On zines, poetry, and making things – Happy National Poetry Day!

Hello! Its National Poetry Day tomorrow, and to mark the day I’ve made a new zine of poems.

If the divide is in you, then the divine is in all of us

As you can see, its called ‘If the divine is in you, then the divine is in all of us’ (a title I borrowed from something I heard a brilliant woman say in a yoga class), and although it is scrappy and scruffy and wonky, I’m really really pleased with how it came out.

 

In June 2017 I was lucky enough to go on a trip to New York (upstate and city) for a month. I looked after their super cool kid while they made a record. It was a great adventure. A lot of the poems are not actually about that trip, but what links them all together is that I wrote them or started writing them while we were away. Travelling is a good time to write, I think, because you’re existing in a kind of alternate reality from your usual life.

I made the poems into a zine because:

  • They are collected thoughts and fragments for the most part, rather than fully realised poems, so I wanted them to live all together in one time capsule (and that’s ok).
  • I applied for A LOT of courses and grants and fellowships and publications this year, and didn’t get any of them! Which did start to make me feel a bit negative about writing, but then I remembered ‘Hey! Writing isn’t about getting prizes! It’s about trying to work things out, hooray!’ So, I made this zine so I could enjoy every aspect of the making process again, pressure free. I enjoyed to scribbling and writing and editing the poems, but I also enjoyed the cutting and sticking and photocopying and stapling. Touching the paper. My hands touched every one of the pages. It was fun! The library in my little town lent me a long-armed stapler when I went in to use the photocopier. Making a zine is a good conversation starter.
  • Before the world of everythingisontheinternet, I got a lot of my music and arts news, and insights into the thoughts and opinions of my artistic peers, from zines. They were bought, sold, swapped and handed around, and I loved the practice and reading something made directly by someone else, of feeling part of a community of makers, and more broadly – the warmth and relief of hearing someone else’s thoughts, worries, ideas communicated so openly and honestly, and not feeling alone.

A Different ForestIt was a great way to bond with my own writing process again. I was blissfully removed from any worries about where I would submit the poems, who might read them, where and why they might be judged. It felt really magical to sit at my kitchen table with the radio on and write and cut and stick my observations and passions and worries about the world into a little homemade booklet. It made the disappointments of being turned down for courses and grants and residencies etc feel small by comparison, because it was a tangible reminder that what I really want to do is write and create art, and say things that I think are important. Whilst I will always strive to improve myself and my career as a writer and artist by applying to be part of things, to be funded and expand my possibilities, it isn’t everything. Writing is everything, making is everything. Translating the love and turmoil and panic and hope of your insides into something tangible and readable for anyone who wants and needs to share in it with you – that’s the alchemy.

Extracts

Hey, you should make a zine too! And if you do, send a copy to me please.

If you want a copy of my zine ‘If the divine is in you, then the divine is in all of us’, then please send me an email with your name and address, and perhaps be so kind as to paypal me £3 to cover the photocopying and paper costs, and I’ll post one right to your door! I’m on sallyjenkinsonpoetry@gmail.com

Loads of love, and happy National Poetry Day to everyone for tomorrow! xx

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Brighton POEM-A-THON, raising funds for The Refugee Council

Next month I am taking part in the BRIGHTON POEM-A-THON (more info below). If you have been looking for an opportunity to donate a little of your cash to support refugees, pledging some money via this page to the Refugee Council is a great way to do it! In return for your donation, I will be sharing my poems in public as part of this sponsored mega poetry marathon on 11th December!

http://www.justgiving.com/Sally-Jenkinson3

I need to raise £250 minimum by then, so any help you can offer will be gratefully received! THANK YOU for your support, I hope we can pull together and in a small way offer some help and friendship to our fellow humans in need.

YOU CAN DONATE HERE!

Brighton POEM-A-THON information:

Between 12 noon to 10 pm on Sunday 11th December, a  relay of 60 poets and readers will each read for 8 minutes throughout the day, at the Komedia, Brighton.

Start: 12 noon  Finish: 10 p.m

FREE ENTRY Komedia 44-47 Gardner Street, Brighton. BN1 1UN

Audience members can join us at any time throughout the day, staying for as long or as short a time as they wish.  There will be refreshments, a bookstall and tombola as well as information about our charity.

