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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Interview: Richard Tyrone Jones

Grand Overlord of the Utter! poetry franchise, serial Ted Hughes impersonator and London/Edinburgh poetry stalwart, ginger rights activist Richard Tyrone Jones dropped in for the following chat with us, back when he was the picture of innocence.

Tell us a bit about yourself, to start with.

Born Rechavia K. Silvermann 1981 in Tel Aviv, one of identical twins. After my brother died in infancy I was adopted by Gloria and Tyrone Jones and so grew up in Wolverhampton, a slightly less glamorous location. Some of my comic poetry takes the piss out of my granite lion-guarded upbringing and deals with issues of adoption and genetic survival. I did comedy at Cambridge with Fat Fat Pope, described as 'God's gift to comedy' by the Observer and 'wanky, self-important brats' by the Independent. We did sketches about Max Ernst, Viking settlement patterns and the pre-Russian revolution proletariat selling their joints to the aristocracy so they could reticulate like massive arachnids, but I dropped out before my finals to work in the Gulf. Moved to London 2003, did a load of shitty public sector admin before finally having the balls and the contacts to say 'fuck this shit' and become the subtle, considered poet I am now. I run 'Utter!', have at least one biological child, with up to ten pending, and have performed everywhere from the O2 Wireless festival to Welwyn Garden City.

Who has influenced you in general?

John Peel for his eclecticism and chatty style – he was like a surrogate uncle growing up in a frankly cultureless home. In poetry my first exposure was to Lear, and his influence lingers. Tims Wells and Turnbull, Clare Pollard, Paul Birtill, Betjeman, Bukowski and many more. Comedy: Louis CK, Larry David, Chris Morris, Kenny Everett, Mark Watson, Simon Munnery. Fiction: Self, Eco, H.P. Lovecraft, Stewart Home, Blyton, Poe. Tell you what, that Shakespeare's not bad either.

Reclaiming ginger. Discuss.

Or 'the G-word'. As you probably already know the word was coined in the eighteenth century, as an anagram of, and corollary to, 'the n-word', expressly to foment anti-Keltic racism along the same lines of anti-Afrikan prejudice. In the New World the former failed; the latter sadly retained its hold for socio-demographic reasons. In the Old World the situation is now reversed: due to the imperium's centripedal post-war settlement patterns, it is considered unacceptable to define an 'out-group' on the basis of skin colour, but acceptable, humorous even, to do so on grounds of hair colour. This is partly due to the aforementioned prejudice against the Celtic fringe/diaspora and the recessive nature of the sixteenth chromosome's MRC1 gene. This is compounded by recent reports of, and including a photographic project predicated on the premise that, the Ginger phenotype will die out in the next 150-300 years. Such defeatist predictions, were they applied to blacks or Koreans, would rightly result in accusations of racism.

Utter! Gingers, a night we held featuring a wealth of Ginger talent including A.F. Harrold, Eric Gregory award-winner Heather Phillipson, Tamsin Kendrick and John Anstiss, sought instead to celebrate our genetic diversity, its global spread and the cultural heritage of the original, pre-Ice Age inhabitants of the British Isles through the spoken word. It also featured a lecture on Ginger History and achievements and free genetic tests for the ginger haplotype, to show just how many of the population were blessed with carrying the recessive Afro-Kelt genes!

How are the writing workshops going and what's been the overall response so far?

The Utter! writing group has been meeting for five years now, on Saturdays (except the first in the month) from 11am-1pm in Wood Green library's community room, welcoming many guest poets and writers. Roddy Lumsden ran one of the workshops last year. It's been great for the confidence and skills of all involved, many of whom have been there since the very beginning. It's a lot of fun getting people to write in new styles like sci-fi, pulp, sonnets and villanelles. I only wish the members of the writing group would actually finish more stuff and submit it to exciting quality publications such as Trespass, The Delinquent or Fuselit!

What's been the best/worst live experience you've had, either as a performer or as a compere?

