“20(ish) Questions with Jeffrey Spahr-Summers in Anticipation of the Launch of ‘Jasper’s Folly’ Poetry Journal” by Eric Raanan Fischman

After hearing about his new poetry journal initiative, Jasper’s Folly, currently accepting submissions until October 1st (submission guidelines below), I caught up with Jeffrey Spahr-Summers—photographer, writer, digital artist, and publisher—at a quaint little internet location called the e-Lectronic Mail. The walls were white as screens, the coffee made of code, green glowing letters that went down smooth like glitched-out butterflies. Neo himself was our barista, and while he bent a spoon into my QR macchiato, I surveyed the other patrons: a few Mark Zuckerberg memes, a table full of cats, some angry She-Hulk reviewers—the usual crowd. Wreck-It Ralph brought me my kouign-amann with an apology because the plate had crumbled in his hands. “Watch out for porcelain shards,” he said, lumbering off. The table we sat at was at least 16 miles long.

Tell us your artist origin story. How/why and when did you first decide to become a Poetographer?

My step-sister, Pamela Summers, who is a potter, went to art school in South Africa. As a teenager (before I started writing), I sometimes helped Pam with her art projects. On my own, I experimented with collages, paper mache, bead work, minor painting, Instamatic & Poloroid cameras. The first art pieces I ever sold were colored-wire boards, purely designs. During this period, my step-father always carried a small 35mm camera with him. We frequently took road trips around South Africa and took photographs. If the road trips involved wildlife in their natural habitat, he would rent a better quality 35mm camera and lens. Thus prepared, he haunted water holes and drove around looking for wild animals to shoot, if you will.

When I was 16, we moved to Cape Town. My best friend was a photographer with his own darkroom. Learning to use a darkroom hooked me on photography. Later, during High School once we returned to the U.S., I had my own darkroom as well. Watching photos come to life in darkroom chemicals is fascinating to me. I still see the African influence in Pam’s art and my own, particularly concerning color. Everyone in my family are/were heavy readers, and with no television (at all) in the country for the first 5 years we were there, we spent a lot of time reading. From this love of reading, I started writing poetry when I was 14, I’m not sure why exactly. I have written poetry ever since.   

How do your photography and writing practices overlap/inform each other, and where is the line between them? Does your statement, “One doesn’t take a photograph, but makes a photograph,” apply also to your poetry?

I think it was Ansel Adams who said that. And yes, I think that one also ‘makes’ a poem, consider; alliteration, imagery, rhythm etc.. Poems are crafted just like other forms of art. Sometimes what I find hard to express in words can be said in photographs, and visa versa. I ‘make’ significantly more photographs than poems by far, so I rely more on the imagery and emotional aspects of photography and color. I am a lazy writer, I will just write whenever it strikes me, but I take photographs every day.

Who are some of your literary/artistic mentors and inspirations? Do you align with any particular lineages? What connects you to them?

I have been inspired by Shakespeare (covered heavily in S.A. Schools), Richard Brautigan, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, J.R.R. Tolkein, Fyoder Dostoevsky, Raymond Carver, Anne Rice, Carolyn Forche and Erica Jong. I count Gwendolyn Brooks, who I met in Chicago at a reading of her chapbooks ‘Winnie’ (about Winnie Mandela), and ‘The Near Johannesburg Boy’, as a mentor. She encouraged me to write about my experiences while living in South Africa, which at that time, I had never done. 

With photography, I have been inspired by Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Linda McCartney, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Mathew Brady, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Stephen Gordon, and Annie Leibovitz. I don’t really align with any particular lineages, my interests are too broad I think.

What is the last book you read/art you experienced that you really loved, and why did you love it?

Lately, I’ve been reading a number of books by Mick Herron, the ‘Slough House’ series. Herron’s Novels are bursting with great flawed characters, subtle humor, absurdity, and unhinged scenarios. I find that appealing.

I read in an interview you did with Denver author Nancy Stohlman that you have lived in 24 cities and towns in your life. Besides Chicago and South Africa, what other local poetry/art scenes stood out, and what was special about them? What might the Boulder Poetry Scene learn from them?

Every city has a poetry scene, one just has to dig deep enough. Anytime I moved to a new city, I would contact the local library to see what information they had, if any, and I would go from there. The first place I ever read on stage was at Cherry Street Café in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1980’s. I published my first book around this time, also facilitated poetry workshops in conjunction with a local college, and was a member of a writing group, where we rotated hosting our sessions at each other’s homes. In the mid 1990’s, after living in Chicago, I returned to Tulsa and joined the board of the Tulsa Literary Arts & Humanities Council at Harwelden Mansion, where we sponsored feature readings and a series of writing workshops called ‘The Write Place.’ In Dallas, I also found an active poetry scene in Deep Ellum, on the edges of Downtown. Downtown Indianapolis had a small poetry scene, not much more. The Chicago, Denver, and Boulder poetry scenes are the best that I have experienced, but a bit cliquish.

Did you name your press after the Cherry Street Café, or is it a coincidence?

Actually, I named it after my first book that I published under Cherry Publications. The book is… “The Cherry Poems.”

