Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jane Burn

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
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Jane Burn

Jane Burn is a writer and artist who is originally from South Yorkshire. She currently lives with her family in the North East of England. She spends eight months of the year at their 1920’s eco-friendly, off-grid wooden cottage in Northumberland, which she and her husband have spent the last three years restoring with almost entirely reclaimed or recycled materials. She has a keen interest in gardening and nature and loves to spend time with her beloved Jack Russell Terriers and Gypsy Cob, Orca. She works in a supermarket to make ends meet and dreams of a day when she can devote herself to her art and writing full time.

She has been a member of 52, the North East Women’s Collective, the Tees Women Poets and the Black Light Writing Group and regularly performs at many poetry nights.

Her poems have been published in many online magazines such as, Ink Sweat & Tears (where her poem was voted Pick of the Month in June, 2015, Nutshells and Nuggets, I am not a silent poet, Antiphon, Alliterati, The Stare’s Nest, the Loch Raven Review, Proletarian Poetry, Algebra for Owls (where her poem was voted Reader’s Choice), The Blue Nib, Writers for Calais, The Poetry Shed, Open: Journal of Art & Letters, Visual Verse, The Learned Pig, Culture Matters, Rat’s Ass Review, Bonnie’s Crew, Work to a calm, The Ofi Press, Zoomorphic, The Poetry Orchard, Amaryllis, Diamond Twig, Deepwater Literary Journal, Deseeded Vol III and The Rose and the 2018 Poem of the North Project from the Northern Poetry Library.
Print magazines her poems have appeared in include Material, The Edge , Black Light Engine Room Magazine, Butcher’s Dog, The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed With Pipework, The Curlew, The Fenland Reed, A Restricted View From Under The Hedge, Strix, Under the Radar, Bare Fiction, Issues of The Rialto (in which she has had five poems), Prole, Firth, The Linnet’s Wings, Long Poem Magazine, Skylark Review, The Projectionist’s Playground, Smeuse, Elsewhere, Crannog, Domestic Cherry, Iota and The Poet’s Republic.

Her poems have featured in many anthologies, from Seren, Picaroon, Three Drops Press, Kind of a Hurricane Press, The Emergency Poet, Poetry Box, Beautiful Dragons, Paper Swans, Slim Volumes, The Emma Press and Fairacre Press as well as the New Boots and Pantisocracies anthology, the Please Hear What I’m Not Saying Anthology (to raise funds and awareness for Mind) from Fly on the Wall Press and the MeToo Anthology published by Fairacre Press.

In 2014 one of her poems was nominated for the Forward Prize. She was long-listed for the Cantebury Poet of the Year Award, 2014, commended in the 2015 Yorkmix and highly commended in the 2016 Yorkmix poetry competitions. She won the inaugural Northern Writes poetry competition in 2017 was shortlisted in the 2017 Poetry Kit Summer Competition and highly commended in the 2018 Poetry Kit Spring Competition. She won second prize in the 2017 Welsh International Poetry Competition and won second prize in the 2018 Red Shed poetry competition. She was awarded the first place Silver Wyvern in the open category in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition and has had four poems longlisted in the National Poetry Competition between 2014 – 2017 and was longlisted in The Rialto Nature and Place competition, 2018. She won the 2018 PENfro Book Festival Poetry Competiton, was shortlisted in the Live Canon 2018 Poetry Competition and was commended in the 2018 Battered Moons Poetry Competition.

Her pamphlets and collections include –

fAt aRouNd tHe MiddLe published in 2015 by Talking Pen
Tongues of Fire published in 2016 by The BLER Press
nothing more to it than bubbles published in 2016 by Indigo Dreams
This Game of Strangers (co-written with Bob Beagrie) published in 2017 by Wyrd Harvest
One of These Dead Places shortly to be published by Culture Matters. Exact date unknown.
Fleet to be published by Wyrd Harvest Press, exact release date currently unknown.

The Interview

• What inspired you to write poetry?

My simple answer is I don’t know! I couldn’t nail it down to one particular thing. There were people and programmes I loved when I was young that have always stayed with me – Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, Fingermouse, Kizzy, The Children of Green Knowe to name a few. I come from a small ex-mining village in South Yorkshire and we were not a well-off family. We did not have a house full of books – just a small number of random things from heaven knows where.

