Interview With Jonathan Caswell
Okay, I have to admit I’ve not been a big reader of poetry.
HOWEVER, I ended up corresponding with author Jonathan after he discovered my website and mentioned he had written some short poems about redheads, so naturally I had to read them! I ended up also reading other brief poems and limericks he has posted on a poetry blog he regularly contributes to and surprised myself because I actually discovered I enjoyed it -- poetry....Go figure!
As a result, I now have a "Poetry Corner" on my site where you can check out some of his ‘redhead’ poems yourself. Plus, when other poets contribute, I’ll add them there as well.
It turns out that Jonathan was a redhead in his earlier years, but like many of us has had a change in hair color with age. Because of his red hair, he certainly appreciates the experiences of natural redheads, and thus uses those insights and his Christian faith to inspire him.
Jonathan has been writing since his early teens and published various poems and other items over the years. He has recently published a 90-page collection of his limericks and haiku poetry, entitled "Spirit-Led Limericks and Other Christian Poetry," published by PublishAmerica.
Like I’ve said before, I love doing these interviews because they allow me to celebrate redheads and their wonderful gifts and talents that involve so many disciplines and areas. Turns out that now includes poetry!....
Well, onto my questions and finding out a bit more about what makes a (redhead) poet tick! interview!....
1) Thanks Jonathan for taking time to share with us! Can you tell us a bit about your family? And where did you grow up?
Mom (the redhead) was born and raised in Charlton, MA, on her family's farm, while my Dad was born in Upton, MA, moved with the family to the Cape (Cod) for a while and spent most of his school years growing up in Douglas, MA. They met in Methodist youth fellowship and stayed in touch through several years before marrying. Dad was a United Methodist minister in the Agawam/Feeding Hills area...a bit south of Springfield, MA...where both my older brother and I were born.
By the time I was 2 years old or so, Dad had transitioned from being a pastor into the Chaplaincy program and found a job as Protestant Chaplain at what was then the Binghamton (NY) State Hospital---now renamed the Binghamton Psychiatric Center---where the family stayed through my Dad's and Mom's retirement. Mom substitute-taught in the city school district when we kids were old enough to be either in school or left with a baby sitter. So, I really consider myself a transplanted New Englander---born in Massachusetts but largely raised in New York State, except for two weeks' vacation each year in August when we'd come out to visit!
2) Like many of us, I know your hair color has changed over the years but you were born a natural redhead. I have to ask if this was a surprise to your parents? And are there other redheads in your family?
Not a surprise at all. My Mom was a redhead, as well as several people on her side of the family...including at least one half-sister and a number of cousins.
3) Did you have negative experiences or get teased growing up because of your red hair? Did it help or hinder in any way?
My hair really wasn't as bright red as others or even some of my cousins so,, despite my allusions on the "Poetry Corner," my hair color was not a major problem for me, like it was for some of my classmates. But I did have a Preacher for a Dad---of some interest when Alice Cooper came on the scene---and a Mother, though, who was actively sub. teaching in my District...in my school...often for my teachers! She was on a first-name basis with all my teachers and I couldn't get away with ANYTHING (at least until I went away to college!)!! She could be STRICT (was at home, too).
4) What advice can you share for redheads who get teased or picked on?
My advice for redheads or anyone else who is different---I tended to identify with the different and outcast in my school, too---is to accept that you stand out and try to find your niche in life...your strengths and weaknesses. I had the advantage of being accepted by several cliques and could move around among them, but not everyone can do this.
5) As I mentioned above, I’ve posted some of your wonderful short poems about redheads on my web site. Naturally, I have to ask how all this started and exactly when did you begin writing poetry?
Well, around 10th grade I had an English teacher that helped me learn that writing was more than just as many words as I could pack in. In Junior and Senior High, in both school and church I found myself drawn toward the creative arts. In Senior High, another English teacher encouraged my entering a poem into a competition that got published in a regional, then the corresponding national, anthology. 'Bout ten years ago I discovered the limerick; got involved with THE PENTATETTE; got lots of practice writing on all kinds of subjects, and the rest is history.
6) Did anyone in particular encourage or inspire you to begin writing? Or did you even have a ‘mentor’?
Other than the above teachers, my Mother, and those in the church, I've had a few good friends and kind people that gave encouragement. I've tried a number of areas including short stories, feature articles, portrait painting, ad lib drama, group prayers and responsive reading (that I also do well)...but I keep coming back to poetry...it forces me to be less verbose than is my tendency and forces me to focus.
Actually Arthur Deex and the staff and contributors at THE PENTATETTE (the Newsletter of the Limerick Special Interest Group) have been mentors as far as my own growth in writing limericks. They didn't really care about printing Christian poetry, but as long as I could get my two cents' worth, I didn't care if they followed up with something making fun of vicars, bishops, Intelligent Design, etc. All part of the process.
7) What do you enjoy most about the whole writing process and putting poetry to paper (or computer)?
What do I enjoy most? It used to be seeing my name in print and getting attention out of that...still is, some. But I don't need that quite as much...'though I'll take what I can get! It seems to be more seeing ideas flow out of my mind through my pen or keyboard onto the page or screen, often as though preformed. It's having pushed the envelope just enough to have learned (most of the time) what can be shared and what is best left as private therapy. It's about knowing one's God-given gift is real and under my (and the Holy Spirit's) control.
8) What part does your Christian faith play in your writing and inspiration?
I think I've answered part of this already. I hope that my "secular" and "sacred" works might be seen as coming from the same over-plowing fountain of creativity rather than from two different, divergent springs, the way some in this world insist upon seeing things. I'm not sure I've always succeeded in this...I do sometimes "shoot from the hip" without due consideration.
9) You’ve recently had your poetry and limericks published, so congratulations! What originally prompted you to publish your work? Has it been a long journey to get it completed?
People have encouraged me to publish for years. I'd looked at vanity presses and the "big boys" without much in the way of a leading...it has to be God's work, not just mine. I got on Facebook, happened to come in contact with another Christian poet---Carl Gooch--and discovered not only his encouragement to publish, but also a company---Publish America---that he had used that seemed to (and has) meet/met my own practical and spiritual requirements.
10) Please pass on 2 tips for aspiring authors or poetry fans who want to pursue this art form?
A --- Use the third person even when writing what I call "therapy" poetry. Don't open yourself up to unnecessary ridicule or attack. My poetry does at times reflect some inner struggle or emotion of my own, but I feel free to change things to make a better rhyme or meter or story....and use he-and-or-she as the people involved. No one else needs or should have to know!
B --- I enjoy the process of creating, although sometimes I do force myself to write SOMETHING, ANYTHING...about anything...to get going. Save the editing process for after any first draft. If saying something a certain way sounds inappropriate, don't be afraid of searching for another way of saying the same idea. Words right off the top of one's head can hurt, injure, sometimes one's self and often others. Reworking and editing an idea IS a part of the process and it can be frustrating fun! ......'THE END'......
Again, thanks to Jonathan for taking time to share his thoughts about life as a redhead, his family, and of course his love of poetry. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him via our correspondence and reading his poetry, including his recent book "Spirit-Led Limericks and Other Christian Poetry" in which I personally appreciated his works' Christian emphasis. I genuinely hope Jonathan’s insight will inspire some authors out there to pursue their passion for it and also help out any redheads who’ve might be reading this!
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