Upfront! with Jay Bernard, Poet Painting with Words

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The following interview first appeared on Kent Ridge Common. Jay is my mentor for a poetry workshop; she's a very intense woman with a quirky sense of humor. Really interesting person!

Jay is a writer from London, and describes herself as “writer, poet, graphic artist” in that order. She started performing her poetry aged fifteen, after she attended a series of workshops with Apples and Snakes. She then went on to win the Respect Slam in 2004 and the Foyle’s Young Poets competition in 2005. She’s appeared at venues from Trafalgar Square and Shakespeare’s Globe, to the Vienna Lit festival in Austria and Bluestockings in New York. Today, she graciously agrees to our request for a candid interview:

What is it like being on a residency in Singapore? How does it compare to residencies in other countries?

I’ve only ever done residencies in the UK before, so I have no other international comparisons. Doing a residency is hard work, strange and never what you expect. You are essentially saying that you will live as a writer for a period of time. This sounds idyllic, but lots of practical issues come up: how to organise your time, how to create a course, what information you wish to impart, how to deal with your publication / performance obligations. When you are sitting at home writing you do not have to present yourself in a particular way – suddenly, with a writing residency, you do. This is not specific to Singapore, but a feature of all the residencies I’ve undertaken.

In your opinions, what makes a good poem?

Lucid unity of sound and sense. For me, there is also the question of a good performance, in which case risk-taking, rhythm, movement / choreography and voice are all important. It doesn’t have to be a visually spectacular piece, but all the best readings are done by poets who know how to use their own voices and are comfortable with their bodies – or at least aware of them.

Have you ever encountered periods when writing poetry becomes a chore? How do you deal with it?

It is always a chore, because it’s easier to have an idea than to execute one. I don’t deal with it – I seem to prefer suffering and staying up all night to hit a deadline, just as I did when I had essays as a student. Doesn’t matter really, so long as you get it done.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring poets?

Download a great program called SelfControl, which completely disables the internet for whatever period of time you set.

Are you organising any events and wish to share them with our readers?

Yes, I’m putting on an exhibition! June 12-24th, “I See You: Art and Poetry” at The Arts House, with five other Singaporean / ex-pat artists.

Thanks for the candid interview, Jay!

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