June 6th, 2019 – Guest Poet: Jinny Fisher

As a prelude to Jinny’s reading on 6th June, she has provided Fire River with an illuminating summary about both her life and each step she has taken on her poetry journey. Worth taking note by potential poets who might follow the example Jinny sets and the way in which she has cultivated her talent. Her most recent success being the publication of her first pamphlet by V Press in 2018.  (Click for flyer)

Jinny Fisher – An introductory autobiography for Fire River Poets website

I came to poetry late. Is that true? As an adult, I didn’t write any poems until 2006, that much is the case. But I wrote at school, and was introduced to poetry – in particular the First World War poets and the Metaphysicals. After that, nothing. For decades. During those years I became a classical violinist and teacher, and after that came a (late) psychology degree, training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and raising two children. 

I think many ‘late starter’ poets are tipped into writing by an experience of extreme emotion of some kind – often to do with the kind of loss that disrupts the mind’s status quo, that stirs up the depths and demands an expression of a different kind. That was me, for sure. I had been planning a memorial event for a friend and colleague, who was dying of cancer – the same cancer that I had been diagnosed with and had recovered from.  We met over a period of months to plan the event and after she died, I had a night of dream-writing, from which I awoke with a fully-formed poem in my head. I wrote it down and ‘Hmmm – that line’s not very good. There’s a cliché – that should go!’ I realised that I was editing, and despite the sadness and stress of the period, I soon found I was becoming a poet as well as a therapist.

I might have continued paddling around, struggling with some extremely poor efforts, had I not attended a residential course at Highgreen in Northumberland, home of Bloodaxe poetry publishers. How important early teaching is! The two tutors, Matthew Hollis (now poetry editor at Faber) and Antony Dunn, were kind and brutal, wielding the red pen with enthusiasm and respect. I was allowed a tiny quota of adjectives and adverbs – it’s all in the verbs and nouns! I think their seminars and tutorials set me on a path of being very much a ‘show, don’t tell’ poet.

In 2011 I moved from London to near Castle Cary and searched for my nearest poetry group: Fire River! It seems a long time ago that I turned up to my first ever open mic reading in The Brewhouse studio space. I was embarrassed and my poems were, well, primitive, but everyone was very kind and I heard some excellent poetry.  FRP was full but fortuitously, a new Taunton group was forming, and I was welcomed by Paul Tobin. We called it Juncture 25 and we met to workshop our poems (ruthlessly!) and we also read together around the south-west. In time we individually took up new challenges or moved away and J25 is not so active now as a group.   I value those people so much – my first peer workshopping group.

Other powerful influences have included Jo Bells’ online ‘52’ group: one year of weekly prompts in a closed group, for sharing, support and mutual critique. That one year has been the making of many poets, some of whom joined as complete beginners. Since then, off-shoot online communities and close, real-life poetry friendships have blossomed for members of that group. I’m also grateful to the poets and tutors on Arvon and other residential courses. George Szirtes, Kathryn Maris, Jo Shapcott, Nell Nelson….

In 2013 I was so lucky to meet Carrie Etter, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa (thank you, Twitter). Since then, she has been my mentor and friend – more red pen, and also red wine! She got me submitting to magazines, and online poetry publications. My poems have now been in there’s now Finally, in 2018, she judged me ready to submit a pamphlet for publication, and she was right: I submitted to my first choice (V. Press) and was accepted. It’s a pamphlet with interlocking themes, I think. Family relationships, inter-generational power, blurred boundaries, and downright abuse. I’ve often had to be clear that the poems are not narratively autobiographical, except in a couple of instances. Some of the poems are quite dark, but there is celebration there too; for instance, I found I had included three poems that feature my daughter Miranda and the delight that she has brought me. I guess in the next book I will want honour my son, and since he is an astro-physicist, that could be a tough one!

What next? Those deathless words: I’m working on my first collection.  I have no idea what it will be like. First there has to be some serious play, with new forms, new themes. and trust that something will emerge from the creative soup.

Meanwhile, I also have my outreach project ‘The Poetry Pram’, which is great fun and more satisfying than even I predicted – reading poetry to people who thought they hated poetry and watching their delight and surprise. https://www.facebook.com/PoetryPram/

In 2017 I moved to Glastonbury, despite not believing in astrology or any of the other belief systems that make the town its unique self. I’m now a member of Wells Fountain Poets and Frome Stanza –more hard work and new poetry friends.

Thank you, John and Genista, for inviting me back to read at a Fire River evening. It’s a special pleasure to give back to the group who welcomed and encouraged a total ‘noob’ years ago.