‘I think I wrote a poem,’ I told my husband. ‘Are you okay?’ he said
Jan Brierton, author of What Day Is It? Who Gives a F*ck, on becoming a poet by accident
Jan Brierton: “I used the language that I had used for months and months ‘comploaning’ (a mixture of moaning and complaining) to my friends; the only ones that would listen.” Photograph: Alison Pilkington
I’d reached peak rage.
Couldn’t hold it all in.
I’d had it with parks and social distancing.
Simple words struck a chord.
I am no academic.
Is it safe to go viral in a global pandemic?
The day before I set off for my wedding weekend, 10 years ago, there was a knock on the door. It was my GP, a kind and thoughtful woman who has always cared for me and my family with a very personal touch. And so, it was no surprise that she handed me a gift for my wedding weekend. That gift was a book of poetry and prose, an anthology for lovers.
In the book, amongst all the beautiful (but flowery in my opinion) writings on love was a poem by Wendy Cope – Being Boring. I related to this poem, because I understood immediately the story, the simple feeling, the uncomplicated language. I read it to my husband to be, and we both agreed that this was “our poem” just the same way we’d have “our song”.
Now every October on our wedding anniversary I send him a text with the same poem. We really have lived up to the title.
Similarly, my nana gave my uncle the same birthday card every year. At the end of each birthday, she would carefully take the card off the top of the telly and put it away for next year when she would stuff it with a “few bob” for his birthday. Maybe she too liked the verse so much that she rehashed it every year. Maybe she was saving a few bob not having to buy a new card year in year out.
Apart from this pre-wedding poem, poetry had never felt like an accessible art form for me. It somehow felt elitist, using words I didn’t understand, describing emotions and incidents in complex, abstract ways that confused me. I remember writing in pencil between the lines, in plain English, the meanings of some of the poems in Soundings, as my English teacher deconstructed each line and translated each piece of work for us.
But in January of this year, my own internal dialogue, and rhythmic cursing discharged onto a page as a poem.
“I think I wrote a poem,” I told my husband. “Are you okay?” he said.
I shared my poem, What Day Is It? who gives a f**k, with a group of trusted friends that night and my phone pinged for the following days and weeks as it went viral. There was no elaborate, complex language or dramatic descriptions of places or times. I used the language that I had used for months and months “comploaning” (a mixture of moaning and complaining) to my friends; the only ones that would listen.
What that simple expression of longing and frustration did do was resonate with men and women all over the world, and it felt so reassuring to know that
a. I wasn’t the only one that felt like this, and
b. that so many understood it and engaged with it.
Some saw the funny side and the mischief of the bad language. Some recognised the rage and frustration, and some got emotional at the feelings of longing and missing.
So, there I was, an accidental poet. Really, I was just writing down in a rhyme form what I saw, and what I felt. I think the rhyming is a throwback to my youth, when I religiously bought Smash Hits so I could learn and understand all the lyrics to my favourite songs from Top Of the Pops. That’s a kind of poetry too, isn’t it?
After that poem came another, and another. Each rhythmic, each an observation of the everyday stuff; feeling good, feeling crap, friendships, relationships, ageing. A Catchphrase of poetry – I say what I see.
Here I am now, four months later, 45 poems and a handful of drawings all contained in one small but mighty book. This accelerated (I’m told) experience of editing, proofreading, producing and designing has been exciting and welcome. After the book had been put together, acknowledgements had to be written. And I laboured over who to thank and name check. After that, the dedication.
Oh janey, I thought, who will I dedicate it to? I drafted “for everyone” just as holding dedication. My editor assured me that I could have some time to come up with the final dedication before the book went into production. I was sure I’d come up with something clever, funny, inspiring even.
But I didn’t.
And so, the dedication remains “for everyone”. Because this book and these poems are for everyone.
The emotions and experiences are shared, the language is simple, and the feelings are honest. And while I am “on the page” I think you’ll see you, your friends and family there too.
What Day Is It? Who Gives a F*ck, a collection of poems and illustrations by Jan Brierton, is out now from New Island Books