Jo Kelen: The Joking Poet
Jo Kelen is a poet and stand-up comic born and raised in South East London who is currently studying Classics at Nottingham University. “Making up stories has been my pleasure and release for as long as I can remember. From making up songs and catch-phrases to entertain my friends in Primary school, to writing poetry in secondary school to make myself laugh…,” explains Jo. Indeed from the outset, poetry has been a tool for her to make herself as well as others laugh.
She joined the Mouthy Poets, a poetry collective, at the end of her first year at Nottingham University. This was the beginning of performed poetry for her. Within this group she gained valuable tips for performing and had her work edited by lots of other talented poets. “Also being part of some of their shows, they also got me lots of gigs across Nottingham which greatly increased my confidence to the extent that I am now branching out on my own,” says Jo.
She has performed across Nottingham, namely at the Nottingham Playhouse with the Mouthy Poets, and in Leicester in venues including the Y theatre and Upstairs at the Western as part of UK Young Artists and the Strawberry Fields Festival.
Jo further explains to us, “My poetry is often fuelled by escapism and is frequently about animals. It tends (or at least intends) to be light and whimsical with the odd political or emotive tickle thrown in here and there for good measure. In some instances this is autobiographical, in others not.” She believes that writing from the perspective of animals (or vegetables) rather than from her own perspective in the first person often provides a sense of detachment. This allows her to change more and show greater artistic freedom, which she finds more difficult otherwise. In contrast, in the first person she feels compelled to be completely honest. Capturing a feeling or political sentiment and putting it into a fable-like narrative from the perspective of animals allows her to do several things. In Jo’s words, she does this, “Firstly, to universalise the problem so that more people can relate to it, I find if I am too literal in poetry, people often feel like they are peering in at my life. I find that accessible, fable-like stories are intensely powerful as they instantly draw people in, and this is a method of writing, which I am currently exploring.” Secondly it is also useful to, “allow myself and others to laugh at that common predicament,” says Jo. Lastly it seems that for the tragic and less funny moments, the sense of detachment resulting from using animals rather than people allows the audience (and herself) to think about the problem from a detached position. This prevents a sense of direct emotional involvement.
Below is one of Jo’s poems, written for Say Sum Thin 7, a Mouthy Show at the Nottingham Playhouse, July 2014, filmed by Mellow 9 Productions:
To remain updated with Jo’s works, follow her website and pages: