Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with JonArno Lawson

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JonArno Lawson

JonArno Lawson is the author of Down in the Bottom of the Box (Porcupine's Quill), which features beautiful cut paper artwork by graphic artist Alec Dempster. JonArno's previous collections of children's poetry have won numerous awards and honours, including the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children’s Poetry.

Today we're pleased to post JonArno's edition of the Dirty Dozen, our interview series which asks authors to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. Hear from JonArno about Cubist aphorisms, why plants don't have brains and the recipe for perfect pecan ball cookies.

  1. I had only one celebrity crush, when I was ten years old — Kim Richards — who starred in Disney’s Witch Mountain movies. I even planned to walk to Hollywood to find her. A good friend of mine, Michael Schulte (he’s still a good friend), talked me out of it. He told me I’d fallen in love with a character in a movie, I had no idea what she was really like as a person. He also said it wasn’t feasible to walk to Hollywood, it was too far — and the police would be after me within a few hours anyway. Michael is just as sensible today, and I’m probably no less silly.
  2. If you’re tired of the same old cup of cocoa on a winter night, or you’re having guests over and want to make something that’s delicious and aromatic at the same time, try this: mix a bottle of grape juice, a bottle of apple juice, some orange juice and a bit of lemon juice in a pot on the stove. Add 8 or 10 cinnamon sticks, and a small handful of cloves, and warm it up.
  3. Georges Braque, if he’s thought of at all, is generally thought of as the artist who developed the style of art called Cubism (along with Picasso). But he was also a brilliant writer of aphorisms (see his Illustrated Notebooks: 1917-1955). This is one of my favourites: "You should not ask the artist for more than he can give, or the critic for more than he can see. Let’s be satisfied to make people reflect, let’s not try to convince them.”
  4. Wade Davis, if he’s discussed at all, doesn’t generally enter discussions about who Canada’s finest writers are, which is a shame. Here’s a quote from a book of his called The Clouded Leopard: “Each incident of extinction represents far more than the disappearance of a form of life; it is the wanton loss of an evolutionary possibility and its irrevocable severance from the stream of divine desire.”
  5. The question of why animals have brains and plants don’t has always bothered me. I recently read a book called Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang which posits a probable answer: “Plants don’t have brains because they get all their needs met by remaining in situ: they don’t need to move. Brains evolved to reduce the uncertainty caused by movement.”
  6. Much as I enjoy whatever (positive) attention I get for the things I write, this quote from Robert Ornstein’s book The Mind Field always gives me pause: “Logical, scientific and verbal presentations are honored in our society. Less honored are spatial ability, grace in movement and those aspects of a comprehensive awareness of relationships between objects or ideas which do not translate well into words.”
  7. And following on that idea, let’s remember what Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once said, in his Unkempt Thoughts: “You can remove all words from a brilliant thought.”
  8. And let’s let Doris Lessing have her say as well (from Walking in the Shade): “Briefly and in passing: it is a sad thing that what is written has permanence, whereas what is said is often unnoticed.”
  9. But now, of course, the question of grilled cheese. If you have a toaster oven and you want to make it quickly, and without all that extra butter, here’s what to do. Put out two pieces of equal sized bread. On one of them lay slices of cheese (whatever type you like). Don’t overlap the edges with cheese or you’ll make a mess of the toaster oven. Now put them in the (toaster or conventional) oven and press toast. Keep an eye on it, but after about two minutes you’ll have a toasted piece of bread, and another piece of bread with melted cheese. Put the cheeseless bread on top of the melted cheese bread, and voila, grilled cheese. Spread some mango chutney on it, and away you go.
  10. If you love wordplay, I have some recommendations for you. See the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester; read whatever you can find by bpNichol, listen to the songs of Tom Lehrer, and to The Gumdrop Follies by Jim Copp and Ed Brown, find Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. And don’t forget to read the Afterword of David Pendlelbury’s translation and abridgement of Hakim Sanai’s The Walled Garden of Truth. Track down Michael Heyman’s The Tenth Rasa and his This Book Makes No Sense. If you have your own favourites, track me down and tell me about them. I’m easy to find.
  11. This is one of the best cookies in the world:
  12. PECAN BALLS — I make them every December. The recipe came from my grandmother, Ella Vesta Burhans Lawson, who grew up near Poughkeepsie, NY in the late 19th century.

    Double the recipe, because they’ll disappear quickly.

    1 cup butter
    ¼ cup sugar
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 cups of finely chopped pecans
    2 cups of sifted flour (or cake flour)
    ½ tsp salt
    confectioners sugar (icing sugar)

    1. Cream the butter until very soft.
    2. Stir in the ¼ cup sugar and vanilla, and blend well
    3. Add pecans and flour with about ½ tsp salt
    4. Mix thoroughly, dough will be stiff. Chill for an hour.
    5. Then shape into small balls.
    6. Space on inch apart on a greased cookie sheet.
    7. Bake at 300 – 325 degrees for about 25 minutes
    8. While hot, roll in sifted confectioners sugar (be gentle, or they’ll crumble)
    9. Cool, and roll again in sugar.
    10. Or don’t roll them, put the sugar in a fine mesh sieve, and tap it over the tops of the cookies, which achieves pretty much the same thing.

  13. Finally, let’s remember a warning that come to us care of William Carlos Willams (from Kora in Hell): “Despite vastness of frontiers, which are as it were the fringes of a flower full of honey, it is the little things that count! Neglect them and bitterness drowns the imagination.”


Born in Hamilton, Ontario and JonArno Lawson is a two-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children’s Poetry, for Black Stars in a White Night Sky in 2007 and again in 2009 for A Voweller’s Bestiary. In 2011 his poetry collection Think Again was short-listed for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. JonArno lives in Toronto with his wife Amy Freedman and his children Sophie, Ashey, and Joseph, all of whom assist the author with phrases, topics and sometimes even complete lines for use in his poems.

For more information about Down in the Bottom of the Box please visit the Porcupine's Quill website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

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