In Conversation with Strider Marcus Jones
i'm come home again in your Lothlorien
Strider Marcus Jones wrote these lines about an idyllic utopia that was named Lothlorien by JRR Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Jones writes beautiful poetry that touches the heart with its music and lyricality and recreates a world that hums with peace, beauty, acceptance and tolerance – values that have become more precious than gems in the current world of war, strife and distress. He has created his own Lothlorien in the form of a journal which he has named after the elfin utopia of Tolkien. An avid reader and connoisseur of arts, for him all his appreciation congeals in the form of poetry which draws from music, art and he says, perhaps even his legal training! Let us stride into his poetic universe to uncover more about a man who seems to be reclusive and shy about facing fame and says he learns from not just greats but every poet he publishes.
What started you out as a writer? What got your muse going and when?
In my childhood, I sought ways to escape the poverty of the slums in Salford. My escape, while gathering floorboards from condemned houses every winter and carrying them through back entries in crunching snow to our flat, above two shops for my dad to chop up and burn on the fire was to live in my imagination. I was an explorer and archaeologist discovering lost civilisations and portals to new dimensions our mind’s had lost the ability to see and travel between since the time of the druids. Indoors I devoured books on ancient history, artists, and poetry from the library. I was fascinated by the works of Picasso, Gauguin, Bruegel and many others and sketched some of their paintings. Then one day, my pencil stopped sketching and started to compose words into lines that became “raw” poems. My first mentor was Anne Ryan, who taught me English Literature at High School when I was fourteen. Before this, I had never told anyone I was writing poetry. My parents, siblings and friends only found out when I was in my twenties and comfortable in myself with being a ranger, a maverick in reality and imagination.
When I read your poetry, I am left wondering… Do you see yourself in the tradition of a gypsy/mendicant singing verses or more as a courtly troubadour or something else?
I don’t have the legs to be a courtly troubadour in tights and my voice sounds like a blacksmith pounding a lump of metal on his anvil.
I feel and relate to being gypsy and am proud of my Celtic roots passed down to me from my Irish Gypsy grandmother on my Father’s side who read the tea leaves, keys, rings, and other items telling people’s fortunes for years with scary accuracy. I seem to have inherited some of her seer abilities for premonition.
Like my evening single malt whiskey, age has matured the idealism of my youth and hardened my resolve to give something back to the world and society for giving me this longevity in it. The knocks from the rough and tumble of life have hardened my edges, but my inner core still glows like Aragorn’s calm courage and determination in the quest to bring about a more just and fairer world that protects its innocent people and polluted environment. Since Woody Guthrie, Tom Waits and Bukowski are influences I identify with deeply, I suppose I am a mendicant in some of my poetry but a romantic and revolutionary too, influenced by Neruda, Rumi, Byron, and Shelley shielded by The Tree of Life in Tolkien’s Lothlorien:
THE HEAD IN HIS FEDORA HAT a lonely man, cigarette, rain and music in a strange wind blowing moving, not knowing, a gypsy caravan whose journey doesn't expect to go back and explain why everyone's ruts have the same blood and vein. the head in his fedora hat bows to no one's grip brim tilted inwards concealing his vineyards of lyrical prose in a chaos composed to be exposed, go, git awed and jawed perfect and flawed, songs from the borderless plain where no one has domain and his outlaw wit must confess to remain a storyteller that hobo fella a listening barfly for a while, the word-winged butterfly whose style they can't close the shutters on or stop talking about when he walks out and is gone. whiskey and tequila with a woman who can feel ya inside her, and know she's not Ophelia as ya move as one, to a closer and simplistic, unmaterialistic tribal Babylon, becomes so, when she stands, spread all arms and legs in her Eskimo Galadriel glow, sharing mithril breath, no more suburban settlements and tortured tenements of death, just a fenceless forest and mountain quests with a place to rest on her suckled breasts, hanging high, swinging slow. war clouds HARP through stripped leaves and bark, where bodies sleeping in houseboat bones reflect and creak in cobbled stones: smokey sparks from smoked cigars drop like meteorites from streetlight stars, as cordons crush civil rights under Faust's fascist Fahrenheit’s. one more whiskey for the road. another story lived and told under that fedora hat inhaling smoke as he sang and spoke stranger fella storyteller.
