In 2004, the British Council in South Africa put together a poetry show called The Writers Ball presents Joolz Denby. A couple of us were booked to come and share our poetry at the show, which took place at Horror Cafe in Newtown. We were still finding our own voices as poets and writers and I remember being worried that this poet they were bring in from the UK would possibly look down on our work. I had an image of a matronly woman steeped in the literary and poetic traditions from Chaucer and Shakespeare through to Wilde and Hardy without any interest or consideration for the contemporary free-flow we have.
The afternoon of the show, all the poets came together with interested writers for a workshop. Also on the bill was Lesego Rampolokeng, one of my favourite poets, and so I figured, even if the British poet was not appealing, I would get the chance to interact with and hear Lesego’s work. I walk into the venue for the workshop and this woman walks up to me to say hi. Dressed in black cargo pants, a black vest and sneakers with long streaked hair, tattoos covering both arms and at least 8 piercings in each ear, this was Joolz Denby – poet, spoken-word artist, illustrative artist and author.
Over the next two days, I spent hours basking in her warmth and creativity. I submerged myself in her thoughts and her poetry, which reflects the spirit and energy of Bradford, where she is based, a town this multiple ethnicities and developmental difficulties. I fell in love with her poems Spoons and Grendel and I fell in love with her.
Our birthdays a day apart, I found a kindred soul, a mentor, a guide in the physical world. It is hard to explain. Joolz has lived a full, rich life that she continues to build on, writing and performing poetry, writing novels, tattooing and collaborating with New Model Army and New York Alcoholic Anxiety Attack (who she also manages).
Her poetry collections include The Pride of Lions (1994) and Errors of the Spirit (2000). Her book of short stories and poems, Pray For Us Sinners was published in 2005 while her first novel, Stone Baby, won the Crime Writers’ Association New Crime Writer of the Year Award in 1998 while the next novel, Billie Morgan (2004) was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction. This novel was followed up by Borrowed Light in 2006.
In 2005, I was blessed enough to have Joolz write the Foreword for my first collection of poetry Voices In My Head. In 2006, I toured the UK as part of the Hammer & Tongue Four Continents Poetry Slam and the highlight of my trip was Joolz coming through to the performance in Leeds, which isn’t far from Bradford. I try to stay in contact with her through email, facebook and twitter and was recently alarmed by a tweet from her offering her latest novel, Wild Thing, for free.
In her email, with the book attached, Joolz says the novel was “turned down by publishers both in the UK & US on the grounds that though ‘beautifully written’ it is not ‘in genre’ & therefore cannot be ‘marketed’ – also that it is ‘too harsh for the modern reader’. I would ask whoever gets it to pass it on & ask those whom they send it to pass it on to people they think might like to read it and so on and so on – a kind of benign literary virus. However, if you don’t like it & think your friends would not be interested, that’s also fine, just delete it.”
I love her work and have starting reading Wild Thing and should you wish to get a copy, just email Joolz on firstname.lastname@example.org.