I first learned about Jon Leon’s work after receiving a “black market” copy of Hit Wave … sent to me by an acquaintance who had scanned it to .pdf during after hours at their white-collar office job (Wiley Publishing, if it matters). Hit Wave had an excerpt of the chapbook Kasmir in the back. Then someone gave me Alexandra, then Tract, then Hot Tub (published opposite Glory Hole by Dan Hoy by Mal-O-Mar Editions). Then James Copeland was launching a new journal, Content, which was going to feature one artist per issue, letting them fill up the 70 or so pages however they liked. The first issue was Jon Leon, titled Elizabeth Zoё Lindsay Drink Fanta, with photographic stills I imagine he took of a TV from his mobile—with no text. I remember people being pretty upset about it.
There is already some critical thought published online about the tight self-control, beautification, and strategic posturing of the image Jon Leon has created for himself. The life lived as artist. In an open letter to Lindsay Lohan proposing (propositioning?) a collaborative project to her, he admits that he is “keenly interested in a certain pornographic mood or period, oft times softcore, fuzzy, and vintage.” I felt it was true and too accurate and for that reason I didn’t want him to say it so clearly.
So there already was, as much as there could be in contemporary poetry, a discourse surrounding the author. As of a year ago, he was rumoured to live in L.A., Raleigh, or possibly Miami. I ordered an artist edition called Die With These Bitches, self-released and published on unbound Gladstone Gallery stationary. Another newer release, which only circulated back to me via .pdf late this winter, titled Midriff, is scribbled on small nightstand memo sheets from the historic Chateau Marmont. Dan Hoy, writing on the critical website Montevidayo, says “It’s as if he’s living the message, yet waiting for someone else to deliver it to the masses. This puts any critic in the position of a kind of retroactive John the Baptist, announcing the arrival of Jon Leon’s image on this planet after it has already (rumor has it) departed”
Maybe about a year ago, Futurepoem announced that Wayne Kostenbaum [along with fellow guest editors Anne Waldman and Lytle Shaw] selected a manuscript The Malady of the Century by Jon Leon to be published in late winter. I spoke to Wayne about his selection after he appeared at a Wilde Boys salon in Manhattan, and he was asking me specifically about Jon’s personality, what he was like. What was I supposed to say? The Malady of the Century is his first full-length book of writing. It was a chosen book. The Malady of the Century is basically five books inside one cover, Drain You, Hit Wave, Right Now The Music and the Life Rule, Mirage and White Girls. There is really nothing like it. Hit Wave is the highlight; written entirely in vignettes, the sections take us through a world-chic poetics of power, dominance, the market, illicit desire, luxury and high fashion. A pitch-perfect memoir or tell-all constructing a narrative of literary celebrity, international speculation, sexual exploitation, art class barbershop magazines, enterprise, life as art.
From Hit Wave: My life until then was a variety of despots: chokehold girlfriends, mindless trysts, naked bodies on a beautiful couch. I hated the way it was constant on top. I knew it to be untrue. Through the media I was in touch with my fame. I excelled under pressure from below. I wrote a book around this time about a dilettante named Sukarov. We were under pressure from the financiers. I abandoned the serial style of the 60’s and found the reactionary lyric impossible. An interview in Doublewide magazine received over 20,000 hits on the first day. I lied through my teeth but I did invent a new language. “I am a writer” I relentlessly repeated, “I am a writer.” But why goddamn didn’t I feel like it.
Broadway Video carried exploitation films exclusively. They also provided free condoms at the rental counter. Helen and I visited frequently in the winter months. At that time I lived on the west side with Andrew in a house full of Dali reproductions and psychedelic paraphernalia. Luckily I was able to move out quickly and lease a studio in Miami. Ketja and I took holiday at the Thunderbird Inn. There I wrote several vignettes under the heading “I Hate American Girls.” At night we’d watch the sky turn purple turn pink turn orange-blue and melt into the horizon below the palm trees.
I befriended Keystone early on as a writer. Like me, he had a keen interest in poetry but hated the very word. We decided one night while thumbing the latest installment of Revue de Poets that the problem was surplus. At that time there wasn’t much influence to be wielded by a couple of underpublished amateurs, but little by little we managed to shame the pipsqueaks back to the mediocrity from whence they’d come. Anticipating the day when luxury would replace bounty as a prevailing aesthetic.
Having published Jon in my now defunct journal, I offered to do a feature length interview with him, to be placed in the Paris Review, or Vanity Fair, W, etc. Maybe Vogue (Jack Gilbert was photographed for that magazine once after he won the Yale Younger Poets award). He agreed to the interview, and I sent the first question. Jon asked for some time to respond, then there was a long silence, and then finally an answer:
Ben, after careful consideration I’ve decided not to give anymore interviews. I feel it is distracting to the work, and that this is a time to focus on the books of the future.
I appreciate your interest in talking with me.