Interview by David McDonald.
Jenny Blackford is a poet and writer based in Newcastle, Australia. Her poems and stories have been published in Australian Poetry Journal, Cosmos Magazine, Westerly, Strange Horizons and more. Her most recent poetry prize is first in the inaugural Connemara Mussel Festival International Poetry Competition earlier this year. In late 2013, Pitt Street Poetry published an illustrated pamphlet of her cat poems, The Duties of a Cat. Legendary feminist Pamela Sargent called her historical novella set in ancient Greece, “The Priestess and the Slave”, “elegant”.
You’ve recently been published in Future Fire’s anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean. Could you tell us a little about the anthology, and your work in it?
Fae Visions of the Mediterranean is a very cool project: an anthology of stories and poems set around the Mediterranean, with a watery horror vibe. I’m thrilled that my poem “Liquid Pleasure” was seclected for it. It’s a poem about a woman who fell in love with a water nymph in the Greek Archaic era, around 2800 BC – one of my favourite times and places. Nymphs were the fae of ancient Greece, and just as dangerous as the British fae we’re more familiar with. For more about nymphs and naiads, you could read this blogpost on the Future Fire site. And it’s even better that fellow-Aussie Angie Rega has a lovely story about Venice in the book, and that she interviewed me about my story on her own blog.
Your poetry has achieved international recognition, with awards and publication across the world. What is it about poetry that attracts you to that form? Do you have a different process than when you are writing prose?
I’ve loved and written poetry as far back as I can remember, though there were decades where I was too busy and too stressed for it. It’s a relief that I’m officially a poet now, so when a phrase or sentence comes to me, I’m entitled to scribble it down and fiddle with it obsessively. Eventually, after more words accrete around the initial kernel, the scribble becomes a first draft, then I edit it for days or weeks.
Writing prose is, famously, more perspiration than inspiration. You can sit at a computer waiting for the day’s thousand words of a story to trickle from your fingers – but it would never work for poetry. At least, not for me. I’m much more likely to be inspired to start a poem when I’m out and about. The editing is slog, though.
All that said, I’m delighted with my most recent poetry prize – first in the inaugural Connemara Mussel Festival Poetry Competition!
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m always working on one poem or another, and often on many at different stages, simultaneously. Just keeping batches of poems going out on submission to journals and anthologies is hard work! I’m also gradually putting together a book of poetry for kids, with not only poems about cats (like the ones in The Duties of a Cat) but also poems about other furry beasts, and lizards, and birds, and the occasional dragon… And I’ve just written a story set in classical Greece that just might turn into the first chapter of a novel about the Pythiai – returning to my characters from The Priestess and the Slave (Hadley Rille Books, 2009), which so many people told me was much too short!
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is a fabulous Regency romp with strange and terrible threats to the British Empire, and a delightful heroine. I couldn’t put it down.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Sappho, of course, incomparable poet, and the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, though communication would be difficult without Tardis-like translation facilities. And Aristophanes, who produced the funniest plays ever written while Athens slowly destroying itself in the Peloponnesian Wars. Or the more recently-dead W.B.Yeats would be terrifying but wonderful.
It would be great to have a long chat with our good friend Damien Broderick, who we miss now that he’s living in San Antonio, but he hates plane travel so much that I couldn’t inflict it on him, even in the imagination.
More realistically, it would definitely be a hoot to travel with Alison Goodman and Janeen Webb, preferably in first class, with plenty of bubbly!