JONATHAN TERRANOVA: Giving more
Jonathan Terranova’s first collection of poetry is published on Wordsmithery. He is also one of the writers on the Confluence: Plant; Grow; Nurture writers’ development scheme. His book Longing for more will be formally launched tomorrow at Drake’s in Maidstone. In case you can’t get there, we sent Angel C. Dye to ask Jon about life, death, his new book and lots more.
Hi Jonathan. Your book is called Longing for more. More of what?
JT: Hello, first, please note I am probably going to talk rubbish as I am better at that kind of thing than playing iambic pentameter. I want… transcendence. An escape from materialism. How to come to terms with capitalism and its affect on the soul. You want to know how I started writing? I was four years old in my playroom in my house. My brother helped me form my first sentences. It was set in Gotham City and I think the Famous Five were there. It was surreal yet underwhelming and doubt it’ll be commissioned any time soon.
I loved the Famous Five. Can we have your potted biography: birth to now please?
I was born in Carlisle in March 1990 and I’m told the birds were singing. You think that is sweet? I moved to Guildford age 4 where I remember cutting my wrist on a milk bottle, screaming in pain and staring up at my rabbit Bigwig who glanced at me with indifference. We moved to Kent when I was 4. I went to Ditton Primary school where my Mum was a teacher and my Dad would give assemblies. I had my first anxiety attack aged 10 queuing up for assembly. It was like the moment my consciousness fully evolved. I thought about my bowels exploding during assembly and feeling trapped inside. I feared authority, even putting my hand up was a great strain on me; this event has shaped my adult life, sadly.
After Ditton I went to school in Tunbridge Wells and did ok at A levels which meant I could do English and Film at Queen Mary, University of London. I found the academic world rather depressing. Listening to failed poets tell you how to plagiarise previous academics’ opinions but making sure you reference properly, which is still plagiarism! I drank heavily at university and came crawling out with a degree which has led me nowhere. I have learnt more from being a social worker, cleaner and script writer. My parents divorced when I was in the third year of university and I had to dissect Ulysses. It was a challenge but challenges are interesting. My friend Richard Le Bas was there for me throughout this time. We used to drink Jamesons throughout the winter whilst listening to Howlin’ Wolf, Bonnie Prince Billy and some Pogues.
There’s a lot more to my life but that’s the outline. My brother died of an overdose 29th of August 2016. I guess that’s where life had to begin again. Other things happened during this time which I shall not disclose. Themes? Well: death, lust, redemption, humour, spirituality, essence, love, loss, masculinity, sex, tragedy. It’s all quite cheerful.
We start with death. It can only get better after that? What is important to you in writing? Truth, authenticity, form etc?
JT: If you say so. I prefer other people’s writing to my own but when I do write I like it to be totally uncensored.
That raw-ness, skin grated, bodily fluid thing works. It is all in the comic pathos of dry but intensely emotional delivery.
I want to encourage people to write because it helps to process thoughts into words. Once read aloud they feel less important I guess. Thoughts can rule the mind and poetry is the excrement of thought.
I have had writers’ block before and it was actually quite pleasant. When I’m happy I don’t write much. I’ve been writing a lot recently as I’m not particularly happy. That’s the way it goes.
Rituals around writing?
JT: No. Writing is like excreting. You do it then you flush it away. It’s a necessity really, a therapeutic necessity in day to day life. I don’t particularly have a ritual. I know Graham Greene used to write every morning from 9 until midday. I admire that stoicism and that knuckle down approach but I’m far more sporadic and chaotic. I hate bad writing. I hate writing something really awful, but as I say, it’s just a way of exercising thought.
