Mab Jones


Mab Jones is the first ever Resident Poet in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. She is a comic, social media tartlet, event organiser, and all-round ‘litrepreneur’. Her “delightful comic verse, articulate and imaginative” (Three Weeks) has graced nearly 700 stages all over the UK, as well as in the USA and Japan. Her latest project, Dylan’s Angels, is currently accepting bookings, and her first poetry collection is due out this autumn. Find out more at

When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. I drew pictures all the time, constantly, scribbling in all my exercise books, and asking for ‘drawing stuff’ every birthday and Christmas. However, I was also an avid reader, and fancied myself a writer – age about 10 I asked for a typewriter from Santa, and I got my wish. I never really wrote anything, though. All my energy went into drawing, I rested by reading, and the stories I absorbed seemed to inspire my imagination and make me draw even more… I loved books like ‘Tale of a One-Way Street and other stories‘, with beautiful text (Joan Aiken) and illustrations (Jan Pienkowski). Much later, I wrote my MA dissertation on the relationship between Dickens and his illustrators, in particular George Cruikshank, and my aim one day is to create something that I both write and draw. I’d like to work with an illustrator, of course. But I do greatly admire poets such as John Hegley and Phill Jupitus, who can do both.

In any case, I then won an assisted place to go to what some say is the best school in Wales – Howell’s School in Llandaf. My local school, the one I should have gone to, was widely considered to be the worst (Glan Ely). The contrast between my school life (school song written by Rudyard Kipling, royal visits, lacrosse and tennis, etc.) contrasted greatly with my working class home life. It created a posh/chav dichotomy in my character, which you can see in my poems/performance. Actually, I dislike both of those words, but I enjoy using the fact I can appear both very upper class and as common as muck in what I do. And, I like entertaining people, but I also can’t seem to help addressing serious concerns and trying to make people think.

When I got to high school, I happened to see a display of GCSE level art in my first week, and I suddenly felt like I didn’t want to be an artist any more. I realised in one sinking instant that the level I had been taught at so far meant I wasn’t as good as the girls here, and I would probably never be as good. I think now that this was a silly thing to think, because if I had been determined I could have caught up and made myself improve. But, at the time, I compared myself, with much older girls actually, and gave up on that idea altogether.

After that, I just wanted to be a writer. I still love art, though, and I am okay at drawing. But, I focused on the other thing, especially after the age of 13 when I got 90% in the English exam, coming top in the year, and I realised I had some sort of talent with words. My parents didn’t notice that I had come top. I felt ignored at home, but I was lucky in that I always had one teacher at every school I went to who singled me out and made it their mission to encourage me. These teachers were always female. In Howell’s, it was a woman called Mrs Maylin, who most of the other girls hated, because she was so strict. I liked this, however, because it made me work harder. I found it quite easy to coast along, generally achieving a ‘B’ level in most subjects, without ever doing much work. I never revised for exams, for instance. But, I did revise for English, because I loved it, and because the teacher made me want to do well, and as a result I always did.

However, I only wanted to be a poet very recently. I thought I would end up a novelist, especially because I consumed the things when I was younger. It was only when I was 29, and had received a new writers’ bursary from Literature Wales, giving me time to write, that I started penning little poems, as a bit of light relief from the novel. The novel got to about 80,000 words, but it’s a very turgid thing. I hope it never sees the light of day! The poems were really good fun to write, though, and I somehow ended up doing them at an open mic in Cardiff one night. I remember my hands were shaking horribly. But, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush, and the applause, so I did it again… The third open mic I read at was run by Literature Wales, which is where then-Executive Director, poet Peter Finch, saw me, and used his powers to add me onto the list of contenders at the Welsh heat of the BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam. I got through, and my 5th gig, then, was in London, on national radio, and I got paid, and put up in a nice hotel, and realised there was a thing called ‘spoken word’… And so, I thought I’d continue with that!

Since then, I’ve performed nearly 700 times… I supported Porky the Poet (Phill Jupitus) at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, with my friend and comedy partner Clare Ferguson-Walker (who is a poet and an artist, un-coincidentally), I’ve gigged in the US and Japan, I’ve headlined for Apples & Snakes, and performed at Latitude, and am having my first book out with Burning Eye Books in October… I gig, run workshops, write a column on live literature events for Wales’s biggest listings and arts mag, Buzz, do some social media stuff, organise events, and so on. I’ve collaborated with cool people, I travel about a fair bit, I have a lovely writer boyfriend called Johnny Giles, who I think is a true poetic genius. I have a very happy and active poetry life! I feel I am very lucky, because there is no line between what I love doing and what I do for a living… My work is my hobby is my life is my love, really!

However, I often feel like I am ‘two poets’ inside, one a Wendy Cope/Pam Ayres-style comic, the other more a sort of Mary Oliver/Sharon Olds style. I enjoy making people laugh, but then I have this other voice that is, at the risk of sounding terribly pretentious, more mystically-inclined. I keep writing because I love making people laugh, but also because I don’t feel that voice is fully developed. It comes from a different place to the funny one. At one point, a couple of years ago, I felt like I was under a sort of curse, to always be hilarious… Even the serious things I attempted turned out funny. I stopped writing poems for a bit, for a couple of years, actually, though no-one really noticed as I had written so many before… I had some kidney problems for about a year and a half, too, but I went a lot of changes during that period. Now, I’ve started to write more in that other voice/style, which you can see on my blog, and I’ve also accepted my comic self much more, choosing to see the ability to make people laugh as more a blessing than otherwise.

I think I started writing poems as a sort of therapy. I was having therapy at the time…! When I was a child and teenager, I suffered from Selective Mutism, but this was only diagnosed at the age of 30, after I began writing and expressing myself. You can read a bit about that in this Apples and Snakes blog. Most of my early comic poems came from feeling angry… I think there is a link between comedy and rage! It’s a way of dealing with that emotion… I feel much less angry now, and so my ink comes from other emotions. I love the beauty of nature, and I am resident poet in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. That’s one well of ink I’ve been dipping into recently. Another is the fact I am in love… Sometimes I feel bubbles of feeling come up from my heart as if they were physical things, and then they come out of my hand in the form of writing. Recently, I wrote a poem in my sleep! You can read that one here. Anyway, at the moment, I feel like I am changing as a writer, and learning new modes and means of expression.

Poetry for me is a way of life.

I think there are a fair few poets who feel this way, too. I admire Jo Bell, Helen Ivory, and Dominic Berry, people who write and read every single day; who want to spread the joy of this amazing art we could never be without, and who write beautiful blogs, share news of comps and opportunities on their social media profiles, who run events, and who encourage others to write and read and develop as well, by example as well as directly. I aspire towards that type of generosity; I like to encourage others, and enjoy putting on events and things so that others can have space for their own voices to develop. I see poetry as inclusive, rather than exclusive. Poets who think of poetry as some special, refined, highly rarefied art, only for the super-intelligent and Godlike amongst us, are not the poets I particularly like or get on well with.

As for me – I feel I am about one twentieth of the poet I am going to be. T.S. Elliot said it takes twenty years to find your poetic voice. In which case, I am only just over six years old! I am terribly pleased with the poems I’ve been writing recently, both funny and not-funny, and I feel very happy with how my life is as a result of becoming/realising I am a poet. Yay poetry, basically! I don’t know who, where, or how I’d be without it.