Inside the Mind of Jason McCall
Jason McCall is an Instructor at The University of Alabama who works with Slash Pine Press, a poetry and mixed genre chapbook publisher. McCall has published four poetry chapbooks, including Dear Hero, which won the 2012 Marsh Hawk Press poetry prize.
Tell us a little about yourself and your involvement with Slash Pine Press.
I’ve been an instructor in the department since 2009. Currently, I help with organizing the annual Slash Pine Writing Festival and reading manuscripts for the poetry chapbook contest.
How did you get involved with Slash Pine?
During the 2014-2015 school year, the editorial staff at Slash Pine Press was were looking for faculty members to help with organizing the yearly festival and reading manuscripts for the contests. I think the contests and festival are a great way to expose students to talented writers and help them become familiar with the literary arts community, so I was happy to help.
When did you first start writing poetry?
I started in 9th grade. Luckily, my history teacher was also the creative writing teacher. There was a sign-up sheet for a creative writing elective. I didn’t want to spend another year in computer programming, so I decided to try creative writing instead.
What do you like best about writing poetry?
My favorite part of writing poetry is interacting with other readers and writers, especially students. Talking with other writers and readers about my work often helps me find different ideas for new projects and possibilities.
You often use mythological references, as well as references from the world of pro-wrestling and comic books. What aspects of mythology and comics do you like the most and why you use them as frequent symbols in your writing?
My undergraduate degree is in Classical Civilizations, and I’ve always been a fan of how older narratives and ideas resurface and are manipulated throughout time. Mythology and comic books are just media used to portray these narratives. For instance, in my poem, “Silver,” I write: “I’m thinking / about God, Spiderman, and all the other men / I’ve looked up to at some point. Every boy needs / heroes, and I found mine in Hector, Wile E. / Coyote, the 1990-1993 Buffalo Bills, and Job / before he got everything back.”
In some of your earlier work, you frequently compare the speaker to Fenrir the Wolf, a character of Norse mythology. What is about this character that speaks to you?
In my first project, Silver, I use Fenrir’s relationship with society as a metaphor for issues facing black children. Fenrir’s father is Loki, the trickster/hustler god, and he is locked in jail during Fenrir’s childhood. Fenrir and his siblings start out as pets/mascots for the Norse gods, but they’re eventually viewed as monsters when they grow too big for the gods to control. Fenrir’s narrative helped illustrate ideas I wanted to explore in Silver.
Your poetry often deals with dark subject matter. Do you feel that poetry helps you express some of the dark corners of the human experience that society might not find appropriate to express?
I don’t think my poetry is dark at all. My poetry collections probably have more jokes than average poetry collections. People laugh at my poetry readings. I don’t think of dark or light subject matter when I approach poetry. Childhood can be light and humorous, but also nightmarish. It’s still childhood. The idea of heroism can make us feel proud of ourselves. At the same time, it can also make us ashamed to look in the mirror, because our reflections have a way of reminding us that we don’t measure up to our heroes yet. Subject matter is usually neutral.
Are you involved in any other organizations in the community?
Other than Slash Pine, I also co-organize the Emerging Scholars presentation series. This series allows instructors and graduate students in the department to share their research or creative projects, and it offers a space for my colleagues to practice presentations before attending conferences and academic meetings.
Where is your favorite environment to read poetry?
I can read and write anywhere. This is probably one of the only advantages I might have other writers, who might need to be in specific rooms, or who might need specific background noise (or silence) in order to generate texts.
Which of your poems speaks to you the most?
I don’t have a favorite poem that I’ve written. One of my poems starts with a quote from Shaquille O’Neal. As a 90s sports junkie, that was a big deal for me.