Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jude Cowan Montague

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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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Jude Cowan Montague

is an artist. writer and composer with a multi-media practice that crosses disciplines. She is active in new printmaking, installation, poetry, prose fiction, film history, vocal work and performance.

She is known for her innovative work with international news agency output. This practice developed while working as an archivist for the Reuters Television Archive. Her first collection For the Messengers (Donut Press 2011) re-formed edits from the Reuters output during 2008 as individual poems. Her album The Leidenfrost Effect (Folkwit Records 2015) was co-composed with Dutch producer Wim Oudijk and reimagines quirky stories from the Reuters Life! feed.

She is a broadcaster and curates and hosts The News Agents a weekly hybrid news-arts show on Resonance 104.4 FM.

Her First Class BA (Hons) degree in English Literature from Oxford University was followed with a PhD in film studies from the Birkbeck College, University of London and later by an MA in Printmaking from Camberwell School of Arts. She was awarded the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers’ graduate prize, 2014 – 2016.

Her website is https://www.judecowanmontague.com/

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have always been a reader and writer of poetry but I first began seriously engaging with the contemporary poetry scene in 2007 and 2008. After being a serious musician for many years I took some time out from songwriting to concentrate on my career as a film historian and archivist. When I returned I wanted to improve my approach to lyrics and bring in more variety, more ability to jump with confidence between ideas and symbols and events with word. I decided to expand my work by writing poetry but I initially found it hard to work fluidly without music. I felt that I needed a project. I was working as an researcher on the Reuters Television archive and began by writing poetry about the short news and ‘quirky’ stories I was cataloguing. This led to my first collection of poems, For the Messengers (Donut Press, 2011).

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

My dad loved (some) poetry. He was a fan of A E Housman, Siegfried Sassoon, many of the Georgian and WW1 poets. He also was a great reader of Tennyson and Shakespeare and perhaps mostly I remember his affection for poets who used humour alongside the witty and sarcastic songwriting of Tom Lehrer.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I was brought up with the English literary poetry canon but also was encouraged to be suspicious, critical and to think for myself. So I always felt like a bit of an outsider rather than a member of a group. I feel like a natural outsider. I probably am. I am. So I have my own voice. It’s easy to hear my own voice these days. But so many choices. What to write? Should I try this technique? Or another one? I can ask questions and pick and choose. I don’t have to be dominated by any poet as a writer although I might find that to be published, certain strategies of writing will be favoured over others, depending on the press.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

When I am on a roll, as I call it, I write obsessively. Whatever I’m doing I do as much as possible while I’m feeling ‘hot’. I love to do other art forms, including music and art which I also do passionately. I tend to push projects along while they’re feeling good. When I write poetry I tend to write first thing in the morning as that’s a good time for me to be creative. I like those post-sleep moments when the brain is cleared and aired and anything can happen. It’s all ‘to be written’ and that gives me a thrill.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I like to work. I like to do things. I like to write. I write about feelings that I see around me. I find it easier to be me when I’m writing. I also like conversations. They motivate me. Improvising over time with what I see and feel.

I’m very obsessed with gesture and watching animals. This directly affects my drawing but it also relates to my work as a writer. Noticing and observing. Feeling. Sympathy and empathy.

The universe is fascinating isn’t it. I need to understand it. I need to relate to so many different aspects of what is inside and outside of me. What doesn’t motivate you to write?

  1. What is your work ethic?

I have a natural work ethic which I just let happen. I find it hard not to work. I guess I have a naturally immersive tendency.

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

At the moment I am particularly influenced by the use of word and drawing together. Poets who still influence me from a child include Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. As a young woman I read Christina Rossetti and the Romantics. I wonder how much they still influence me? Obviously they do, nowadays Wordsworth more than Coleridge. Also song artists such as Syd Barrett and Kevin Coyne. Aren’t they poets?

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

So many writers doing brilliant things today. Songwriters I really like include Kevin Coyne’s son Eugene who is a good friend and uses imagery of animals and magic in South London. Kath Tait who is a marvellous, sympathetic writer about London life and her own experiences. She is hilarious and sensitive and brilliant at narration and choruses. And poets who I admire and love include Matthew Caley and Mark Waldron. Matthew’s very learned and expert and contemporary modernist form, playing with concerns, language and metre and subverts pomp and self-importance in literature. Mark is a philosopher, a twister and turner, I identify with his work and approach. It is as if he takes a subject, an event, an element, it could be light or poverty or an observed moment and riffs on it, pulling backwards and forwards with the idea and photographic reality. I’ve been enjoying working with Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún and refreshed by his straightforward yet complex and autobiographical, reflective work. We need writers like him who are honest and generous, direct and using observational intelligence.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

It’s part of the techniques I use to reflect on the world and my life. I like to use word in combination with other art forms particularly music and sound and with drawing. And separately. It enables me to stand outside myself and observe myself sideways, to make sense of my surroundings. To tell stories which rewrite my sense of self and this whole universe. To be connected to other life forms. It’s a method of talking and of performing in full view. It witnesses my existence.

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

You are a writer. Just write about anything you like in whatever way you like. Read whatever you like. It’s all important. Who is to say what is more important than anything else? You decide. It’s your decisions that are important. Have a play, have a laugh and don’t be fooled by the idea that those who shout the loudest are the best. Don’t thrust your business cards, virtual or otherwise at people and think you’re being clever. Look for moments of genius and applaud them. Actually I wouldn’t say anything like that I’d probably say ‘Show me what you’re writing. Tell me what you want to write.’ And then listen.

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

I’m currently polishing a manuscript of sonnets (or perhaps just fourteen line poems) about my father, provisionally titled A Scottish Werewolf in London. I’m also finishing a graphic novel about my marriage to a man who was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic called Love on the Isle of Dogs. Very excited about both projects.

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