Probably my best live experience has got to be the very first 'Utter!'s, or more recently winning over 400 punters crammed into the Rhythm Factory - who were obviously only there to see Pete Doherty - by charmingly putting down their heckles and saying we'd got some guy called 'What's his name? Keith Goggerty?' doing five minutes of open mic at the end. I enjoyed baiting them. Thank fuck he turned up. The worst live experience was my second stand-up appearance when I was totally cocky from initial success and was woefully unprepared. That taught me to graft! With poetry it's difficult to have a truly bad gig (unless it's really badly organised, usually by someone else), because you've done all the hard work writing the things and poetry audiences are more open to experiencing a range of emotions and subjects. In the end it's just reading off some slices of dead tree and the humans like it or they don't.

What would you like to see more of and less of in poetry, in both performance or the written word?

I'd like to see a UN peacekeeper-enforced moratorium on versions of 'The Revolution will not be televised', 'dying Dad' pieces to be rationed to one per poet, and for whiny American girls to realise that rapping your personal problems with a hanging article at the end of each line only makes me want to laugh at them, no matter how many of your puppies died of Aids at the hands of THE MAN. I'd like to see more daytime and outdoor readings, sestinas, villanelles, clerihews, ventriloquism and pantoums delivered using loop pedals.

Whose poetry are you currently enjoying?

Julia Bird's long-overdue first collection Hannah and the Monk is beautiful. Each poem has a definite plot or argument and works symmetrically as a contraption. Reminds me a little, in her historical empathic imagination, of the Forward-commended Angela Cleland. Matthew Sweeney is another favourite. Well dark, dreamy unspecified menace. S'boss crunk. Rising's always great. Live, Jow Lindsay is a strange, intelligent and fearless performer and I hope to get him to remix some of my ordure. What swings you more with a poem? Subject matter or execution/style?

To the extent that, as Don Paterson has it, poems are 'little machines for remembering' themselves, both subject and style support each other. However, I possess a very visual imagination. Thus, probably if one were to encounter a poem with sparkling subject matter, yet badly executed, one would in any case later reconstitute it narratively in the manner one would wish to have heard it. On the other hand, wonderful execution cannot save an essentially slight conceit from being forgotten.

Having seen the quote from Tim Wells about you 'bridging the page/stage divide', what do you make of the whole argument and are you plotting a collection?

Hah, that was an adaptation of some lazily-written Apples and Snakes copy. There exists no divide but a continuum, and wherever I find myself on it at a particular reading I can't help but bloodymindedly take the piss out of its conventions. I know that my over-use of mocking ironic detachment could be seen as a safety net to protect me from actually feeling any emotions but hell, we all need a psychological stab-proof vest of some kind, and better that than OCD or drug use. I have some silly, learnt 'party pieces' that I wheel out when it's necessary but generally I like reading stuff out from 'the page' because unlike some hosts I like to turn over new material and it makes you look more intelligent to all dem gaal in the audience. Coming from a failed comic background, I can forgive nerves but not mumbling or lack of eye contact.

I have been plotting (I like that, it makes it sound as if it'll be full of coded references to the return of a Catholic to the throne of England), and have realsed, with Vintage Poison, a compendium of dark poetry, daft poetry, fiction, diagrams and slightly inept fanboy pictures entitled Germline. I'd like to make it clear to the Forward judges it is, as such, not a first poetry collection.

Finally, what plans do you have for expanding the Utter! empire and for your own work?

I'm in talks with various Arabs about jetting out to set up 'Utter!' Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates and a second anthology. An episode of ukpoetrypodcast.com is forthcoming and I hope to do an MA and more schools work.

For my published work, there are three second books in the pipeline. All the beautiful ones self-harm will be a compassionate but bathetic sonnet redouble about my meagre sexual conquests. I have but one more Pokemon to catch to crown that. Crush All Liberals may or may not have an ironic title and Wisdom and Depravity will be a revised collection of Burroughs, Carter and Eco-influenced sick fiction I wrote in the early 21st century.

In other words, Richard Tyrone Jones shall perfect Hubris as an Art form.


Richard's first collection, Germline, is out now from Vintage Poison. For more things RTJ, consult his cavalcade of upcoming events on Facebook or stalk him on myspace. Or if you feel official, get thee to the Utter! events site.

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