The Accidental Poet – Jan Brierton

Posted 1 month ago in Arts & Culture Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

“I did have to write one on the back of a toilet roll once. I woke up in the middle of the night with this line going through my head. I didn’t want to wake my husband, and I knew I had a pen but I didn’t have any paper, so I snuck into the bathroom. If I don’t write them down they’re gone and I just have to move on.”

Jan Brierton’s poems are honest, candid and often hilarious, and, from an opening gambit that went viral in 2021, has seen her work find a huge audience. Since that accidental notoriety, the intervening years have seen her publish a book four months after her first Instagram prose, launch a podcast (currently on hiatus) and compose a second collection.

“The first poem came in January 2021, I’d never really written before. I just wrote how I was feeling. We were going into Lockdown Part 3 at this stage, everyone had had their ‘meaningful Christmas’ and was starting to get cooped up at home again, and I had this rhythm of frustration. I use bad language in my day to day expression, and the first poem came from that.”


Named after that first poem, her first book immediately struck a chord the world over, with wry, clever observations one might be forced to endure in the endless static of the pandemic.

“What Day Is It? Who Gives A Fuck!” was born of all that frustration. I shared it with some friends on social media and it ended up going sort of viral. A lot of people over the world were feeling exactly the same as me, and once I started writing I couldn’t stop.

From that came the first collection, which was quickly published by New Island Books. Folks were calling it a book of lockdown poems.


And what has inspired you in the composition of this new collection?

‘Everybody is a Poem’ is me now, as a forty-eight year old, middle aged woman with two kids and lots of frustration, but there’s a bit of love in there as well. A plain kind of love. And some pieces about grief and mental health too. That’s the lovely thing about the poems. I’m finding a lot of people are relating to it, telling me “That’s me. I’m that one about the fog.” It’s lovely that people are relating to it.


In the short years between ‘What Day Is It?…’ and ‘Everybody is a Poem’, what’s changed for you as a writer? Your first book having been written with no expectation, whereas this one had an audience anticipating it.

This one was very different. For the first book, everything happened very organically. I was writing without consequence, just putting my stuff out there, so this is the “difficult second album”, I suppose. The intention is there, now.

Jan Brierton photographed by Lorna Fitzsimons

When I’m writing a poem, I know that’s what I’m doing to express a particular feeling that I’m having or observing. I still work in fashion, more on the modeling development side of things these days. When the first book came out, I would have been embarrassed if someone introduced me as ‘Jan the Poet’. Whereas now I maybe feel a little bit more comfortable with saying that I write poems. The intention is much more realized now. It still feels a bit accidental. It feels different, because I’m putting myself out there in a way I didn’t acknowledge or realize in the first instance. It was this gorgeous opportunity that came, and I took it and just went with it, and much to my surprise people liked it. It’s a bit like having a second child. You get them to a certain point and you might think “that was grand.” So here I am with the second book.


How do your poems start? Is it a line, or an idea? A rhyming scheme or accidental inspiration? Is there a structure to what you do before you put it on the page?

Sometimes it’s a line, sometimes it’s two. I’m still learning as I go, about my process, about how I write. Sometimes what I’ve found it’s the last two lines that come to me, and I’ll build the poem in a way that I find my way to them. Sometimes it’s the first two lines, like the multitasking one where the opening line is “I clean my teeth on the loo to save time.”, and I’ll know that’s my rhythm and pace. Sometimes they feel like little kitchen pop songs.

Photo Credit: Alison Pilkington

As far as rhyming, I think that comes from ‘Smash Hits’ back in the day. And while I loved all the posters and had those up all over the walls, my favorite bit of that magazine was when they used to print out the lyrics of the songs. I’d keep those. I loved pop music, and I still do now. Maybe that’s where the rhythmic side comes from, my exposure to that. I’m less inclined to write the kind that doesn’t rhyme.  There’s almost something more mischievous about when it rhymes. So even when I’m talking about the upsetting stuff, there’s a lightness to it because it rhymes. It doesn’t make it any less honest or serious, but like pop music, it makes those feelings a little more accessible.


What was the impetus that made you vent those first frustrations as a poem? Were you reading a lot at the time or was it just happenstance?

Well, I’d have had a notebook beside the bed that I’d be inclined to write things in it for the next day. “Must remember to pay the ESB bill, get the GAA kit ready for whoever.” I don’t know, to be honest with you. It’s more like they’re lovely little gifts. I walk everywhere, or cycle, so I have a lot of internal dialogue. I think it was probably that. I do love John Cooper Clarke and ‘Chickentown’, and I do like the intensity and annoyance in that. So I was sitting with my daughter and she was reading, and I was just really pissed off so I picked up the pad and started writing.


Well, I guess over the pandemic some people found baking…

I certainly didn’t. I was sick of people showing me the bread that they made, and telling me I needed to get outside, and breathe, and I was just thinking, well you can all go and feck off. I was so done with it. Even in the new book, there’s that ‘New Year, Now You’ piece. This idea, it’s like “no, it’s not a new me, it’s the same me and I’m grand”. I don’t think it’s exclusively a female thing either. The guys seem as receptive as anybody else. It’s the constant bombardment of instruction. If you do this you’ll be better, if you do that you’ll be thinner, if you do the other you’ll be nicer. I hate all of that.


When I was young it was the weirdo down the road who had all the self improvement books, and now it seems to be the kids.

It troubles me. That there’s people who might feel vulnerable in a moment, and take all that kind of stuff on board when something says “You need to…” or “you should be…”  So the poems are my way of saying, you know what, you’re grand, you’re not perfect. Some days you’ll feel shit and some days you’ll feel great.

Photo Credit: Felipe Menezes – Jan Brierton reading at Five Lamps Arts Festival

What I’ve come to realize is that I’m a bit of both at all times. I’m probably hormonal, and definitely menopausal, and life is busy. I’d love for people to be able to see that it’s okay for life to not be so perfect all the time, because my life is not so perfect all the time.


It seems people nowadays are looking for something more relatable, something that isn’t the constant self improvement ads, get rich quick schemes, or the carefully curated moments that populate almost every Instagram page with any kind of audience. The presentation of these incredible lives. So that raw authenticity and honesty is what people are looking for.

Well if people want to put the shiny side out all the time, I have zero judgments. Knock yourselves out, but that kind of thing doesn’t benefit me. I’m not only going to talk about the most fabulous things. When I wrote some of this I wasn’t in the best headspace, but I had to hold onto the fact that I knew I felt crap, and I knew I’d feel better. And that’s what the poem, ‘Hope In The Dark’ is about.

Even if you are still in your pyjamas at two, the fact that you’re looking at yourself and you can see you’re in a state, there’s hope there.

Everybody Is a Poem: Midlife in Rhymes is out now. 

Words: Adhamh O’Caoimh

Feature Image: Jenny Callanan

Jan Brierton will be in conversation with Emmet Kirwan at Books Upstairs at 6.30pm on Wednesday April 24th. Tickets are available here.


The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.


National Museum 2024 – English


The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.