KD: I have the pleasure of interviewing Poetess Extraordinaire, Mel Jones, today. Mel is a woman who not only writes bawdy, funny, sometimes moving and thought-provoking poems, but also performs them live. And the amazing thing about Mel – well, one of many amazing things – is that she discovered this passion later in life.
Mel, how did you come to poetry, and what took you so long to get there?
MEL: I am the youngest of four .There weren’t many roles left to fill. I became the helper. This followed me into adult life and I lived through helping others. Plus I had the usual female disease of discounting anything I did and any talents that I had. I didn’t know that making people laugh was a gift because it came so easily to me and it was the same with poetry. And although I’d written a lot of songs and lyrics for others, I always thought of poetry as something that very highbrow, serious writers did – i.e. not me. I just wrote funny little verses that were a bit embarrassing. I never showed them to anyone outside of work.
Also, I suffered from frequent and long bouts of depression, the kind where you can’t go out to buy milk, and this punctuated my life right up until my late thirties when, by way of a series of fortuitous events, I entered long-term, 3 times a week therapy. That went on for 5 years. It changed my life by changing my attitudes to myself and my potential. I stopped caring so much what other people thought. So really the answer is I was too fucked-up before. Now I’m just fucked-up enough.
KD: I think that probably describes a lot of us writer types. We have to be just fucked-up enough to do what we do.
Though I often read my work out loud to an audience, poetry seems to me to lend itself a lot more to live performance. How did you get involved in performing your poetry, and can you explain how the buzz you must get from performing poetry differs from the buzz of writing it. Is one more powerful than the other as an experience, and if so why?
MEL: I was listening to Radio 4 and they had a poetry slam on – something I’d never heard of. There were people doing comedy poems and I thought – I do that all the time. Everytime someone left work or got married they’d come to me for a funny poem, I just didn’t realise there were places where people wanted to hear this stuff.
I went to Bang Said The Gun at The Roebuck pub on Great Dover Street in Borough one Thursday night, did a poem I wrote when I was 15 and won the slam. The prize was to come back and do a 10 minute set, which went down a storm. I’ve never looked back.
I don’t think I’m the greatest performer – I find it difficult to learn poems and I’m not very physically slick on stage, but I am funny, and making a crowd of strangers laugh is a big fat thrill.
But when I’ve just written something and I know it’s right, there’s a unique pleasure to it, a sense of fulfilment and release. I stay excited for hours and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a funny poem or a serious one. Performing is the icing on the cake but writing takes me over like a drug and finishing, finally finishing a ‘perfect’ poem, is the greatest thrill of all, apart from intense clitoral stimulation, obviously.
We have eternal life
Just not as us, that’s all
That’s the thing
That really pisses us off
We become soil and trees
And worms and flowers and rain
And a thousand million
Trillion other living things
But never us,
Not us, ever again
But we’re only a mix
Of garbled memories
Of what’s gone long before
We were alive back then
And we’ll be alive again
Just not as us, that’s all
It’s nature’s best joke
Alive or dead
We are already ghosts
KD: As a writer, I hopped right into what I think we would both agree is the most important part of this interview; your writing. But since I know you personally I can do that. Since the people out there in Blog-o-land don’t, could you tell us a little bit about Mel Jones – what you think we should know about her?
MEL: Oh God – I reckon there’s at least a dozen people in here. I am an extrovert/introvert. At my best I am kind, generous, funny and reliable. I am also impatient, moody, snippy and quite capable of causing a scene if I don’t like something. I get frustrated easily by machines and bureaucracy and little things can still get me down, but I bounce back much quicker these days. I can be the life and soul of the party but I also need great swathes of time alone.
I sing jazz, cook curry, have 2 cats and 3 vibrators. Is that enough?
KD: That tells me everything I need to know, Mel, I’ve always said you can tell the measure of a woman by the number of cats and the number of vibrators she has! Here comes the old stand-by for every interview of every writer; what inspires you? How does your best poetry happen?
MEL: Just comes – TV headlines, people talking on the bus, an ad in the paper, or things just pop into my head. I’ll usually get one line and then the rest will come. Sometimes the original idea ends up as an entirely different poem from the one you thought you were aiming for. Writing is a strange process. Sometimes it’s like trying to find the soap in the bath. You know it’s in there somewhere but it’s a slippery sod.
Later, under London’s stoic Eye
I slip aglisten from your knowing arms
A film star frame, our silhouetted kiss
Against the sleepy wheel’s ravishing blue
Then ragged as the river’s pitch and swell
I rattle down the urgent last train steps
To ride in hurtling light and thundering sound
Along the midnight city’s thrilling veins
An answering rush beneath new-bruising skin
My raging blood some fresh, miraculous brew
When slick across my neon-haloed mouth
Salt finger tips give up the taste of you
KD: You’ve been doing NaPoWriMo during the month of April, which is national poetry writing month. It sounds quite extreme to me, something that would make every writer of poetry’s pulse speed up a bit. Can you tell us about it and about your experience of it?
MEL: Jo Bell, a very highly successful and respected poet, check her out at http://www.bell-jar.co.uk/, suggested I do it and I saw a lot of other poets I admire were signing up. You write a poem a day and post it on Facebook or your blog or the NaPoWroMo website or whatever.
