“I don’t talk to ten-year-olds. They terrify me”: An Interview with Jonathan Greenhause

Jonathan Greenhause,close-up drawn by The Ugly Volvo

We had the privilege of publishing Jonathan Greenhause’s poem, “Please Hold the Doors.” Jonathan received a 2014 Willow Review Award, won Prism Review’s 2012-2013 Poetry Prize, and was a finalist in The Southeast Review’s 2013 Gearhart Poetry Contest. His poetry’s appeared or is forthcoming in The BelieverThe Dark Horse (UK), The Malahat Review (CAN), Miramar Poetry Journal, and New Millennium Writings, and he and his wife are being raised by their 18-month-old, Benjamin Seneca. He also just finished reading the “Harry Potter” books and, wow, are they great! We sent him some questions. Here are his answers.

If a ten-year-old kid came up to you and told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say to her?

I don’t talk to ten-year-olds. They terrify me.

The serious answer would be to tell her to learn about as much as possible, to experience life and live it to the fullest, and to read, read, and read some more.  I don’t know: Maybe telling a ten-year-old to live life to the fullest is a bit too much? Then again, ten-year-olds are probably the age group that DOES live life to the fullest, and maybe we could all learn something from them.

When I was ten, I wanted to be a paleontologist or a writer. I wound up becoming an interpreter (between Spanish and English) who writes poetry whenever he gets the chance. That’s almost like being a paleontologist.

When you write, do you consider your audience? If so, how?

I think it’s impossible not to consider the audience in a general sense: No one is writing poetry just to read it to him/herself, stick it in a drawer, and occasionally take it out and read it to him/herself a few more times. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people all across America and the whole world are doing this, and one day we’ll be overcome by all the poems and other writings overflowing from drawers. Sometimes I think I might only be writing for myself.

When we’re young, we often write for our parents’ approval. Or a teacher’s. Sometimes we’re longing for acceptance from our peers, from our colleagues in a writers’ workshop, from readers and editors at different literary reviews. We all want to be loved and appreciated. We all have delusions of grandeur tempered by bouts of existential self-doubt. But most of the time, the only person we’re certain will ever read what we’re writing is ourselves. So, in a roundabout way, I guess we are writing for ourselves.

How does your poem, “Please Hold the Doors,” represent the type of artist you are?

“Please Hold the Doors” was inspired by the ubiquitous warning “Do not hold doors,” which is seen on subway doors all across this fine nation of ours. Or maybe only in the NYC area. (I’ll have to investigate that.) A lot of my poems find their genesis in everyday occurrences, a line that’ll pop up in my head or that I’ll read in some informational packet, or a snippet of conversation I’ll overhear. Poetry is a product of our environment. Poetry, on a good day, is also a manifestation of the soul. Some poems wind up being more of a manifestation of a ham-and-cheese sandwich and truly wind up destined for an unimpressed audience of one.

“Please Hold the Doors” is an ode to a number of things: Inanimate objects, the many strangers among us, and the miracle of life. I’m not sure if it represents the kind of artist I am, but I’ll readily admit those themes occur frequently in my work.

Who do you think we should be reading right now, and why?

I’m a huge fan of Latin American Boom authors:

1) If you haven’t read Julio Cortázar, go out and buy a collection of his short stories right now. Each one of his stories is expertly crafted and has a twist at the end that’s both surprising and satisfying.

2) Also, anything by Augusto Roa Bastos, including Hijo de Hombre, which recounts the savagery of poverty and war in early twentieth-century Paraguay.

3) And I highly recommend “Hombres de maíz,” by Miguel Ángel Asturias. It’s a story written in a beautiful poetry-prose style about the abject violence and oppression by a ruthless dictatorial regime in mid-twentieth-century Guatemala.

As far as poetry goes, read Leaves of Grass again: It’ll only make you a better person.

Tell us something about you we might be surprised to hear.

I’ve never been in a writers’ workshop, and I only took one creative writing class while in college. Not that I planned it that way, but that’s just the way things went down. I moved to Argentina after graduating from college, then spent a few years there writing novels that never quite coalesced. Then I discovered poetry and eventually left prose behind.

I’ve always enjoyed working in solitude, and I try to resolve problems with form and content on my own. One editor labeled me a “lone wolf,” though I prefer to shy away from descriptions putting me in the same group as the Unabomber. I haven’t written that manifesto yet.

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