How are my poems born? They are always born out of one idea or thought and then they journey on to the underwhelming climax, unless it’s ‘last kiss’ because I love the ending to that one. And if they were a colour? Yeah black with amber streaks, yeah not like wasps, I agree with that. Like you say: bumble bees with boots on. If my poems were flowers? Rhododendrons. They’re in the novel Rebecca. They don’t grow in Kent sadly. But they are beautiful, and they don’t grow everywhere. Do people like my poetry? You say it is very true and unfiltered and Bukowski-like in its expose but much more tender. I think most people despise it. But I try to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
That is a very ‘Jesus–like’ methodology. Who are your influences?
JT: Yeah God! Owning one’s flaws is important? Yeah, I agree. My book reveals raw humanity and my dealing with it in a human but spiritual way. I don’t like to impose my beliefs on anyone but yes I do have a strong faith. My other influences…. well…within poetry I’d have to say Armitage, Plath, the Psalms, Bukowski, Mandelstam, Dickinson, Jenna Knapp, Jamie Leem and Thomas Hardy.
Within literature as a whole I’m obsessed with Dostoevsky. I think he has taught me the most about the human condition out of any other writer. A friend of mine recently rated Crime and Punishment three stars on Good Reads. He thinks Pynchon is a genius. I went for a walk. Very banal things irritate me.
My other influences have been real life people. My brother, my previous lover and I guess my Christian upbringing which has brought me solace, anxiety and calmness. If I described myself in five words? I would say: carnal, spiritual, anxious, difficult and ridiculous. And if I had to describe my poems? Ugly, banal, visceral, Italian…and…beer.
I don’t have a favourite poem, ah yes I do. ‘Eulogy to One Hell of a Dame’. Because it breaks my heart. I honestly don’t like many of them. When read aloud though I enjoy reading the disturbing ones the most. Allow me to tell you who I love to read: John Fante, Knut Hamsun, Lucia Berlin, Elena Ferrante, Dostoevsky, Roth, Plath, Timothy Keller, Charles Bukowski and Alice Munro. Many others.
I like to be jolted out of safe spaces. Your poems do that. Break hearts too. A visceral but somehow sensitive cross section of human behaviour and experience I think.
JT: Yeah they are real life. This stuff can happen to everyone. I try to write about it in a raw and naive fashion. The poems are flawed: people are, life is. Somehow having the heart broken is an exquisitely delicious thing, if one can control the process and get out quick.
JT: Ah well that came about due to wanting to do something remotely interesting in Maidstone. Maidstone is full of creative people but there isn’t much of a platform to share. I worked as a volunteer in Stepping Stone Studios and when that project came to an end I wanted to continue it in some way. The word factotum means someone who does a variety of trades and I liked that because I wanted Factotum to incorporate music, art and literature. My favourite events have to be the poetry events. They are easy to set up! And you know, words are sublime… most of the time.
A typical Jonathan day? If not working?
JT: I wish I could give the true answer to this but I’m concerned it might ruin my life. I love walking and talking in the woods or by the river, I love writing and reading, I love meeting new people, I love listening to music extremely loudly so I feel the electricity trace my spine, I love knocking back ale, forgetting about death, drinking the ale in my local pub, Drake’s. I’ve started getting fat so I’ve had to stop doing that quite so frequently. I love lying flat on my back reading novels and listening to music. I enjoy walking and talking. I am a simple cretin. Fantasizing… Yeah I do try to forget that death will befall me. I am trying to live and do as much as I can before it does.
If you lie flat you will look less fat so this is a good combination. Fantasizing is a fantastic hobby and again can be done flat on the back. P.s You are not fat.
JT: Tablets have done it. You know if I was an animal I’d be an otter. I’m obsessed with otters. I love the way they jive in the water. They’re essentially cats in wet suits. Cup your cat’s ears. I’m guaranteed they will look a bit like an otter. You said I’d make a great otter as I always do the waterproof coat thing – a bit like Liam Gallagher. Liam is a chief. What will make my soul sing? Ok so probably my least pretentious answer yet! Oasis’ first two albums. They make my spirit come alive. There’s just something in those songs.
Who do you love?
