Santa Fe, New Mexico—Dave Jonas, Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Santa Fe College, sets aside his sushi, puts down his chopsticks, leans back in his office chair, and laughs his characteristic laugh, a chuckle that that often degenerates into a sound like a cat choking on a hairball. Today, he stops himself short to reflect on where he’s been and what brought him to this place and time.
“I’ve basically become what I have always detested,” he says in an almost inaudible voice, “one of those writers who had just enough early success to secure a comfortable position and then, for whatever reason, ceased to be productive.” Jonas’s vita is littered with early awards—“look closely,” he says, “they all say ‘younger’--‘younger writer,’ ‘younger poet’--then it all stops. The awards dry up, the publications slow down, the early fire turned to a pit of ashes.” Jonas’s judgment might seem harsh, but all the facts suggest that his is an honest assessment.
“If nothing else,” Jonas says, “I can serve as an example of what not to do.” He picks up his chopsticks and deftly plucks a spicy tuna roll from the platter. “But, in my defense, I should point out that 99% of all poets ultimately fail to write anything worthwhile. It’s just that most poets keep pretending that they’re important poets until they die.” For the first time, Jonas smiles. “I just pulled up a few years short.”
Stacked in a corner of the office is a pile of what look to be manuscripts. Asked about them, Jonas waves his hand in the air. “Sure, those are manuscripts—three collections of poetry, two novels, a play, miscellaneous essays. It’s all crap. Publishable crap. No worse than the rest of the crap that fills the literary magazines, but crap, nonetheless. To publish it would be an affront to humanity and to the trees that would have to give their lives to provide the paper.”
What does Jonas see in the future? “Oh, I’ll write a great heap of crap. I’ll fill boxes with the stuff. I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I feel a kind of affection for it, the way one might feel attached to a wart or a mole, an imperfection that reminds you of who you are. So I stack up the pages. And I’ll continue to do that. Writing has become a tic, an involuntary reflex.” He flashes another quick smile. “It kills the time, you know?”