Jon Goode writes. On April 1, Goode performed a selection of spoken word poems at Coe College, but he reiterates that he can write everything, including “poems, short stories, ransom notes.” He has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and CNN’s Black in America, and says he is inspired by writers as diverse as Zora Neale Hurston, Chuck Palahniuk, and David Sedaris. Two of his most resonant poems, “Barbara” and “Soul Akin,” can be viewed at the following links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f97imXlBnFQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_RRicFiNI8
After his performance, Coe Review communications editor Thomas Petrino sat down with Goode for an interview.
Coe Review: What inspires you?
Jon Goode: My poems deal a lot with everyday life. So, really the process of everyday life is what inspires me. I tell people all the time, “There is a poem on the other side of your door everyday, and whether you choose to write that poem or not is up to you.” I feel like the trick is to find the poetry, the story, the parable, in everyday things, to find a life lesson in those things. And I think that’s what makes poetry relatable, because it’s not moons, stars, and quasars, it’s everyday things that you or I could identify with, and from those things I try to extrapolate a larger meaning.
CR: Were you a bookworm growing up?
I was not. As a kid I read comics. That was my thing. I read comics and I read two authors with great consistency as a teenager and that was a guy named Donald Goines who wrote really hardcore street novels and a guy named Iceberg Slim who was a pimp-turned-author who also wrote these street narratives. In high school, I had a teacher, Mr. Brooks, and he got us down the road with James Baldwin, got us reading [Ralph] Ellison and Baldwin. And I think that’s when I really grabbed onto reading these authors. The language was so eloquent and so beautiful. Even when they were speaking about ugly things, the language was beautiful in speaking about that ugliness.
CR: When did you realize you wanted to make writing a career?
JG: I used to be an accountant for many, many years. I have a degree in economics and finance. And a friend dragged me to an open mic and on that particular evening I heard the most amazing spoken word artist. I was just amazed by what these people could do to a room of people with just their naked voice, how they could grab the audience’s attention, move their emotions, and raise awareness to subjects. It was just an amazing thing to me. So I began trying to see if I could also do that type of thing, and in time it seemed that I could. So during the day I would work my 9 to 5 and then at night I would be at nightclubs all night performing. And in time it just took off. People would invite me out and pay me. Then TV came calling. The HBO thing led me to writing some radio commercials for McDonald’s, which led to a print ad for Nike, which led to working with TV Land and Nick at Nite on a series of TV commercials, then Black in America with CNN. Everything led to the next thing, and it’s just been steady growth and progression. Definitely a thing where you feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. It grows and moves so organically and it grows so exponentially that you feel like “this is probably what I was put here to do.”
CR: Do you have any advice for young writers on how to find their own authentic voice?
JG: I think it’s something that you have to be aware that you’re searching for, and then there’s a trial and error thing. The way I sound now is not the way that I’ve always sounded. I used to read poems much more slowly. But in time, you stand on enough stages in front of enough audiences, or you write enough articles, and you start to figure out, “this is what I sound like, genuinely.” And then you really connect with an audience, connect with readers from that perspective from that point of view, from that voice.
By Thomas Petrino