Part of an ongoing monthly series of blogs provided for Rusty Goat’s Poetry Corner, Swindon’s fantastic open mic night. Poet In The Corner shines a spotlight on talent from the local region and around the UK. These are some of the older blogs also available on the Rusty Goat Poetry Facebook Page
Hello Goatlings. I trust you have ‘enjoyed’ our summer thus far. The lockdown has forced some creative ways to perform and attend events but it is inspiring to see how the poetry community has come together to stick two fingers up at Covid 19, (now known as ‘that F-ing virus’ from this paragraph onwards) and continue to bring creativity to a turbulent world.
Speaking of inspiring, it’s time for Poet Of The Month. As usual I’m a little tardy so for the rest of 2020 POTM will probably appear a week or two into the month. I was slated to write my own bio in Jan 2021 so will probably skip me (I’m not actually that interesting to hear about. My main outlook on life is ‘Ew – society’ so it’s not much to miss). This should get me back on track bringing you blogs about the amazing talent of the south west and beyond. Our Poet Of The Month for July and August is the simply lovely Josephine Lay, organiser and co host of the rather excellent Cheltenham Open Mic: Squawkers.
Josephine says that although she is probably classed as a Baby Boomer she is probably rather lapsed as she doesn’t identify with a lot of her generational norms. Having worked for the NHS as a Chiropodist/Podiatrist, (braver than me – ew feet) she has worked around the UK. She has lived in the Isle Of Wight, London, East Anglia and Gloucestershire whilst having a family and has one son and a grandson. Once her son went to school she found herself with time to spare and went back to school herself. She attended Creative Writing courses at Stroud College and found she loved to write. Following her divorce she continued to study at Bath Spa University, having been accepted when she sent in a portfolio of her work. Six years ago she met her significant other and the other half of Squawkers: Peter Lay.
Josephine has continued to work following graduation from university. She wrote a short story: Saffron Tones, and a poetry collection titled Inside Reality. Presently she still has two novels in the wings waiting to be edited and published (Cmon Mrs get them done!). Two and a half years ago she had a couple of falls and sustained two concussions. Josephine feels this altered her writing style and she found herself concentrating more on poetry. She joined the Gloucestershire Poetry Society and discovered the world of spoken word and slam poetry, finding them new but exciting. The rest is history.
She says she loves poetry for the sound of the words, with a particular preference for the subtle and the sensuous. Josephine loves a performance that brings out the passion of the words, and feels the skill of poetry and spoken word is in choosing the best words and stringing them together in the most effective way, with a spine tingling effect that can electrify an audience when a performer has hit the spot and the performance has been powered by their meaning and emotion, as she feels spoken word should be genuine and a poet should speak their truth with honesty. In particular Josephine has the drive to ‘hold the audience, stop them talking, drip the words into their minds’, and says that if that happens and the room falls silent then she knows she has achieved it. As a fan of seeing Josephine perform I am sure you will agree she hits that sweet spot so many times, as well as describing poetry and performing in such a powerful way that speaks to the things the community strives for.
Josephine feels her major achievements have come quickly over the last 2.5 years. With Peter she set up their own small, but independent publishing company : Black Eyes Publishing Uk. The original intent was to publish their own work and in 2019 Josephine published her collection, titled: Unravelling, a blend of performance and page poetry. However, Black Eyes evolved and now has some talented poets and collections published by their company, and both Josephine and Peter work with the poets, editing and advising on their manuscripts. Josephine is a well known and respected member of the poetry community and feels she found a new life performing behind the mic. She is always amazing to listen to. In 2018 Ziggy Dicks, founder of the GPS, asked her to host Squawkers in Cheltenham, a change she did not realise she would love so much, and bring her to meet so many poets she describes as fabulous poets and people. (That’s you lot by the way).
She also began to travel to other places to perform and is well known at Ooh Beehive with Clive Oseman and Nick Lovell, as well as at RGPC with Rusty Goat and all the Goatlings. This year she took over as head of the GPS from Ziggy Dicks and began to work with Peter and Jason Conway to keep the ethos of the work already done, as well as expand upon it with new plans, currently on hold due to the C-word (no not that one, the other one).
When asked about her writing style Josephine felt it was hard to categorise as it is continuing to evolve. Having begun with performance poetry she is now beginning to work with Ziggy Dicks, Gloucestershire Poet Laureate, as well as Anna Saunders of the Cheltenham Fest. to tighten her words to make them work well on the page, a process she finds constant and hard to learn.
Josephine is a well admired poet in her own right but when asked about the poets she admires she admits it is a difficult choice, having met so many people who do such an amazing job promoting difficult subjects such as mental health issues, addiction, poverty and racial issues (also you lot). However, for spoken word she says she loves Jemima Hughes for ‘her truth, her words and her performance’, which she feels blows her away. For Slam poetry she says there are two poets in particular: Chloe Jacquet who she states is ‘a magician weaving truths into poetic parables with such punch’. Lastly she admires ‘Birdspeed’ for being ‘a feisty, fiery lady you can’t beat’, and says all three of these women tell it how it is with such grace and power. But it’s not all about the women and Josephine also gives a shout out to Tom Sastry from Bristol, who she categorises as a page and performance poet who can really hold an audience, as well as Ben Ray from the Forest of Dean, who always manages to write great poetry about the unusual and the unexpected. However this is only a small sampling of the dearth of poetic talent she has encountered (YES you lot).
Although that F-ing virus has put the GPS’s previous plans on hold, when asked about the future Josephine says that, although Black Eyes has found launching their newly organised publications difficult to plan, the future is not static. The GPS runs a monthly online Zoom event, ‘Crafty Crows’, which is hosted by Josephine and has had poets joining in from the US, the Philippines and Spain – a very exciting development for the British poetry community. There is also, currently, a GPS poetry competition – closing date 15th August, with a £100 cash prize. Following finishing this blog I’m off to dig through my Blogger account! Please read to the end of the blog before you run off to do the same though – I’m needy!
Once the F-ing virus slings it’s hook and the GPS can safely hold real poetry events, in the not so distant future, the plan is that the online event will be continuing even when things return to normal, as Josephine says she enjoys bringing in the international element, and the fact that poets can join from all around the country, including disabled people who would be unable to join in at many of the venues.
It has been a pleasure to interview you Josephine. Please keep doing what you do x