Six Rounds: with Johnathan J. Azar
For my birthday AzarRising returns with a brand new Six Rounds interview, and under the gun is Johnathan J. Azar. A special treat, joining me on the famous lemonade porch, Johnathan is AzarRising’s first live, in-person interview, and you can be sure that with a name like Six Rounds, drinks were had.
So Johnathan, there’s an award winning author with the same name, any relation?
Everyday my inbox is flooded with questions if I’m related to the famous speculative author Alex Azar. I will forever live in the shadow of my cousin, Alex Azar.
Hey cuz, thanks for joining me in this special, live edition of Six Rounds. What was the inspiration behind the title 100 Days on Earth?
My book is about a traveler who is on a spiritual and philosophical journey, and at the end of that journey he has to decide if he is to live or to die. The whole idea is that he is reading through these thoughts and memories that he’s had throughout his life. By the time that I was done writing, I figured I covered 100 days of this guys life, and that’s what it’s boiled down to. People ask if that means there’s a hundred poems in the book? No, there’s 64 poems. So I think that 100 Days on Earth as a title a) has a ring to it, and b) is just enough of a sliver of life to prompt the reflection that is propelling this narrative forward.
You’re talking about this traveler, who we look at 100 days of his life. He bookends the book, are you him?
My belief is that everybody is the traveler. My hope is that if you read the book cover to cover you can relate to this traveler in some way. I’m certain that some of the stories he tells belong to me, and I’m hopeful that some of the stories told belong to you, and to everyone that reads it. That was my intention when I was writing this.
You mentioned that people assume it’s 100 poems, however you clarified that it’s not, it’s actually 64 poems. Those 64 poems are divided into 8 sections. Each section has it’s own theme; Why did you choose 8 themes, and why did you choose the themes you did?
A little secret? The numerology in the book is mostly irrelevant. 100 Days on Earth, it just sounds cool. 8 sections, is a nice round number. If you turn it on it’s side, it’s the infinity symbol. So I started with War, in the first place to displace some writer’s block. And for whatever reason I wanted to write about war. It’s vivid, it’s lively, it’s breathing, has it’s own heartbeat. Then I transitioned to a new topic, Respect. That’s when I realized these two, War and Respect are kind of drag, so I decided to write about Celebration. And then after that I wrote about words, because I’m an author. And I looked at those topics , and I realized that War begs a discussion about Peace, you can’t write about one without the other, it needs to be whole. And that’s how it came about. It could have been 10 sections or 12, but I had these 4 solid topics, and decided to flip them on their inverse. Interestingly, I found that many topics, like War and Peace, are less like opposites, and more like cousins. There’s a certain kind of duality, that didn’t conflict, but instead complement. I feel like some of the poems in War could have easily been placed in Peace, and I think that’s a great reflection on life, the black and white and gradations in between. Life is very gray and very mixed. This is not to say there is no good and no evil. I strongly believe there is good and evil. It’s just up to each of us to decide which is which.
You were talking about your different sections, however in your very first section War, there’s a poem I read several times at this point, and you’ve even explained it to me, but I still have questions, I still don’t understand. Keyzer’s Dance, the setting, the style, the page layout, it’s all so different. Which is great, you have different length and styled poems throughout the book, and yet this one still stands out, and I still don’t understand it. Can you help with that?
Do you speak German? Keizer means king. The title is a dual meaning, firstly as in the king’s dance, and another more personal meaning. Now the very first word in this collection was facilitated by a gentleman named Dan Keyzer, my senior year English teacher. He prompted us to write one thing from ten different perspectives for a writing exercise, so I wrote about the bomb dropping. The bomb, Hiroshima. And from what I wrote then to what ended being Keyzer’s Dance, is indistinguishable. However, that was the inspiration for the poem. I wrote about the atomic bomb dropping from ten perspectives. The first perspective is the military perspective, second is of the forest when you see the bomb drop and you see the trees bending. The third is from satan’s perspective, a sweltering inferno births a baby, oh a twin, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The next is a little girl eating cotton candy, because of the shape of the cloud rising from the ground when an atomic bomb goes off, coming to consume her. There is some art lost when the metaphor is explained, however since I’ve had many people asking me about this one, I felt it only fair that I explain where it’s coming from. And I understand stylistically out of place, however you have to understand that this is the earliest piece that I wrote for 100 Days on Earth, that made it into the collection. I understand it stands out as the third poem in the book, but it stands a a honest reflection of the book, and how it began.
Fair, I can respect that. I was going to save this question for last, but it feels fitting now. The cover of your book, it’s black and navy with an orange in the middle. There are some stars and what appears to be a cross around the orange. What was the inspiration of the cover?
This is an incredible story, I’m glad you asked. I have a cover artist John Mungiello…
(Who was acknowledged before me, but that’s okay)
Haha. Well, he did draw the cover, the book is half his. What I did was tell him that I wanted the cover to have an orange, and that was about it. I sent him five sample poems, none of which had religious connotations. and what he ended up doing was he sent me that cover with a cross on it. It blew my mind that he gathered that religious influence without any frame of reference or summary. He and I got together to go over a few details, but that genesis of an image he created, pretty much lasted to the final design. And I think it’s a testament of the soul of the book, that he was able to garner that from only a sampling of poems. As to why an orange you may be asking, when I was proof reading my book, I wasn’t thinking of the cover, however I noticed that citrus, orange and tangerine were recurring themes and words throughout the book that I used. It was unintentional, and I was surprised by it, but I felt there was something evocative about that imagery. I look at the cover and I see a sun setting, with the navy being the ocean, the black being the sky with stars, the orange is the sun, and the cross is representative of how God is in everything.
Final question of the night, and we’re ending off with a shot of Fireball. Now, I personally don’t like Fireball, but this is Johnathan’s favorite shot, so I thought it only fitting to save his favorite for last. Now on to the question: Years ago you sent me a fiction prose story, not poetry, it was a Middle Eastern cowboy story that had a lot of potential, however in the intervening years you shifted your focus from speculative fiction to poetry. What was the catalyst for that change?
The catalyst was writer’s block. I had gotten 300 pages into the story about a Middle Eastern cowboy, it was set in the west. It was absurd and ridiculous, and it was near and dear to my heart. But then, one night, I opened the file and I could not write. Night after night, and for months the following I could not write. Not a single word. So I started writing smaller pieces. The first thing I wrote was Hollowed Ground, the very first piece of this novel, which is indistinguishable from the final version that made it into 100 Days. That was the catalyst that had me change. I didn’t read much poetry at the time, but I’ve since read some of Middle Eastern poets, some Asian, such as Khalil Gibran, Rumi, and Bai Juye who has a poem called “The Song of Ever Lasting Regret”, that was such a huge inspiration for me. I began reading these poets, so I decided to try my hand at poems, and I found that I loved it. My cowboy story is on hold, but for now my focus is poetry. Thank you so much for having me on Six Rounds.
And with that said, not only can you pick up 100 days on Earth right now at this link, however it also comes with a preview of Johnathan’s forthcoming followup book, 16 Sleepless Nights. That’s all we’ve got today, but be sure to follow Jahnathan on Instagram @jazarauthor where he’s currently running a contest to be featured on the official 100 Days on Earth account. Check his posts for details.
Keep reading, and remember to enjoy life.