Jenny begins her talk with a poem she has written to introduce herself. Her tone is warm and witty.
Born in Trinidad, Jenny tells us that she was the middle child of eleven children (her mother was Catholic, she explains, and there were no contraceptives!). Despite the large family, and the chaos and noise that one would assume goes with that, Jenny tells us that she was a very lonely child. And so, she says, she took to “… writing and scribbling.” She would read the “stacks” of books that her father gave her and then she would begin “writing and scribbling everywhere.”
Jenny’s grandfather lived on a farm and she tells how the family would go there and run around and climb trees, but she would just “… sit in a corner, and I would just be writing.” Jenny describes how this behaviour had her known within the family as “the oddball” – her grandmother even suggesting to her mother that perhaps Jenny needed to have therapy as she wasn’t joining in with the other children. But Jenny enjoyed and continued writing. She started with short stories and poems and then “graduated to writing ‘making-up and breaking-up’ letters for her friends!” Whilst Jenny’s teachers did not like this very much, they suggested that as she enjoyed writing, she should write an end-of-term play. For this, Jenny wrote a play about a family of squirrels who had a party for lots of other animals, giving the students the “… opportunity to dress-up and be creative.”
Jenny’s first job was at a supermarket. At this point in her talk, she reads a poem about a particularly bad day entitled A Most Unwelcome Intruder. Jenny’s poem describes how she was “… scribbling and scribbling,” not realising that there was a whole queue of people waiting to be served. Her manager told her that “The services were compromised by her inability to focus adequately.” Jenny goes on to say, “What does that mean to a sixteen-year-old? Nothing!” The poem humorously captures the fallout at home following someone’s bad day.
Around this time, Jenny joined a writer’s club and won second prize for poetry writing (Jenny expresses surprise at this!). On the back of that, she decided to attempt a memoir. Speaking with her eldest sister, Joy, when Jenny was some way into this, she was firmly told that she could not publish it. Her sister was not happy about their family stories being made public (“Family is family.”)! She suggested to Jenny that she re-wrote it as fiction. Jenny says she has “… always been obedient to her eldest sister,” and so agreed to do this. She reveals that it took her over three months to complete the re-write, but on completion, called her sister again to ask her opinion. Joy, she tells us, was concerned that she could still recognise herself in the story (largely because Jenny has merely substituted first names for middle names!), and, shortly afterwards, Jenny’s younger sister contacted her, also unhappy about the memoir (this time quoting the bible at her and accusing her of blasphemy). Her brother also warned her “… to be very careful”. This, Jenny informs us, “… put me off a bit.” Therefore, she put the memoir to one side and “… stuck with poetry.” In terms of reading poetry, she describes herself as “…a Keats lady… and Byron.”
Jenny was asked where she gets her inspiration from and she tells us that she may just go for a walk “… and when I get back, I just sit down, and a poem just comes to me.” She explains that she writes it down straight away but will edit it later. She tells us that she never sits down with the intention of writing a poem. A poem could come to her at any point. Through her daily observations, she may simply think “There’s a poem in that!” claiming “… anything and everything” can inspire her. She enjoys the spontaneity of it (she keeps a notebook by her bed in case inspiration comes to her in the middle of the night!).
An example of inspiration? Lockdown. Jenny watched a lot of television. This motivated her to write a poem about celebrities and their whiter-than-white teeth – which she reads to us. Jenny’s poems are comic and observational. Although she says she never sets out to be funny. She reads another poem based on the monotony of everyday life (“Up, shower, dress, go to work, come back, cook, shopping etc”). The final poem Jenny reads to us is about trying to laugh in the midst of climate change, covid, fuel shortages etc, ending with a positive:
“So, that laughing, we know won’t crack the face. In this world, love and laughter have such a sound place. You might laugh in the crowd and lots of people embrace, but when you can laugh at yourself, you’ve matured with grace.”
Report written by Sarah Noon