September 25th, 2018 marks the release of Jerrod E. Bohn's PULP: A Manifesto, a lyrical poetry collection. The book,a limited release, touches on society's woes, shortcomings, and spirit. Unsolicited Press sat down with Bohn to get to know the writer behind the words:
What literary journeys have you gone on?
I haven’t really gone on any literary journeys, although I did go to see a memorial plaque dedicated to the poet Ronald Johnson at Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, KS. I discovered Johnson’s poetry in graduate school and immediately loved it. That he is also a poet who spent part of his life in a more rural area of Kansas made him particularly appealing.
What is the first book that made you cry?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It can do both, honestly. I know that I’m writing a really good poem when I feel most outside of my head, almost as if I am receiving or channeling the words from some collective consciousness beyond the limitations of myself, my ego. That feeling of connecting to something larger is invigorating. During other writing sessions, I’m too much in control; I worry about being clever, witty, intelligent. In these instances, I can’t tap into that heightened mental and emotional space, so I end up depleted and disappointed in what I’ve put to page.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Two traps for aspiring writers are valuing being prolific over quality and assuming the first draft is the best draft. I think the former trap is caused by bogus advice that to be a writer “one has to write every day.” To paraphrase my thesis advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick, you have to trust that you are engaging an act of writing even when you aren’t able to physically write. So maybe the advice to “writer every day” is misunderstood; a person must maintain the mind of a writer even if a particular day doesn’t involve what we traditionally think of as writing. As for the latter trap, writing is work, difficult work. Just because you crank out a poem in five minutes doesn’t mean it’s the best iteration of the poem. That first draft is an iteration, but on revising (re-seeing), one can create different iterations that are potentially (usually) better.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I think a healthy ego is important for a writer. A small ego will lead to the inability to handle rejection, which as a writer, a person experiences often. A large ego just makes you a pretentious asshole that ends up holding yourself and your ideas above your readers, eventually alienating them. You need just enough ego to grow a stone skin, but not so much ego that you try to pass off intellectual elitism as people just being “too dumb” to make sense of your obscurity.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Haha, yes! And I currently have it! I have no idea how to snap out of it. My usual techniques aren’t working. Any advice is appreciated.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No. However, I do have an interesting story as to why I go by “Jerrod E. Bohn” rather than “Jerrod Bohn.” When I was in college, a guy with my same name, first and last (no relation), ran for mayor of Topeka, KS. He did spell his name “J-A-R-E-D,” but that didn’t stop some people from thinking I was running for mayor. I periodically received mail and phone calls intended for the other “Jerrod/Jared.” One night after driving to the UPS store to pick up and sign for a package that turned out not to be mine, I started adding my middle initial to all of my professional and financial transactions. Eventually, the “E” became an extension of my creative identity as well.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Possibly, but in my experience, writers feel at least a few emotions strongly. For me, my overriding strong emotions are melancholy and compassion.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with numerous writers, many of whom I credit in the acknowledgments section of my book, Animal Histories, for the gift of their eyes and insights. Of course, my author friends help me better my writing through their constant questioning and feedback; however, my non-author friends have an enormous impact on my writing as well, mostly in suggesting new perspectives or taking my mind off my words over great beer and conversation.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
All of my books stand on their own, but some of my concerns—language and its origins, navigating cohabited domestic spaces, etc.—are visible throughout my poetry manuscripts.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I’m very particular about my writing instruments, so buying black Sharpie pens for new material (purple or green to revise) and ruled Moleskine Cahiers Collection journals.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Pretty much every poet I ever read. I hated poetry as a kid. Even Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Fuck those guys, haha.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Kids say dumb shit like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but I witnessed words have power when my classmates picked on people who were “different.” Part of this was directed at me. As an uncircumcised boy changing in the locker room around all of the other boys who were “cut,” I endured my share of insults and verbal abuse. But just as language can be used by power groups to oppress, the oppressed can use language to subvert power. I may have a little extra skin down there, but I’m proud of being “natural” and happy my parents gave me a choice rather than just deciding to slice off some flesh.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Since I’m a poet, I’m going to go poetry with this question. I’m a big fan of Ronald Johnson.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? A goat. Maybe a mountain goat. Maybe your garden-variety farm goat. Goats are fucking rad.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
3 screenplays; 4 full-length poetry books; one half-finished fantasy novel.
What does literary success look like to you?
I love teaching, so I hope that my literary success will enable me to attain a tenure-track creative writing professorship job at a community college or private or public university. Even if I somehow “made it big,” I would still want to teach. I owe so much to my teachers, and I love seeing my students grow.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Through public readings and social media. I hope to complete an author website soon to help in marketing.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I wouldn’t say I do a lot of researching for a book, but I am an avid reader. Animal Histories was highly informed by reading several books, notably Echolalias by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
How many hours a day do you write?
I don’t write every day, but when I do write, I spend at least an hour doing some kind of writing or writing-related activity (like revising, submitting, etc.).
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Probably my current or recent past, so adulthood. Early childhood naturally arises, especially in Animal Histories when I consider the maternal nature of poetic language and my relationship with my father.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
And if writing isn't your "day job", what are you currently doing to pay the bills? Good question! My professional life is currently in flux. I quit my teaching job because pay for college adjuncts is terrible and one of the many problems with higher education today. Currently, I’m just teaching yoga and looking for jobs. While job hunting doesn’t pay the bills, it is kind of like a full time job.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I want to say booze because I’m sure I would write more if I drank less. But I mostly keep my drinking moderate, so I guess the booze can stay. For a while.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Scuttle the Stowaway Mouse by Jean and Nancy Soule. I had my parents read it to me every night for a while, and I’m pretty sure that repetition led to me learning how to read.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Yes, although I think if I quit working entirely and tried to support myself solely through writing, they would raise some eyebrows. I’m very fortunate to have my family’s love and support.