Poet Jehane: ‘Write from the heart’

Jehane Markham: ‘There is a thirst for poetry’

WITH themes that range from the memory of a much-loved childhood toy to accepting grief for a lost loved one that never goes away, Jehane Markham’s latest poetry anthology offers the reader an insight into a kaleidoscope of emotions that are central to human consciousness.

This is the Kentish Town-based poet’s fourth book in a series – and draws on work she has completed over the past eight years.

Jehane, who has spent a lifetime writing and performing poetry and is Review’s poet-in-residence, has delved into her archives to create a body of work that shows poetic inspiration can be gleaned from the everyday.

“The essence of poetry can be that the work has to be seen in the context of how you felt at the time you wrote it,” she says.

Jehane’s works draw on a range of experiences, and including her thoughts on life after losing her husband, the actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who died in 2014.

“There is some about missing Roger, and the anger and upset I felt. It helped me to write poems,” she adds. “You never get over the grief, you just get used to it.”

Opening up to others’ works is also a key inspiration for Jehane.

While the anthology contains poems from the past, she found herself enjoying a productive burst during the early days of the pandemic lockdown – but that soon changed.

“I had a creative spurt. Everything was so different,” she says. “It released me from my petty jealousies, for example.

“It changed so many things for us all and something rose within me.”

But the purple patch did not last. As the UK went into a second and less well-observed lockdown, the collective exhaustion gave Jehane a case of poet’s block.

“I felt I had no more,” she recalls. “I felt dead inside.”

Thankfully, other writers came to her rescue.

She picked up the work of author Kate Clancy, and it helped her re-evaluate what she wanted to say and how she wanted or say it.

“She said don’t try to build it alone, look at others and read as much as you can. I wanted to write more but I couldn’t, so I went back and looked at poetry I love – the Romantics, for example. It is not about copying others’ styles, but absorbing other ideas to inspire your own.”

She says that too often the poetry around us is not recognized – and that is reflected in the way the literary genre is considered niche.

“Poetry pays such a large role in society that goes unrecognized,” she observes.

“There is a poetry scene and some marketable young poets. Right across the board, there is a thirst for poetry, but it is not always obvious.”

Jehane notes a vogue for politically inspiring poetry, work that has a clear point to make. This can mean the use of words for the sake of their beauty can sometimes be ignored in contemporary work.

“Poems should say what the author wants them to say in a language that is interesting for the reader,” she says.

“Sometimes modern poetry is not interesting in how it uses words.

“You need to write from the heart and enjoy the tactile nature of words. Above all, poems have to be what they are – you cannot force them. You can’t, for example, turn old poems into new ones. I try not to fuss about them. The key thing is I have to like them.”

40 poems. By Jehane Markham: Dreams, Dances and Disappointments, £12

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