Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?
Jerome: I started writing somewhat seriously in high school, transitioned into a predominantly screenwriting focused mode as a young adult. Then, when not much came of that after many grueling efforts and enormous sacrifice, I put my pen down and did not pick it back up again until many years later. I only experienced another sudden burst of creativity, one day out of the blue, after something of an existential crisis, and found the outlets provided by fiction and poetry, flirtations with the roman à clef, to be immensely therapeutic means of processing past history and present difficulties, and furthermore conceivably each presented a potent political tool for criticizing things internal and external which needed improvement, in the age-old tradition of ‘educate-organize-agitate’ and hopes of making some modest contributions to the many good causes out there, each needing all the help they can get.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Jerome: Writing always seemed such a wonderfully enticing and effective means of communicating and sparking reform, of changing tides and bridging gaps, raising awareness as well as promoting empathy not to mention solidarity, of increasing global citizenship and improving critical thinking. I’m a rather deplorable public speaker, a highly anxious person not spectacular at human interaction—quite plausibly figure somewhere on the autistic spectrum, indeed, back before Asperger’s was removed from the DSM that diagnosis fit many of my oddities to a tee—or engaging with my fellow citizens. I guess the ability to explain, even more so ideally to educate and persuade, capacity for helping correct wrongs and generate love and fraternity always drew me to accessible, popular media, from the genre picture to the serial story and finally this delightfully compact and graffiti-able haiku where I’ve been most at home for my adult life. Poetry is arguably one of the most accessible mediums, to the author and recipient both, hence why it offers a beloved glimpse into working class heroes like Bukowski and sagacious paupers including our great wandering short form masters. Working in Hollywood, the insidious influence, primacy of capital and industry (and their defense and propaganda arms unmistakably) became immediately apparent and the impossibility of anything genuinely revolutionary (rather than distractive and misdirecting, divisive or reductionist) ever being permitted, in the compromised, strangle-held system beholden to vested interests and big-pocketed lobbyists, was quite discernible. Voltaire argued that a pamphlet was more powerful than his day’s equivalent of a shelf of (highly sus) Noam Chomsky’s convoluted jabberings, and I’m inclined to agree with him. The sound bites and slogans a good haiku approximates would make a wonderful Wobbly agitator in a train car, might have been spray painted across a wall by some Basquiat. That brevity and economy as a vehicle for transmitting important knowledge (in forums like the exquisite “Siege” column recently curated by Suspect Device Zine across the pond) makes the short forms uniquely suited and attractive as a tool for activism and sparking positive wide-reaching social change of the sorts our embattled species so desperately needs if we hope to survive another generation.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
I had two high school instructors who stand out, I’ll never forget, Roger Mahn who first taught me creative writing, and Robert Tietze who introduced me to Hamlet, immersed us in it inside and out so the play will be forever charred into our brains in the best possible ways. I had an excellent directing prof Barnett Kellman who taught me about the performance and blocking, timing and beats of a scene, which are sort of the less appreciated physical components of structuring a story and its relaying. More recently I’ve had some extraordinarily generous mentors and role models in the poetry world who have passed along their troves of knowledge and permitted me to absorb much impressive wisdom through osmosis. Professor David McMurray who edits the haiku column in widely read (6 million subscribers!! :o) Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun was one of the first accredited authorities in our highly particular and difficult to penetrate scene who took a shine to my work and provided it a noteworthy platform, and has also been immensely helpful in offering feedback and insights into the craft and its effective practice. Acclaimed poet, editor and teacher Charlotte Digregorio has also really benevolently taken me under her wing and Mrs. Miyagi drilled me with the most helpful no punches pulled constructive critiques and recommendations on the precise and highly specific conventions of the senryu, tanka, and haiku forms which she is a recognized expert in. I’ve been fortunate to strike up a wonderful friendship which has resulted in some ongoing collaborations with two of my favorite publishing poets of our day, senryu master and African poetry pioneer Adjei Agyei-Baah and his friend and guru JQ Zheng, renowned editor and (besides groundbreaking cento haiku innovator) perhaps best recognized as the most sensational, exquisite virtuoso of the haibun form our age has yielded. These meaningful relationships both blossomed out of some reviews I enthusiastically composed after encountering and deeply admiring their works, as did another fantastic connection I made with one of my favorite poets publishing today, the incomparable dada surrealist phenom J.D. Nelson, whose upcoming collection soon to be released you do not want to miss incidentally. A seasoned practitioner, well versed in the trials of this difficult medium, with unbelievable drive and astonishing vision (and a track record of the highest caliber published work about a mile long) , J.D. has been such an amazing role model and inspiration to me and so many of our colleagues, the poetry scene is forever in his debt and deeply blessed for the brain, heart, and patience he brings and inspires in all within his radius. Pippa Phillips has been an amazing exemplar of all that is good, righteous, and possible for the evolving short forms, and publishers/voices like Patricia McGuire at Poetry Pea, Justin Sloane at Starship Sloane have been shining lights of courage and invention among so many glorious visionaries.
