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  • Writer's pictureLiam Xavier

Words & Origins: Libby Jenner & The Inspirational Beauty of Online Communities

In the 2nd instalment of my new interview series ‘Words & Origins’, where I talk to creatives about their work and how it came to be, I’m speaking to Libby Jenner. When I ask her to voice-note her answers, we note the restriction of Instagram - where we are talking - to 1 minute. This, Libby joyfully jokes, is probably a good thing given she can be a bit of a ‘chatterbox’. This light, airy nature and lilting quality to which she speaks matches the effect of both of her books perfectly; a collection of creative words that are reality-adjacent and provide an intriguing, unique excitement for life. It’s clear, when we dive into the questions, that this is an accurate representation of her own personality and approach to life - joyous, brimming with positivity and, ultimately, infectious. 


Liam Xavier: The style and format across the series are pretty unique, it's more than a collection, there's almost a fantasy, fairytale element to it. What went into making that decision?


Libby Jenner: From the get-go with this series, I fully intended for there to be an ongoing narrative throughout. [It was] something I'd been planning for ages and in the first book which is Dont Be Shy, Dearest Butterfly - or the first one published because technically it’s the 2nd in the chronology - it’s set in a very ethereal garden, it has got this fantasy feeling to it because it’s a child who is discovering who they are and you can interpret it as  “this is where she goes to when shes daydreaming”  “this is where she goes to escape reality” and [...] I think the way I write is very illustrious, it's heavy with vivid imagery. I think even though the character has transitioned from being a child in this ethereal garden to an adult in a version of reality, there was no way I could leave that beautiful imagery behind. So I think the reason that there is fantasy and this element throughout it is because not only is that the way I write but for the character herself, a lot of it has to do with healing her inner child and part of her childhood is this fantasy world that she used to escape reality and I’m not sure this is ever something she’d ever leave behind. 


LX: Why was it important that you went in that direction? As someone online, I'm sure you're aware of the ways poetry feels pressure to be diluted or oversimplified, did that present as a concern going into it?


LJ: It’s my most authentic way of writing. I went into this very nervous, very anxious, honestly, about what people would think. Even though the poetry community, my friends, my partner, and my family, have done nothing but support me, there is still that anxiety of “I’m sharing such a vulnerable and insane moment in my writing journey” and I just thought there’s no point pretending to be someone I’m not, there's no point diluting my voice as a writer or oversimplifying anything, I love to go crazy with imagery, with metaphors, with little easter eggs I’ve trickled throughout the series and that’s not something I was ever willing to leave behind.


So because of that, I don’t think it was a concern that I had to over-simplify my writing. It was more “this could be a niche read for people, this could be a very select few in the audience that it resonates with. But they’ll be people who’ll get it. There’ll be people who can read between the easter eggs and put it all together [...] so I didn't want to oversimplify it, if anything I wanted to complicate it so that fellow poetry pals could decipher it.



I giggled when i first listened to this because, in my experience of 10 odd years of talking to writers and publishing work, some of the most fun and motivating points are when you put your best, undiluted work out there knowing that there is at least your fellow peers who will love this fuller self of you, and there’s a driving force behind that. 


LX: You sometimes speak about anxieties and vulnerabilities but your tone is also often quite optimistic and high energy. As a writer, how do those two states interact?


LJ: I don’t think they interact in a way that it’s an equilibrium, because I’d like to think the more vulnerable, anxious poems are less and the more optimistic poems are more in quantity. But I do think that the way that I write poetry is what I’m currently experiencing or something that I want to be experiencing, but better. So if I’m having a really terrible bout of anxiety, that will most likely be when my most vulnerable poems are created, and when I delve into my mental health. However, there have been times when I’m anxious yet the most empowering poem will emerge because, in my mind, I‘m thinking, “This is how I want to be living, this is what I’m working toward and, despite what I’m going through, I’m still trying to hold onto that optimism a little bit”.


But generally, I’d like to think I’m a very optimistic person and I think that does come across in my writing.  I think it’s really important to see the awe in mundane things and in extravagant things, and it is a privilege to do that and I understand that. But in my waking life, in the way I live normally and thankfully to having the privilege of having access to anxiety medication, I’m living the life of all the positive and empowering poems I’ve written and I’ve worked really hard for it and I’m still growing, still learning.



LX: The series feels quite defined for a specific audience - is that true and, if so, who for?


Here, Libby talks at some length about how there is a variety of audiences that could find it impactful, all of which is interesting and focuses on a broad gender spectrum and life circumstances, but I find it’s the last point that brings home what she’s saying in connection also to her initial ‘niche’ comment:


LJ: Even though I don't know how to define the audience specifically, which is probably a marketing flaw - I understand - I think as long as you love poetry, as long as you love illustrious, imagery-full poetry, [...] about self-love, mental health, empowerment; you think you'd enjoy following a character through a harrowing journey in the beginning to a state of still struggling a bit but definitely learning to love life and love themselves - Then you are the audience, this is for you and that’s all I wanted. I wanted people to read it and feel good about themselves so if that's you, that’s my audience. 


As I said, there is an argument for a niche readership in its fantasy-adjacent style, but what Libby says here is fundamentally the truth: if you resonate with those things, you’re probably the audience.


LX: How does a place like Brighton - with its vibrancy, youth and green-leaning nature - influence you as a creative?


