Interview _ Jacob Lund

Jacob Lund’s poetry has been published in Openings, the annual anthology of The Open University and in N2 Poetry, London. He has worked as a reviewer for the Daily Telegraph, and has published on Shakespeare in academic journals. He lives in Brighton.

In this interview, Jacob talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I only began writing poetry seriously about three years ago, though before that I had been published as a book reviewer for the Daily Telegraph’s youth magazine Juiced. I have also been a contributor to NATE and EMag, writing mostly on Shakespeare and on literary theory.

After a conversation with the poet, short story writer and memoirist Dr. John O’Donoghue, I went home and found quite a lot of half-finished poems, fragments, titles, images – and realised that a few of them were probably worth completing.

A friend of mine who teaches at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Sean McEvoy, encouraged me to carry on with the work, and I began by giving a reading in Norwich, alongside Andrea Holland, Naomi Foyle and others. The poet Peter Pegnall invited me to do this. At about the same time I had started to contribute regularly to the magazine of The Open University Poetry Society, and my first published work was in their anthology, Openings.

I never really took the decision to want to be published: I just write and hope that others will find something of interest. I think that if I started to try to guess at what people might want to read, I wouldn’t be able to write at all.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

The very first poems I had published were to do with ageing, memory and loss, though more recently I have been engaged with ideas of identity, nationhood and history, and this has coincided of course with the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Some of the poetry is written, loosely speaking, in blank verse, and for two reasons: first, it is a form that offers wonderful flexibility in terms of rhythm and movement; second, it is the form in English verse that is so frequently associated with argument, ideology and rhetoric – in Shakespeare’s soliloquies or in Milton, for example – and I guess I have more or less consciously taken the decision to try to speak to that tradition, to a poetry that has the power to make the case for change.

I also write in free verse, so that I am able to work with allusions and intertexts, some of which might be in languages other than English. Overall, I guess I am a kind of modernist writer, though I am not sure that this sort of categorisation is all that helpful.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is anyone who cares to look. I am hugely grateful for people’s responses to what I write, whatever those responses are, but I’m not really motivated to write for particular groups.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

This is a difficult one. I read widely and eclectically in terms of poetry, and I think there are probably many influences of which I am barely aware. I do think, however, that it is my responsibility as a writer to know as much as I can about what has gone before – it’s part of the job.

How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?

My early poems touched upon personal loss and the subjective experience of getting older, but I have always been conscious that poetry can become boringly self-obsessed. I think that, unless they are for private use, poems need to reach out in one way or another.

More recently, I have visited areas of the UK that are unfamiliar to me, and my experiences there have started to allow me to write in a more observational way, I think. Lately, I have been to the Isle of Grain, Swindon, and Dungeness. These locations appear in a poetry collection I am writing about identity, nationhood and history.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I am always concerned with the capacity of language to handle the truths of who we are or where we are, and I think that I deal with this simply by continuing to try to write. It doesn’t always work, of course.

The biggest challenge as a writer, I think, is to challenge your readers. I never, ever lose sight of the fact that people who see your poetry will quickly apprehend cliché, tiredness, overused tropes… and discard your work, which is absolutely fair enough!

Do you write every day?

I write every week, certainly, though not in a particularly structured way. A session might include writing up a draft from rough notes, then editing a piece that is well on its way to completion. I also love to prevaricate, which is good news for coffee sellers and BBC Sport, I think. I have a notebook and pen, but the main work is done on a PC: I like the coldness of type: it makes me somehow more critical of what I have before me, and this really helps with redrafting and editing.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

It’s those moments when you realise that you have made people think. Nothing beats this.

Some of your poems are featured in Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction. What would you say the poems are about?

I have two poems in the anthology. ‘Views along the English Coast’ is about the fragility of people’s lives in times of economic and political trouble, and of how in the end we have much in common with those who, too often, are deemed by reactionary political voices to be undesirable.

The other poem, called ‘The Territorial’, takes an imaginary English male figure who represents a sick, post-imperial, far right set of attitudes that are both echoed and challenged by other cultures. The emergence of ultra-conservative and fascist organisations in the UK, Europe and the USA are, I think, my preoccupations where this poetry is concerned, though the ostensible vehicle for responding to these developments is Brexit.

How have the poems been received?

I am absolutely delighted that some readers have been curious about and interested in the work. To say why they have been received well would sound way too much like self-congratulation – not my game at all.

Why is it important for poets to speak up on social, political and related matters?

I think that all art forms can speak to the political discourse of their time – and to other times as well. It’s difficult to make a special case for poetry, except perhaps that it has the capacity to handle political and social issues in a highly compressed way that doesn’t necessarily need to lose the nuance of argument.

In your view, what do anthologies like Bollocks to Brexit add to poetry and public discourse?

I think that the strength of an anthology like Bollocks to Brexit lies in its range of arguments, forms and tones, and in its linguistic variety. It gives the book its chance to engage with a broad audience, at a time when public engagement in politics has never been more important.


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