:: Buzzwords

Five for: David Oprava

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“The Beats are dead and no one has stepped up.”

1) Let’s start with the name: who is Grievous Jones?
Grievous Jones is an alter-ego. I am sure everyone has one. The you inside you, the lonely one, sad one, insane one, sometimes just bored one. I started thinking under the assumed name Grievous Jones when things in my own life were shutting me off from who I thought I was. He was a six-foot, black trench coat wearing thug who drove a ’73 Cadillac El Dorado and beat the crap out of street punks. Inside, that was me, not the mild-mannered, balding, bespectacled dad of two. But, by creating him and writing like a demon for a year straight, he stopped being so much a part of me and came to represent something else: a part of you. He’s there to publish the works that had to be written. That’s who and what he is now, a messenger. Also, along that vein, we have started up the Grievous Jones Review. We may not have published the books, but we will sure as hell tell you about them.

2) What would you say was your biggest influence in creating Grievous Jones?
Without a doubt, Henry David Thoreau. The old guy had two lines that sum up Grievous Jones perfectly. One, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I couldn’t agree more and it was this notion that birthed Grievous Jones. Second, “Don’t just be good, be good for something.” Publishing writers who need to be read is the most “good” thing I could come up with. If you don’t look at it as a business and just get on with, make damn sexy books with excellent writers, it becomes more of a mission. I don’t have a religion, so this is it. The act of publishing words that had to be written is not only good, it is right.

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3) Your manifesto lays it out, but will Grievous Jones follow a
particular aesthetic?

The tag line for Grievous Jones has become, “Books about killing your inner demons, having sex with them, or making them a cup of tea…” and that pretty much sums it up. I have taken the approach that when I find a writer whose work I love, I mean really get into, can feel, and who is brutally honest, then I know they need to be published. Trusting my own gut is the closest thing to an aesthetic I can come to. However, in terms of beauty or look, Grievous Jones books are designed to be simple, sleek, alluring. The matte black covers, evocative black and white photos and stark red lettering reflect a simple idea: we, as humans, tend to be plain on the surface, but look inside and beware. How’s that for an aesthetic?

4) How is American Mean connected to Grievous Jones?
American Mean is an exciting offshoot of Grievous Jones dedicated solely to the unique, yet common American experience. Being an American ex-pat who has lived in Britain for over a decade, I have had a lot of time to think beyond the stereotypes of America, beyond the plastic facade and into the peculiarities, ugliness, and inherent beauty of the people and the place. I feel it is time for a resurgence in American verse. The Beats are dead and no one has stepped up. American Mean is going to change that. I have chosen a few of the best American poets writing today and my goal is to put their books back in the hands of students, dock workers, politicians, housewives, insane asylum patients, everyone. If you think Grievous Jones is a mission, just wait to see what American Mean kicks off.

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5) Leonard Cohen said that poetry was the evidence of life, that if your life is burning well poetry is just the ash. Any thoughts?
Sure, I think Leonard might know what he is talking about, I’m not sure I do. Or least, I don’t see it that way. I’ll use my own motto and what may end up being my epitaph: VERSE IS HONESTY WHERE LIFE HAS FORGOTTEN TO BE. Meaning, through poems we can be true, we can express what is inside, there are no niceties, no lunches with relatives we hate but still have to smile at, verse let’s us be free. I guess I don’t see poetry as what is left behind from a well-burned life, rather, it is the true color of our blood as we pump it.

David Oprava’s Grievous Jones Press launches three titles – Next to Guns by Lara Konesky, Last Days of the Cross by Joseph Ridgwell & Baby, I’m Ready to Go by Melissa Mann – at the Betsy Trotwood on Friday, 25 September.

First posted: Monday, September 7th, 2009.

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