The Monthly discusses poetry, performance and survival with Scottish Poet, Jenny Lindsay – Part 1

Were you always drawn to writing?

I used to, as a child, try and write books, novels. When I was 11 I wrote what I considered to be my first novel which was probably a bit of a rip-off of Sweet Valley High, but I always loved writing. I also was a bit of a hermit as a child and I loved just going off to read books.

My mum was into amateur dramatics and while I was incredibly shy as a child I loved the idea of performance. I found it really exciting to go and watch what my mum was involved in, like plays and things like that.

I also liked ballet and dancing and I found that although I was shy that tended to disappear when I had to be involved in a dance performance.

Do you maintain that connection with those disciplines?

My Mum, when I was thirteen, signed me up for youth theatre. I grew up in Maybole, which is a tiny little South Ayrshire town and there wasn’t much access to the arts there, but I ended up going to Ayr and the Youth Theatre there which was the largest town near to where I lived.

Did you get support at school?

I think I received a fair bit of support at Primary School, I had a wonderful Primary 7 teacher called Miss Morrison who encouraged everyone in our class to read and write. However, when I went to High School I was heavily bullied and that meant I didn’t enjoy it. At my worst, at around about 14 or 15, I had 56 per cent attendance. Outside of school, I played piano and so I was writing lyrics and that was an avenue into later going on to look at poetry. I was quite popular in Youth Theatre so at some level I had a space away from the bullying.

At 14 years old I found myself becoming quite confident, well, perhaps not confident but certainly more able to stick up for myself, and I think that my writing played a role in that. I had used my writing to process things that were happening to me and that sort of worked in terms of building my resilience. The creative outlet and the friends I made outside of school also helped that shift.

Do you go on to study Higher Education?

I applied to Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh to study Media and Cultural Studies. If I had a plan it was to get as far away from Ayrshire as possible. I summer before I went to university I was walking through Princes Street Gardens and I saw a Spoken Word Performer Jem Rolls and I thought he was brilliant. At the end of his performance he suggested a book that everyone could buy called “Oral: Poets, Sonnets, Lyrics and the Like” and I went immediately to Waterstones and ordered that book.

I was introduced to people like Tim Wells, Salena Godden, Clare Pollard, Francesca Beard, MC Jabber and other performance poets and I started to write that kind of poetry. It took about three years, around when I turned 20, and I entered a slam, came second, and that was me on my way.

How does you develop from that point?

I started to think of myself as a performance poet and I started writing solely for performance. I had also left University in a hail of failure after the first year. I did any number of jobs, call centres to cafes, and I just kept writing.

Jem Rolls

Part two of this interview is here

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