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JonArno Lawson

As a child

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, and raised in Dundas, JonArno’s most formative experiences as a child were the months he spent in Florida at the age of 8. Missing almost an entire year of school (which, luckily, he wasn’t forced to repeat), he spent his weekdays at the beach digging holes and collecting sea shells and coconuts, travelling in glass bottom boats, and visiting nature parks that had free-roaming monkeys and parrots. He wore a ship captain’s hat at all times, and a green pouch on his belt, in which he kept a small golden sword, dozens of ticket stubs, a musket ball, brass souvenir coins that bore the faces of various US presidents, a small British flag he found stuck in his fish and chips one day, and other similar treasures (which he still has and enjoys looking at). His formative influences, as a writer, were mostly songs - “The Gumdrop Follies” recordings of Jim Copp and Ed Brown, “The Irish Song” by Tom Lehrer, and “The Shape of Things” by Sheldon Harnick.

As an adult

JonArno lives in Toronto with his wife, Amy Freedman, and his children Sophie, Asher, and Joseph. Sophie and Asher help JonArno by suggesting phrases, topics, and entire lines for his poems. Joseph, at three months, is too small to take part in this kind of cottage industry approach at the moment.

As an artist

JonArno’s first book of poetry (and aphorisms) was published in 1997, helped in that direction by Canadian novelist Timothy Findley. When studying to teach English as a second language in 2001, he started to keep a notebook full of phrases and words he liked. From these notebooks, letters to his grandmother, and other odd scraps he’d kept over the years he assembled his first book of poetry for children shortly after his daughter was born. He’s been writing for children (and for adults) ever since. He often works while walking about, scribbling things down in a notebook he always keeps with him. Most of his last book was written at a lovely café called ToGo on Yonge Street in Toronto, but he also puts in many hours in his cold, messy basement office at home. He hates messiness, but doesn’t have time to both clean and write.

Things you didn't know about JonArno Lawson

  1. His poem “The Badger, the barnfowl, and their little friend the snail” was originally written as a letter to his grandmother, who hated poetry. She was bewildered by this poem/letter, and continued to hate poetry.
  2. His favourite movie is “Fanny and Alexander”.
  3. He had a parrot named Angus when he was little. Angus would walk around the dining room table and dip his toast in a cup of tea.
  4. His parents were planning to name him Martin Luther because he was born shortly after the American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
  5. Instead they named him after the German writer, Arno Schirokauer.
  6. The first real poem he wrote was for his high school girlfriend. Later, (the same year the poem was finally published) she married him.
  7. He worked for a summer on the excavation of Tel Dor in Israel. He found nothing at all, but the person working next to him found a 3,000 year old skeleton.
  8. His middle name, Burhans, is a Dutch name that means Farmer John.
  9. As a child he flew over Miami in the Goodyear Blimp.
  10. He thinks (and often writes) best when he’s walking. He edits best when he’s sitting down.

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