An interview/Poetry with Poet Jenny Mitchell in Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020

Q: Please describe your latest boo, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and what is the theme/mood?

Jenny: My debut collection, Her Lost Language, examines the legacies of British transatlantic enslavement in relation to personal and family dynamics. The poems are based on several years of archival research into an emotive and still-contested history.

Q: What frame of mind & ideas lead to you writing your current book?

Jenny: I wanted to look at why a defining part of British history was still being marginalized as Black history, and therefore something that could be forgotten and/or only commemorated once a year. It is often seen as the history of ‘victims’ when in fact it is extraordinary survival.

I also strongly believe that the failure to fully examine over two hundred years of enslavement, sanctioned by British laws, is the cause of our collective failure to adequately deal with institutionalized, systemic racism.

Q: How old were you when you first became serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting?

Jenny: I was about twelve when I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I think it might help explain why my work is so narrative-based and direct. As a child, I wanted to eat up stories, and they still drive me forward.

Q: What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often became parts of a poem?

Jenny: I love to walk and dance, both of which I think help inform my work. I aim for a song-like quality to my poems, and I’m very concerned with emotion/feeling.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?

Jenny: I think writing for me is a constant mixture of frustration and reward.

Bio info for Jenny Mitchell:

As well as Her Lost Language, I have a second collection called Map of a Plantation, which is due out in April 2016 (both collections published by Indigo Dreams).

For more information contact me at: @jennymitchellgo

Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Aryamati Poetry Prize; the Segora Poetry Prize; a Bread and Roses Poetry Award; the Fosseway Poetry Prize; joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019 and a 2 x Best of the Net Nominee.

A debut collection, Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing) is one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales) and a Jhalak Prize #bookwelove Recommendation.

She also has a collection, Map of a Plantation (IDP), due out in 2021.


The following poems by Jenny Mitchell appear in her book “Her Lost Language” with Indigo Press Publishing (c)

Lessons About Flight 

Freedom in the air was what he described first,
my father: how gliding on God-given breeze made escape
so easy for the birds - a long forgotten name.
They simply flew above the shot.

Calm in their description too:
neat, red and yellow plumage.
The devil's strength in smooth, grey claws,
rarely glimpsed above the blue Jamaican hills.

Their song, so strangely loud, helped fell the sugar cane
for slaves exhausted in the fields. These men and women hid
to rest from overseers, soaking up the sound;
hummed a softer tune at night to lull the birds to sleep.

This mutual help was stopped by men, as white as waves.
Guns cocked, they gained their stature
stopping breath close to the ground. Father says the birds
looked at the mounting dead but flew serene.

His voice grew more serene. I pictured them as clouds
made from the brightest colours, high above a damaged world.
He said they were cheered on their long, lost way
by those who came before us in the fields.

Emancipating Ancestors
for those who died on slave plantations

I'll free them all
by digging deep enough
to haul their battered bodies
from the years
of disturbed soil.

As they emerge -
some dark, some light -
I'll gather every part:
the shattered bones
and ancient clothes;

the smell of monthly blood
I'm sure still flows
when women young enough to breed
are killed.

I'll stroke their wasted skin,
so like my own
and cradle every one -
my arms that wide, that strong.

The love I have for them
will be a nursery rhyme
with hushing sounds,
and promises of home.

I'll put out all the leaves
lodged in their throats,
replace them with my words
to let them speak.

Or if repulsed
by that well-meaning force,
they're free to push my hand away.
I'll understand the leaves
help ground lost voices.

Then I will sit, a child again,
to breathe their wisdom
and their weakness - all the same
if I dare open like a grave,
allowing them to seep
so deep inside,
I'll be reborn

Blood, the Seamstress
for my maternal grandmother

I'll be the dress she never owned -
immaculate for special days,
the only burden heavy frills
and English lace along the hem.

I'll never trail in dirt
or suffer dust from cane fields.

My heart will burst to make a bodice
stitched with bold Jamaican flowers:
yellow orchids, red hibiscus.

There will be a giant fern appliqued on the back:
my ribcage opened to its full extent.

I'll raise my chin to form the high, firm collar -
a throat so elegant, with space to hold my voice.

I'll ask her what she really wants -
plain cuffs or golden buttons.
Underneath the dress,
I'll make myself silk underwear;
a soft and pretty petticoat
Its one equivalent will be her newly-coddled skin

By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

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