There are tributes all over the internet now for the poet Nigel Jenkins who died very recently. There is a tribute with details of his life here on the Literature Wales site which gives some idea of the type of man he was – http://www.literaturewales.org/news/i/144334/
I was lucky enough to meet Nigel in August 2007 at Ty Newydd on a week-long residential course. I think I’d been writing a couple of months and on the encouragement of my writing group, had decided to book myself on a writing course. The other tutor was Sarah Kennedy – who has written her own tribute here http://sarahkennedybooks.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/remembering-nigel-jenkins/ where she mentions the course.
That course changed my life in so many ways – I met one of my best friends Manon Ceridwen there. I left at the end of the week full of confidence and enthusiasm and determination that I could be good at poetry. I went away, not believing that I was an amazing poet, but believing that I had potential – and it was Sarah and Nigel who gave that to me. That was so important to me. Nigel explained to me that learning to write poetry was like learning to play a musical instrument. He said there were no short cuts. He told me I should write every day and read every day. Every single day without fail. He asked me how much I had practiced when I was at music college. I said two to three hours a day. He said that is what you need to do if you want to be a poet. This was a lightbulb moment for me – it didn’t depress me – it excited me – so hard work was all it took?! I could do that!
And so that is what I did. Nigel told me that if I did this every day, within a year I would get a poem published. A year later I had my first poems accepted in ‘Obsessed with Pipework’ and ‘First Time’ magazine. I remember dancing around my living room brandishing an acceptance slip. I will never forget that moment! I emailed Nigel in 2008 and told him about my acceptances and asked his advice about doing an MA in Creative Writing. I told him his teaching and that week had been inspirational.
He replied and was supportive and gave me some good advice. I don’t delete any emails so I was able to find the email exchange tonight, which was what made me write this blog. Reading those emails back I sound like a different person – much more naive about poetry, still barely contained enthusiasm…- Nigel’s voice in the emails sounds just as I remember him – calm, encouraging, full of sense.
If I am running a workshop now I always pass on Nigel’s advice. I often quote him word for word. In his poetry book ‘Hotel Gwales’ which I’ve just retrieved from the book shelf he has a poem called ‘Advice for a Young Poet’. I loved this poem when I first read it. It is a series of pithy stanzas seperated by asterisks – full of sense, as I said before but beautifully balanced. Some of them are funny, some serious. These are the last three sections, but the whole thing runs to seven pages.
from ‘Advice to a Young Poet’
by Nigel Jenkins
“Delight, of course,
in the play and shapeshift
of this serious game,
but don’t flinch from asking
of your new-born creation
‘Who needs it?’
Bear in mind, as you write,
that this poem
could be your last.
You may have, from the outset,
your creation’s last line,
but a poem’s ending is not its end.”
So in the spirit of telling people when they have touched our lives for the better before it is too late, here are five poetry folk, most of whom I’ve not told what a difference they have made to me. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences as well – who are the poetry people who have touched your lives and made them better or inspired you? I’ve limited myself to five but I could have gone on much longer. In a time of sadness and frankly feeling slightly fed up with social media and the awful arguments between poets that I’ve witnessed this week, it would be nice to read some positive experiences…
So here are my five –
1. Andrew Forster – Literature Officer at the Wordsworth Trust and a good friend who has given me advice and support and been immeasurably kind to me.
2. Fiona Sampson – Fiona was another tutor on a residential course at Ty Newydd. She was a wonderful tutor and every time I have asked her for help -with editing my pamphlet manuscript amongst other things, she has given her time freely and generously. She published my work in Poetry Review, and then more recently in Poem. She always treated me as if I was a poet, before I thought of myself as one.
3. Alan Jenkins – another tutor at Ty Newydd on another life changing course. Alan doesn’t suffer fools but he has been kind, generous and supportive of my work. Alan has often challenged me to push myself further when I have submitted poems to the TLS and is never afraid to tell me when I am writing a load of old tosh – which I really appreciate!
4. Sarah Kennedy – the tutor on the first residential course I went on at Ty Newydd along with Nigel. Sarah was warm, funny enthusiastic, inspirational – a wonderful lady.
5. Nigel Jenkins – rest in peace.