The idea is to explore the writing process, gain some insight into the discipline of writing to a deadline and to ‘dig deeper’ as a result. All those things happened. I’m not saying everyone was a gem and I’ll certainly be ditching some and honing others but overall, I’m glad I did it because some more serious poetry came out of which I am rather proud. Most of all I am happy I completed it because a lot of people dropped out. One a day for 30 days is pretty hardcore. I’m knackered.
KD: I bet you are! But I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of the poems you wrote during those thirty days, and I’d definitely say it was an effort that paid off very well indeed!
I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing some of your more bawdy, deliciously smutty poems. In that regard, I feel like we truly are kindred spirits. Can you tell us what inspired you, and clearly still inspires you, to write poems about sex?
MEL: We are indeed kin. I am extremely earthy. I love smut, sex, erotica, porn, boundary-pushing and always have although I didn’t always know it. It’s important to me to share that because I spent 40 years attempting/pretending to be ‘normal’, whatever that is. I also enjoy writing about things that have embarrassed me. A lot of women have told me they have been helped by my poems because I ‘tell it like it is’ and make them feel less guilty about thoughts and feelings they may have or better about incidents that have weighed on their minds. The comedy is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. You can say things you wouldn’t get away with in straight prose. I write about fucking, masturbation, porn, being caught short in public, my love of bums, body image, aging, desire and lots more. You think you’re the only one and you never are – except for the one I did about shitting, not by design, during sex. Not had a lot of nodding heads in the audience for that one. Still, it happened to me, and the poem, and the performance of it, makes the incident funny instead of fearful, joyous instead of guilt-ridden.
My inspiration comes from what’s on my mind and most of the time sex in one form or another is on my mind. Expressing my demons rather than keeping them in and letting them fester is also a common starting point. Sometimes I’m just drunk. Go figure.
I’m raw and alone
I’ve rubbed and teased forever
But it’s not enough
Oh to have the balls to open my window wide
Lean right out
Nipples hard as wood
And make a guttural sound to match this throb
To turn this molten ache into a thrumming
That makes the paved soil tremble
The natural earth respond
The alley-cats give tongue
Fluting through the high-rise sprawl
A siren, howling call to my arms
Join me in my ancient song
Give this beat some base
Riff on me
Strum me till I break
Bang a stone-age drum
Till there’s no more noise to make
Mine cannot be the only roar
Make me vibrate like those machines
Stashed in my bedroom drawer
Have never done
Come to the 20th floor
KD: I’m sure everyone is as anxious as I am to know where we can find you in cyber-space and, of course, in the real world performing your poetry live.
MEL: Facebook: Mel Jones
I’ve just started a blog for the NaPoWriMo event and I shall begin adding to it soon.
Mel’s Little Book of Mostly Filthy Verse is due out soon so anyone who FBs me will be the first to know
I’m on Rrrants Radio Live Recording Thursday 12th May at
The OVO Theatre 29a Chequer Street St Albans Herts AL1 3YJ
On at Velvet Tongue SPRING EDITION: A literary soiree dedicated to erotic writing and performance.
16 May • 19:00 – 22:30
Bar Kick (basement)
127 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JE
London, United Kingdom
I’m featuring Saturday evening 28th May at the Meadowlands Festival
I have a spot at Comedy Slappers on Wednesday 1st June
The Cavendish Arms
128 Hartington Road, Stockwell, SW3 2HJ
London, United Kingdom
And featuring At The Camden Head, 202 Camden High Street on Tuesday 14th June
Have just been invited to take part in Bang Said the Gun Super Slam on Thursday 30th June, for those who have won 2 or more Bang Trophies ( I am proud to say I have 3!)
I am often to be found at Bang Said the Gun, fantastic poetry night every time, at the Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street Borough on Thursday evenings.
I am of course available for poetry commissions, and have extensive experience in speech/presentation and CV writing.
Words is me thing.
I don’t try to keep up with the ladies
As they wax, colour, peel and curl
I don’t bother much with the feminine
Or the guff about being a girl
It seems such a waste of resources
All that suffering’s a terrible pity
Especially when you consider the thought
That, generally, men ain’t that picky
They like to suggest that they’d only
Consider a model or WAG
When actually there’s not a woman alive
That some bloke or other won’t shag
It’s a blatantly sexist assertion
But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong
All that alpha male crap masks the obvious fact
That we’ve had the power all along
They’re desperate to stop women twigging
They’d fuck a frog if it stopped hopping
You don’t have to try to entice a straight guy
You’re sexy just doing the shopping
You’re sexy because you’re a woman
With, or without, teeth or hair
You’re the unconquered peak of the mountain
You’re sexy – because you are there
You’re sexy from every perspective
Each crevice and fold a delight
You’re sexy with scars, you’d be sexy with SARS
Men don’t put up much of a fight
So girls, ditch the worry and torment
Buy some cake and the next dress size up
You could be ninety-three, 30 stone, reek of pee
I guarantee – you’d get a fuck
KD: Thanks, Mel, for stopping in and sharing some of your fabulous, funny, poignant, naughty, glorious poetry with us. Best of luck in writing and in performing the amazing stuff wot you wrote.