Hello and welcome to another interview, Poetry Lovers! And tonight, we have the wonderful and clever poet, Math Jones! (pandemonium) (Security stir uneasily)
Now, settle down PL’s! I know you’ve been queuing all night, but all the same……..
(Host bangs a ruler on the desk. There is silence)
Now what did I say, PL’s?! Settle down! Let’s welcome our lovely and talented guest Math Jones
(standing ovation. Cries of Math! Math!)
(our guest walks on elegantly)
Hello, good to be here
(looks round nervously)
Is – er Dobby here?
Think she’s helping out with security, my sweet. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
May I say, I love your platform boots, they go super with those colourful patchwork trousers.
Thank you, Heather. Do you think the cravat’s a bit much?
We think it makes you look the coolest guy on the poetry circuit, don’t we, PL’s?!
(wild hoots of ‘so cool’ ‘Yes, siree!’ etc)
I know that as well as a poet, you’re also an actor. Why don’t you fill us in on your background?
I started acting in primary school, even before I knew I was doing it. I was also painting, dancing, playing music and writing poetry. It just felt like things you did.
So that burst out when I dropped my A level studies in Maths and Physics to try for drama school. I didn’t get in but I took a range of part time classes in acting, mime and physical theatre, mostly at the City Lit. Perhaps that enabled the process of letting the inner world find a means of expression.
Because it’s more than the technical skills of breathing, voice projection, coping with being on stage, understanding text, inviting the audience’s trust and investment – all being vitally important. There’s also the bringing of secrets and insights, and touches of my own humanity to the meeting.
There’s a thought, a feeling, a sharing of something, that needs to be seen. Being on stage is a kind of permission to speak. It’s an invitation, and I find I often need an invitation.
But for a long time, I stepped away from acting. I was working in bookshops, we had a son to raise, and I’d another son from my first marriage. To a degree, I kept myself going by writing, but hardly knew I was doing it!
That’s so insightful and frank, Math. Fascinating.
(audience murmer agreement)
So when did poetry become significant in your life? And tell us about Paganism which is a strong part of you.
I stepped into a form of Paganism,and I did know I was doing it. Christian by default, I’d known for a time it did not express my own spiritual feeling. Connecting to older gods, and godesses, of the land and natural world, of the seasons, I found a world I could fit in without leaving anything outside. It’s a world in which we belong, as natural things, for as long as we’re around.
Part of that is performing ritual, rites of passage between seasons, between states of being. It involves communion with ghosts and other-worldly beings, and other people.
That brought me back to writing, specifically religious verse, and brought me back in front of a crowd.
So when in later years, I did return to acting, then writing and performing other forms of poetry, it felt kind of easy in comparison. Or rather, I’d acquired skills and strengths that helped.
And then I realised that writing, poetry, theatre etc. had been core to my life, even when I wasn’t aware I was doing it. Because my failing in ‘real life’ was made bearable by creating stuff.
There’s a kind of musculature we develop to cope, that makes the space for softer stuff to inhabit. The art mediums all have their disciplines, and a poem has its form. An experienced performer can stand in the eye of the audience-storm and let something happen.
So, my experience in acting and performance is important to me, because a writer is not a performer. They’re different jobs. The writer’s a listener, recording and shaping the words, but they don’t stand in front of the audience.
Then again, there can too much performer on stage. The performance can get in the way of that same thought coming through. Sometimes, the performer and writer have to get out of the way.
Wasn’t that beautifully put, PL’s?! You unravelled so much for us there.
That was so succinct, Math, thank you.
So, who were your greatest influences?
Um, it’s hard to name influences. I don’t feel concrete enough. There are people I feel safe with like Yeats, McKay Brown, because I feel held by then, their other-worldliness, I trust them. There are poets I know personally who I likewise surrender to. But there’s also a lot I make allowances for (forgive me), or even reject, because I don’t travel with them on their necessary journeys.
I’ve learnt from seeing others do wrong (for me anyway), but I love and long for when someone takes my breath, leaves me wanting to stop and never need to write again.
There’s something about language that fails us, something in our veneration of our own thought, as if thought should always be a leader, or witness. So perhaps that’s the draw of poetry to me – reality shaping words shaping reality. I’ve often said I write to put clothes onto naked feeling, something like that.
