Eric Amling and Jon Leon on the bi-coastal, patio lifestyle of Leon’s new book of poetry The Malady of the Century.
My sister worked in a video store down the street from our house in south Brooklyn. It was during my formative years when I dreamed of straight-to-video actresses, the VCR tracking warping the starlets’ bodies into video gamma mutations, the soundtracks having a feigned sensitivity. There was simply money, bodies, and freedom. The moments that occur in that cinema bring to mind the work of Jon Leon. When you are reading his work, there is a soft lens over the page. The shock value is muted by the blasé delivery. But in his work are powerful strobes of truth, the sobering realities from a showman.
Leon’s debut full-length work The Malady of the Century was released in May by Futurepoem. A collection of poetics he would refer to as the “Waste Wave.” A work that showcases a world of pleasure principles. A work that exudes a hypnotic void. Inside this void there is a light that pulses, emanating from this book.
Eric Amling On a flight to Chicago the day after your book launch reading with Wayne Koestenbaum at Envoy Enterprises, I read The Malady of the Century while climbing altitude over Amish Pennsylvania. I was looking at the singular roads through the vast green. I started thinking how your work is majorly coastal, liquid. The urban coast life can be attractive, destructive and inspiring to many, and in The Malady you can see why. Is this something of value to talk about?
Jon Leon Absolutely, that bi-coastal, patio lifestyle, if you will, is a primary motif throughout the book; throughout my entire oeuvre. It’s only attractive to the limit that anything out of reach is potentially attractive. Within the context of The Malady of the Century, that lifestyle isn’t out of reach; it’s just a way of being in the world. It’s not solely about desire. The sequences within the book are about showcasing an experience that isn’t often read about in contemporary poetry outside of Frederick Seidel’s work. Poetry doesn’t reach the very particular luxury-conscious set that is navigating art and culture right now. I aimed to give a voice, through vignettes and prose poems, to that set. In The Malady of the Century, more than any of my other books, I wished to present poetry as a poetic way of life—a life of leisure, pleasure, and thought—refreshed by the very seas by which we lounge. It isn’t excess, it’s largesse and the boredom that follows it. No one actually self-destructs in the book, they just become conditioned by the malady.
What about your full-length work-in-progress Emerald Blonde? You nail a certain mood, style, and aesthetic. Would you call them frontier poems?
EA Right, there’s this lust-with-no-consequence element I really enjoy. Reading the book is like drinking benzodiazepine-spiked sparkling water. Well, Badoit water, obviously. There isn’t a full emotional impact but rather a replaced distraction. Like you said, there is no self-destruction, actually. In an essay, Lisa Robertson talks about how the structure of freedom is entirely synthetic, that “the most pleasing civic object would be erotic hope.” This too reminds me of the malady you’re talking about. The syntax in ’70s adult magazine literature had this synthetic magic. The dreams can certainly be real. As far as referring to my work as “frontier poems” I can say that’s accurate as they are also binding luxury aesthetics with location, but a Denim Luxury. As your narrators have actually arrived, mine only think they have.
JL Freedom is a good word to mention around my work. It’s intuitive to equate total freedom with total consequence-less joy, the kind of euphoric pleasure and magic available in my work, or in adult literature, but I think the characters in my work are attempting to navigate that lifestyle in a more complex way. The activities they engage in or the things they look at seem more about attempting an outward manifestation of their “erotic hope” in order to prove that it’s true, that freedom is possible, rather than a naive acceptance of its potential. They accept that freedom isn’t a given. There’s no free place, psychically or geographically, one can just step into. A complete analysis of that erotic drive reveals a disconnection between what the characters in my work hope for and what is possible within the structure of society. The fact that they continue to push toward the limit of freedom yet seem consumed by dissatisfaction is testament to that. The Statue of Liberty is an awesome monument to independence, but that doesn’t mean every person who lives in this country is a totally self-actualized whole being experiencing limitless joy. I think I’ve written these characters with a deep understanding of their plight. They go around making iconic gestures and in the end it winds up in exhaustion. In the final paragraphs of “Hit Wave” the narrator states, “Our little slice of pie was now only a plate of crumbs.”
