The Poetry Chapbook

Cinque Terre

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up The Task


Broken Images

This Poetry

In A Room of Unlit Candles




On The Nature Of Things: An Apology For The Starlings



Jon Pineda is the author of BIRTHMARK (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition. A recipient of a Virginia Commission for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, he is a graduate of James Madison University and of the MFA program in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received an AWP INTRO Award for Poetry. His recent work has appeared in PRAIRIE SCHOONER, SOU'WESTER and various anthologies.


Jon Pineda's Birthmark is a welcome and in some ways auspicious collection of poems by a young writer who will not be long in making his name and his poetry known. Possessing the delicacy of early James Wright and the improvisational bravura of Forest Gander, Pineda's strength lies in an unusual music and his feel for tidewater Virginia and the marvelous stories it tells him. Among these stories is the beautiful homage to family and the brave character of Filipino culture making that all-too-familiar journey toward new life in America. Birthmark is, like its namesake, tender, bright, lasting, and filled with identity we are called to remark is, if not our own, close enough to feel our own. This is a fine beginning for a splendid poet.

Dave Smith











Could you take us to the day when you first realized you were a poet?

I was twenty-three. It was the day I threw away every poem I had written up to that point in my life. It was long overdue to say the least.

Was there a poem that made you a poet?

Nerudaís "Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines" ("Puedo Escribir Los Versos Mas Tristes Esta Noche") opened a door for me. Even in its translated form. I love the intimacy (and confidence) of that poem. There were others as well, but I remember this poem as being especially poignant.

What is the childhood of a poet like?

Mine was wonderfully chaotic and, at the same time, laced with boredom. It was the perfect precursor to a writing life.

Do you think Filipino families are generally accepting of poets and artists among them? Why? How was it for you as a poet in your family?

I donít know about other Filipino families. I know my father was the first in his family to leave the Philippines, and I also know it wasnít easy for him to come this country and make a new life. But he did, and though we occasionally have differing viewpoints on "Life" (Iíve yet to meet many fathers & sons/daughters who donít), I know a large part of his success can be attributed to his doggedly pragmatic nature. I respect what he has accomplished, the many struggles he endured as an immigrant, and when I think back on instances when perhaps he wasnít initially thrilled with my wanting to study literature and poetry, I canít exactly blame him. Poetry, of course, means different things to different people. For me, it has always meant a life outside of this one. Something hopeful.

In terms of aesthetics, where do you see yourself in the world of poetry?

I donít think about the "world of poetry" much. There is just poetry, in all of its various forms, its inherent mysteries. I know there are numerous schools of thought, philosophies, publishing trends, etc., but all of that seems extremely limiting to me. Perhaps this reveals how unsophisticated I am as a poet! People that need to categorize my poetry will do so, regardless. I wish them all the best.

If there is one word/one moment/one insight you can bring poetry to, what would it be?

In many ways, it's about listening, as well as silence. That sounds contradictory, right? Iím not saying a poem canít be fitful and raucous and crass. It can be those things. It can also be meditative, mellifluous, subtle. No matter what path it takes, though, the world of the poemóits sounds and turnings and intimacies and actions and communionsóeventually ends, and there, waiting for you, is that inevitable silence all readers (and poets) must face. Poetry seems to me born out of oneís relationship with that silence.

How does poetry affect your roles in life ?

Most of my first collection makes attempts at sifting through my own childhood experiences, making sense of family tragedies, etc., but when I watched our first child being bornówhich came at a time when I was close to finishing a draft of the manuscriptóI remember being aware that everything from my life seemed to fall away. There was only that moment, the realization that my life, all I had ever known, was suddenly secondary. I like to think poetry has put me in a mode of being more receptive to whatever a moment chooses to unveil.

How do you write a poem?

I write and, if Iím lucky, there is something in the writing that refuses to stay trapped in the language. Thatís the poem emerging.

Describe the world around you when you write poetry ( e.g. physical space).

I wake early in the morning and write in a room that is supposed to be, I guess, a diningroom, though we donít use it as such. There is an easel in the corner (I started painting a while back).

What is/are your inspiration(s) in poetry?

In landscapes, I have always been inspired by the uncertainty of the ocean. Bodies of water. Things that shift and still manage to remain whole.

We live in very uncertain times, where do poets place in them?

I donít see poets as the ones with answers, or at least, I donít think people should be looking to poets for answers. Instead, if poets have a duty, theirs involves showering the world with little "Post-It" notes, where on each note is written the same message. I donít know what that message is exactly. Only that it somehow implicates everyone.

How did your first book come into being?

The poems were written over a five year period, and the final structure of the book only came about after numerous revisions, as well as with close readings by dear, dear friends.

Is there an ideal reader for your book?

I donít think so. I hope not.

What are some insights you can give a young poet? a young poet-of-color?

Donít be discouraged.

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Jon Pineda's Birthmark is one of those rare first books that will make its mark on their generation just as James Tate's The Lost Pilot and Tony Hoagland's Sweet Ruin had on their peers. These masculine poems explore the father/son dynamic in a mixed race context. The son is half Filipino and half white and this cultural conflict colors his interaction with his family members and the white American society of Hampton Roads, Virginia. This is a book which many poetry anthologists will turn to for years to come.
-- Nick Carbó

In this elegiac first book, memory takes the shape of a swimming lesson and of a house made of doors. Loss takes the shape of a scar, intimacy of a birthmark. Whatever marks a life changes, in the alchemy of this poetís language and vision, to moments that open, beyond coming and going, into the present. These are poems of great tenderness and grace.

--Margaret Gibson

Jon Pineda's first book is brimming with a wisdom that seems not contrived from literary ambition, but born of a joy for life quite incidental to such ambition. It is the wisdom of Telemachus, the prototypical son, gained from long hours contemplating the missing father, then reconciling to the father's return. It is a wisdom that begets tenderness, and broadcasts, with strength and humility, a vision of contraries reconciled at the core of longing. Birthmark is a fine and absorbing book, I'm sure the first of many.

Richard Katrovas

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