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Jake Reynolds Edits Earth: an interview with a young poet

It’s half past three on a Wednesday afternoon. The Priory Academy LSST is eerily quiet, with only the cleaning man still haunting the corridors, plugged into his iPod, vacuuming the linoleum.  The children have gone home. School is over.

I’m sitting with Jake Reynolds in an empty English classroom; we English students often refer to it as ‘the dungeon one’ as a result of the tiny windows and general gloominess. It isn’t gloomy now though, because Jake is talking about poetry.

I don’t know much about poetry and I don’t read it for pleasure, but listening to Jake talk about it makes me think that I should. It makes me feel as though I’m missing out on something wonderful which, I realise, I probably am.

My classmate, Jake Reynolds, is the author of Editing Earth, a collection of poems he’s written over the last twelve months. It was last year’s New Year’s resolution he says. He wanted to be able to hold his year’s work in writing in his hands and say I did this. And now he can. An aspiring writer myself, I’m intrigued as to how he managed to keep up the momentum, finally pulling his efforts together into a physical book.

“Over the summer there were about two months when I just couldn’t think of anything,” he says, smiling grimly. “I looked very hard for inspiration and I couldn’t find anything. And then there were other times, for example in October, where I looked back over everything I’d done and just thought: ‘this is awful!’ I thought every single thing I’d written was awful. You just have to leave it and think ‘I’ll look at this another day’. It’s tricky but it’s rewarding in the end.”

Jake’s poetry isn’t awful. This is not the first time he has seen his name in print, or printed online at least. Two of his poems, ‘Bleach’ and ‘The Outsider in the Sun’ have been selected and published online by the Young Poets’ Network, with ‘The Outsider in the Sun’ selected personally by poet Jon Stone as one of his favourite individual pieces.

I’ve known Jake for quite a while now, but I didn’t know about his poetry. It was only recently, in January, when he announced on Facebook that his book was available to read online, that I even knew he’d written one.

He published it via an online company called ‘Blurb’.

“It was really simple,” he says. “You download a programme and you do it all yourself. You set out the whole book: the margins, the front and back covers. You have to deal with copyright. It’s gruelling but it’s all worth it.”

He cites Sylvia Plath as a major inspiration, having taken her last collection, Ariel, as reading material on a school trip. He loved it, despite it being ‘pretty depressing’.

“I like the way she put across big messages without being…” he seems to struggle for words for a moment, frowning at the carpet. “Overtly articulate about it,” he finishes. My only knowledge of Sylvia Plath is based on the 2003 film Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. Unable to add anything particularly literary to this area of the conversation, I recommend it to him. He says he’ll check it out.

It’s easy to forget that Jake is only seventeen as he sits in front of me, wearing his suit and tie and talking about his latest project: the collection of short stories he hopes to have completed by January 2014.

“It’s insane,” he says. “It’s going to be a challenge.” He’s already written six.

Jake is only seventeen:  an age when most people, myself included, have very little idea about what they want to do. But as the conversation continues and he talks about Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ian Mc Ewan, Angela Carter and the book he’s reading at the moment, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, it becomes clear that his love for literature is no simple fad. This is serious business.

I turn off the Dictaphone, pack it away and we leave the dark classroom, gradually shuffling up the Priory’s notorious walkway. After a grim day, the sun is now shining and, bathed in orange light, the empty school seems friendly. We talk about Les Miserables which I have seen and he hasn’t, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell that he is reading and I am not and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which neither of us have read but we both think sounds pretty depressing. I wonder, in the future, how many pupils will shuffle along this walkway, asking their friends if they’ve read Editing Earth by Jake Reynolds.

And you know what? I bet they’ll say it’s good.

Find Editing Earth, which can be read online, at www.blurb.co.uk/ bookstore/detail/3954010

Ellen Lavelle, Year 13

    The Priory Federation of Academies, Lincoln