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The Devil and Daniel Jones

May 31st, 2011 · 1 Comment

By Nathaniel G. Moore

Daniel Jones was a self-proclaimed alcoholic writer. Photo courtesy Sam Kanga.

This month, two works by the infamous late-Annex writer Daniel Jones are being reissued.Coach House’s The Brave Never Write Poetry comes with a brand new New Order record sleeve-inspired cover, while Three O’Clock Press’ remix of 1978 is slightly more sophisticated than its original release over a decade ago.

Born in a working-class district of Hamilton in 1959, Daniel Jones moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto in 1977. Before graduating, he embarked on a traveling expedition that saw him visit the United States and Central America. He then returned to Toronto where, according to a close friend, he lived in the Annex at various locales, including a house Vermont Avenue, but the one place he lived longest in Toronto was at College and Grace.

Jones divided his time between writing, performing at alcohol-fuelled poetry readings (on some occasions naked), and editing various small press micro-journals. He spent some of his time hospitalized, on welfare, or working at low-paying jobs to subsidize his writing career.

In 1985, The Brave Never Write Poetry (edited by one of Canada’s most distinguished poets, David McFadden) was published, and according to Jones’ highly autobiographical short story “In Various Restaurants,” the poet describes, with heart-breaking vitriol how “Nicola” never showed up to the launch, and was scared of him, which only fuelled Jones into more chemical debauchery and dangerous introspection.

Before his death, Jones did briefly attempt to make the most of his writing output, teaching at York University for two years. According to an article published just months after his death in Open Letter by Clint Burnham, the prospect of teaching was a brutal wake up call for Jones.

“For most of this country, these sub-occupations of the general label ‘intellectual’ mean almost nothing, a fact brought brutally home to Jones the two years he taught a fiction-writing course at York University when he would try to teach students, bedazzled by Hollywood ideas of creativity and writing, that most writers are not Stephen King.”

Jones turned his back on poetry, and in addition to editing many fledgling small-press journals in Toronto, began writing fiction before taking his own life in 1994, the day before Valentine’s Day.

“In Various Restaurants” epitomizes what Jones’ work did; ripping life right out of the red-hot embers of individuality, without extracting the emotional turmoil, or creating superficial misplaced energies lost in the transference from life to literature.

His extractions were exact DNA replications of both his own purpose and meaning, and those around him, who also appeared in his hazy horizons. It was never a simple literary construct with Jones, these characters lived and breathed and were fully realized, as likeable, unlikable, loveable monsters.

Though in “In Various Restaurants” Jones is a self-described alcoholic writer, it’s the tender versions of his character via Nicola in which we fall in love with both of them and their sprawling, waning unclear love affair. Unclear in the sense that it is perhaps nontraditional, mutually exploitative, narcissistic, and to a lesser extent, doomed.

In addition to these new titles, Jones’ work appears in two fiction books published by Mercury Press: Obsessions and The People One Knows.

Yet other work still remains in limited edition quantities. Mark McCawley, editor of Edmonton’s Greensleeve Editions and the underground literary journal Urban Graffiti, published Jones just before his death. “I published a chapbook of Jones’, The Job After The One Before, in 1990. Ever since, I have endeavored to keep the chapbook in print, re-printing whenever necessary.”

McCawley describes the chapbook as “a suite of interconnected, semi-autobiographical stories about various jobs the Jones persona experiences during his day passes from the Queen Street West psychiatric hospital—stories which would find further realization in his posthumous book, The People One Knows.”

Like all of Jones’ work, the stories are about real life, an almost Xeroxed facsimile of those who touched him. Though unnamed in the stories, the pot-smoking editor in “Occupational Therapy” is none other than the late Ted Plantos, and the silent, smoking editor in “The Birth of a Minor Canadian Poet” is David McFadden—who edited Jones’ sole trade book of poetry from Coach House Press in 1985, The Brave Never Write Poetry.

In 2003, Chelsea Ireton, a first-year York University drama student, was stage manager for a play called Poet based on Daniel Jones’ poetry, written by Robert Wallace. According to an archived issue of student paper Protem from November 2003, Ireton was asked to describe the play in one word, and she responded, “different,” adding “oh that sounded bad, but it isn’t that, it’s different in a good way.”

The play, in which “Wallace and his tremendously talented students explore Jones’ poems, extending them into powerful acts producing stellar moods birthed from the very poem itself,” ran for a week that fall.

Ireton described Jones’ poetry as having a “dark mood, yet he also has a dry humour,” and it was the hope of both Ireton and Wallace that the play’s vibrancy would encourage people to seek out the late poet’s original work.

With the two Jones reissues hitting stores this month, perhaps a whole new generation of readers may be waiting around for his words, as we speak, in various restaurants.

Nathaniel G Moore is a poet, novelist, essayist, and columnist with Open Book: Toronto. He has worked with the Toronto literary scene for over a decade.


Tags: Arts · People · General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 susan oppenheim // May 31, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    well researched article Sam-thx for this