Six Of The Best: Jo Clement | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Darlington born, Newcastle based poet Jo Clement releases Moveable Type, a book of poems inspired by the rich heritage of her working-class Gypsy upbringing and reflecting on the poetics and politics of Gypsy identity. Complete with foreword from fellow poet Sean O’Brien and illustrations courtesy of wood engravings by Thomas Bewick, the book will be launched at Waterstones, Newcastle on Wednesday 18th March.

Ahead of the event, Jo shares with us her six of the best.

Andrew Kötting makes the most imaginative and immersive films. There’s something folkloric to his work that appeals to me. Merry-go-round-ish. Farcical. Something witchy. Whether short or feature-length, once I’ve watched a Kötting, I immediately want to do it all over again. By Our Selves is a favourite. It follows the five-day journey of Northamptonshire poet John Clare as he cuts loose from the madhouse disorientated by the kaleidoscopic-ness of time, place and self, passes through Epping Forest on foot and heads back home to Helpston in search of his first love. In This Our Still Life, we meet Kötting’s daughter Eden with whom he collaborates. I am such a fan of their work.

A few years ago Lena Dunham said something like ‘let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading’. Imagine what that world might feel like? Wiser, quieter and a damn sight kinder, I think. So many folks aspire to be writers today. It’s a vocation now inseparable from the white noise of capitalism. Madonna and David Walliams write our kid’s books. JK Rowling, they reckon, is richer than the Queen. We devote whole days to binge-watching a TV adaptation but wince at the thought of opening the first page of the book. Nobody ever really talks about the graft it takes to become a ‘great writer’ – how completely contingent it is upon being an even better reader. Not to mention the sheer bloody stubbornness of character it takes to consciously poise yourself on the knife’s edge between ego and obscurity. To choose to live, as a wise old goat once said, both deliciously and in near-poverty.

Reading has always been my compulsion. Writing was just a symptom. My bookshelves heave with a right motley mix. I’ve got the classics, poetry, memoirs, travel writing. But also field guides, artists’ books and art historical studies. Many are charity shop finds, hand-bound beauties devoted to the tying of knots, obscure titles such as The Poet’s Tongue or French word books from the twenties of the century just gone. Some books I buy because there’s a handwritten dedication that says more to me than all the pages printed in the book ever could. Resistant to being told what to do, I distrust the gatekeepers with the power to make these kinds of decisions for us. The writer who gave me the most confidence in this spirit was not a fiction writer but a theorist called Khalwant Bhopal. Her book White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society reminds us how so much of our lives are limited by things beyond our control: our race, our gender, our class. God, we need to talk more about class. 

One musician I can’t keep away from is Robert Wyatt. I guess it’s the teenage sax player in me that admires his jazziness. At times he’s folky, weird, then proggy, funny and nakedly feminist. No song speaks to his mercurial style better than Sea Song. As he says, it’s different every time.   

I saw Stewart Lee’s arse at Newcastle Theatre Royal a couple of years ago. Highly recommended.

For about five years I didn’t have a telly but now I do. Life is better for it.  Recently I’ve been re-watching Six Feet Under. My dad was a gravedigger and I grew up with a knowledge and appreciation for the grit that lives just beneath the incredibly polished and sedate business of death. Perhaps that’s why I have this thing with endings. I watched this show religiously but couldn’t bring myself to see the last episode. To bury it, so to speak. The same thing happens with novels and poetry collections. I know that the last page is coming and have to start over before I can finally commit to the ending and let go. Thinking about it, I never watched the final episodes of The Wire or Sopranos. All these years have passed and I’ve finally returned to the Fisher family and their funeral home, with a view to finish what I started. It is such a great watch. Surreal outbursts, the hilarity and humanity with which every character is written, how much it exposes the ridiculous rituals of conservativeness. Oh and Ruth: the first time I’d ever seen a mother portrayed as an autonomous human being.   

Later this year Bloodaxe are publishing a much anticipated follow-up to Staying Alive anthology called Staying Human. I’m excited to read it, there’s always an impressive mix of themes and poets, often with an international eye. One of my favourite writers John Berger said the series can ‘leave those who have read or heard a poem from it feeling less alone and more alive’. Doesn’t that just sum up how necessary poetry is? 

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