LJ: Brighton has genuinely changed my life as a creative writer, it is the first city I moved to when I left my family home and I have stayed here ever since. For the first 3 years I was at uni here and this is my first year out of uni living here with my partner. Brighton is just phenomenal, it is vibrant, there is always something going on, everybody who has the confidence to is their most authentic self and it’s just beautiful to see. You can't help but be inspired, there are loads of lovely parks and the beach - a lot of my poetry is influenced by nature so it's perfect because there's so much going on - and you just can't help but feel creative, it just trickles towards you when you walk down the street, its genuinely amazing here.


I ask this question because, as a lover of psychogeography, but also as someone who has been to Brighton a few times and nearly moved there pre-London, I know it has a strength that, like many places, can be inextricably linked to a writers sense of self and creation. It’s clear in Libby’s voice that this is true for her, as she speaks with that back-of-the-throat, passionate love that is often reserved for talking indefatigably about a partner or close friend.



LX: what do you find to be the trickiest part of being a writer today compared to when you first started?


LJ: [...] When i first started, I was extremely anxious, I didn't even use my real name, it was under a completely different name. It took a long time to really find the flow and how to connect to the community whereas now I've just properly harnessed my love for writing and I just go for it. The trickiest part, I guess, could be marketing my book but in a way, I look at it as I’m marketing the book that I’ve self-published, I worked hard on it, I'm celebrating this, this is amazing, this is such a huge milestone in my writing career. Sure, there are [...] parts of writing like writers block and trying to connect to the online community and posting enough, but those are anxieties that I think were more present at the beginning of my online writing journey whereas now I have more free time, I'm just harnessing my passion for writing and reading and for just writing what I want to write and posting what I want to post [...] and I love it. I wouldn't say there's anything worse than when I started, [...] there is always room for growth as a writer but I just love writing. I don't think I’d ever describe it as tricky, because it just seems so natural for me to be doing this, it's just something I do, this is my thing, [...] but you keep learning from it and you keep going.


LX: Community has always been a big part in my growth as a writer and the reason I defend social media, how has being part of a poetry community online impacted you as a person and a writer?


LJ: Oh I completely agree with that defence of social media [...] there is such a beautiful community of writers online and they’re all so supportive and we all just want to watch each other thrive and I absolutely adore that and it is such an honour to be a part of that and I know that sounds dramatic, but I am a writer so what did you expect? (she laughs - as do i upon hearing it) And, genuinely, the poetry pals in my community, I am so forever grateful for, they didn't give me confidence but they showed me who I could become if I chose to be confident [...] Because they always believed in me, they never once faltered, they were always so supportive [...] So, as a writer and a person, being part of this community, you just can't help but thrive because everyone is so creative, I think I’ve become more creative, more confident and I think I've definitely defined my writing voice more because I've worked out what I do and don't like writing but I've also noticed what gets the most reach and usually the ones that get the most reach are the ones I love writing the most because, as a reader, you can tell when someone is being their most authentic self. 



LX: Are there any plans for an expansion in the same series or is it a 2-book situation?


LJ: Now, this is a very exciting question because there is, in fact, a third book. I mentioned earlier that Don’t Be Shy, Dearest Butterfly is chronologically the 2nd book, Wings Unfurled is the 3rd book so the next book out chronologically is the first book in the series and if anyone has read Dont Be Shy Dearest Butterfly, there is a mention of what that book is going to be. And then in Wings Unfurled, the title of the book is in one of the poetry titles - so remember when I said about the easter eggs? They are just woven into these books and I just love talking about it because it's so much fun. So, yes there is a third book, it's a very different style and context to the other book, this is gonna be very intense with mental health, very vulnerable. It is still in the editing stage but I am excited about it. I started writing this series in 2021 and we’re now in 2024, that’s a long time, and this new book - the untitled book 3, unless you’ve guessed the title from one of the poetry titles in Wings Unfurled - has poems in it from when I was 15-18, which was a long time ago and that was a really big emotional rollercoaster to go through. This series has been with me for a long time so I am very excited to finish it so I can carry on with my other projects, like the random chapbooks and scribbles in notebooks and random ideas in word documents that need to be edited. So yeah, one more book in the series and then Seasons of Self is complete which is quite sad.



LX: Trauma is mentioned a lot throughout both books - this is something I talk about a lot as well and I find theres often a difficulty to choose when to share and what to share - how do you deal with that?


LJ: This is really interesting and I could talk about this for ages, but I know I can't so I’ll try and keep it brief but I completely understand where you’re coming from, there is definitely a line of what you do and don't share and how do you know where that line has been drawn? [...] I will only share what I am happy to share, what I could imagine a random person reading and id be okay with. [...]There is a bravery around sharing something so vulnerable and detailed but for me personally, I’ll draw the line at personal details, I’ll talk about anxiety and the trauma around that and maybe certain life experiences that are a bit vague but personally, that's just my boundary as a writer, but I think it depends - some people need those details to know they’re not alone and some people just want a brief overview and that's enough [...] But this is a really relevant question for my final book which is extremely trauma heavy and it is something I'm learning as I go - where the line is - and how I work out what I do and don't share because at the end of the day[...] I have to put myself in the position of “Do I want people I don't know to know such personal details about myself” I think it’s just something I have to listen to my body about, if it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel right. I don’t post it and nobody’s gonna know. 


Like I said, Libby’s voice speaks for itself with energy and fervency. It's clear she loves doing this and she’ll continue to do more and with a focus on her own original voice, it’s one that the community will continue to need.


Both of Libby's books can be found here: 

And you can find her on Instagram and TikTok at: libbyjenner.poetry


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