Reach for your own hand: An interview with Jim Hall

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Jim Hall is a Mouthy Poet alumnus, born in Derby but now based in Nottingham. After I got my grubby mitts on a copy of his debut poetry pamphlet Upon Arrival, Drop Your Cool, I asked him a few questions about poetry and life in general, and he was obliging enough to reply with his usual generous honesty.

When did you decide to be a poet? Is there a moment for you which crystallised that decision, or did you kind of fall into poetry?

We have to decide to be something each day. To leave the house, our duvet, own head. I try to give the energy required to simply exist towards being as decent a human as is possible. Being a poet is my check-in with humanity.

It is how I challenge what challenges myself & those around me in a way that still acknowledges the beauty, the worth of choosing to be here, whoever we are, as bravely & humanly as we are capable of.

I think my decision to be a poet (though I feel ‘become a poet’ more true) is also a choice to confront the many silences we carry through the world like luggage there is nowhere to unpack safely. That which we are either too ashamed to voice or simply do not know how to begin talking about. By this I mean the joyful as much as that which weighs us down.

I start that work with the page & try to reach a better language to help lift the many hands of those silences from around my own life, release what I find hardest to set free. In doing so I seek to remind myself & hopefully others, that we are not alone.

Memory: At twenty-four I walk back to my parent’s home, away from a city I had never felt so disconnected from. I am lonely, lost, and grateful to be alive, despite. I have one of those overwhelming truth-breakthroughs that often arrive at 3AM when lonely, lost & grateful to be alive, despite. I realise how deeply I would feel an experience & yet struggle to fit that experience around my mouth, to put what it meant into words. There is this freeing acceptance that though I will likely fail again & again to say what it is I need to, there is such worth in the act of trying.

How did the decision to self publish come about? Did you find it hard letting go of the poems, and knowing when each one was ‘finished’?

The deadline dropped by Nottingham collective The Mouthy Poets via a Facebook post offering alumni members of the group a space to sell their work at their upcoming event was a nicely timed prod in the productivity ribs.

It is often difficult for me to let go. Much of my writing explores that which I so desperately want to hold onto. Be that a person, place, feeling. Similarly I house poems for months in the dark room of my head/laptop before considering pulling up the blinds & letting the world in. Call it perfectionism. A protective stubbornness. The need to be one image closer to the image that says what I never could aloud.

It is easy for me to return to a poem with bared teeth & raised knuckles. Perhaps this is akin to my own self-critical nature. I am trying to be kinder on all counts. It’s easy to uncover a botched line break as though uncovering a can of Stella lodged down the back of the sofa from a house party & begin doubting whether it was a fun party in the first place. I try to trust that the party was worthy, either way.

There was a point during the writing process for this pamphlet when the second track from Pvris’s debut album swooshed into my ears & I felt like I was dancing through each poem. I am a terrible dancer but that is the point: I did not care. I just knew I needed to dance & so I danced. That feeling of just letting go in the healthiest, most positive sense, is what I wanted to capture when writing this pamphlet.

I hope to return to that feeling again & again when sharing these poems behind a mic, in a living room at 1AM, wherever they may end up visiting.

A lot of your poems are about embracing things you don’t necessarily want to embrace; painful memories, social awkwardness and that alone-feeling that our generation seems to specialise in. Why do you think it’s important to address these themes in poetry?

I feel it’s important to address these themes not just in poetry, but in life. It’s as easy for me to privately hurt as it is for anybody else. The ‘I’m all good’ response is a go-to for so many of us but the poetry is my truth-voice, whispering: ‘No, you’re not. But that’s cool. Let’s talk it out.’

The poem is often the jump off point towards a personal confrontation with the painful, the uneasy. Also the brave & the lovelovelove & the everything-held-inside. Then comes the attempt to voice that in a way that can tap a stranger on the shoulder & say: Hey! Me too.

‘Embrace’ is the best word you could have used to describe my approach to that process, so thank you for that. That sense of owning & celebrating what is not easy to feel is the charge that carries my work to places I feel glad to arrive at.

A lot of poetry collections now seem to follow a theme or a journey, whereas reading your collection felt like more of an emotional roller coaster to me — we could end one poem in a jubilant, hopeful mind and then be right back down in quite a dark place with the next one. Was it a conscious decision on your part, to shake up the ‘poetry journey’ model?

Very little of what I write is a conscious decision. I like the idea of being in my late twenties & flawed & working hard at being a positive human & the poems reflecting that. Perhaps there is a rollercoaster feeling because is the world right now not itself a rollercoaster of hurt, healing & still, somehow, tenderness & love?

I aim to end much of my writing in a place of hope & faith in whatever happens when the poem is over & the world crashes back into the room. Sometimes a poem that ends difficultly, can still somehow be beautiful. Just like something we live through. I believe this so much, I really do.

How do you make time to write, do you wait until you feel like writing or are you quite disciplined about it?

I make time by getting over myself. I forgive my lessthanperfect. My negative-voice goes: ‘Hey, Jim. You said you were going to write for an hour today but you did not you just played with a few poem titles & ate all the Pringles again.’

I say: ‘True, but I did at least play with some poem titles & you forgot to mention I texted my friend, hugged my girlfriend, tried to be as okay a person as possible.’

Some poems can’t be rushed. The Blue Nile took four years to release Hats & if I ever was forced to name an album as perfect, it would be Hats. Every crack of vocal, press of piano, is there for a reason. Note: I will never write a poem that makes somebody feel like I feel when ‘The Downtown Lights’ sweeps across my heart-eyes like some stretching skyline of woah, but I am over that.

I feel like energy, effort, discipline are your best friends as a writer. Call them back, arrange to meet up for coffee. Be gentle yet firm yet enjoy the failure. Make that failure sing.

In terms of the whole life/art balance this image haunts me:

A man scrawls at a desk in a locked room while his wife gazes at a brochure for the countryside walks they could stroll through, just a bus ride away. She came home from work three hours ago. He doesn’t exactly have a clock-off time. What haunts me is not this conviction to the page but the thought of him being so buried in the need to dig out the perfect metaphor for being in love, he misses out on being fully present & alive to that love.

Art is super-meaningful to my life, but is not its pulse. Nothing impresses me about a writer boasting about how many hours they put in a day like that is the only measure of success. How they wear their books to bed.

I’d rather hear a poet offer a rough draft of a piece about self-care then bail on the after-gig drinks because they need to call whoever they need to call to feel okay, than watch them drop some polished piece to a crowd-chorus of finger clicks, only to have forgotten their name at 5AM because why take care of yourself when you just shared the most beautiful poem in the room, right? Wrong.

I think what I am trying to say is that if you give everything you have to the page the way you would give everything you have to those you love, but remember the balance of those two things, something healthy and whole will emerge.

***

For more of Jim’s thoughts & work follow him at flawsfoldedtoorigamiswans.tumblr.com

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