Pins & Needles No. 51: Jon Riccio

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 52: Jon Riccio

Q. How has being the poetry editor for Fairy Tale Review changed your own writing style?

It’s added more nuance to my work, as well as given me the confidence to go into orbit where experimentation is concerned. Our contributors are taking some beautiful, creative risks with subject, language, lineation and associative leaps, and succeeding! The poems that engage me from both an artistic and analytical standpoint are the ones that impart the most wisdom.

I’m also more open to compression than I was before my involvement with Fairy Tale Review, first as a submission reader and now as its poetry editor. Shorter poems, for me, are the hardest to write, but we have so many terrific examples to draw from, excellent learning opportunities on first perusal followed by the closer immersion. I entered the University of Arizona as a poet on Team Dense, though I’ve since spent time in Sparse-ville with a recent segue into prose, all of which we publish.

Q. You’re not just a poet, but a musician, studying the viola at Oberlin College and the Cleveland Institute of Art. How do you think musicality and poetry interact with and play against one another?

Language gives a near-limitless supply of word combinations; in those combinations are the sonic units by which we construct syllables, lines, stanzas, poems. You can orchestrate a poem as easily as you can score a symphony. Tonality begins at the letter-level, so trust your ears, be open to switching word order for sound’s sake. Bolster the narrative with each draft, but enjoy the scaffolding: figure out which letters stand as melody, which are relegated to harmony, alternate as needed.   

As for playing against, I think it’s the notion of how each art qualifies/quantifies the rate of improvement. Musical progress tends to be more methodical (when’s the last time anyone revised their poem to the click of a metronome?), whereas poetry has the freedom to be more about organic growth. I’ve fixed writing missteps on a good night’s sleep, drilled the musical errors out via repetition over days, weeks, etc.

Q. What would you like to see more of in Fairy Tale Review?

Firstly, I want to thank The Ochre Issue’s poetry reading team of Jarrett Eakins, Andie Francis, Deb Gravina, Adam Sirgany and Matthew Schmidt. Their insights made the work of curating our current batch of poems as open-minded as it was sublime. Each brought a perspective brimming with uniqueness that reflected in our selections.

Regarding your question, we’re always open to poems that excel in the chemistry of meaning and language, those that push past straight-up retellings and thrill us with what the poet Patricia Smith calls the “unexpected entry point.” Turn convention on its ear in a labyrinth of eyes. By all means, give us a world of new writing along with the gravity to navigate it.

We continue to look for ways to promote our contributors’ work, be it Pins & Needles or guest blogger posts. Stewardship’s a great gift; why not hand it out?

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.


Jon Riccio is the poetry editor of Fairy Tale Review.