—with the help of many friends. A collection starts poem by poem, and it took a long time to get them all in sequence.

Publication wise, I sent the manuscript out for about a year to a few places, and, luckily, it was selected by the Washington Writers Publishing House. However, the collection has been about fifteen years in the making. A writer is ushered into a whole different world through the process of publication. Knowing that a whole body of your work will be available is a bit terrifying—like being exposed on a high ledge in full light. It’s a strange, but exhilarating experience.

Q: Do you think the experience of “The Orange Speaks” might be different when read in your collection versus as it appeared in our issue?

There are a few different engines that drive Said Through Glass. “The Orange Speaks” is the imaginative engine, the engine of play and language. I have a few persona poems like this one in the book that are spaced to provide a rhythm of delight and surprise. What is the orange’s perspective? This view seemed curious to me as a poet.

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