In preparation for the Cut The Crap Poetry evening, I:M sits down with the poets and performers. With honesty the core theme for the event, we look to hear some truths from the artists and to also celebrate the beginning of the new poetry section of the magazine. The event is fast approaching, on October 17th. Here’s what one of our poets, Jess Blackwell, had to say. If I’m being honest, maybe there were too many mentions of cats? You decide.
What is your name and what do you study?
So, my name is Jess Blackwell. I’m not actually at Uni anymore but I graduated this year from Bristol. I studied Literature but now I work part time as a Creative Assistant. I work for a Bristol start-up, meeting local creatives and then helping them out, doing a lot of work sorting out collaborations. Then also part time as a Social Media and Marketing Assistant at a photography company. The company is split into three sections, and one of those sections is boudoir photoshoots which is my favourite part aha.
When and why did you start writing poetry?
Um I’m not actually sure when I started, I think probably when I was like 6? I have this whole notebook of poems about cats. Real cats, hypothetical cats. One about a cat meeting Father Christmas. Just a lot of cats. So I guess I just started doing it for fun, then I stopped. Then around sixth form I had a bit of a shitty break up and obviously nothing helps poetry as much as a bit of heartbreak and vice versa. I wrote poetry about that to get shit feelings out of me. It was like I wanted to just scour them out of me, so I would write them out. I’d write to understand them a bit more, or because other people didn’t wanna hear it. It was almost like a compulsion. Then I never stopped. I feel like I’ve done a bad job of explaining because it’s actually so crucial for me. Like, someone in my family suffers pretty badly from mental health and poetry kind of gets me through it sometimes.
Have you ever performed your poetry before?
Nope. Never thought I would. I’ve never written anything for anyone but myself so this is really huge. Especially because my poetry is so personal. About 5 people have ever seen it and I’ve normally been pretty drunk when I show it to them. There’s that obvious thing of am I good enough because I’ve been writing in a vacuum but then also, it’s more than that. When I write, it’s normally because I’ve been through something pretty intense and the words are my way of capturing that moment and healing myself. When I read it, when I show other people, I’m letting them into that moment and how will they perceive that? What if they don’t get it? The poetry is always going to be mad intense for me because it was my moment and my emotions, but what if I read these things and it just goes over people heads. I guess I feel if I’m letting people into the darker side of me, I at least want people to feel something.
Who are your main inspirations in the poetry world?
In sixth form, I had this teacher who was just like some divine being. She was a literary goddess and she taught me some of the best poetry. So T.S.Eliot, Wordsworth, Blake, Shakespeare. Then before I went to Uni I read the Rattle Bag Anthology by Seamus Heanney and Ted Hughes, who was a bit of a dick but yeah, I found some good poetry that way. I go through phases but I guess for me… Uh I’m just gonna have to list names of poets and poetry now. W.H.Auden was my everything at one stage. Especially, Musée des Beaux Arts - that really gets me. Medusa by Carol Anne Duffy, that’s compelling and fierce. And, cliche but - T.S. Eliot. I thought Prufrock and Rhapsody on A Windy Night were just, man, i don’t even know. Then in Uni, I discovered Conversation Piece by Robert Graves and The Spoils of War. They’re so atmospheric. And Her Voice by Oscar Wilde. Also classic - Phillip Larkin is just incredible, more accessible with his poetry too. This isn’t strictly poetry but it’s a book of prose called The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo. It was so powerful, about femininity, especially sexuality. Oh and shit, I forgot The Cat and The Moon by Yeats! I literally have a tattoo of that on my body. That’s all about accepting impermanence - for me it is anyway. But yeah, these poets shaped my life, I don’t think I can be bold as to say I write like them. I just write like myself.
What does ‘Cut The Crap’ mean to you? what truth are you trying to tell through your own art?
Well.. when I write poetry it’s how I feel about something in it’s purest form. If it’s a love poem, it’s me trying to capture exactly how I love someone. Or if i’m devastated, it’s that too. So to me the theme is just about being honest with your emotions, getting to the core of it. But also with poetry, I think my writing is very accessible. It worries me sometimes because it never seems very intelligent - it’s not obscure enough for that. I want it to evoke my emotions but really, I guess for this event, I want it really to hit home with someone. I want them to feel something with my poetry - like really feel it. One person who has just knows what I’m saying. They feel what I’m saying and they feel understood. Like I put an emotion into words and they didn’t know I could.
And finally, (if you have one) can you tell us a story of a time you lied and either got caught, or would like to fess up?
Uh… how deep do i go here? Maybe not all over social media. Once my Nan made me some food and she left the room and when she came back in I was feeding the cat the dinner, with the food on the fork. It was meant to be secret, wasn’t secret for long. That’s the only time she’s ever shouted at me. Sad that I can only name a cat story, isn’t it?
You can read the first poem, TV Dinner, that Jess published for I:M here.