Jenny Sheppard is a 23 year old poet/musician living and working in Toronto. Growing up near the ocean helped inspire her to write her first songs and poems. She spends her free time reading, writing in her journal and wandering the city people watching. She is a night owl.
BCP: Why poetry?
JS: Why not poetry? I needed an outlet for all the angst and emotional turmoil I was experiencing and it provided me with a creative way to do that. Now it’s a reflex to filter my life and experiences through poetry. It’s the way in which I process events in my life.
BCP: What is your creative process?
JS: I go through long dry spells and then poetry just sort of bursts out haphazardly. My poetry is similar to a dam, the pressure builds and the water rises before breaking through and the words find their way to the surface.
BCP: How long have you been writing poetry?
JS: The earliest I can remember writing was the age of four. I would make up my own poems and rhymes and songs to entertain myself. I grew up around a lot of music and I figured if they could do it, so could I. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I really got into it and tried to hone my skills.
BCP: Who are your influences?
JS: Leonard Cohen is the biggest one, and Edgar Allen Poe. When I was younger Jewel captivated me as well as Alanis Morissette — their lyrics are like poems to me. Fiona Apple’s lyrics are extremely poetic as well, she’s a big influence of mine.
BCP: Your poetry is emotional, honest and stimulating. What do you try to convey to your readers?
JS: I want to make them feel what I feel, have them step into my shoes and see the world from my perspective. I also want my readers to know they’re not alone. Alienation was a big part of my childhood and I’d like my readers to feel a sense of camaraderie.
BCP: You are also a singer and songwriter. Do you see song and poetry as related?
JS: Song and poetry are intertwined as far as I’m concerned. Some of my best songs have come from poems and vice versa. Songs are poetry set to music, essentially.
BCP: Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen is your favourite book of poetry. What about it struck you?
JS: The way he writes reminds me of someone just letting you into their head and heart, not censoring or cleaning up any of their thoughts. I find his poetry very emotional and honest and the way in which he puts words together leaves me astounded. His poems are magic, and many of my favorites come from that particular book.
BCP: The poetry you have shared with me is based on your life. Is a lot of your poetry like that.
JS: Yes. My poetry is painfully self-centred. I know my own life better than I know anything and since I use poetry as a means to process, come to terms with, and finally accept the things that happen to me in life, most of the words I write end up being incredibly personal.
BCP: You used to go to lots of open mics in the past. Why did you stop? Would you consider starting again? If so, why?
JS: I stopped mainly because I got distracted and caught up in the more mundane aspects of daily life. I have also been trying to overcome near-crippling stage fright. I have found myself longing for the stage more and more lately. I would very much like to go again. In spite of my stage-fright, I do get a rush from performing that cannot be replicated in any other way. I guess it’s time to bite the bullet.
BCP: What are you working on now?
JS: Music has been crying out for my attention. I’ve had a bit of a crazy, wonderful, inspiring year and I’m looking forward to processing it through music. I imagine some great poems will also come from this writing period. I’m excited about this year, I think it’ll be a good one, especially once I get back out there and hit the stage.
BCP: When do you expect to have your own collection of poetry published?
JS: I’m really not sure, with my focus shifting to music it’ll probably be at least a little while. I publish my poems on the Internet, though, so people can always find me there!
BCP: What advice do you have for other writers out there having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?
JS: I’d tell them to keep writing, that’s the most important thing! And get out there and perform your poetry, it deserves to be heard and feedback is a good thing that helps people improve their writing. It’s a wonderful art form and has to be cultivated like any other skill. No one is born perfect.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Friday March 4, 2011 for a video of Jenny Sheppard reading her poetry.