I was a voracious reader though I cannot tell you what started off this love of books. The ones I borrowed from school, the library, or was given, or got from jumble sales (and when I was lucky, new from a shop) were absolute lifeblood to me. I treasured my copy of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass and was mesmerized by pieces in it like The Jabberwocky. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I once promised my brother that I would return his copies of the books from The Lord of the Rings series to the library but instead kept them. It took me a very long time to plough through them at the age I was and when he got a letter detailing the fine he had been given he was not pleased!

I enjoyed anything that took me away from the life I had at the time. I often wrote and obsessively kept diaries. I wish I had kept them but when I left home, all I cared about at the time was leaving everything behind. The drive to write and produce craft and art has always been with me – I cannot remember a time when it was not.

• Who introduced you to poetry?

This is going to sound very pretentious of me but it was two tiny and beautifully bound books that had come from my mother’s side of the family – perhaps they had belonged to her father, or her older sister. They were very old and only a few inches in size – one was Gems from Burns and the other, Gems from Keats. I was fascinated by their miniature world and if I had to choose a favourite, it was the Keats one. The poem, Meg Merilles used to fire my imagination and I remember a lot of amateur dramatics and loud sniffing as I used to lay there imagining her death. Another poem that was in there is still beloved to me today – To Hope. I even produced a huge pencil drawing to go with the poem when I was eleven. I still have this and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. I think what has stayed with me most of all was the language and the ‘antiquated’ feel – something I use a lot of in my writing today.

• How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I wasn’t. I was so far removed from the poetry world. When I did my English Lit. A level, the wonderful teachers introduced me to more contemporary poets, who’s existence I hadn’t been aware of before – Seamus Heaney, Stevie Smith, Philip Larkin and John Betjeman. We also read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I can still recite A Subaltern’s Love Song by heart today. Lines like ‘mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells’ were like fireworks going off in my brain. I don’t feel intimidated – it just makes me want to keep raising my game. The only time I feel like throwing in the towel is when I have been reading Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast – whatever I want to write, it seems to have already been written. Otherwise, I just think, come on – you can do this!

• What is your daily writing routine?

I do not live an organised life. I have a son, a husband, two dogs, and a horse. I work part-time in a supermarket to make ends meet. We have spent the last three years renovating a cottage which was bought as an absolute wreck and have a second dilapidated property which we haven’t even begun to fix up yet. Every minute of our day is filled with something, as at our cottage we are totally off-grid and responsible for our own power etc, so there is always something that needs to be done.

I get up very early to go running almost every day too, for health reasons as I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic last October and have had to make many physical changes. Yet, there is always time in every day for writing – I can honestly say, hand on heart that I do write every day. I take advantage of any and every opportunity, be it five minutes or two hours. I think I have become a master of this smash and grab writing style. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking – there are notebooks and pens stashed in every room, next to the bed and in every bag. My brain never stops which can get a little wearing sometimes.

• What motivates you to write?

I think there is a sense of urgency as I get older – I have a strong sense of wasting too many years not really being sure what I wanted to do. I squandered much of my younger days being drunk, stoned or falling in and out of dreadful relationships. My mental health has taken up too much of my life and rightly or wrongly, I have this real ‘borrowed time’ feel about my writing – there is so much that I still want to say. I do suffer from severe OCD and have a fear of stopping, of not occupying my hands – if I did, what would I be? There are so many fascinating and powerful subjects out there. There are not enough hours in the day!

• What is your work ethic?

When it comes to myself, I am punishing. Brutal. Demanding. I am my own harshest critic. I am an obsessive researcher who above all, loves reference books. ‘Work hard, then work even harder’ would be my motto. I push myself often into the realms of fatigue and madness and am extremely hard to live with when I am fully immersed in a project. It can be tough (almost impossible, sometimes) to have to snap out of it and instantly be ‘mam’, or ‘Jane’ again.

• How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

The bible has been a constant source of inspiration – I spent many years at our little Methodist Chapel as I was sent to Sunday School, Brownies and Guides in the hope that it would ‘get me out of the house’. I have always been both horrified and delighted by the stories, concepts, beauty, terror, structure and language within. If there was a book that would keep you occupied forever, it is that. I still to this day love to belt out a good hymn.

I recall my childhood tomes with fondness – I used to have a stash of pony story books – Ruby Ferguson’s Jill series, Cobbler’s Dream by Monica Dickens, Dream of Fair Horses by Patricia Leitch, the Jinny books (also by Patricia Leitch) were treasures. In them was such a piquancy of emotion, which is something I try to express in my work. They were such a comfort to me in my desolation.

