Stephen Jonas

1921–1970

Though little is known of his life, including his date of birth and exact origins, poet Stephen Jonas was a vital part of the Boston poetry scene in the 1950s and ’60s. An African American poet who was largely self-taught and heavily influenced by the work of Charles Olson, Williams Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound, Jonas became friends with a circle of Boston poets including Jack Spicer, John Wieners, Robin Blaser, and Joe Dunn. Jonas’s poetry uses phonetic spellings, rhythmic phrasing, and composition by field techniques to transcribe both the langauge and experience of the street as well as aesthetics. His poetry exhibits qualities of both Olson’s “projectivist verse” and Jazz, especially in long polyphonic series such as “Exercises for Ear,” a 100-page poem described by Gerrit Lansing as “practice on the poet’s keyboard.”  

Jonas’s work is available in Selected Poems (1994), edited by Joseph Torra, which contains both “Exercises for Ear” and the set of long poems “Orgasms/Dominations.” Jonas is also one of four poets featured in T.J. Anderson III’s study of jazz poetry, Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry (2004). Jonas died in 1970.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

LIFE SPAN 1921–1970

Biography

Though little is known of his life, including his date of birth and exact origins, poet Stephen Jonas was a vital part of the Boston poetry scene in the 1950s and ’60s. An African American poet who was largely self-taught and heavily influenced by the work of Charles Olson, Williams Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound, Jonas became friends with a circle of Boston poets including Jack Spicer, John Wieners, Robin Blaser, and Joe Dunn. . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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