(There are so many other people I want to list— David L. O’Nan of your own remarkable Fevers of the Mind is doing more exceptional and fascinating new things each day it seems—you know who you are, I’ll find an opportunity to sing your deserved praises too whenever I can! If you are not following me on Twitter, do pop in for a peek, mostly my account is just furiously retweeting my favorite writers and visual artists, and celebrating the brilliant work they share and publish each day. We’re truly experiencing a stunning and exciting renaissance in this digital age of ours, and the post-Covid explosion of angst and hope beautifully intermingled is something to witness…)
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Jerome: My upbringing as a comparatively poor kid in otherwise posh Wayzata schools, and later experiences with higher education playing the same outsider role amongst Greek opulence of the University of Spoiled Children, if anything made me more class conscious, and reinforced, solidified my beliefs and narrowed my focus on a great many economic and social outrages most prominently afflicting our civilization. Curiously the infiltration and coopting of media on a broad scale by agencies and forces of the state directly and transparently was something I was also quite unnerved at many exposures to in the film program, and later working in the entertainment industry. It was only through those observations that I achieved a holistic appreciation and profound distrust for media in general and its figureheads individually. I also made some life-changing connections with comrades in the Occupy movement of Los Angeles who changed my life and broadened my perspective, shifted many paradigms immeasurably. Their influence helped place me on a path toward who I am today— as a salty Green, who went on to support Standing Rock proponents, and in recent years have done everything in my power to advocate for the sanctity of black lives in Minneapolis and the need for a complete re-envisioning of entire institutions from the ground up—and I’ll be forever in their debt. I guess it’s become quite gentrified since being the one-time haven for starving artists and their Salvatruchan neighbors, but I’ll also never forget the memorable times I spent living in the wild Wild West that was Koreatown, Los Angeles, during something of its recent heyday, which I imagine was not unlike the magnificent mayhem of New York before Giuliani buffed everything with white paint. We had some times…
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
From an early age (and personal experience has only cemented the notion) I had it instilled in me that you have to throw a lot of s*** at the wall to get something to stick. I’ve tried a great deal of different approaches, forms, styles, sometimes succeeding, more frequently falling squarely on my face in different ways. But I don’t regret any of them, like all the mistakes which led to where and who I am today. Without grievous failures, errors, hubris and ego’s sabotage, love’s foiling, how might I have grown and learned anything of consequence? I read every book Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and while I could never do what he does, I’d like to try my own variation on the themes. Josh Malerman (who has a new novel dropping any day now!) is also a huge hero of mine, whose prolificness and gift for invention is just remarkable. But both those maestros try an awful lot of different tacks, and they could never have landed at their greatest triumphs without such quantities of trial and error, this scientific method of sorts. The longest thing I ever wrote (more of a prolonged, bathrobed ranting against capitalism for 500+ pages, which could plausibly have been co-authored by Jack Torrance at his most unhinged, interspersed with occasional snatches of plot and narration) was my fourth novel The Experiment. My first the Havenauts is probably the most meaningful and true of the slate, if there’s also much of the customary doomsayer soapbox, and some unsavory ugliness and sadness entailed by exorcising a great many long pent-up demons. I have about one reader who’s actually tackled much of the oeuvre, in his opinion the companion collections of poems Unlikable Protagonists and Flightless Birds (the two with Seurat studies for covers) are the best things I’ve done to date, though he’s a Greek mythology wonk like me so that might figure heavily into his appraisal. The purest example of haiku my micropoetry chapbooks can claim is Dog Days, all about training a puppy and gardening, yet managing to be rather dark and moody nonetheless. A great many of my other 3-liners elsewhere diverge somewhat to considerably from traditional definitions of that or senryu I should warn purists; the Irish Haiku Society dismissed them as ‘doggerels’ and me as an ‘arsehole’. They’re not wrong.
 e.g. A longtime enthusiasm for the past tense, a weakness for attaching titles/headnotes, formal things which despite my rebellious nature I’ve gradually moved away from since internalizing expectations and parameters of the highly regimented and inflexible general mandates of elusive English ‘ku, plenty of which I’ll still engage in spirited debate over the legitimacy of, and are being thrillingly discoursed upon and debated by international droves across countless channels daily.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Jerome: For years forest bathing and nature photography was my go to, but I’ve fallen out of practice with both. Drinking excessively I’ve also dabbled with, but don’t recommend it out of moderation. Gardening, I’d say, most emphatically. Dog walking can also be great fun and good exercise, I used to really enjoy volunteering at rescues back in California, would be delighted to assist similarly in Minnesota where I’ve spent much of the last decade but have yet to connect with any place in my area where it’s not a prohibitively huge hassle. I was getting back into chess not too long ago, but have fallen out of touch with my go-to opponent/teacher, am glad this reminded me, should pick that up again. Same with the game Go, really enjoyed in my younger years. This year reading poetry and prose of the French Surrealists and the saijiki of Jane Reichhold — also Salad Anniversary, Tangled Hair, Haiku Master Buson — have been two of my greatest pleasures. Chain-smoking.
Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza/lyric from your writing?
It’s pure doggerel juvenilia, but this double couplet I find my thoughts returning to on frequent occasions, comes from one of the few lengthier rhyming pieces I ever produced. In haiku that practice is strictly forgiven (though this week’s Foundation “Haiku Dialogue” is challenging that assumption excitingly) but I grew up during rap’s golden age and had many hip hop friends around the art scene, so I nonetheless do find myself slipping into it inadvertently once in a while. Wow, you would not believe how difficult it is preserving the rhymes in 19th century Swedish poetry translated into English by the way. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine that so few attempt that with rhymed classics are brought into our tongue from Spanish or French; they cite preferencing accuracy, but I charge laziness and cowardice is as often to blame, and that where they originally existed a disservice is done in not recreating. Much love for classical metered poetry and Scandinavian history both though, for sure.
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
Jerome: Jazz or classical can pair the best with writing strenuously, not getting diverted by lyrics. I’m quite partial to the Smithsonian Folkways collection, slowcore, grunge, French cafe sounds ideally with liberal accordions, was raised on folk punk, particularly the different projects of Pat the Bunny, Craig Finn and Pete Doherty are two other big favorites, Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Allen Toussaint. In my younger days I was a huge Decemberists fan, but now I can’t help picturing Colin Meloy slagging Jill Stein (<3) and perpetuating falsehoods about her despicably, these days whenever I hear his smug voice the songs are like nails on a chalkboard. Matt and Kim, Belle and Sebastian, though both those make me a little nostalgic for younger years, a different time and place. Ditto for Of Montreal, Bright Eyes, Mountain Goats (“This Year” is the song that jumps to mind, incidentally), each of which is always classic. Modest Mouse, Chet Baker, the list goes on. If you have not listened to Chumbawamba’s “English Rebel Songs” you are missing out.
Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?
Jerome: I’ve got just a ridiculous number of poetry manuscripts that I need to find publishers for, some that I’d like to shoot for wider release of in bookstores (such as a John Wayne Gacy coffee table poetry book, a translation from Swedish of an important collection by Gunnar Wennerberg who has a statue by my house) in my wildest dreams, others that would be perfect for the smallest press imaginable. My fifth novel’s rough draft I really need to get editing. I’m working on a team up with Ajei pairing his poems with my black and white photography, it’s a ways out but that’s an exciting prospect, still in the very early stages but have high hopes… I think the most certain thing is I’ll be releasing a short (<70 p.) collection of haiku and senryu examining the tropes and language of the cinema through the lenses of history’s most celebrated literary lovers. I’m hoping to release that through Meat For Tea Press in a few months if we’re lucky, keep your eyes peeled! Also in September I’m releasing an issue/anthology of a little poetry project I just started, Heterodox Haiku, and we’ll be showcasing a marvelous selection of LGBTIQA+ short form pieces, and hopefully do our small part toward correcting the disturbing lack of discussion and criticism regarding representation and acknowledgement, from the storied history and roots of the form—Did you know Basho was gay? I’ve read four books on him, and seen it mentioned I believe once that I can recall, in passing! <_<—through many of its most accomplished modern practitioners. That’s very thrilling, do check out the phenomenal material we have accepted, I promise it will rock your socks clean off…
Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?
Jerome: I just find it pretty humorous that I was once Minnie Driver’s driver, on a Lifetime picture I worked on ages ago, co-starring the also-brilliant Paul Adelstein and (geek out) Alfred Molina, among other countless luminaries. Boy did she have awe-inspiring acting chops, a delightful accent when calling for me, such commitment as a parent and sterling character as a human being. That was a downright magical film to work on, even with the lack of sleep (I recall snapshotting my timecard on a 110-hour week, out there in that field not abnormal…) Compared to the typically hellish work environments, those cultures of abuse and irresponsibility which were more the expectation and norm during my years toiling out in Hollyweird (have things changed at all?) that gig was an exception to general tyrannical rule, and I’ll never forget it, always be grateful for a glimpse at what our industry could look like in the right hands. It gave me some glimmer of optimism about a better possibility, that it might one day be achievable…
August 30, 2022
Bio: Jerome Berglund graduated from the University of Southern California’s Cinema-Television Production program and spent a picaresque decade in the entertainment industry before returning to the midwest where he was born and raised. Since then he has worked as everything from dishwasher to paralegal, night watchman to assembler of heart valves. Jerome has exhibited many haiku, senryu and haiga online and in print, most recently in the Asahi Shimbun, Failed Haiku, Scarlet Dragonfly, Cold Moon Journal, Bear Creek Haiku, the Zen Space and Daily Haiga. He is furthermore an established, award-winning fine art photographer, whose black and white pictures have been shown in New York, Minneapolis, and Santa Monica galleries.