Jackson is a talented poet, business owner and cat lover living in Aro - Roxy sat down with them to talk about books, cats and the rollercoaster that has been 2020.
Tell me about yourself!
I was born and grew up in Mt Cook here in Poneke. I tried moving away a few times but it's never stuck. I write poetry, fiction and nonfiction and work as a librarian and my partner and I are currently in the process of opening a little bookshop - Food Court Books. It began as a reading series that my partner and I ran where we put on poetry reading and every reading we make a zine, which serves as an artifact of the event, and it just grew from there.
While we would love it to be in Aro Valley, there's not a lot of commercial or suitable space available in the valley so it's gonna be in Newtown on Constable Street. We're going to sell. small and independently published books, both from New Zealand and abroad, as well as Zines and possibly other little crafts and stuff as well. So it's really exciting.
That's so cool! When are you looking at opening your doors?
Early November - we have some events lined up for the opening, so there's no going back!
It felt very weird at first, opening a business and like, getting a business account at the bank. Oh my god, I was so scared! I thought they would take one look at me and say oh, no we can't do this, you have bad credit or, it's not going to work or something like that, but it was okay in the end!
How long have you been authoring for?
Oooh good question! Its been about 10 years or so that i've been writing in a focussed manner, and this book that's just recently come out was written over that time. I started writing it late 2010, not actively writing every day but just chipping away at it, so it does represent a good chunk of my life. So it's kind of almost a general journal of the last decade I've experienced.
Living in the valley, obviously this is an amazing beautiful and creative space, but how much of your inspiration do you draw from this environment?
I would say probably quite a lot, because a lot of my inspiration is ideas that pop into my head when I'm walking around, and since I live here, this is where I do most of that walking and planning.
I wouldn't say that I specifically am writing about the valley, but the atmosphere of it permeates things. Also there's a lot of cool, creative people who live here as well who inspire my work. It's very good for creativity I think; to be around friends in an area that you love, I definitely don't feel isolated here.
Yeah I agree, it's a really good strong artistic community and we're really lucky to have that - there's not many places in Wellington that have managed to avoid falling into the gentrification trap of the ever creeping suburbs.
Yeah I think thats the main reason we live here really. When we first lived in the valley we lived up on Mount Pleasant road, and we basically moved there because all our writer friends lived nearby.
We went away for a while - my partner's from the States so we went to live there for a year, which was not great. And then we had some other bad flatting experiences in other areas, so we thought “Oh better hear back to Aro”. So we did, and we've stayed here ever since.
So your book “I am a Human Being” was compiled over 10 years - was there always the intention to bring all the pieces together into a book?
Yeah, there definitely was, my creative process is very project oriented. I mean I do sometimes just write a loose poem that doesn't necessarily have a place, but most of the time I'm thinking in terms of a larger collection of work and the way things fit together. With this book, the concept is that every poem starts with the phrase “ I am a”..... and it's written from the perspective of that thing. So they're definitely very connected as a collection.
How difficult did you find the publishing process? Did you self publish?
The book was published by a small press from Auckland called Compound Press. Prior to this year they had just published like Zines and like chat books and things, and they had published a collaborative, very short book that my partner and I wrote a few years ago. It's called Bound, and it was about. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, if Kanye was an alien reptilian who had crashed landed on Earth.
What do you mean “If”? hahah
Yeah exactly, well at the time it seemed far fetched but now…….. Hahah! Fact is stranger than fiction.
So we did that first project with them and it was great -they've always been very supportive. So when Chris who runs the press decided that he was going to start doing full length books he emailed me and he was like, “Hey, I'm gonna start doing books, do you have anything? So I pitched him “I am a Human Being” and here we are!
It was really good to work with him again. It's nice because it's a very small operation so it's quite a collaborative thing and you're not left feeling as though you're on a conveyor belt of stuff just being pumped out or anything, it was a really personalised experience, which I enjoyed.
How did you find the entire process? Obviously if you look at it from the outside and go “okay I'm making a book”, that's quite daunting. How did you sort of work on it and get it to the finish line?
I wrote the first few poems back in like 2010 or so, just kind of playing around. I was studying creative writing at Whitireia at the time and part of that course is that you basically write a book. So I wrote a first draft of the book for that, and then went on and worked on other things, but the book was always there in the background and I would always come back and change things and add new poems.I kind of felt like I couldn't escape it in a way, like whenever I sat down to write a peice it would always be an “ I Am A…” poem.