EA Let’s then talk for a moment about fashion; the freedom, monetarily and psychologically, that it provides your characters. In the sequence “Right Now the Music and the Life Rule” you describe fashion model pictorials with euphoric consideration: “Lydia Hearst is truly stunning in a dress by Missoni . . . . [her headband] makes me want to be content and forget politics.” Again the theme of Escapism via Inanimate Object. Walter Benjamin, in The Arcades Project, said, “Every fashion stands in opposition to the organic. Every fashion couples the living body to the inorganic world. To the living, fashion defends the rights of the corpse.” In the poem “Money Bags” in my book the narrator states “Clothes don’t say much about a person anymore.” I’m talking outside of having the means to obtain an object, I’m talking about the actual expression of individuality. The models in this sequence are so painfully stylized you can only guess at their free wills. Would you agree?
JL Within the context of the fashion editorial, and further, within that sequence of my book, these models don’t have free wills. They’re all at work. They’re all being photographed for money. As do the magazines that employ them, I find them to be evolutionarily superior and worth paying to drape fabric over. I believe in the value and creativity of the fashion industry and the way in which it operates. It’s an appealing and functional art form in which one’s health is prioritized. I believe beautiful talented people should win. And I disagree with Benjamin that fashion is inorganic. The inputs to the manufacturing process of clothing necessarily originate from the natural environment. Clothes may not say much about individuality, no, more importantly, they tell us about an economic hierarchy, and they assist in attracting more money and more sex, while providing a unique context for the deep culture of the present moment. Money and sex are two pursuits that can bring a great deal of pleasure and joy to an individual’s life, and hopefully the pursuit of money and sex will act as a catalyst for healthier lifestyles. I’m not really sure what an “inorganic world” is? There is only one world. Everything is organic.
EA An “inorganic world” is the artificial snow that falls nightly on the Kremlin suntans in a Brooklyn-Russian discotheque.
JL I’ll concede to a synthetic world. The star projectors Drake mentions in “Crew Love.” It’s true one can make the world in their own image. God did it. The first chapter of Genesis states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Perhaps The Malady of the Century is just a crystallization of that drive—wanting to recreate Eden like God, the greatest artist, the most perverse author of the most serene peace. If the holy scriptures tell me I’m part God’s image then I take the malady as my responsibility, and I promote its manifestation in reality. Some people might call this a Messiah complex, but God told me I’m The Messiah.
EA A Messiah of your own Eden. A place many strive to frequent. Metaphorically. Spiritually. Vacations. In this book, 88 Pages, six by eight dimensions, you are experiencing an Eden. It is experiencing the God of his own world. Edens are fantasy. Can it be said then that everyone’s personal Eden is synthetic since they are a replication of the “original?” The Malady of the Century then is a success of personal Eden. In the sequence “White Girls,” your narrator, when about to engage in pure ecstasy, requests God “ . . . to come down here through that hole in the night and join me in Eden.” And God would have. God created the first sex spa.
JL I think God looks upon me as one of his children, and ever since The Fall of Man he has looked forward to whom that would return humankind to paradise. I offer The Malady of the Century and my other works in the literary arts in order to free humankind from a guilty world, and provide a joy without conclusion. I think everyone’s personal Eden is the same total Eden. One that can release us from nostalgia, and instead offer the pleasures of the eternal moment. When I ask God to join me in Eden I’m looking to the heavens. And the heavens are wide open.
Eric Amling is an artist and writer from Brooklyn, NY. His chapbook, Didn’t Suspect the Forcefield, will be released by Greying Ghost Press in summer 2012.
The Malady of the Century is available now from Futurepoem.