Korbin Scott Jones's songs for the long night
by Kyle Teller, creative writing P.h.D. student
MFA poet, journal editor, paranormal podcast host, translator, diviner, and former ghost hunter, Korbin Scott Jones keeps busy through the long night. Jones and I meet up in downtown Lawrence to discuss songs for the long night, his latest book of poetry that explores queer ancestry, kinship, romance, and finding yourself through, and in, neverending life cycles. We grab a table at Alchemy Coffee & Bake House to talk about Jones’s poetry, the Lady-Gaga revision process, and paranormal projects.
When I ask Jones about his inspiration for his poetry book, songs for the long night, he shares a story relatable to many writers.
“I had a really, really terrible draft of a poem and it was called "songs for the long night",” Jones says. “The poem was inspired when I was watching Game of Thrones with my parents. There was some moment whenever Cat Stark says something along the lines of ‘I remember listening to you during the long night, holding you close and your little ragged breaths.’ I had this idea, this emotional connection between two people during a dark period where we don’t know when it will end. I was really drawn to the idea of night lasting years in that world.”
Jones took that idea from a “terrible poem” and turned it into a full-fledged manuscript, but the catalyst for that revision wasn’t GoT or his parents—the book’s inspiration was a breakup, a first breakup.
“Through that relationship, I came out to my family,” Jones says on the year-long relationship that occurred across countries and continents before ending. “I kind of learned who I was as a queer person when interacting with other queer men. The book is my journey through that relationship but also the post-mess that is after a breakup like that. I firmly believe that there is such a thing as second puberty for queer people. We often don’t get to go through puberty at the same time as straight people where you get to dig and work things up, so I really was acting like a teenager at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two. [songs for the long night] was a way to think about that.”
I ask Jones, given his mention of queer identity, sexual rebirth, and coping, if there is a poem that best represents the book’s overall journey.
“"Light in the Stairwell",” Jones says immediately. “I was composing this manuscript in the last year of my undergrad as a creative writing major and applying to MFAs. At that point, I was ready to wrap it up, emotionally move on, and asking myself, how can I think about this in a holistic sense? So “Light in the Stairwell” is this scene of me and all these guys that I had crushes on or hooked up with after the relationship trying to figure out what I want, what I need. We’re all dancing in the basement and then crawl up the stairs. We go outside, and I watch them ascend into the heavens. I tell the moon to take care of them. I say they’ve hurt me, I’ve hurt them, we’ll never be anything concrete or long-lasting, but that’s okay.”
Jones does note that his favorite poem in the book, possibly his favorite poem he’s ever written is “Hymn for Brown-eyed Boys,” a poem that, in Jones’s words, explores the ancestry of queer men.
“In “Hymn for Brown-eyed Boys” I talk about having sex with another man and how that has a history to it,” Jones says. “In the poem, I’m looking up at brown eyes, because brown eyes are the oldest color of human eyes and I really just like brown eyes. But I’m also looking at them while having sex and imagining the history there and how my ancestors did the same thing. At that time, I really loved looking at my life not only as a cycle within itself but...within the bigger cycle, not only of humanity but of queer men throughout history.”
When it came to organizing this cyclical history, Jones describes how the book is organized into three main sections: prelude, interlude, and postlude.
“Prelude through interlude is that slow decay of when you know a relationship is not going to work out,” Jones explains. “I was very honest in a poem when I wrote ‘I have not eaten in three days. I have not left this bed in three days except to wander the empty streets.’ The second half of the book is my connection within the queer community, who I am as another queer man who is going through things other queer men have gone through, and how can I make connections with other queer men in a meaningful way.”
“What was your revision process for songs for the long night?” I ask.
“I used to be so dedicated to, as Lady Gaga puts it, ‘honoring the vomit.’ I wanted to throw my emotions up on the page and leave it,” Jones says. “But in my undergrad, I realized how important revision can be…But I’m always thinking about the musicality, so when I revise, I’m always saying the poems aloud. Some of my friends always hated it because I would say can I read this poem to you? It’s never can I send this poem to you? It’s always can I read this to you?"