JT: I don’t think I have the capacity to ‘love’ anymore… not in that heated passionate way. I’m honestly quite dead inside at the moment. I have found an intimacy in tenderness I thought I may never find quite recently.
I’m not sure if the medication I’m on dictates that or that I’m too idealistic. But if I’m with someone I have to love them with every fibre otherwise it feels like I’m just using them to combat my isolation.
Love is a word that conjures up many definitions and to be honest I think it’s best explained in C.S Lewis’ book The Four Loves. It’s a wonderful book which has helped me explore all the ways we attempt to define the most beautiful and crushing feeling in the world.
I love that you have read that! “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” Love is a mental illness. He actually struggled a lot with his wife before she died, then she died and he loved her. Typical writer… but he was a wonderful mind.
JT: I don’t love people with double standards. And I don’t love my sin. And I don’t love my pride. And I don’t love jealousy.
And we write this on the day of Mark E. Smith’s demise. God Rest his Soul. Tell us about your new book.
JT: I’d set my poems to Earth or the Fall if they had to be set to music. I miss him already! My new book is a way of processing my brother’s death as well as screwing up a close relationship. It’s called Longing for more and was released through Wordsmithery, who have put out some fantastic writers such as Matt Chamberlain, Sarah Hehir, Karen Bartholomew and Sam Fentiman-Hall and Barry Fentiman-Hall. I’m scared about the release as it’s very personal, but it had to be done. I want to encourage people to write because it helps to process thoughts into words. Once read aloud they feel less important I guess.
Which poem would I give to someone I love? Good question. I have written a collection though, and many people I love have purchased it. So it’s been done… My poetic delivery? I am extremely dead pan. I enjoy going from humorous to heart breaking in a stanza. It keeps people on their toes.
If I wrote the blurb for my own poetry book? ‘Jonathan is plagued with the burden of sin and struggles throughout life to overcome his own flawed nature, and to attain spiritual redemption.’ These are poems for Ben and poems for the one with half a heart.
What is your favourite film and why?
JT: The Elephant Man. If I’m ever dating someone this is the film I put on in order to find out whether the person has a soul… although recently I have met a French girl who has a phobia of deformity, so she will not be seeing it. (Weeps.)
That film is probably the first film that made me cry. It’s such an incredibly moving story about a beautiful outcast. The climax to the film is a work of high art; the way in which he finishes constructing his church structure in his room. The use of Samuel Barber’s adagio for strings and the use of Psalms throughout the film. It’s the most un-Lynchian David Lynch movie. Watch it!
I hope Heaven exists. A place without suffering maybe? When you kiss someone you love and the world pauses? Chopin on loop? Robin Williams? My happy place is a place without thinking.
Perhaps we have to actively make the world stop by doing beautiful things in the moment and tasting the singular moment as if it were an eternity. What would my best day on earth be like?
That is such a tough question to answer. For me the best days are the ones where the clock seems to just sprint away. And a day where your head hits the pillow and you get 6 hours sleep. Ah… bliss.
What inspired this book?
Inspired by the loss of my brother to a long- term battle with alcoholism, and the other part is about a significant relationship. It feels important to compile these details together. Barry asked me if I would do this book. You say I paint my brother big with so much love between the lines. Yes, I do. The second part is about Benjamin. The first part is about her. And I agree with you when you say there are lots of connections between the living and dead in this book. And I hope no one else dies or there will be another book having to be written. When people die we have to make ourselves anew. This book is very much about me making sense of the deaths of the actually deceased and those whom still alive we have to let go.
And you want to know how do the two stories intertwine? The living person was already leaving Kent. It was two weeks after Ben died and so it was a lightning striking twice occasion. Bereavement and loss contrast in a terrible and beautiful way. I would love to write something profound here – but I am sure for anyone who has divorced or let go of someone they were crazy about, that person they’d do anything for… and then one day being faced with the stark reality of disintegration… what you are left with is: grey trees, synthetic rivers, artificial food, dead wine. Everything empties out, it filters into nothing, like sand between your fingers. It’s a truly powerless sensation, and on that note, love is not about power. We have to let go.
