Monday, January 21, 2013

Life of a Poet ~ the Cheesewolf

Kids, I suspect I asked to do this interview because I am so fascinated by the origin of the Cheesewolf's name - Gavin Jones hails from the U.K., on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. He makes me swoon when he tells me he can walk on the same moors the Brontes wandered,  their dramatic stories swirling in their heads, their capes flying in the wind. Sigh. It's a bit windy out on the moors, so we'll head straight for Gavin's, where we will be taking tea - two lumps of sugar? -  by a stone fireplace that climbs the cottage wall. Sit by the fire, and warm, while Gavin tells us about the Cheesewolf's journey.

Poets United: Gavin, I finally get to ask you: how did you come up with the name of your blog, and what are its connotations?

the Cheesewolf on board

Gavin: Cheesewolf is a song by a little known (but greatly appreciated hereabouts) duo called The Tinklers. They also recorded tracks such as “Mom… Charlie said the f word again”, “Don’t Put Your Finger in the Fan”, and “Casserole” – so I guess Cheesewolf was the most blog friendly, all things considered. 

                                        [Look what I found, kids!]

I liked the whimsical and self-deprecating nature of it, and also the human/animal/erm… diary product combination. There is something shamanistic about it: if you push it fast enough down the hill.

Poets United: Cool! And I even found the song: the wonders of technology! Would you give us a peek into A Day in the Life of Gavin Jones?

Mr and Mrs Cheesewolf

Gavin: I live with Mrs Cheesewolf (Maria) and our cat (Loulou) and fish (Aristotle) in Barnoldswick, a curiously unpronounceable town on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border in the north of England (if you stress the “old” you are getting there). I am a lecturer at Craven College in nearby Skipton. This part of the world is pretty much idyllic, were it not for the weather. Trust me, you don’t want to get an Englishman talking about the weather.

On an ordinary day I’ll get up, go to work – maybe recording the sounds of fruit being smashed by hammers, maybe using dogs as a prompt to write – that kind of thing; I’ll come home and cook (tonight it’s Thai salad); then settle down to watch something (1970s TV ghost stories and 1950s B-Movies are the current  obsessions – although each year we watch an entire series in chronological: last year was Buffy, this year it is Boardwalk Empire); then – and this is the important bit – I head off to bed where I write a poem before drifting off. I do that every night. I find my brain goes into language overdrive at that point.

Poets United: Well, that is the first time I've heard of a poetic process quite like yours :-) - but it sure seems to work for you!   What do you love  most about the landscape surrounding you?

Haworth Moors - copyright Mark G Haley 2010
Said to be the area that inspired Wuthering Heights.

Gavin: We live surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK, and count ourselves incredibly lucky to do so. If I take a 360 degree turn from where I sit I could take in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, The Forest of Bowland, Pendle Hill (witch country), the East Lancashire moors, Haworth Moor (as in the Bronte sisters) and Ilkley/Romalds Moor. 

There is space, silence, birdsong and questions everywhere around here. If ever I get stuck for something to write, a short walk is all it takes. Within an hour or so drive we’d be in the Irish Sea westwards and in the North Sea eastwards. Maria is from the Isle of Wight, so she needs her fix of ocean every so often.

Pen y Gent in the Yorkshire Dales

Poets United: It sounds - and looks -  dramatic and deeply inspiring. 

Pinhaw to Rombalds

Gavin: The "Pinhaw" in the names is a hill right between the villages my mother and father come from (Lothersdale and Gargrave). The stone walls around there were built a couple of hundred years ago by my mother's relatives. It is all run as a managed grouse moor by the local landowner now...

Poets United: You walk in the steps of history at every turn. Sigh. Tell us about your teaching, as it sounds very intriguing.

Gavin: Craven College is an FE institution – which in England means mainly 16 – 19 year olds, with a few earlier and some older. I help run the media area. Our students make films, run a radio station, produce magazines and record fruit being smashed. They are brilliant, every one of them.

Poets United: It sounds glorious. I love it that you have a page (the cheesewhelps) where some of your students’ work can be found. 

Gavin: thecheesewhelps page is really important to me. The students are – as I said above – brilliant, and I love giving a platform to their work. The age group we teach are at that transition phase, moving from school to the wider world. It is SO important to assist where I can in their development as writers, filmmakers, broadcasters. Generally this isn’t in ability so much as public confidence.

Poets United: I am impressed and inspired by Danielle’s story. Check this video out, kids - put together by one of Gavin's talented students at BeBold Productions.

