Bright Morning: Neil Leadbeater interviews Jane Seabourne.
Editor, writer, teacher and poet, Jane Seabourne has lived on both sides of Offa’s Dyke. She grew up in South Wales and now lives over the border in the city of Wolverhampton, which is located in the heart of England. As a teacher, she enjoyed a successful career spanning over 25 years working in a variety of schools and Colleges of Further Education. A tireless enthusiast for the cause of poetry and a well-known mentor to other local writers, she now runs writing workshops and is regularly invited to perform her work at spoken word events throughout the West Midlands and beyond.
Her first collection of poems, Bright Morning, (Offa’s Press, 2010) was well received and she is currently working on a second volume to be published shortly.
NL: Please can you tell us something about the early influences on you becoming a writer?
JS: I was brought up in Wales in the 1950s and 60s when respect for learning and literature was still a part of the national identity. I had excellent teachers at Sunday School, grammar school and university, who encouraged me to read poetry, to learn it off by heart and to recite it to an audience.
In Welsh schools, St. David’s Day on March 1st, was celebrated by cultural festivals and competitions—in Welsh: eisteddfodau—and this included poetry competitions. I wrote my first poems for an eisteddfod and this is when I discovered that I had a knack for writing.
My school poetry curriculum was wide-ranging. If I recall correctly, we read traditional ballads, the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, Milton and Pope and Wordsworth and Keats. We also read the modernists: T S Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and John Betjeman. The latter was very much a popular poet when I was growing up.
All in all, I would say that it was my teachers and my family that gave me the confidence to read, write and perform poetry. Having said that, although I studied English Literature at university, and taught it for a while, I didn’t write much until 2000 when I had the opportunity to join a community of writers.
NL: What inspires you to write; what categories would you say your writing falls into, and what themes recur in your poetry?
JS: I write from observation and eavesdropping. Currently, my writing falls into two broad categories: humour and lyric.
I perform humorous poetry as part of a group called ‘Funny Women’. My humour is on the gentle side, and has been described as ‘wry’ and sometimes ‘dry’ (I like the rhyming potential of being a wry, dry poet).
The Funny Women poems are often written as blank verse narratives but some are short poems capturing something that happens to amuse me. For instance, bananas ripening in a fruit bowl morphing into black mambas.
Writing and performing humorous poems is a delight and I find equal pleasure in writing more lyrical pieces. I write about childhood memories; everyday life and art. Although I’m not a poet of the great outdoors, I also find inspiration in my garden.
For ten years, I was part of an artists’ and writers’ collective—ImageTextImage. We engaged in ‘creative conversations’ to produce work inspired by each others’ art-forms. We exhibited and performed our work in galleries and theatres throughout the region, disbanding earlier this year. The cover and title-poem of my collection, Bright Morning, emerged from this initiative.
NL: Who would you say are your favourite poets and why?
JS: Currently, I am discovering and enjoying Billy Collins. ‘The Dead’ is one of my favourite of his poems, I admire the way he tackles central human preoccupations with economy, original imagery, wit and a seemingly artless conversational style.
For similar reasons, among my favourite British poets, are U A Fanthorpe, Carol Ann Duffy and Wendy Cope. What all of these poets have in common is that they write accessible, clear poetry but within a recognisable poetic tradition. They all have a strong poetic technique combined with good ideas.
I am also a great admirer of the work of T S Eliot and Edward Thomas. One of my favourite poems is Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife.”
Other current favourite collections are Robin Roberston‘s, The Swithering; Owen Sheers‘, On Skirrid Hill and Daljit Nagra‘s, Look We Are Coming to Dover. They all capture people in their landscapes and are able to make language do astonishing things.
As for poets from the distant past, I admire John Skelton, for the fun and energy of ‘Philip Sparrow’, and also the work of John Donne.
NL: Do you set aside time to write every day?
JS: I like to write every day, even if it only for ten minutes. A day with no writing feels unsatisfying. I try to set aside as much time as I can for writing and writing-related activities.
NL: What projects are you working on at present?
JS: At present I am leading a Poetry Readers’ Group for my local library. I also facilitate writing sessions for writers’ groups and regularly read at spoken word events. My main project at the moment is putting together what I hope will be a second collection of poems. I am at the stage of editing the work and testing it out on audiences, before shaping it into a coherent collection.
In addition, I am now involved with Offa’s Press, the independent poetry publisher who published my first collection, and I am currently conducting a study to test the feasibility of Offa’s Press expanding their on-line creative-writing mentoring service.
A short-term project which I am very pleased to be a part of is a collaboration between my local Poetry Readers’ Group and the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. To celebrate the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty to the British throne in 1714, there is to be a Georgian Day where we will write and perform our own poems inspired by the Georgian Gallery which includes works by Gainsborough and Raeburn. This is a good community project, widening the reach of the arts while at the same time encouraging the craft of poetry. We also get the chance to dress up in eighteenth century costume!
NL: Finally, Jane, I wonder do you feel positive about the future of poetry in Britain today?
JS: Yes and No.
On the negative side, Government cuts mean that public funding for poetry has been reduced: there is less money to go round. A recent survey showed how funding for the arts in Britain is unevenly distributed—London getting a disproportionate amount. Between under-funding, and a general uphill struggle to convince some people of the life-enhancing nature of poetry, there are reasons to be gloomy about poetry in Britain today.
On the positive side, we have three strong poet laureates: Liz Lochead as the Scottish Laureate or ‘makar’; Gillian Clarke in Wales and, for England, Carol Ann Duffy. All are interesting poets in their own right and all promote poetry—especially among school-aged children. Carol Ann’s brilliant book, The World’s Wife is a standard text for schools.
Additionally, many regions and cities select their own laureates, including young laureates who compete and perform much like I did forty years ago in Wales.
Performance poetry is increasingly popular, I particularly like the fabulous Kate Tempest who won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 for her piece Brand New Ancients. Poetry Slams are part of the entertainment scene, and bring in audiences who might not otherwise know an evening of poetry can be fun! I’ve tried a couple—not for me in the long term, but it was a good experience.
I enjoy hearing poets using all the different varieties of English that we have and like hearing how it changes with each generation. Poetry has been on these islands since before Beowulf, it survives fashion, it adapts itself… it will be with us until the end of days.
NL: Thank you, Jane, for allowing us to get to know you better.
JS: It has been my pleasure.
Three Poems by Jane Seabourne
It wasn’t Marmite or The Archers*
Eurydice missed most,
of all things, it was pink.
Not your day-gloss, lipsticks, bubble-gums,
the hot and shocking pinks
she favoured in her youth –
but tongue-tip, cheek-blush, ear-lobe,
inner-wrist. And most of all she missed
pink, as in bright morning.
From Bright Morning, Offa’s Press, 2010
* “The Archers” is the name of a long-running, ever popular, radio serial.
two black mambas
Blue glazed bowls
hitting kitchen floors
turn volume down,
along fault lines
between quarry tiles.
That bowl: hand-thrown
On red-letter days,
holder of kumquats
Time to rebuild:
snowballs brought indoors
for their one brief
held by other bowls.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, essays, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011) The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013) and The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, Bristol, England, 2014).