But then I get to the physical results, the actual poems left on the page, seem more vulnerable to criticism than when they’re spoken on stage with a twinkly smile!
It’s strange they seem so small on the page, inadequate, and we reject them, but maybe come back to them later thinking they’re not so bad. So you entrust them to the world, putting breath into them helps, reading them aloud.
Gosh, Math, you’ve taken our breath away. What a wonderful and profound answer. You are so strong and commited to your art. Justified too.
(spontaneous round of applause by an awed audience)
Now, you’ve had two very vital and stunning collections published – Sabrina Bridge and The Knotsman. Tell us about these, and is there a third on the horizon?
There’s a strange feeling of failure, as if I should have had a dozen books published by now – I’ve written enough – but that may be the I’m the greatest/I’m the worst battle, going on endlessly.
I love the two books, and am very proud of them. I find myself downplaying them though, almost forgetting they’re there. It’s embarassing I’m like that.
Sabrina Bridge is a loose collection of poems I wrote when in Worcester, published by Black Bear Press. It was there, amongst the Worcester Poets that so much of what I do now was cultivated and nutured. It has a theme for me, though the mixture of verses, personal, mythological, narrative, dramatic, might seem a jumble to others, I can’t tell.
The Knotsman is similarly a jumble, but a much more cohesive one, and holds a great deal of me in in a fabled form. The way our threads of meaning can be bound into a jangled knot or a gentle weave; the ways we are pulled by bindings that might have no meaning or value to us; it’s a lot about freedom and personal integrity, but set in a world of civil-war, plague, rationality and superstition, and the best magic of kindness and compassion.
It’s a terrible curse not being able to shout out about your work (not really, we shouldn’t need to shout about these things), but that said, I do want to get these other poems into the world somehow – a book is an extra layer of safety perhaps.
So there are a number of possible collections already being worked on – themes emerging, poems that heighten or echo other poems. “Bear” has been repeatedly shown up to say things about how big we are, how hairy, how much we roar, and to speak of the bear godess. The Fair Folk show up with tales of the shining land. The poems written to godesses, and gods, which speak of divinity as well as challenge – some were collected to a CD, but there’s enough for another collection too.
And then, there’s all the ones that fall in between, personal poems, love poems, other fables. Just as the writer’s not a performer, a writer’s not a business manager either. Frustrating, that.
Math, just talking to you here, I can see how much more you have to give us. I know what you mean, there should be many collections by now, and from listening to you here, I think these will come….
I remember seeing you at Boomerang Poetry in 2018. You blew us all away! What was the best poetry gig you’ve done, and the worst?
I do love the performing. There’s a communion about it, a breathing together, a physical interaction of sound and silence. There’s a trust bestowed by the audience that is deeply precious, like a warm bath they’ve offered you to play in. Alongside that is the invitation to be more human. I’ve spent so much time in solitude and silence, and when you look out on the world, it can be hard to see the vulnerable truths of our inner being be acknowledged at all. So perhaps the most enjoyable performances are those with humanity held gently between us.
I’ve loved reading one-to-one in the intimacy of the Poetry Brothel, and spreading an hour-long arc fo poems at Four Sundays in Feb. I’ve been amazed and moved by the reception at regular events, like Boomerang in London, or 42 in Worcester. And over the lockdown, live-streaming over Facebook. I’ve loved doing that.
But then, on a zoom call, my wifi was faulty and my reading was interrupted and illegible, as if I was never there; and sometimes, being last of a night, with most of the audience gone, or the first on, with the audience unsettled, these can be disheartening.
My own hearing issues, or emotional issues, can also leave me feeling disconnected with what I’ve done. My fuzzy memory makes it hard to be more specific.
Well Math, I have watched your live-streaming on Facebook, and it’s very slick. You are a true artist.
Math, what can I say? We could listen to you all day…
(stirs of agreement, emotional applause)
Certainly I want to thank you, Heather, for your continual support and enthusiasm, but also for the warmth and generosity you bring to your own words and pictures, and the beautiful nuturing spirit you share so naturally.
Now, wasn’t that just splendid! Great interview. I hope Dobby’s not too hard on him!
Math’s collections –
Sabrina Bridge is available on http://blackpear.net,
and The Knotsman from http://arachnepress.com.
Give yourselves a treat. Wonderful poems.
Tune in for more poetry fun, same time, same channel…..