A popular figure on the South West arts scene, Jackie Juno is a former Bard of Exeter and multiple poetry slam winner. She was a huge hit at the Poetic Licence event last summer in Crediton Town Square. Local poet Ysella Sims caught up with her recently to find out more about what makes her creative heart tick.
How would you describe your work?
When I first started out poeting I would stick to comedy because it was where I felt most comfortable. I’d describe my work as funny primarily, but I like to include introspective, tender and political material. I often return to themes of social injustice, the ridiculousness of modern life, nature connection, feminism, capitalism, mysticism and my love of maps. I also write short stories, flash fiction, lyrics and songs, scripts and parking ticket fine appeals.
What is poetry?
An impossible question, but I’ll try to answer it. Poetry is aardvarks and zebras and honey and salt. It is choking back tears, exploring fears, painting pictures with words, a doorway to other worlds. It is gasportleflank and piddlyblot, farumpah and goo. It’s connecting, collecting, evoking, invoking; gleaning and giving meaning; whipping up a wordstorm and giving a wordy kiss.
What makes a good performance? Do you enjoy performing?
A performer who’s relaxed but passionate, who honours their audience by taking the time to rehearse, respect the event, stick to their allotted time, and who enjoys what they do; a performer who can be in the moment and reflect back to the audience; really connect with and not be afraid of them. And yes, I bloody love performing!
Is there a difference between poetry and spoken word? Does it matter?
I have no idea and prefer not to know!
Does poetry have a function?
Yes, to connect. To share experience. To entertain. To make people laugh. To move. To bring insight. To highlight life as it is happening! It’s a great honour to be a poet.
When did you start writing?
I’ve always written. At school the only classes I enjoyed were English and Art. And I’ve always made people laugh with my words - whether it was a letter home to my family when I was travelling or a stand-up comedy routine. I write because I love it and can’t stop! Although art was my main focus in life, up until recently. Now words have taken over and I hardly ever paint.
Has anybody helped you along the way?
Many people have helped along the way - first and foremost, my English teacher who gave me a lifeline in the form of encouragement and passion for words at the shitty comprehensive school I occasionally attended. We’re in touch now after finding him on Facebook! My long-suffering husband, who endures stoically when I say, “I’ve got a new poem, can I try it out on you?”, and many others who encourage me, champion me, buy my books, book me to perform.
How have you found this year? Has it affected your creativity?
I’m very lucky, I live in a lovely place with a big garden that needs a lot of work since we moved in a year ago. A lot of my creativity has gone into the garden. I have my husband and daughter. I don’t work on the frontline. Although I’ve lost a lot of my work, I’ve managed to transpose a fair amount to Zoom. I’m writing - but mostly as a result of setting prompts in my online Creative Writing classes! And my Lockdown World Tour was a great surprise addition to Lockdown #1. I jokingly called it a world tour, but it has in fact been viewed by people all over the world!
The year has affected my daughter quite badly though. She turned 18 in the summer and wasn’t able to finish college properly. Opportunities she would normally be following have been scuppered - jobs, volunteering, travel, gigs, (she’s a musician), learning to drive, etc. It has been hard on her and others of her age.
Is there a piece of advice that somebody has given you that has been particularly helpful? Do you have your own that you pass on?
I heard this, which can be applied to many things in life; “Get yourself out of the way”. My advice would be don’t try to cover up your fear or vulnerability, be with it - capitalise on it, exaggerate it for comedic effect. As an audience member it’s far better to see a performer be vulnerable and honest than cocky and covering up their fear/shyness/ vulnerability. Owning your flaws makes you more able to just be yourself, be natural.
Cat, dog or reptile?
I am, in fact, human.
Jackie is teaching interactive creative writing workshops online. Find out about her classes here.
Catch up with her World Lockdown tour
Obsidians in Moon
I keep owls in my head.
And at night when they wake
I borrow their eyes, just for a few seconds
before they wrestle, agitated,
in my skull.
Then I have to let them out or it gets really messy.
Silently they fly out, ghosts in the dark,
to prey on tiny quivering thoughts
I've let loose during daylight.
It's been raining stars again.
The owls like that.
They love new stuff; it's all an adventure to them.
Sickled claws grasp at branches, make runic
the trees I created
from hopes and dreams.
The owls skuwee to each other.
This spooks the woman who works in the opticians.
Scurrying down the lane,
she's been moonlighting again.
Hisses escape from those sharp beaks,
beaks desperate to tear flesh.
I don't want to go to bed. I follow them out
into the monochrome meadow
where nothing makes sense,
where blood is the common language
and mud is my ally.
Scraggy feathers are waterlogged,
we walk on a crescent blade.
He mustn't know I'm out, he'd worry.
But I can't go back now. I'm on a mission.
When owls call, you listen.
I just want you all to know,
if I don't make it -
I chose this.