[Produced, Directed and Edited by Abbi Davis (BeBold Productions)
Abbi is a student on the Foundation Degree in Media (Moving Image and Audio) 
at Craven College in Skipton. Her course tutor is Steffen Goeschel]

Poets United: This is simply wonderful! Young people are so inspiring, from Danielle, to the talented kids who put this film together. What do you tell your students, to encourage them to ride their talents toward the life of their dreams?

Gavin: I try to show, encourage and most of all be there for them. Telling doesn’t usually work (unless you want the opposite reaction). One thing I found when I was teaching creative writing and poetry to adults is overcoming the negativity towards poetry engendered through didactic and dull teaching “back when”. It would take a term and a half at the least to rebuild confidence and trust. I never want to put a younger person through the kind of trauma that these older learners had obviously been through in their schooling.

Trig Point with wheets

Poets United: Well said. "Didactic" is the right word for teaching "back when". When you were a student, what were your dreams, and have you achieved them?  Or did the life you lived turn out to be the one you didn’t  know enough to dream, back then, that worked out perfectly?

Gavin: Funnily enough I don’t seem to have changed all that much (aside from becoming more political). I found a load of notebooks from when I was a teenager, and the concerns I had then are pretty much those I have now. I was just a bit more addled.

Poets United: What do you love most about teaching? What makes you saddest?

Gavin: I love learning. I am made saddest by the ideology that tries to reduce learning (and all things) to a financial transaction.

Poets United: That really says it all. So, take us back, Gavin....all the way back. Where did you spend your childhood? Were you a bookworm like most poets? Did you love poetry as a child?

Gavin: I was a book worm for sure. I can remember reading The Lord of the Rings when I was about eight or nine and loved it hugely. I have a book of Bulgarian folk tales which has crayon scribbled on it (my younger brother’s attempts at illustration). Looking back I must have been about six when I read those, and I can remember them vividly even now.

I’ve moved around a huge amount in my life – last year my age overtook the amount of addresses I’ve had for the first time in ages (I’m 44). Up to seventeen I had lived in the south, the north east, the north west of England and in south Wales. Change and lack of roots are part of my make up.

Pinhaw sheep

Poets United: What is it about poetry that made you choose it as your means (or one of them) of creative expression?

Gavin: I find I oscillate between modes of expression – music, visual art, prose, poetry. I’ve long since given over worrying too much about this. If I’m in a music phase I’ll go with that. Poetry? So be it – I write. If you are a bonfire, burn well – as they say. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.

if you are a bonfire, burn well

The “choose poetry” part of the question is more complicated. I don’t feel I have a huge amount of choice in writing poetry. It is a bit like asking a shark why it swims (“cos I’m a shark. Now act seal!”). However, I feel with the passing years I am becoming more adept at the way I channel the writing when it comes.

Poets United: I can see the visual artist in you clearly in the staging of your poetry. You are gifted in many areas. The Song of Ondine is such a beautiful presentation. Stunning.

The Song of Ondine
part of an installation for Oxfam

Gavin: When I was sixteen I wanted to become a visual artist/performer. Then I lost the sight in one of my eyes and had to have a corneal transplant. I figured visual art might be pretty difficult if I became blind, so I took up music more. I did a degree in Visual and Performing Art in Brighton. However, I had always written, painted, composed etc. So it was just a question of emphasis really.

Poets United: Wow, Gavin, I am so glad the transplant was successful. Who would you say has been a significant influence on you as a poet and an artist? 

Gavin: This splits three ways:

people I have known well who have changed the way I work (Phil Mouldycliff, Marc Lambert, Jacqueline Gabbitas, Joseph Kwasnik being the biggest influences personally)

people I have encountered/worked with who have changed the way I work (Miroslav Holub, Bill Viola, James Turrell, Tom Phillips)

people who I have read/read about who have changed the way I work (Anna Akhmatova, Garcia Lorca, John Cage, Ursula le Guin)

Also, I’d say one of the biggest influences has been not one person but a group: The Shore Poets in Edinburgh.

Probably the most important things I learnt about poetry, are that it is a: never (well, hardly ever) going to be a money spinner (this is a very good thing, incidentally); and it is b: best shared – for me it is essentially social.

This latter fact I found whilst working in The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. I used to help put on poetry readings there, and The Shore Poets held theirs' every month. The shared nature of poetry and the openness of poets (from the ‘big names’ to the ‘once in a lifetime’ readers) was humbling and beautiful. It wasn’t for money, it was for love. And that counts for an awful lot.

Poets United: It certainly does. A sharing of gifts. Speaking of gifts, your music! Is there a connection between music and poetry for you?

Gavin: This is a curious one. I do play keyboards a bit, but I mainly produce music using computers. I was self taught in music and theory, and my brain seemed far better at theory than my hands were at playing (I was grade eight theory by about thirteen). It took up ‘til ten years ago before I finally found musical instruments (ie computers) that I could afford to make music on which sounded how I wanted it to.

As to music and poetry – I’ve been thinking about this for a bit… I think there is mileage in making a distinction between poetry and poems. Poems are the word written (or spoken) things we know as such. It is pretty common, relatively straightforward to define, erm,  and is a wonderful thing to share. Poetry, however, is far rarer, but may be found in the most surprising of places. It is a state, a force, a… well it is pretty much indefinable – but “you know when you see it”. Music can have poetry, poems can have poetry, heck even my cat can have poetry. But rarely. Especially from the cat.

Poets United: Okay, I must ask, what does the term "erm" mean? Is it an English colloquialism?

Gavin: "erm" is a Britism - it denotes what radio folk call "mooing" (a neutral thinking "erm" sound). I do it a lot.

Poets United: "Mooing". Mystery solved! I found the most wonderful quote by you when I was sleuthing around your blog: “It is in the interstices between stasis and flux that gods are brought into being and poetry is formed.” That is quite brilliant. 

Gavin: I was looking out of my window when I wrote that. There is a tree, a road, a house, a hill out there: all pretty static. Then you notice the movement - people coming and going, clouds – the verbs of it all. Then again there is a deeper stasis – the hills will be here long after the roads and the houses – a geologic stasis. But then, even that too has a deeper shifting... etc. etc.  All of this depends on the perspective you choose to take. 

The Grassington Minotaur poem sequences
(during the festival)

Monsters and gods come from the fear and the joy that all this inspires. I wrote a series about the Minotaur, (a commission for the Grassington Festival here in Yorkshire). Such legends spring from a real connection to the world, to other humans and their struggle to come to terms with the world – there is reality in myth and myth in reality. There is a paper of separation between these worlds, just waiting to be filled with meaning. 

Poets United: So well said! And the festival sounds amazing - fifteen days of poetry and music! A feast! In your profile photo, there is a boat. Are you a sailor, drawn to the sea?  Have you ever made an adventurous voyage beyond your home waters? Or do you dream of making one?

Gavin: That was taken on Madeira. We saw dolphins up close, turtles, cory’s shearwaters, flying fish and a whole lot else on that boat. I love the sea, and sometimes think if my life had been different I’d have enjoyed sailing (especially when reading Moby Dick or The Lusiads or something).

I’m always journeying, always on the move. It is just kind of part of me. Even if outwardly I appear to be sitting chewing cud.

The poem I like most about this kind of thing is Ithaka by Cavafy.

Poets United: "A long road, full of adventure...." When did you begin blogging, and what affect has it had on your writing?

Gavin: I have been blogging intermittently for about a year or so. More concertedly over the past three or four months. I love the community spirit of it – it does take a wee while to develop and work on, but is well worth it. I don’t think it has had a massive impact on my writing per se, but I have enjoyed reading others’ work… and after all “we are what we read”, so maybe somewhere down there the wheels are being oiled.

One of my main concerns as a writer is to give a human voice to that which does not have one: namely the environment. I try not to be too obvious, too didactic, but if you look beneath the surface you don’t have to go down very far. Recently one of my poems was picked up by the head of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It was about the shooting of a critically endangered bird here in the UK – if my poem helped raise that issue into the consciousness of even one person that would be “job done” for me.

Poets United: I love that, Gavin. I know it had that affect on me, and likely many others. I'd like to include it here:

The Ghost of a Ringtail

The moor was bright with wisps of mist,
And floating cotton grass in down.
The pipits pointed skyward wired.
So light the sun, so still the moor.

With pivot, dart and kiting wings,
The ringtail took the northern ridge.
She filled the widest sky with sight.
So light the sun, so still the moor.

Forever had her line owned flight,
And now the last in phantom form,
Eternal drifting beauty’s spell:
Though lost to life she haunts the hills,

The emptiness and quartered grounds,
So light the sun, so still the moor.
 copyright Gavin Jones

P.U.: Beautiful, and sadly haunting, Gavin. Favorite well-known poet?

P.U.: Favorite book of all time?

Gavin: Decameron

P.U.: Is there anything else you’d like to say to Poets United?

Gavin: Yup: thank you for all the fabulous poems, thoughts and challenges. It’s a great platform for poetry, and is hugely enjoyable to be a part of. I am currently working on a new website which (when it is complete) will have a much more visual slant than the current one. There is very little on there at the moment... however, there are two films of my Autumn pieces, and the Ondine ones. It is very much incomplete at the moment - but feel free to have a wee look!