It's changed a lot over the time, but for the same token some of the poems are still pretty much exactly the same, but it's the context of the works which have changed for me. Halfway through the writing process, I realized that I was GenderQueer, and once I realised that, I knew , “Oh, actually this book is really all about that and I had no idea”
I love the thought of your subconscious leading your art, and unlocking that part of yourself and realising “ Oh THIS is what it's all about”
Absolutely! So even though some of the poems haven't changed since then when I read them the meaning of them has changed a lot, which is really cool. And I do think that had it been published earlier, it wouldn't have been as good or developed.
I hope to write more books and I hope that they don't all take that long. Its probably a more healthy way to do it, to take time and to approach it over a long period, but ideally it wont take me another decade for the next one!
Is it challenging for you to look back at the pieces that you wrote when you were younger, before you had that knowledge of your authentic self and your craft?
Thankfully, not so much - there's one poem that ends the book which is one heavily changed after realizing I was GenderQueer and it's very much about exploring gender, which is an important part of the book, but even in the few years since writing that my ideas and outlooks have changed quite a bit, especially in regards to gender and expression - it's probably something that I will be coming to terms with and thinking about for my entire life.
But I don't regret that, and I think that was important for me to write at the time and it could still be important for people to read.
I think every perspective is valid, and as someone who has discovered their authentic expression of the construct that is gender, I think it's very important to demonstrate to people who may still believe that gender is a black and white binary choice, to show that there is a gray area and its ok to exist within that.
Yeah, it's very important to me for the book to have that in it, because I only I learned about Non Binary gender and through reading Queer poetry. And so I kind of wanted to pass that along and pay it forward for the next generation.
Who were the poets that shaped your journey of self discovery?
Most were from the States, I found a group of contemporary Trans poets, artists like Just Charles, Never Angeline North, Manuel Arturo Abreu, and Jamie Mortara.
Do you have any other writers that you look up to?
A lot of New Zealand writers! A lot of my influences are contemporary writers. I don't spend a whole lot of time going back into the Canon I guess which is good and bad in certain ways, but I'm a big fan of Hana Pera Aoake who has a book coming out through Compound press later this year which I'm very excited about. Essa May Ranapiri who's a Maori Non Binary poet from Hamilton, who's very inspiring. Gregory Kan, Chris Tse, are both amazing creators. More locally, in Aro, Pip Adam has been a huge part of my development as a writer, she's been very supportive and her writing is amazing.
My good friend Hannah Mettner, who lived in the valley for a long time but has run away to Karori now, she's been fantastic.
Emma Barnes is another Aro local, They live just down the road and they've got a book coming out soon as well which is really cool, and i'm looking forward to reading it!
What do you do to relax?
Well, I read a lot, which kind of comes with the territory, I'm big into movies, and going for walks. I jplay Dungeons and Dragons, i've actually Just started being a Dungeon Master full time for a group of friends from work, which is a lot of fun. So. I'm pretty chill.
I have a very active imagination, I think, and that's enough that I don't need to go out and like party hard.
What are the plans for the future, do we have more books,or more of the “ I am a…” series?
Well, I don't plan that to happen but sometimes I feel like it's just inevitable. I have other projects on the go, I wrote the first draft of a novel a few years ago, and I think I might go back and look at that and hopefully make it into something for publishing
I've also been writing some weird poems that are like numbered lists, So they might become a thing at some point.
I have been working full time for the last couple of years, and found it very difficult to make time for writing, so have been jotting down a few words here and there, but I recently cut back on my hours of work, so excited that ill have a little more time to concentrate on my writing.
Does your creative process take up a lot of time? Earlier you alluded to experiencing the feeling your work was consuming you, is that a common experience for you?
It really depends on the project - a poem, can be very quick to write, which is part of what I like about them. You can sit down and write one in one sitting often. But I've found when writing nonfiction, it's very time consuming. The novel was very time consuming and working on that further will take a very concerted effort, but I do enjoy quick things as well.
Working full time I found that I couldn't really carve out any time at all for my writing which makes it tough
What do you love about Aro?
So many things! I love the trees, the birds, the Video store and all of the cats in the neighbourhood!. The people who live here and the sense of community, its so special. I love how close it is to the city but how it doesn't feel like you're in the city. Just walking around here, it can feel like a whole other universe, so separate from the feel of the CBD.
What's coming up next for you?
As well as opening Food Courts Books In November I'm taking part in the Verb Wellington Festival, which is very exciting. There's an event about my book that's called “Am I A Human Being?”. I got a bunch of my favorite writers to write their own “I Am A…” poem which was really cool and fun!
Check out some of Jacksons recent work here:
Buy your copy of I Am A Human Being
The Friday Poems