No thank you, I don’t want to write a poem for your Christmas advert.

I am a poet, writer and performer, and I was recently approached to write a poem. And perform it. For a TV Christmas advert. For a nationally recognised company.

I said no (thank you). In the conversations I’ve had since turning it down, it is a decision which lots of my artistic peers, friends, and husband have immediately understood and agreed with, but to which lots of other people (mainly members of my family, but some friends too) have reacted in more of a ‘why have you passed up on such a massive opportunity, you lovely idiot’ kind of way.

I can see both sides, I really can. I was conflicted about it myself in lots of ways, and in the end I just went with my gut. So I wanted to write a little bit about the decision, in a way that addresses both sides, and takes a look at it all holistically.

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First of all, I want to be absolutely clear that these are just my thoughts on what I want to do with my art, and I’m not interested in passing comment or judgement on any fellow artists who have produced work for adverts. Indeed, I have close and dear friends who have. All I can say is how I feel about my own situation, right now. For instance, I honestly might have jumped at it, if I had children or dependents to support, or if I didn’t have other freelance jobs that I love (I also run sensory workshops for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities).

Also, I’m absolutely not against the concept writing commercially. Last year I wrote an article for Demetre Fragrances about how unusual scents can be useful in sensory interaction with people with PMLD (my beloved other work). I wrote the article for the company in exchange for them sending over a whole load of their crazy perfumes for me to use when working with my clients. I was happy to write a factual piece for a commercial company in exchange for goods that I needed. (In fact I would do pretty much anything to get better resources for the people in my sensory sessions, but that’s a different article entirely!) What would be the difference in writing a poem for a TV advert? I’m not sure exactly. I’m not sure if I can formulate an explanation that would resonate with everyone. I just know that, for me, that is not the place of poetry.  It is not the role that I want poetry to play.

Poetry, for me, exists to pioneer the intangible. The only thing I really hope to do when I write is to find a way to say something which is difficult to articulate in our day to day lives and conversations. To touch on the things which we struggle to say, either because they are too scary or delicate or complicated or raw to address in the everyday. Why? Just because. Because we need it. Because as Nina Simone said ‘it is an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, to reflect the times’, because as Clarice Lispector said ‘at the end of the day we’re not trying to change things, we’re trying to open up somehow’.

And advertising feels like the opposite of that. It is about identifying our weaknesses, insecurities, fears and most treasured memories, and using them as ammunition to trick us into buying things. Don’t get me wrong. Writing good advertising copy is a clever and complicated craft.  I respect it, and I am fascinated by it. You won’t a find a bigger Mad Men fan than me! But as complicated a pursuit as it might be morally, the art of writing advertising copy is at least honest in its intention. It is writing to sell stuff to people. Or to convince them that they want something, that they need it, and that their lives will be better and fuller and happier and more content once they’ve parted with the cash. But writing a poem, or being ‘guided’ by the ad production company to write a poem, or straight up saying a poem a that I haven’t really fully written myself, on an advert, and then pretending that it is my real art work, something that I’ve created to search for truth, but is actually just for advertising purposes… what is the point in that? It’s not good honest copy, and it certainly wouldn’t be good honest poetry. The idea of it felt dishonest on a lot of levels, and that made me uncomfortable.

The company themselves are not evil. I’m a lifelong customer, in fact. They’ve been good to me. I recommend them to friends. But they are not whiter than white, what large corporation is? They advertise in The Daily Mail, (please see  http://stopfundinghate.org.uk/) and have made business moves recently which I question the ethics of, especially in their apparent lack of support for NGOs working in support of Palestine. And at this point, I feel that a company’s ethical outlook would need to align in a pretty ironclad way with my own, if I was going to give them my art to use as advertising.

It turned out the fee was a lot of money. I don’t want to throw figures around, partly because (I imagine) someone is going to end up taking them up on the offer, and the agreed figure will be between them and the tax man, but also because they did not disclose the fee to me, but to a fellow writer whom they also approached, so it’s not my information to share. But suffice to say, in the town where I grew up, it would have been enough to put down a deposit on a house.

