Meet a member: Jude Bird

Finding stories in the tops of trees, and inspiration in emotion. This month, I had the pleasure of catching up with Jude Bird.

Writer Jude Bird

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I am a Londoner born and bred, currently living in Wimbledon where I run an art shop for the local art college. I also work as a theatre set and costume designer and was working on a wonderful new play by Justin Hopper for the Wandsworth Festival when we went into the March lockdown. My written work has been mainly personal but this last year, writing with 26 has brought it out into the open more, which has been very exciting.

Where did your love of words come from?

I was a dreamy child and felt everything else to be a great distraction from my world of make believe – especially adults. And I remember feeling a keen aversion to adult speak; information, instructions, facts. I switched off at school, finding lesson time almost physically unbearable. Unlike most writers I know I did not escape into the world of books, especially when the pictures ran out, instead I found stories sitting in the tops of trees or under makeshift camps, in play.

Then I discovered the world of theatre. I remember sitting on the floor of assembly staring up at Mary holding the plastic baby and being utterly dumbstruck. The idea that you could step into a fantasy world, in school, in front of adults and it wasn’t just allowed, it was applauded! My wonder grew and through the world of performance, poetry recitals, school plays and Shakespeare monologues I fell in love with words and their astounding ability to conjure.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I joined 26 at the start of lockdown. I had known about it for a while. Jill Hopper invited me as a guest on a wonderful 26 workshop in the woods and I had attended fellow member Elise Valmorbida’s brilliant creative classes at UAL. Both had raved about it and I quickly learnt why.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

My first project was 26 Wild. This was such an inspiring project during lockdown as I, like so many others, were finding solace and stimulation in the natural world around me. Then I went into the Bloomsbury project which was an enormous adventure culminating in my leading one of the guided walks and writing what was to become the start of a libretto.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

Walking helps me to get in the mood and also writing uncensored stream of consciousness stuff around a subject or a feeling. I also like to research random questions that pop up, for instance I found myself reading everything I could find on bird’s tongues! I like to write in a quiet peaceful space, at home, at the kitchen table or the desk in my bedroom. When the weather’s nice I will take a notebook on a walk and find a quiet tree stump. Certainly not a cafe, people-watching is too interesting! Generally, though I would say I work on my writing in bursts with long gaps in between, which seems to suit poetic writing more than other forms.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently continuing to work on a poem, ‘All Told’ I wrote for the Bloomsbury project about the Victorian imposter Princess Caraboo who began life as Mary Baker, a cobbler’s daughter. Pregnant and destitute on the streets of Bloomsbury, she gave up her child to the Foundling Hospital A year later speaking an incomprehensible language and fashioning her clothes in an exotic manner she fooled the high society of Gloucestershire that she was royal, from an island in the Indian ocean.

The original poem’s rhythms inspired me to develop it as a libretto and I am collaborating with the composer Peter Longworth with the grand ambition of its performance as an operetta at The Foundling Museum.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

I am proud of my poem for 26 Wild and not only because it is my first published poem but because I allowed myself to be very playful and somewhat daring with the language. I am particularly chuffed with one- or two-word combinations I had fun with, ‘hairy fairy ‘being my favourite.

Where do you get your inspiration?

With poetry writing I am trying to get to the heart of a feeling and release/explore an emotion that is often buried or not immediately obvious and then, added to this, I might see or experience something in my daily life that fits. I suppose like a lock and key.

For instance, recently a bat found its way into the house and caused a huge amount of panic, in me and itself no doubt, as I chased it up to the attic and finally released it. This experience ended up in a poem about banishing grief and sadness,

‘Though I have lashed my heart clean, black speck
you cling.’

Another time, I was feeling particularly oppressed by lockdown and the feeling prompted the image and words of the first line of a poem,

‘A great bird climbs inside your chest’

But I often spend time watching a heron plucking its awkward way across the pond on my daily walk and so, I think, that was in there too without me making a conscious decision to use it.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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