I have already made reference to the LOTR, Narnia and Gormenghast books – these were amazing sources of inspiration. The extreme levels of obsession that it must have taken to write these is something I can only aspire to. The images and poetic expression that I find in them, the mixture of verse and prose and the unashamed enjoyment of each book’s characters and themes are just a joy to me. Reading Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath when I was eighteen just reinforced my love of ancient dialect and language and this has most definitely remained in my writing – I can be quite the anorak!

Moving on to the purchase of poetry books took a little longer for me – I had to wait to give myself permission to buy them. It still felt as if those books were not for me, that I was not good or clever enough. The first poetry book I bought was the Poems on the Underground anthology, in 1991. I would have been twenty years old, which just shows how slow I still was to waking up to what my heart desired. Because it was so accessible, it was like being given permission to go ahead. What? These poems are everywhere, for anyone to see? You can tell that I didn’t have any poetry friends. One of the poems that stood out for me then was After the Lunch by Wendy Cope – it was such a moment to see a poet simply write what she thought and felt. It was a real lightbulb moment. I still have a weakness for anthologies – they really seem to suit my scatterbrained ways.

• Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I tend to most admire poets who are brilliant in their own right yet remain friendly, accessible and approachable and who want to ‘give back’ what poetry has given them. Poets like Deborah Alma, a talented poet herself, who has also given us the Emergency Poet anthologies and helped put together the incredible MeToo anthology. Rita Dove, who’s Sonata Mulattica is a superb example of what passion, talent and thorough research can produce. I was lucky enough to meet her once and she was brilliant, warm and down-to-earth. Carolyn Forche, who will simply blow your mind. Gillian Allnut for her subtlety and control. Bob Beagrie, my fellow history and language obsessive with whom I have written two collections. I want to say Anne Sexton too – her voice is so current and mighty that she cannot possibly be dead!

You could go on forever – I admit that I dislike lists like this as you must always leave people out or waffle on forever – I have read so many stunning poems from so many people that measuring them against each other seems unjust. There are all my wonderful contemporaries – the amazing poet friends I have met through Facebook, the North East and Teeside poetry scene and projects like Jo Bell’s 52. To mention some would mean to not mention others and my friends know how much I love and respect them and enjoy reading their work in all the many publications out there today.

• Why do you write?

It is my outlet for the things you wouldn’t normally have the courage to say – in my poems I express my sorrow, rage, frustration, heartbreak, confusion, bitterness and trauma. I am unflinchingly and unashamedly honest in a way I would not be if I was talking to you on the street. I feel as if I really can say anything. I use poems to document my memories and experiences.

I also use them to express my great love for the outdoors, for nature and the animal kingdom and how I relate within both. It is where I give vent to my current obsessions – periods from history, places, famous people. There is so much out there in the world to take notice of, that my brain constantly fizzes with ideas that I just have to put down – a way of emptying the mind, so to speak.

I use poems to express my unshakeable hopefulness that no matter what, seems to stay with me. If I did not write, then my mental health would be much the worse. Writing is also such a pleasure – I feel so lucky to be able to do it. Writing is both a curse and a joy – that is the balance of it, just as you can’t have love without hate, happiness without sadness.

• What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say, simply pick up a pen and write. What comes after is unknown until you try.

• Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have just about completed two new collections which are in the final stages of editing and checking for typos (not my strongest skill, and the thing I find the most stressful as there were gaps in my education that still seem unfilled). They are both entirely different – one, which is called One of These Dead Places (to be published by Culture Matters) is a look back at my growing up and my life now as a working class woman. The other, Fleet (to be published by Wyrd  Harvest) is a long poem about women, hares, rivers, magic and the survival of abuse. A third and deeply difficult and personal collection is also hopefully going to make it into a book at some point soon. Otherwise, I am continuing to write as much as possible. I never have less than five things on the go!

I do cherish the idea that I might return to studying in some capacity – I try not to feel too much anger at the (quite frankly) rubbish education I received and always have the feeling that I have so much catching up to do. Academia seems a closed and secret world to me, but is another door I hope to be knocking on before too much longer. Whether or not I can make this a reality remains to be seen but I am currently producing writing which I hope might go towards this.


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