You seem to have a fascination for JRR Tolkien. You have a poem and a journal by the name of Lothlorien. Why this fascination? Do you think that JRR Tolkien is relevant in the current context? We are after all, reverting to a situation similar to a hundred years ago.
Yes, on all counts. Tolkien and his Lord of The Rings trilogy have been part of my life since I first read one summer when I was twelve years old. My young mind, starved of adventure and elevenses in Salford’s slums, willingly absorbed the myths and magic, lore’s and legends beguiling me to enter the ‘Age of Man’. This living in a time of relative peace alongside other, more ancient races with musical-poetic languages reflected part of my own reality in living through the Cold War decades under the impending doom of nuclear annihilation where daily life often felt the shadows cast by the Cuban Missile Crisis, war in Vietnam, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and famine in Biafra.
Sauron’s evil eye and invading armies echo an outgoing President Eisenhower’s ominous warning to curtail the influence and corruption of the banking-military-industrial-complex. Instead, Martin Luther King and President John F Kennedy were assassinated and a surveillance state and gilded slavery ideology is being imposed globally using artificial intelligence. Ancient civilisations in Iraq and Libya have been destroyed for control of oil and to maintain global Petro dollar power. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings is just as relevant today in Ukraine, Yemen, and Syria and as it was through the slaughters of Verdun, the Somme and Flanders Fields. It is a warning that good must prevail over evil and this burden is borne by those with courage and conviction who cannot be corrupted.
What is your Lothlorien? What does poetry mean to you and your existence?
My Lothlorien is a more peaceful world, with more tolerance of other individuals and cultures. Not perfect by any stretch but a place where people laugh, have their neighbours back and work with each other. A place of social justice and equality, music, poetry and art. It is no place for racism, sexism, ageism, corruption, or war. A kind of homestead with birdsong, forest, mountains and rivers, preferably in the French Pyrenees or Alaskan Bush. A place of words composed into poems and stories read and spoken, passed down and added to by each inspired generation in the Native American tradition. Poetry is all about communication and community in my existence. We are caretakers of our words and the world.
You have used Orwell, Gaugin and many more references in your poetry. Which are the writers and artists that influence you the most? What do you find fascinating about them?
Individuality of expression through fiction, poetry, art and music fascinates me. Now, at 62 years of age so many have influenced my poetry with or without me knowing or realising it. These include:
From the past – Chaucer, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Blake, W.B. Yeats, Auden, Langston Hughes, Hart Crane, Sexton, Plath, Kerouac, Heaney, Lorca, Orwell, Dickens, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, Steinbeck, Heller, Donaldson, P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Vonnegut, Dostoyevsky, Rilke, Rumi, E.E.Cummings, Neruda, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Dylan, Tom Waits. So many.
From now – They know who they are. I have published their work in Lothlorien Poetry Journal.
You play instruments — saxophone and clarinet? Does that impact your poetry?
Saying I play instruments is a huge stretch of the imagination. I get strange notes out of my saxophone and clarinet that must sound like a hurricane blowing in anyone’s ears. My black Labrador, Mysty, covers her ears with her paws but I enjoy trying to play. I love jazz music, anything from the 1920s to early 70s, but Miles Davis, Monk, Coltrane, Mingus, and Ornette Coleman took jazz music to a level that transcends mortality.
Jazz music continues to be a profound influence in my poetry. I will explain how.
Does any kind of music impact your writing?
In some way, unbeknown to me, jazz music, particularly that of Davis, Monk and Coltrane runs parallel to and interweaves with the rhythms of how I think when I write poetry. It closes my mind to the distractions of the outside world. The sound of those perfect and imperfect notes opens a door in my mind, I close my eyes, float into this dark room and my senses fill with images and words, which hover in the air like musical notes where I conduct them into rhythms and phrases bonded to a theme. Some become poems, others disintegrate into specks of dust, the moment gone. Sometimes, the idea and train of thought sleeps in my subconscious for years. This happened with my poems “Visigoth Rover” and “Life is Flamenco” which come from my sojourns randomly wandering through Spain but were born years later listening to Paco playing Spanish guitar and Flamenco music which is another key influence in my poetry.
VISIGOTH ROVER i went on the bus to Cordoba, and tried to find the Moor's left over in their excavated floors and mosaic courtyards, with hanging flowers brightly chameleon against whitewashed walls carrying calls behind gated iron bars- but they were gone leaving mosque arches and carved stories to God's doors. in those ancient streets where everybody meets- i saw the old successful men with their younger women again, sat in chrome slat chairs, drinking coffee to cover their vain love affairs- and every breast, was like the crest of a soft ridge as i peeped over the castle wall and Roman bridge like a Visigoth rover. soft hand tapping on shoulder, heavy hair and beauty older, the gypsy lady gave her clover to borrowed breath, embroidering it for death, adding more to less like the colours fading in her dress. time and tune are too planned to understand her Trevi fountain of prediction, or the dirty Bernini hand shaping its description. LIFE IS FLAMENCO why can't i walk as far and smoke more tobacco, or play my Spanish guitar like Paco, putting rhythms and feelings without old ceilings you've never heard before in a word. life is flamenco, to come and go high and low fast and slow- she loves him, he loves her and their shades within caress and spur in a ride and dance of tempestuous romance. outback, in Andalucian ease, i embrace you, like melted breeze amongst ripe olive trees- dark and different, all manly scent and mind unkempt. like i do, Picasso knew everything about you when he drew your elongated arms and legs around me, in this perpetual bed of emotion and motion for these soft geometric angles in my finger strokes and exhaled smokes of rhythmic bangles to circle colour your Celtic skin with primitive phthalo blue pigment in wiccan tattoo before entering vibrating wings through thrumming strings of wild lucid moments in eternal components. i can walk as far and smoke more tobacco, and play my Spanish guitar like Paco.
Tell us about how music and language weaves into your poetry — “i’m come home again” — there is no effort at punctuation — and yet the poem is clear and lyrical. I really love this poem – Lothlorien. Can you tell me how you handle the basic tool of words and grammar in your poetry?
In my mind, music is poetry through sound instead of words. Like words, the combinations of notes and pauses have intricate rhythms and phrases. In many of my poems like “Lothlorien” and those above, I weave the rhythms and phrases of jazz music or Spanish guitar and words together with run on lines so there is no need for punctuation. This gives these poems, and many others a spontaneity and energy which feels more natural and real and has a potent, more immediate impact on the senses and emotions when combined with images and happenings. This whole process feels natural to me. It began in my early twenties, when I was listening to old Blues and the likes of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson alongside Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Tom Waits and Neil Young. These are the raw underbelly notes of my pain and anger at the world. Jazz is the mellow top notes. I hope this makes sense. It is hard to explain something that is natural to and part of who I am, so forgive any lack of clarity.
Sometimes, I just like to add a moment of mischievous fun to a serious poem as in these two:
REJECTING OVID the fabulous beauty of your face- so esoteric, not always in this place- beguiles me. it's late, mesmeric smile is but a base, a film to interface with the movements of the mind behind it. my smile, me- like Thomas O'Malley the alley cat reclining on a tin bin lid with fishy whiskers- turns the ink in the valley of your quills into script, while i sit and sip your syllables with fresh red sepals of hibiscus, rejecting Ovid and his Amores for your stories. OLD CAFE a rest, from swinging bar and animals in the abattoir- to smoke in mental thinks spoken holding cooling drinks. counting out old coppers to be fed in the set squares of blue and red plastic tablecloth- just enough to break up bread in thick barley broth. Jesus is late after saying he was coming back to share the wealth and real estate of capitalist cunning. maybe. just maybe. put another song on the jukebox baby: no more heroes anymore. what are we fighting for -- he's hiding in hymns and chants, in those Monty Python underpants, from this coalition of new McCarthy's and it's institutions of Moriarty's. some shepherds’ sheep will do this dance in hypothermic trance, for one pound an hour like a shamed flower, watched by sinister sentinels- while scratched tubular bells, summon all to Sunday service where invisible myths exist- to a shamed flower with supernatural power come the hour.
How do you compose a poem? Is it spontaneous or is it something you do? Do you hear the lines or voices or is it in some other way?