P.U.:  We will watch the new site develop with interest, Gavin. And thank you,  for being a part of our community. We look forward to reading much more of your work.

Well, kids? Wasn't that satisfying? A walk on the moors with the Brontes, feeling we went back in time, and tea with a most interesting poet and artist........Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. A wonderful interview with an outstanding poet.I always look forward to a new post from The Cheesewolf.

    1. thanks for this Lisa. Much appreciated... And if you want to know how slow I am, I have only just this moment realised why your blog is lawpoetry. Here was me thinking you must be a lawyer. How's that for someone who is supposed to be good with words!? I feel somewhat muppet-esque.

  2. Sherry! You found The Tinklers! How cool is that! Thank you for such a wonderful piece - am totally bowled over. It really was a pleasure to do, from start to finish! If you ever need a moorland fix, you have a base here. Thank you so much.

    And folks - do check out thecheesewhelps site. The students here are so special - all comments going their way would be fabulous.

    Thanks again Sherry, and Mary and all at Poets United!

  3. What a treat to read. Enamored of Gavin's work from first read, I feel like I now know the creative person behind the blog. And I like him! ;-)
    Incidentally, Gavin, my daughter just returned to the US after living in Brighton for 5 years where her husband did research at University of Sussex. Small world!

    1. Hi kim - thanks for you comment! Brighton was such a super place to be a student. There is such a mix of people there, and the light is just awesome, what with the white buildings and the sea. Sussex University is a beautifully located campus. Small world indeed!
      Again, thank you.

  4. Enjoyed reading the interview. Thanks again, Sherry. Gavin, I like the idea of giving a human voice to the environment which does not have a voice. I also think your students are very fortunate to have such a creative presence / inspiring person as their teacher. Your 'neighborhood' looks beautiful indeed!

    1. Hi Mary

      I'd just like to take the opportunity to thank you and all "behind the scenes" folk at Poets United. I'm aware what a massive labor of love the upkeep of a site such as this involves, and I think I probably would be speaking for others hereabouts if I said how much your endeavours are appreciated! This is a fabulous forum for some wonderful writing. Thank you.

  5. Interesting interview! The poem, The Ghost of a Ringtail, is phenomenal! I look forward to reading more of Gavin's poetry. Greetings to the special students who have a very special teacher!

    1. thanks you so much for this. Please do forward on the ringtail poem - changing people's minds about such things isn't the first aim of a poet, but if through our work the world is even one iota better, it is all worthwhile. Thank you again.

  6. Lovely to the read this. I have lately been very much enjoying the cheesewolf's insightful comments on my poetry and his own wonderful writings. Always interesting to learn more about the poets here.

    Gavin - you encountered or worked with Miroslav Holub? Wow!!! What was that like? What is he like? Lucky you!

  7. Hi Rosemary, thank you for your lovely comment.

    I organised two poetry readings for Miroslav Holub when I worked in Edinburgh. The second was for the international Science Festival there. During that time he stayed at my house. It is a great honour that he wrote one of the poems of his final collection on my battered old typewriter. he was a great, great writer - capable of such a range from the gentle and surreal to the deeply moving. I was so lucky.

  8. Fascinating interview Sherry. Gavin, your work is amazing. 'The Ghost of the Ringtail' is gorgeous and reminded me that I need to go back through your blog and see what else I have missed. I really enjoyed learning more about your life! So cool. Thanks for sharing with us.

  9. thanks hugely for this Jennifer Laundry. The poetic appreciation is mutual.

  10. Gavin, you lead such an interesting life. It was my pleasure working with you on this. I enjoyed it very much - especially finding the Tinklers to surprise you!

  11. Gavin,
    I so enjoyed learning more about you! Your work with students, your voice-stunning! I look forward to learning more about your journey~
    I love all that you shared. I felt a kinship reading your interview. I am like your wife, longing for the sea. My hubby n' I also watch series, like you and your wife-right now Boardwalk Empire, lol. I have been thinking about where to volunteer-after reading your interview. I know where! Thank you~ I will check out all of your sites :D

    1. thanks for this! I'd agree on the kinship reading your work which always seems to have a resonance. Are you on series three of Boardwalk? We are watching through DVD, so finished two a while back, and am now getting withdrawal... Thanks again!

  12. Sublime structure in the poems, every week. One of my favorites to read.

    Excellent interview as well.

    1. Thanks for this Jack - I also look out for your work: the formal beauty of your work is always a great read.


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