Interview with Poet, Junior Clemons!!

Please enjoy my interview with Poet, Junior Clemons. Junior received his MFA from California College of the Arts, and he lives and works in San Diego, CA. His work has been featured in Actually People Quarterly, Zen Monster, and Phenome. His book, SO MANY MOUNTAINS BUT THIS ONE SPECIFICALLY, is currently available from Carville Annex Press. Thanks so much to Junior for taking the time to answer my questions. It was so nice to catch up, and I think you all will enjoy our dialogue, too!

 Junior Clemons, Poet from San Diego, CA.

Junior Clemons, Poet from San Diego, CA.

Check out Junior's  work in the Winter Issue of SOUND:POETREE:: When We Were Long And Golden.


SOUND:POETREE:: Junior! First off, thank you so much for submitting your poem When We Were Long and Golden to the Winter 2016 issue of SOUND:POETREE::. It has been so nice to engage with your work again and to hear your voice! I’ve lately been feeling that the sound of the human voice is very powerful, personal, and a rich place for creative work. Can you share a little about what the experience of recording yourself was like? Did you feel some awkwardness? If so, how did you push through it? And, do you have any other sound/vocal experiments planned for the future? 

Junior Clemons: I don’t think it’s uncommon to dislike the sound of your own voice, and I usually find myself frowning when listening to a recording of myself. When I am writing I constantly read the piece I am working on out loud. There is some sense that when I’m doing that it’s maybe the voice of the poem and not my actual voice like the recording. The feeling of actually recording myself is different; most of the time it feels like my voice takes up more space than the actual language. I always cringe a little bit listening back to myself. Despite all of this, I really want to record an audiobook of some sort–I think hearing my work out loud is a large part of experiencing the work.

SOUND:POETREE:: Back to When We Were Long and Golden, I really like it! To me it feels blurry, dreamy, but grounded (sort of) in concepts like home, memory, and the self. Even the speaker(s) are hard to determine, and the implicit question, “what is really true?” is always floating around in the atmosphere of the poem. The desire for a “rim” or “boundary” feels apt in these circumstances; it is the desire for something to hold onto, I think. But, these are just my impressions, does any of this resonate with you? And, is there anything else you care to share with us regarding meanings, intentions, processes, etc.?

Junior Clemons: I think your ideas about the poem are probably true. Some of the thematic elements you reference are what my work has been gesturing towards for about eight years now. I had the title for a while before the poem existed – it’s tentatively what I’d like to title the audiobook if I ever get around to it. I wanted to write something new for the book so the first chance I got after something started coming together I jumped on it. The portion about the rim and boundary are what came first with this poem, I think while walking to do laundry— it was this weird exchange, and I was interested in seeing if I could write the other parts to support the weirdness. I don’t know if I am all the way there yet. When I started writing the poem I think the speaker was maybe addressing another person but having spent some more time with it I think they are addressing a past or different self. I don’t know how well that shows up though.

SOUND:POETREE:: Speaking of home, I understand that you are living in San Diego these days, and that is where you are originally from, right? What’s it like to be back in your hometown, sunny San Diego? Do you have an artistic community out there? Do you miss the Bay Area?

Junior Clemons: Yes, I’m originally from San Diego and I think that I have been back here full-time now for five years or so. I live more or less in the same neighborhood that I grew up in, and it’s familiar in a way that nowhere else will ever be. Also, being a person of routine, probably to a fault, it is easy for me. I complain a lot about the weather— I want all of the sunlight but none of the heat.

I have a bunch of really great friends here that I probably don’t deserve— but I don’t personally have an artistic community, though they do exist out here. There have been a lot of changes in the time since I’ve been back—there’s a pretty fantastic reading series curated by Adam Stutz and Mark Wallace named Non-Standard Lit that takes place fairly regularly that I don’t get to attend as much as I’d like because of work or football. I know that there are some other reading series that happen but I honestly don’t know much of anything about them— I hear they’re good. My impression is that the visual arts community has also become more diverse. But maybe I just started becoming more curious or paying attention more.

I think that the complaints that folks have about San Diego as it relates to art aren’t too dissimilar than those of other non-Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. cities—but maybe with just like an increased military presence. I’m pretty terrible at networking or meeting people or attending things, so I’m not really sure. I think that I’ve had more readings outside of San Diego in the past four or five years than in San Diego. That being said I am personally satisfied. The only real difference is that there are fewer things in San Diego for me to leave early or say, “Let’s get a drink instead” to. 

I miss my friends in the Bay Area all of the time but I try to get up there a few times a year. I also miss the weather. But I don’t really miss anything else about it. I miss reading the same things as all of my friends, but that had more to do with being in school than living in the Bay Area. Maybe I should start a book club down here or something?

SOUND:POETREE:: I know you’re a big music fan. What are you listening to these days? And, can you talk about what relation music has to your writing? Do you ever listen to music while you write? 

Junior Clemons: The main things I’ve been listening to lately: WET – Don’t You, Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, Future – EVOL, Porches – Pool, and pretty much anything I can find by KEEPERS. The thing I’m most obsessed with lately though is this radio show called Color Radio. It’s based out of Nevada City, CA, which sounds like a made up place I think, and can be downloaded as a podcast but it’s basically bunch of doo wop and r&b from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s more or less what I imagine listening to the radio back then was like.

I have never given much thought to the relationship between my writing and music. Nearly all of my friends in San Diego are in bands and listening to their music or going to see them play is how I engage with their creative practice. Oftentimes it makes me want to start writing poems again if I’ve been slacking or putting it off. I suppose that the lyrical quality of my writing might have something to do with my interest in music but it’s not really anything I’ve given any thought. I do listen to music while I write but I’m constantly pausing or muting it so I can hear myself think or recite. It’s primary function I think when I’m listening and writing is to block out the noises of the world.

SOUND:POETREE:: Finally, let’s talk ocean time. I’ve always felt a special connection to the ocean, and in general I feel better after some time near a body of water. Is this true for you too? What’s your relationship with the ocean like? Do you spend a lot of time near water these days? 

Junior Clemons: Growing up in San Diego it’s kind of inevitable that you’ll spend a lot of time at the beach. That was definitely the case for me until I got old enough to say no to things and parents or uncles would start listening. I can’t recall the last time I was at the beach in San Diego. But whenever I am in San Francisco I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to be put up in the Outer Sunset, so I’ll spend time at Ocean Beach. I think the expectations for the encounter with the ocean are different in the two places. I don’t spend any regular amount of time by water but I find myself thinking about it a lot. I think as an image it’s interesting obviously, but also the word “ocean” is really nice to say I think.