It’s tricky to write about money, because on the one hand – here I am, aged 30 and (despite considering myself to be totally middle class) delaying having kids because we can’t afford it. Or discovering (after a recent short stay in hospital) that I haven’t made enough national insurance contributions in my entire working life to be entitled to any sickness benefits. And this amount of money could have changed all that. On the other hand – the money doesn’t feel that important. I am lucky enough to be fit and healthy. I could have more financial stability if I gave up writing and performing and chose to do a different job. But I don’t, I choose writing, and the fiduciary nothingness that goes along with it. That’s my bed and I’m lying in it, with or without advertising offers. What I mean is – the fee from this advert is not the only way available to me out of my relative poverty. I could work in a call centre and make more money. I choose not to because I love writing.

What felt more difficult to turn down (and I cannot believe I’m saying this, after years of explaining to promoters and programmers who send emails proposing gigs that don’t pay, but will be ‘good exposure’, that EXPOSURE WONT PAY MY GAS BILL) is the incredible amount on potential exposure that writing and performing a poem on an advert would bring. Getting work is hard. Getting to talk to the right people about your work is hard. I’m working on a new piece of theatre and a new screenplay at the moment, and I know that getting to discuss either of them with the right directors / producers / venues is going to be a bewildering and frustrating process, as always. It is an unfortunate (and sad) truth that the exposure of being featured on something which is broadcast on mainstream TV, and is linked to an established brand, would make that whole process easier. But I just didn’t feel comfortable putting my work into the hands of strangers whose priority is promoting the brand, not my writing, in exchange for that exposure.

The timing of this offer feels auspicious in some ways, as far as figuring shit out goes. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do this. Why we do this. Why we make things. Does it change anything? In terms of weighing up your life’s net contribution? In my working life, I choose to spend less time working where I can (hopefully) enrich and improve the lives of people with complex disabilities, in order to have the time to make art which relatively very few people ever read, or experience.  The only answer I can find is somewhere amongst the reasons that I turned down the advert – a search for truth, something sacred and beautiful and raucous, and trying to open up somehow. A record of the ridiculousness, of what we are doing here, in big ways and small. Something unpressured and untainted by the shape of the system.

Am I being overly precious and pretentious, in even thinking about my own largely unrecognised work with such importance? Most definitely. But what is the point otherwise? There’s a joke that I hear or say often, in conversations amongst fellow poets working at a similar level to myself – something along the lines of ‘we don’t do it for the money. And it’s a good job too because there isn’t any.’ When we say it, we laugh because of the glee of knowing you choose to do something just because you love it, because it is important to you. But always there is a hint of regret too, because wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some money involved? If there was a short cut to getting a lump of cash together, so we could buy ourselves the time to really properly produce the work that we dream of? Well it turns out sometimes there is, but it made me feel weird, and I didn’t want it.

Notes from Skriduklaustur #5 – on being alone

I have got 4 days left of my writing residency at Skriduklaustur, in East Iceland.

I feel bowled over with gratitude for such an amazing and rare opportunity to take so much time to work on my writing, and in such a uniquely beautiful place.

The Fljotsdalur valley is one of the most beautiful places that I have seen in real life. Despite getting to travel more through writing and performance work in recent years, I still would not call myself a confident traveller, and I must admit I was daunted by the idea of coming all this way on my own, and staying in a place with no transport links or nearby amenities (I’m 39k from the nearest town).

People have been super kind and friendly, and in truth it has not been as scary or isolating as I was worried about, but still a challenge for a woman who grew up in a big,  noisy household and has always lived in cities!

I’m still ruminating on the effects of being alone on my creative process.

On the one hand, I have undeniably got lots of work done. I have managed to not only fully draft, but also start to edit and appraise and re-edit, this piece ‘Like The Water’ (mentioned in my previous post) which I have been trying to carve out the time to work on for years. I feel excited and intrigued by the results, and confident that I’ve got an interesting body of work which I can continue to work on back in the real world (it so much easier to work on and develop something which already exists than it is to create fresh work, in our busy lives). I have also finished a few articles (more on that later) that I had been commissioned to write, and had the creative time and space at explore other new writing – not attached to any particular project, just for the joy of making new poems, notes and ideas and squirreling them away until they’re ready to see daylight or be worked on later.