It takes a long time to heal from romantic love. It also takes a long time to heal from losing a brother to alcoholism. Ben was an alcoholic for ten years. I saw things that have scarred me for life. But he wasn’t just an alcoholic. He was a beautiful person. I fear dying so when someone dies you realise your finality and want to glorify his or her story. Bereavement is like drowning. And you have to scream for them. They never leave you.
Now there is this book to commemorate him. I recall Barry Fentiman-Hall said you were a talent to be launched and celebrated. What do you think you achieved with this book personally and technically?
JT: I didn’t visualise it as a book and I was a mess and had months off work and had nothing to do so it was therapy. My brother was a writer and he always wanted to get published and he had no self-esteem so it gave me extra drive to write for him.Who is my reader? I left this answer to my readers… ‘Sad repressed god- fearing women. People who don’t have a voice. Men who are told they need to man up.’ Flaws are attractive about people so flaws in poems are attractive to me. I wrote about 300 poems and I liked about 20. I am a random writer and don’t overwork the poem. Poems are like a rainbow – the poem comes and goes. I’m not one for agonising over it. Mine are accessible but have layers. They are open to all readers. These poems I hope, will make connections with readers. There are less bodily fluids in this one! I write for the book but at poetry events I do also try to make people laugh. I try to cater for an audience and not be lofty about poetry. Some of my poems have been published elsewhere: Blue Nib, Confluence, Pariah, Boo Zine, Under the Fable and Dissonance. I hope the readers of these will enjoy my book. I want them to see Ben in there.
When I saw you take off your yellow anorak on stage at Wordsmithery’s Roundabout Nights to reveal a pink shirt underneath, I knew you were a super hero. Do you have any more plans to change the cultural landscape of Maidstone?
JT: Yeah, I am a superhero and my surname really is my surname! One step at a time really. I’m pretty exhausted most of the time because of the nature of my job. I’d love to do book launches next year instead of the standard open mic events. I’m not sure I will be here much longer, so I hope the poetry nights continue once I’ve moved away.
I really enjoy Roundabout Nights in Chatham and the recent dead or alive poet events you ran in Faversham. I am yet to explore many poetic avenues in Kent but would like to perform in London some time. If they’ll have me. If we are talking about where I like to write poetry. I write most my poems on the bus to work… I find writing in coffee shops difficult. I think I become too absorbed in what is going on around me. What is it like being a poet in Kent? There is a very diverse scene in Kent and it inspires a lot of debate. Five years ago I didn’t know writers existed. They do, and they’re interesting…
I will be performing at Vicars Picnic and will be launching my book at Drake’s on 28 March. Life is so hectic at the moment and I need to prioritise my mental health.
What is next? I plan to crawl my way out of this bereavement eventually. Once that has been achieved I would like to run more book launches. I am probably leaving Kent next year to move up north. From there I guess I’ll decide. I’d quite like to work in mental health at some point. I’m currently finishing an NVQ in health and social care. My day job is looking after autistic adults and adults with learning difficulties. If we are going to talk realistically my future probably holds divorce. Me? fatalistic or a realist? Just a joke but I was thinking about setting up a savings account as 90% of my family has divorced. Getting published outside of the UK. Curating a festival tent. Releasing a ‘Poems Written in Pubs’ pamphlet. Are you going to write one for it? Great. Not sure what else.
It all sounds fabulous. Thank you for talking to me Jonathan.
Find Jon on social media:
Jon Terranova – Writer on Facebook
(And you can Google me I guess. But you probably hate me already if you have read this. Adieu!)
Longing for more is available now from Wordsmithery.
Go to his book launch at Drake’s Cork and Cask, 9 Fairmeadow, Maidstone ME14 1JP from 7pm.