Getting to Know Jason Adam Sheets, Author of A Madness of Blue Obsidian

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems? 

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, when I was 18. It spoke deeply to something within me that lit this proverbial lamp of remembrance, something about the metaphysics of poetry and the phenomenology of language. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that poetry chooses the poet, not vice versa, and that poetry exists and moves within our experience to seek and be sought, to know and be known. The same could be thought for beauty, mystery, truth, love—all the divine ineffable things that experience us as we experience them. 

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write? 

No, I don’t believe I have either. Not set in stone, at least. I enjoy the spontaneous nature of poetry. Aside from time spent on final revisions and on the business side of things, the art is better to me when I keep it away from the confines of my mundane human routine. I do have a process, though, which involves filling the proverbial well, over time, with whatever dark or shiny things fall into the bucket of my experience. I collect my poem’s things, here and there, drop by drop, until they become married to my vocabulary and are ready to honeymoon onto the page. No rigid routine. I’m at their beck and call. 

Where do your poems most often “come from”—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea? 

Poetry arrives at the known and unknown senses and never with repeated exactness. It can be from anything. All things are vehicles for a poem’s transmission. Poetry is the only thing that knows from where the poem ultimately came, not I (though the I in the poem knows). I don’t know where my poems come from, but I do know that they come through the spirit of things. During the encounter or in the afterthought of the encounter. 

Which writers (living or dead) have influenced you the most? 

I’m a modernist and surrealist by inclination and education, so plausibly most poets and writers, and artists, who belong to these movements. Stein, Breton, Tzara, Carrington, and Darío, to name a handful.

What excites you most about your new collection? (Significance of the title? Overarching themes? Process/experience of assembling it?) 

The one thing that moves me when a book of mine is published is learning which poems speak to which readers and why. The answers are always distinct and dynamic. As things go, I’ve come to believe that a poem is no longer mine once it becomes home in the spirit of whichever reader it’s meant, to whom it has always belonged. As a poet, I’m just the middle person. Poets are middle people, messengers, tasked by poetry to get the poem to the reader. This is the apogee of a poem’s journey, isn’t it? No one wants to read me. Or any poet, really. They want to read the poem. They want to read the poem that can read them back to themselves. 

Jason Adam Sheets holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard. Books include A Madness of Blue Obsidian (AGP, 2022), The Hour Wasp (AGP, 2017), and Theopoetica: An Anthology (forthcoming). His work has been featured by Oxford University’s Research Centre in the Humanities and The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School. He has taught for the Poetry in America program, in affiliation with the eponymous PBS television series, and has worked as a mentor for AWP’s Writer to Writer mentorship program, Season 10. His work has been supported by Harvard University, PEN America, and Poets & Writers magazine.