Most poems come from life’s experiences and observations of people, places, nature, and events. These can be from the past, or present and sometimes premonitions of the future which often overlap depending on the theme/s and where I want it to go.
When it comes to composing a poem, I am not robotic, and neither is my Muse. I have no set time and never write for the sake of writing something each day which I find disrupts my subconscious process. A poem can begin at any time of day or night, but my preferred time to think and write is mid-evening going through to witching hour and beyond. I put some music on low, pour myself a slow whiskey and sit down in my favourite chair with pen and folded paper. I never try to force a poem. The urge to write just occurs. I don’t know how, or why. It just happens. My subconscious finds the thread, thinks it through and the poem begins to unravel on the page. I care about the poems since they care about the world and the people in it. So, I often agonise for days and in some cases years, over lines and words and structure, crossing out words and whole lines until they feel right. Editing, and redrafting is a crucial part of the writing process and requires courage and discipline. Butchering your own work feels barbaric in the moment but enhances your poetic voice and strengthens the impact of a poem on the reader.
You are a lawyer and in the Civil Service in UK. How does law blend with poetry?
I am a law graduate and retired legal adviser to the magistrates’ courts/civil servant who retired early. I have never practiced as a lawyer.
I never think about law when I write, but I am sure the discipline brings organisation to the orderly chaos of Spinoza’s universe that resembles the space inside my head.
Tell us about your journal. When and how did you start it?
I started Lothlorien Poetry Journal in January 2021. I publish the online rolling blog of poetry and fiction and printed book volumes — currently standing at eight issues featuring established and emerging poets and fiction writers published on the LPJ blog.
We are a friendly literary journal featuring free verse/rhyming/experimental poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and occasional interviews with poets.
We love poems about enchantment, fantasy, fairy tale, folklore, dreams, dystopian, flora and fauna, magical realism, romance, and anything hiding deep in-between the cracks.
I publish Lothlorien Poetry Journal periodically, 4-6 issues every year. Contributors to each issue (selected from the best work published on the Journal’s Blog) are notified prior to publication and receive a free PDF copy of the issue that features their work.
We nominate for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
What do you look for in a poet as a publisher?
I look for a poet or writer’s distinct voice, that spark of originality in their theme/s, the rhythm and musicality in their language and phrasing. I have no boundaries as to style, form, or subject – prose, rhyming, free verse, sonnets, haiku, experimental or mavericks who break the rules and write about the darker underbelly of society – if it is good and not offensive, racist or sexist Lothlorien Poetry Journal could be the natural home for your work. The best way to find out is to come to Lothlorien, have a read, and decide to submit.
LOTHLORIEN i'm come home again in your Lothlorien to marinate my mind in your words, and stand behind good tribes grown blind, trapped in old absurd regressive reasons and selfish treasons. in this cast of strife the Tree of Life embraces innocent ghosts, slain by Sauron's hosts- and their falling cries make us wise enough to rise up in a fellowship of friends to oppose Mordor's ends and smote this evil stronger and longer for each one of us that dies. i'm come home again in your Lothlorien, persuading yellow snapdragons to take wing and un-fang serpent krakens- while i bring all the races to resume their bloom as equals in equal spaces by removing and muting the chorus of crickets who cheat them from chambered thickets, hiding corruptions older than long grass that still fag for favours asked. i'm come home again in your Lothlorien where corporate warfare and workfare on health and welfare infests our tribal bodies and separate self in political lobbies so conscience can't care or share worth and wealth- to rally drones of walking bones, too tired and uninspired to think things through and the powerless who see it true. red unites, blue divides, which one are you and what will you do when reason decides. IN THE TALK OF MY TOBACCO SMOKE i have disconnected self from the wire of the world retreated to this unmade croft of wild grass and savage stone moored mountains set in sea blue black green grey dyed all the colours of my mood and liquid language- to climb rocks instead of rungs living with them moving around their settlements of revolutionary random place for simple solitary glory. i am reduced again to elements and matter that barter her body for food teasing and turning her flesh to take words and plough. rapid rain slaps the skin on honest hands strongly gentle while sowing seeds the way i touch my lover in the talk of my tobacco smoke: now she knows she tastes like all the drops of my dreams falling on the forest of our Lothlorien.
Thanks for your lovely poetry and time.
(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)
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