Ok but actually please do tell us about Chicago and South Africa! What were those scenes like? Where in South Africa were you?

Initially, we lived outside of Pretoria, in the country for a few years. But it wasn’t until I lived in Cape Town that I was involved in the printing of our high school magazine ‘Bayonet.’ I can’t vouch for any artistic scene beyond that. Chicago was a different story entirely. There were numerous vibrant poetry venues that I frequented from 1988-1993; School Street Café, Weeds, Estelle’s, Beach Poets, Gallery Cabaret, The Green Mill, and Planet Roc. While there, I began reading on stage regularly and publishing in print journals and anthologies. I wrote more poetry in Chicago than any other city.

What is/was the Chicago Poetry Agenda? What is your personal Boulder Poetry Agenda, if any?

The Chicago Poetry Agenda (CPA) was an entity I formed. I sponsored a few poetry readings, but mostly, it was a weekly series of poetry workshops and open writing sessions in a dank local neighborhood bar. My personal Boulder Poetry Agenda is to help publish and support Boulder poets’ work whenever possible.

What is your favorite bird?

Peacocks! They are fantastic watchdogs. 

What was it like working with local poets Matt Clifford and Marissa Lehto on publishing their poetry collections? How was that process different from publishing your own significant body of work?

I enjoyed working with Matt and Marissa. They were truly collaborative projects. In Marissa’s case, we both selected the poems, whereas Matt’s was his ready-made Naropa thesis. Matt supplied his own photographs, and Marissa used mine. I produced the covers. I felt that I was able to offer sound advice with both projects. Publishing books for others involves a lot of comparing of visions for the book to consider, and significantly more proofreading. In either case, it can take weeks to formulate a feel for the work and how to present it before the real work begins.

How long does it take you from conception to delivery to birth a book? What have you learned through iteration to streamline this process?

It depends on the project, practically speaking, not long. Preparing the manuscripts takes the most time. Once that is done, a week or two perhaps. I have learned the importance of font type and size, word placement, paper differences and quality… what works best for artwork in color, how dimensions can affect the look etc.. I enjoy producing the covers most of all.

Where did the impetus come from to launch Jasper’s Folly Poetry Journal? Why now?

I have aspired to publish a print journal for years, even before the advent of the internet, but I was eventually side-tracked doing online magazines for a decade. To me it is not so much “Why now?”, as “Why did it take so long?” I don’t know, but here it is.

What’s in a name? Who is Jasper, and what was his folly?

Jasper is the emotional human in all of us. That is his folly.

Will the journal be print, online, or both? When will it be available, and how should we get our hands on it?

It will be print only. Issue #1 is set to release on January 1st, 2023. I’m giving myself ample time to experiment with different looks and sizes. I’m considering a broadside, but we’ll see. Initially, it will be available on my website and Amazon. 

What are your hopes/intentions for the journal?

I hope to publish a solid and visually appealing poetry quarterly.  

Who would win in a fight, Destiny or Dream?

Dream. Pursuit of dreams feeds one’s destiny, I think, the choices one makes along the way.

What is something you’ve never done (yet) in a poem or piece of art but would like to?

Digital art that is not photography based. 

Any friends, poets, artists, from outside our own community who you’ve met along your many roads that you’d like to shout out so we can all go check out their spectacular work?

First of all; my step-sister Pam, the Potter, and her husband Raymond Rains, who is a Glass Blower. Their website:  www.cliffhousestudio.com

Also, my step-sister Sharon Summers McClung, Artisan Jewelry Designer. Her website: www.jewelselite.com

Gwendolyn Brooks, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks

Carolyn Forche, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carolyn-forche

Ted Kooser, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ted-kooser

Erica Jong, www.erikajong.com

Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, and I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say thanks for everything you’ve done for Boulder poetry over the years, from the Poetry Victims to the junk.tank readings at Amante Coffee and Innisfree Poetry Bookstore back when. Can’t wait to see what you’ll cook up for us in this new venture!

I have enjoyed your questions. Thank you very much.

We parted ways. Jeff grabbed a Tron lightcycle from a nearby vending machine and jumped on, disappearing in a blue-white smear. “What will I submit to Jasper’s Folly?” I wondered aloud, fidgeting with the electrons on the table and draining my macchiato. How nervous I felt! Was this Eric’s Folly I was experiencing now? My insecurity? What could I possibly have to contribute to a literary scene as hip and prestigious as Boulder’s? Yet, even as I stood to leave, I could feel the green glowing letters of the café’s digital brew swirling in my belly, infusing my flesh with a neon shine and my heart with creative confidence. Neo winked. “Why, poetry of course!” I answered for myself, then hopped the last purple wire back to Longmont.

Submission Guidelines for Jasper’s Folly

Accepting poetry only. Free verse, any length. Previously published poetry is acceptable. The deadline for Issue #1 is October 1st, 2022. Response time is one month. Submit by email to spahrsummers@gmail.com, using “Poetry Submission” as the subject. Collages and ekphrastic poetry will be considered.

Eric Raanan Fischman, MFA graduate from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, and author of “Mordy Gets Enlightened,” has been a longtime contributor to Boulder Poetry Scene.