Scheier is a poet, essayist and journalist. He has lived in Toronto, Istanbul, New York City, Brandon, Manitoba and, currently, St. Thomas. His debut poetry collection More to Keep us Warm (ECW Press) won a 2008 Governor General's Award. He is also co-winner of a 2009 New York Independent Media Alliance award for best feature article: "The Anti-Bloomberg: Can I Get an Amen?: Co-written with John Tarelton: The Indypendent 14 August 2009. His poems have appeared in journals and magazines across North America, including Rattle, Geist and Descant. He has poems appearing in three anthologies this coming year, including one in the UK. His most recent poetry collection is Letter from Brooklyn (ECW Press 2013). Jacob is a regular contributor to Toronto's NOW Magazine, and his first long form piece of literary journalism, "My Never-Ending Acid Trip" was published this past fall by the Toronto Star for their Star Dispatches ebook series.
TTQ – What inspired you to start writing poetry and who were some of your early influences or mentors?
Jacob Scheier – A cringe-inducing teenage angst inspired me to start writing poetry. When I was about sixteen I wrote what were probably closer to song lyrics, inspired by (cringe) Nine Inch Nails songs – particularly the ones where Trent Reznor contemplates suicide in response to a girl not liking him. Let’s just say the poems rhymed and the word “abyss” occurred frequently, and leave it at that. My mother, thank god, gave me some actual poets to read – Ginsberg, Jim Carol, Leonard Cohen and Bukowski were, for better or worse, early influences. My mother dying…(nearly thirteen years ago now) is what inspired me to write good, or at least better poems – writing became necessary and I think necessity is, well, necessary to good writing.
TTQ – In your opinion, what constitutes a great poem?
Jacob Scheier – I thought about this for a while and wondered how I would answer without sounding pompous and then realized — much to my relief — I didn’t really have an answer. I feel if you asked what makes a great short story, I would be able to answer that fairly easily despite the fact I am not a fiction writer. One of the things I love about poetry, I think, is that I can’t answer that question, really. Yet, I think I could tell you some things that would make for an awful poem. To avoid ducking the question entirely, I can offer that if a poem makes me see something in a way I’ve never seen or thought or felt about before (all three is best) and from then on I can never see that thing the same way again, it’s a pretty damn good poem.
TTQ – How would you best describe your new collection of poems, Letter From Brooklyn (ECW Press, 2013) and what message or feeling do you hope your readers will take away with them?
Jacob Scheier – Much of Letter From Brooklyn engages what I refer to as my Jewish-American-Radical heritage (my grandfather was a union organizer in Manhattan and member of the Communist Party) and my mother, in an act of rebellion, went further left and became a Trotskyite – she met my father through the Spartacist League – a Trotskyite group (sometimes I tell him I’m an anarchist to get under his skin)…Through poetry I want to explore this heritage and how it has shaped relationships in my family. I see the work in part as dialectic between the personal and historical. Over the period of time I spent writing the book, I lived in 3 different places (New York City, Toronto and Brandon, Manitoba). At some point as the poems began to take shape as a collection, I began to see that I was investigating concepts of “place” and “home” – I’m a product of the Jewish Diaspora, of course – though I feel that wandering is more than just a historical condition, but, I suppose, an existential one too. Along with this identity: belonging to history’s orphans, I am an orphan in the more familiar sense too — so the notion of where “home” is — is immensely complicated for me – and that is another thing I feel Letter From Brooklyn explores. In the absence of traditions, without centres or cohesive narratives, we are all wandering; we are all orphans in a sense, and so I hope that writing about my specific wandering would resonate with a lot of people, regardless of their background; regardless of where they are from.
TTQ – You included some poems concerning the Occupy Movement and I'm wondering what made you decide to include them, and what's your personal view on the Occupy Movement as a whole and do you think it's pretty much fizzled out from public attention?
Read the rest of the interview
What Keeps me up at Night
I am afraid.
Afraid that art and love
are merely hobbies
and should only be consummated
on 15 minute coffee breaks,
or they are only the ornaments,
the holiday décor
of shopping malls.
I am afraid.
Afraid that Bukowski was wrong.
What matters most is not how well you walk through the fire,
but how well you walk around it
or find a way to sell it
to the wealthy and the bored.
I am afraid.
Afraid I don't understand 'the markets,'
any of them.
And this is the only fire left
people are willing
to walk through.
I am afraid.
Afraid books are more commodity
And I have the same fear
Excerpt from More to Keep Us Warm
by Jacob Scheier © 2008 by ECW Press.
Used with permission from the publisher.
Letter from Brooklyn
I can already see how this will end.
How I will grow tired of the bridge's
steep incline and the absent-minded tourists
wandering into the bicycle path.
The weather will turn cold.
But that all happens later.
For now it is the early edge of fall,
leaves green still while the air narrows,
is slightly crisp, almost grazing
the hair of my arm like a passing stranger,
as though the air has been forced into intimacy
by the brevity of daylight.
But when it starts darkening at 4,
this closeness, I know, will turn to a felt distance,
like someone drawing your attention
to their lack of intimacy.
These days I am still walking at a cathedral pace
beneath the branches bending across the avenues,
brownstones like rows of lived-in chapels,
like a pop-up picture book I could have had as a child,
but didn't. How Brooklyn makes me nostalgic
for the moment I am walking inside of.
These late afternoons filled
with a kind of loneliness that makes me feel
distinctly myself, and an awareness
of how rare that is.
Excerpt from Letter From Brooklyn
by Jacob Scheier © 2013 by ECW Press.
Used with permission from the publisher.
WHERE: All of our reading events except the April one are held in the Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, covered terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture. The terrace is adequately warmed in winter by overhead heaters, but floor level can be cooler, so wear winter footwear, or two pair of socks.
LIVE MUSIC: From 6:30 to 7:00, David Simpson’s ‘Lucky Ole Sun’, along with vocalist Georgia March, will perform. Also during the intermission.
THE FEATURED POET: Jacob Scheier begins reading at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: Following the featured poets, there is about 1.5 hours of open mic, ending about 9:00 pm. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Sign up on the reader`s list, which is on the book table at the back. First come, first served.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates to London Open Mic Poetry Night receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by Brick Books and The Ontario Poetry Society. Donations are our only source of income. We still haven't paid off our initial debt.