“Now that you’ve gone through that discovery process with songs for the long night, what are you writing now?”
“I feel like I’ve written my breakup, hookup book," Jones says, "so now I’m trying to see what I’m trying to figure out now. It’s less about relationships and very much more about who am I? within my life. Because death anxiety is super high right now having so many people die around me, so my mortality is definitely something on my mind that was not in that book. In [songs for the long night] there was that feeling of living forever, everything is magical...But now it really feels like I, as a human being, could die, so I’m trying to cope with that through my poetry.”
“What’s your writing philosophy in a nutshell?” I ask.
“Write what you want," Jones says. "I can enjoy Rupi Kaur. So many people like to [trash] on her, but I feel like she is filling an artistic spot that needs to be filled...People are finding solace or comfort [in Kaur’s work], and that’s ultimately my goal as a writer. My overall view is if you want to make art, make art."
I ask Jones about his future career goals, and he shares that he’s open to many avenues of the publishing industry, as long as he’s “writing full time.” He’s already got a strong start as the editor-in-chief of a new literary journal, now on its second issue.
“You’re also the editor-in-chief of Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal," I say. "Can you describe the journal and what it means to be a ‘millennial’ journal?”
“Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal seeks to uplift and spotlight millennial voices. Too often, older creators still see us as twelve to twenty years old, when we’re all adults now. I wanted to capture the millennial experience in a global sense. We are the first generation to grow up into a global society, and what that means through the lens of social media, through the lens of activism, and so I really love the diversity of the millennial experience but also the similarities within it—that’s what Fearsome Critters is all about."
Jones describes that the journal's title was also inspired by perceptions about millennials mixed with folklore.
"Whenever lumberjacks worked in the woods of North America," Jones says, "they came up with all these crazy animals. I really feel like millennials are fearsome critters, critters being such a soft term, so cutesy, but fearsome. People think we’re killing off industries, people think that we’re leading the downfall of society, but they also just see us as these dumb little creatures that don’t know anything. The [journal name] is embracing that idea and running with it.”
“You are very busy and even have a speculative podcast, Spectered: A Paranormal Podcast, co-hosted with Arielle Michelle Raymos. Can you talk about the inspiration for a paranormal podcast?”
“I got into podcasts a year ago," Jones says. "I came across The Black Tapes, which is a serial mockumentary about paranormal experiences, and I loved it. I moved onto Bailey is Cursed by a Witch which is partially about Lawrence, Kansas…[Spectered] is really based on those sit-down-and-chat podcasts like My Favorite Murder and That’s Why We Drink," Jones says, noting how he and co-host Raymos found a connection through their paranormal interests. "I feel like we can talk about anything and make a joke out of it…we both love paranormal stuff, I love divination practice, I used to be a ghost hunter—”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupt. “Ghosthunter?”
“Yes, I’ve had a very long, crazy past,” Jones says. “But Arielle and I, from the get-go, were able to find a balance. In my section, I focus on metaphysical, spiritual stuff and the science behind it, and Arielle tends to gravitate more toward cryptids, UFOs, and secret societies. She always finds very weird wormholes. I’ll tell this big story about this haunted place. Meanwhile, she’s talking about how UFOs are related to Winston Churchill and how Churchill has a museum in Missouri and what that all of that means. Spectered is a mixture of history and comedy but always with a paranormal focus."
“My final question: If you were a fearsome critter, what would you be?”
“I would want to be the hidebehind," Jones says. "It just hides behind trees and peeks out. It’s very sneaky. I’m a very loud person, I’m not too good at sneaking sometimes, so I’d really love to be the hidebehind.”
Jones’s release party and reading for songs for the long night will be at The Raven bookstore in Lawrence, KS on May 2nd at 7:00 p.m. The event will be a double-release party for SFO: Photos & Poems about San Francisco by Pablo Luque Pinilla & José Luis R. Torrego translated from the original Spanish by Korbin Scott Jones. SFO: Photos & Poems about San Francisco is available now through Tolsun Books.
songs for the long night is available April 2019 through Rebel Satori Press.