On the other hand, I have been second-guessing myself at every turn of the creative journey. Is this any good? Is it actually completely awful? Am I wasting this precious time by working on the wrong thing, weighting my time wrongly, pursuing work which is not high enough quality? In some ways, I still have no idea of the answer to these questions, and I don’t feel like I will know until I am back in my real life. It is as though being away from my reality – my friends, family, artistic community, and indeed any people at all, for the most part, has switched off my calibrator of what is and isn’t good writing, in my own work. It is interesting to realise, as a poet (ostensibly a very lonely pursuit) how actually collaborative my writing-mind is. I listen to and discuss and engage with other people at every step of the process of gathering ideas and creating work, often implicitly, and much more than I had realised.

There have been three undeniable advantages to working here, and working in solitude, though, and for those I am most definitely a better writer after this experience; this incredible setting (this house, the people who curate it, its resourses and this landscape around me) and the chance to explore it, the time and space to read everyday (and so much)*and of course, the lack of real-life distractions, meaning that I have now got those precious actual words on actual paper (and MS Word files) to work with, going forward!

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Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s 2010 collection ‘There’s an Island in the Bone’. I bought this copy in Columbo in 2011 and it has been everywhere with me on my travels ever since; south-east Asia, Australia, Iceland.

*I have re-read Jackie Kay’s collection ‘The Adoption Papers’ and Ramya Chamalie Jirasinge’s ‘There’s An Island In The Bone’, two of my favourite books of poetry, both of which remind me what kind of writing I might one day create if I keep trying and learning. I have also read ‘The Good Shepherd’ and ‘Black Cliffs’ by Gunnar Gunnarson, two very different styles of novel, but both full of rich, loving, scary, and awesome descriptions of the Icelandic landscape, making them so brilliant to read whilst staying here, in the Fljotsdalur valley and in Gunnarson’s house! I  borrowed the english translations from the library here at the culture centre, and should you ever come across a translation in your own language then I really recommend both novels.

Summer Shakedown

It’s been on my to-do list all summer to write a little blog about each lovely thing that happened, poetry wise. But summer for me is always a grass stained blur of fields and tents and walkie-talkies and hearing poems over the distant rumble of the bass from a nearby reggae soundsystem and glitter and working more hours than I sleep and perhaps, the occasional cider. So in the few days I got to spend at home in between festivals (and running some super fun workshops for Take Art in Somerset) I was mostly desperately trying to claw back some sanity and rest form the depths of my duvet, or doing laundry.

As such, here is a quick round-up of Summer 2014, if for no other reason than I can look back and remember what happened.

I was booked to perform at Glastonbury Festival for the first time, on the Poetry and Words Stage. It was a real honour to be asked. I jumped up and down in a café on Stokes Croft when I got the email. The thing is about the Poetry and Words Stage is that they take open submissions to from potential performers, so they are never booking poets from one particular scene or city. As such, I got to meet, spend time with, and watch perform, some amazing poets that I hadn’t previously had the pleasure, such as Stephen James Smith, Molly Case, Abe Nouk, Jess Green, Antosh Wojcik and Victoria Shineman, and ones I don’t get to see perform half as often as I’d like, such as Scott Tyrell, Sara Jane Arbury and Marcus Moore. There was also a whole host of friendly faces and poets that I already adored to the very bottom of my socks, so I left feeling proud of my craft, and to be part of such a diverse and talented community. There’s me on the Poetry & Words Stage, looking like a flower pot man! (Photo by Matt Gillet)

glastonbury matt gillet

Fellow poet Scott Tyrrel made us all into owls for the publicity!

Fellow poet Scott Tyrrel made us all into owls for the publicity!

Me and Nuala did one of our last ever shows of ‘Folly’ at WOMAD Festival, and I did a few solo sets as well. We were performing as part of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, headed up by the endlessly talented and capable Liv Torc, with a little help from Chris Redmond and Jonny Fluffy Punk. It was so nice to be made welcome into another poetry family, and the weather was so glorious all weekend that sometimes whilst dancing bare foot to Senegalese music, it was genuinely difficult to remember that we were just in a field in Malmesbury. I was nervous about performing Folly outside in the open air for the first time, especially with the nature of audiences at festival’s being quite transient and fickle (and the show being an hour long), but it was real pleasure. By the time we performed on the Sunday, all the brilliant poets that had been performing as part of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack over the weekend had built up a happy and comfortable audience which were really friendly and welcoming to a watching a whole show, and it was lovely performing in the sunshine. We were in the arboretum so all the trees were swishing above us.

Performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD 2014

Performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD 2014

Then came the magical washing machine of taking our beautiful Wandering Word Stage to Boomtown, and then to Shambala Festival, in August. I could write an entire blog / poem / opus / book about what a pleasure it is working for Wandering Word, welcoming new poets onto our stage and welcoming back poets that we are already privileged to count as part of our family. Maybe I will write that, but for now I will say- it was an emotional, sleepless, hard-working, harder-playing, glitter and words-fuelled jumble of joy, and it makes me so proud to be presenting a stage which champions poets and spoken word as a form of entertainment and engagement as a natural part of such party atmospheres as the music festival scene. As a stage, we are open for 48 hours over the course of Shambala weekend, and of course some of that time is taken up with brilliant bands and DJs, but the majority is spoken word, drawing crowds of up to 250 hundred people. It makes my heart sing with pride. As an organisation, we are ten years old this year, and it is so exciting to be going from strength to strength.

Compering on our beautiful Wandering Word Stage at Boomtown 2014. Photograph by Duncan Stokes

Compering on our beautiful Wandering Word Stage at Boomtown 2014. Photograph by Duncan Stokes

Our newest piece of decor, by treasured artist Anna Higgie, marking ten years of Wandering Word poetry with quote from some of our favourite poets from over the years.

Our newest piece of decor, by treasured artist Anna Higgie, marking ten years of Wandering Word poetry with quote from some of our favourite poets from over the years.

In between those festivals I had the absolutely terrifying pleasure of finally getting to perform at Tongue Fu, an amazing poetry night in London where they get you to perform with an incredibly talented band of improvising musicians. I haven’t had stage fright like that for years, but it was such an amazing experience, once I was able to breath steadily!

I also wrote a commission for an arts project called ‘Unpacking a Potted History’, which you can read more about HERE, and was lucky enough to be involved in Somerset-based charity ‘Take Art’s ‘What Change?’ project, which ran throughout the summer in Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea. I love seaside town, so getting to run poetry workshops in seaside towns was basically my dream job. You can read the more about the project, and about Take Art HERE, and I suggest you do it you are based anywhere in Somerset, they do fantastic things!

Lastly, at the beginning of September, Nuala and I took our show ‘Folly’ on a mini tour of our last EVER three shows, in Bristol, Brighton and London. It was so very emotional to be performing our beloved show and knowing it was the last times we would ever perform it. We worked so hard putting Folly together- in our bedrooms, with no funding or come to that, no money at all! And never knowing if anyone would ever book us or think it was any good. Having then had the wonderful opportunity to take it to the Adelaide Fringe, and be funded by ACE and the British Council makes me very proud and grateful, and it was real sad to be putting to bed a show that has taken us on such a journey. But we knew it was time, and we are SO keen and eager to get to writing something new and exciting together! Thanks so much to Hammer and Tongue for hosting our final Folly’s! It was an honour and a privilege, and the audiences were so supportive and responsive and kind.

brighton folly

So, good bye Folly and good night summer… what’s next?

Workshop adventures in Somerset

I’m gearing up to lead a series of poetry and creative writing workshops in Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea for super brilliant Somerset-based arts charity Take Art (http://www.takeart.org/) who I have had the pleasure to work for before. The workshop are running through July and August and are going to be going on in Schools, Youth Groups and Community Centres around the two towns. Some workshops are open access so anyone in the area should contact Take Art for further info!

HELLO GLASTONBURY

I’m performing at Glastonbury this weekend on the Poetry & Words stage. I’m very nervous and super excited. This beautiful write-up from fellow poet and official Glastonbury blogger Deanna Rodger has made me feel a bit less nervous though!..

‘Sally Jenkinson –

Oh yes! This post may just be my favourite to write!!! I LOVE this woman, I love her face her hugs her chatter her laugh and most importantly her words. Subtle and gentle, she lifts you through her poems of complicated feeling as if you are silk in a late summer breeze, and as if that wasn’t enough she has the most endearing stage chatter. Get your hugs ready! See her on stage on Friday at 13.40 and Saturday at 12.25′

http://poetryandwordsblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/the-first-famous-for-being-fantastic-five/