5 Questions: Jessica Mookherjee

5 Questions: Jessica Mookherjee

Marble has been asking it’s contributors to tell us a little more about their lives and inspirations so we can understand what and how to become a poet. This week, Marble talks to Jessica Mookherjee, whose poem Sidekick can be read in issue 9 ,

Describe your upbringing and the impact this may have had on you creatively? 

My upbringing was small town girl, seaside town, immigrant parents, 1970’s and 1980’s telly and pop culture, Wales and the recession and really troubled parents. It was the strangeness of my mother’s madness and the way my father reacted to it that led me to feel different to the other kids. There were good people where i grew up and the place itself and the people there were as nurturing as it could be. I saw kindness everywhere outside my family – where inside was strangeness and tension. The context of my upbringing was important to what i ended up being creative about. In the 1980’s there was abject gloom and depression in Wales, it was also deeply divided – some people doing very well and others facing ruin. Also we lived in the backdrop of nuclear threat. My father did not fulfil the promise of his ambitions and that set an atmosphere of bitterness that i needed to leave Swansea to find something bigger – as so many did. what i found was London – covered in glitter and grime. I was a swirl of lipstick, nightclubs, dark alleyways and groups of feral kids huddled together like vampire children living off housing benefit. This was a febrile atmosphere for creativity. Its impact on my creative output is that i see language and identity as outfits, but ones that get very closely stuck to our skins, but nevertheless, there is always something of the ‘passenger’ about the way i feel my way through poetry. 

At what age did you start to write poetry and what inspired this? 

Like many kids i was writing as soon as i could hold a pen. I remember my series of nature poems being pasted on the walls of my infant school. I am not sure what inspired me to write poetry, perhaps listening to music and enjoying reading. I had a beautiful ‘Child’s Treasury of Poetry’ which had amazing poems in it and i recall a puffin book called “I like this Poem” where i came across Shelley first. Then i always wrote, i wrote to make up worlds, i wrote novels and passed chapters of them out to friends in school. I wrote fictional sports reports set in the future, I wrote crazy sci-fi stories and poems too. I wrote really seriously as teenager and when i came to London aged 18, i wrote a book of poetry that i crazily sent to Johnathon Cape – and they wrote back! I was inspired by so many things – and in particular the amazing people i met through my youth. Later – i became more obsessed with science and i had too many questions that needed answering, which led me to psychology, anthropology and population health. It was only in my late 40’s – and after i separated from my long term partner – that i seriously picked my poetry pen up again. This was inspired by a feeling of if i didn’t write again – then i would be letting that little kid stuck in her bedroom in Wales – down. 

It was only in my late 40’s – and after i separated from my long term partner – that i seriously picked my poetry pen up again. This was inspired by a feeling of if i didn’t write again – then i would be letting that little kid stuck in her bedroom in Wales – down. 

What helped you when balancing writing poetry with other life responsibilities?

The things that helped me continue to write while all other elements of life must keep going was carving time to be with other poets and learn from them. The community of poetry is so inspiring and important as is the discovery of mentors. I found local stanza groups supportive and mentoring, i found masterclasses (i attended two with Gillian Clark and one with Carol Anne Duffy) and these instilled writing discipline into me. I think its always important to hone your craft – wherever you find yourself. 

 What writing tips/exercises have particulary helped you write?

My favourite poetry book is one by Ted Hughes – called “ Poetry in the Making” – and he says – if you want to write about a tree- go out and pretend to be a tree – really feel the tree – and then put some really good words on to the experience. I thought that was very good and simple advice. Also read lots of poetry books. All poets who publish are often amazed that people write poetry without reading poetry. That is like trying to make music without ever hearing music – its quite sad. I also heard some wise words from Wayne Holloway Smith recently – who said something like – there are a lot of poems that need to be written – but not as many then need to be read. There is a distinction. The other great advice was from Gillian Clarke – who told me to always look for the ‘Howl or the Hallelujah’ in a poem. I really like that. 

What is currently inspiring you and your writing?  

I am currently being inspired – as ever – by whatever is in front of me. I am somewhat obsessed with roads and paths and how cities and landscapes make us into people. I’m also interested in the effect popular culture has on us and how that pushes us to think we are this or that type of person, i love the interplay of music in poetry. I am also always inspired by the sea – and currently what that means to me at this time in my life. Maybe its the after effect of growing up near the coast – but it is the edge of things that i find exciting. 

You can learn more about Jessica on her own website https://thejessicapoet.com/about/ and follow her on twitter: @jessmkrjy

  • Insightful Jess, thank you for being so open but, as ever, you underplay your amazing career which has given you such unique awareness of others’ lives and what pivotal moments look like.