New, harmonic poetry

After years of preparation and work poet Jesse Ferguson is taking his uniquely modern approach to literature across the country

Ferguson sees a unifying musical theme in his book Harmonics.
Ferguson sees a unifying musical theme in his book Harmonics.
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Out with the old, in with the new—so goes Cornwall, Ont. native Jesse Ferguson’s poetic approach.

“These days, there’s new poetry,” he told the Journal from his home in Fredericton, N.B. “People need to get out there and find out what’s been done since Tennyson and Wordsworth.” The emerging young poet’s first published collection of poetry, Harmonics, launches this week and started a four-city tour Wednesday. After making stops in Hamilton and Toronto, Ferguson hits Kingston tonight.

“I’ve had some other short chapbooks—sort of pamphlets—published, but this is the first real trade book,” Ferguson said.

Harmonics, written over the past five years, is unified by the theme of music rather than a specific poetic genre.

“When I tried to collect poems and put them in a book, we arranged it so that one section would have poems that amplify or riff off the ones in the first section,” Ferguson said, adding that this musical quality is what inspired the book’s title.

Although Harmonics is Ferguson’s first published book, he’s no stranger to the craft of poetry.

“I’ve been writing since high school. I’d put it at about nine years, in a serious way,” Ferguson said.

More recently, Ferguson has balanced his passion for poetry with enrolment in the English Literature PhD program at the University of New Brunswick. Ferguson’s doctorate follows on the wings of his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English, both from the University of Ottawa.

“Through the whole time I was writing, I was also doing full-time studies,” he said, adding that he did some musical performing on the side. Ferguson’s close connection to music not only unifies the poems chosen for Harmonics, but has also shaped his personal history.

“Basically I was a creative kid, all the while when I was growing up,” Ferguson said. “I still play music and I sing—I play a number of instruments.”

Although Ferguson calls visual arts his first love, he now sees poetry as a departure point from which to launch his ideas.

“I still do all three—music, art, writing—depending on my mood,” he said. “Poetry came last, actually. I felt I could express the most complex ideas and emotions through poetry. It was the most freeing.”

Inspired by global issues and environmental trends, Ferguson is quick to dispel the notion that poetry has to be flatly focused on aesthetics. “It’s not all daffodils and lonely clouds,” he said. “People need to find out what’s going on in poetry these days—poets are engaging with serious issues of the day.”

Ferguson, who cites nature, science and the environment among his favourite themes to work with, likes to tackle tangible, weighty issues of global significance in his poetry.

“Lately I’ve been writing a lot of eco-poetry, raising awareness of people’s interactions with nature. I’ve also dealt with general politics—like global wealth distribution.”

As down-to-earth as his subject matter may be, Ferguson always seems to return to his flair for musical energy.

“In my poems, I end up getting engaged with music, visual arts, even responding to paintings,” he said.

Ferguson said students interested in the field should recognize the fun in the writing process.

“The key is not to over-think writing at the first stages. Just enjoy the experience and let the words flow, and don’t worry if someone will like it,” he said. “That sense of fun has to be there at the beginning.”

He also believes harsh critiques are sometimes better left behind, especially for beginners.

“If you can’t get those voices out of your head—people who’ve criticized your work—they’ll stifle the process,” he said.

Even with his first publishing success under his belt, Ferguson isn’t planning to stop anytime soon. As a young poet, his career is only just taking shape.

“In five years, I’d like to be teaching somewhere—creative writing at a university, probably. In 10 years, I’d like to have two or three more books published,” he said.

As for the long term, Ferguson has his eye on the prize.

“One day, I dream of winning some kind of award—but for now, I’m not holding my breath,” he said.

After years of writing and hard work, Ferguson is eager to get on the road and launch his debut.

“I’m looking forward to the tour,” he said. “It’s a chance for people to get out there and find out what poetry can be.”

Jesse Ferguson will read alongside Kingston poet Jason Heroux at the Sandra Witton Gallery, 250 Ontario St. at 7:30 pm tonight. A wine and cheese reception will follow the launch. Admission is free.

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