Volume 29 · Number 4 · Summer 2012
Andy Jones finds rhyme and reason in a digital age.
(Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Poet Andy Jones is a rare combination of bard and technophile, equally at home with ballads or bytes, T.S. Eliot or Twitter.
The University Writing Program lecturer has fully embraced the Age of the Internet, preferring e-books to dusty bookshelves and social media to snail mail, while touting the age-old power of poetry to soothe the human spirit. He has written two books of verse (Split Stock, with colleague Brad Henderson, and, now ready for a publisher, Cages) and is a leading advocate of a robust Davis poetry-reading scene.
Along with Henderson, Jones co-founded the bimonthly Poetry Night Reading Series in downtown Davis. The readings draw people from far and wide, even from other states and countries. "He's the hub," Henderson said of Jones. "He champions poetry as a cause — something for all Davis folks, not just the academics and the 'artists.'"
Do not be misled by Jones' wholesome image — his own poetry is dark, "dangerous," even "bizarre," according to Henderson.
"When Andy reads his poetry," said Henderson, also of the University Writing Program, "there is often a strange mix of tension in the room — a clash of parlor intelligence with street-smart snarls."
Jones has taught in the English Department and University Writing Program since 1990. Not many faculty members actually hold office hours off campus — but Jones does, at a Davis restaurant on Sunday evenings so students can see him more easily.
Beyond his teaching duties, he also serves as the academic associate director of Academic Technology Services and faculty adviser to student publications like The Voice, the campus's undergraduate health journal, and the Nameless Magazine, an undergraduate journal of creative writing. He is the host of Dr. Andy's Poetry and Technology Hour on the student-run KDVS 90.3 FM radio station. The show, which airs 5–6 p.m. every Wednesday, is highlighted by an eclectic assortment of poets and writers on tech-oriented themes.
Jones deflects personal attention — but he acknowledges his workload. "I wear many hats — and I don't have enough time to change them."
At the same time, Jones is determined to boost the cultural character of Davis. "I was raised by my family to appreciate the great significance that culture has in a community's well-being," said Jones, who chairs the city's Cultural Action Committee.
He grew up in Washington, D.C., with a father who was a well-known entertainment critic on television and then later, a theater and playwriting professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Jones has also lived and studied in literary hotspots like London and Boston.
Despite his packed schedule, he is renowned for patience with students — and interviewers:
Read any good books lately?
I recently finished a couple books outside of my assigned reading for University Writing Program and Technocultural Studies classes. The first is Drive by Daniel Pink, who has taught me ways to reward my students and the members of the faculty support team that I manage by appealing to their needs for autonomy, mastery and purpose, rather than other sorts of carrots. I also recently finished The Hunter by local legal thriller novelist John Lescroart. I got to know John at events that he helped to sponsor for Prized Writing, the journal of undergraduate writing at UC Davis. His books are engaging page-turners.
What's your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasures include reading the novels of John Lescroart, watching televised Ultimate Fighting Championship events with fellow faculty and other willing friends, and rolling around on the living-room floor with our new English bulldog, Daffodil Jones. On occasion, I will enjoy a Guinness beer at de Vere's Irish Pub and a superhero movie with my daughter, Geneva. Do those count as guilty pleasures?
What advice do you give aspiring poets?
Read more than you write, but write every day. I agree with the novelist Henry James, who said "Be one on whom nothing is lost." Open your eyes and ears. Remain open to inspiration, but exacting in revision. When wordsmithing final drafts, root out cliché, familiar imagery and tropes, and anything unearned.
What other job could you see yourself doing?
As a radio talk show host and poetry series organizer, I guess you could say that I am already doing what I would do. My brother is a journalist who reports to me what we all know: Journalism as a field is contracting radically. I would enjoy the challenges of the journalist, I am sure. I would also like to write novels, as so many of my students are doing.
Your greatest professional achievement? Personal?
In 2006, I was honored to be named Educator of the Year by the Associated Students of UC Davis. I suppose my ongoing professional achievement is keeping all the balls in the air that I constantly juggle. Publishing my next couple books will be a much-anticipated professional achievement.
Personally, I look forward to celebrating 20 years of marriage to Kate this coming September. I attend just about every breakfast and dinner with my three children — Geneva, 14; Jackson (Jukie), 11; and Truman, 6. Once a year, I take Jukie to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., for medical tests. Jukie has Smith Lemli Opitz Syndrom, a rare metabolic disorder, and also grapples with regressive autism. Keeping him happy during such trips has been a source of both pride and accomplishment for me. Jukie's sense of adventure almost matches mine.