Tears in the Fence 72 is out!

Tears in the Fence

Tears in the Fence 72 is now available at http://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, multilingual poetry, prose poetry, flash fiction, fiction and translations from Mandy Haggith, Andrew Duncan, Elzbieta Wojcik-Leese, Charlotte Baldwin, Jeremy Reed, Lynne Wycherley, Joanna Nissel, Mandy Pannett, Sam Wood, Genevieve Carver, Sarah Acton, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Mike Duggan, Daragh Breen, Tracey Turley, Karen Downs-Burton, Barbara Ivusic, John Freeman, John Millbank, Olivia Tuck, Rowan Lyster, Sarah Watkinson, Greg Bright, Robert Vas Dias, Lucy Sheerman, Andrew Darlington, David Punter, Beth Davyson, Michael Henry, Judith Willson, John Gilmore, M.Vasalis translated by Arno Bohlmeijer, Paul Rossiter, Charles Wilkinson, Rupert M. Loydell, Reuben Woolley, Kareem Tayyar, Peter Hughes, Zoe Karathanasi, Lucy Hamilton, Lydia Harris, Lucy Ingrams, Mark Goodwin, Simon Collings, Aidan Semmens, Vasiliki Albedo and Ian Seed.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XIV, Andrew Duncan Apocalypse: An Anthology edited by James Keery, Lily-Robert-Foley on…

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Book launches in the time of COVID-19, part II

Thom Sullivan

As an addendum to my last blog post, it was very enjoyable to attend the launch of Adrian Flavell’s second book of poems, Shadows Drag Untidy, in Adelaide this evening. The book was launched by Professor Nick Jose, and follows Adrian’s 2014 book, On Drowning a Rat(Picaro Press). I first encountered Adrian’s poems as far back as 1998 or 1999. In my teenage years,The Weekend Australian’sReview served as my piecemeal introduction to contemporary Australian poetry.

Nowadays, we take it for granted that the internet is a reliable source of contemporary poetry, with the proliferation of websites, online journals, and blogs over the past two decades. But in the late 1990s it was only the newspapers that came into the household regularly that met my growing appetite for new Australian poetry.

It was in The Weekend Australian, and later The Age, that I first read…

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A Journal of Enlightened Panic by Alan Baker (Shoestring Press)

Tears in the Fence

Good poetry often creates a sense of release, of being returned to a point of wonder and attention. Alan Baker’s latest chapbook, A Journal of Enlightened Panic, has that quality. There’s an integrity about the writing which is enlivening.

The metaphor of life as voyage, journey, or walk dominates the volume. The longest poem, ‘Voyager,’ has perhaps the most complex use of these tropes. The poem is dedicated to Baker’s mother, who died in 2015. The text mixes information concerning the Voyager space probe, and material about life on a container ship, with the night-time wanderings of ‘Alan’, a cleverly objectified version of the poet himself.

The probe in outer space, the ship often travelling for days without seeing another vessel, have a resonance with Alan’s nocturnal perambulations, walks which have ‘the quality of dream’ but are also punctured by the unwelcome intrusions of time and unease.

Alan would…

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#RedSquirrelAwarenessWeek Have you written unpublished/published about red squirrels? Have you made artworks about red squirrels? Please DM me or send a message via my WordPress account “The Wombwell Rainbow.

Slow Down! Red Squirrels! by Cheryl Camm


Pinecone clutched adeptly between his paws, he hesitates, Ears quivering, alert for a predatory fox or a swooping goshawk – Danger lurks unseen within this innocent sylvan landscape

Concealed by the dense tree canopy; a stealthy pine marten Waiting to pounce and crush the fragile bones, strip bare the russet coat. Reaction must be swift, his tail balancing him perfectly in flight

High overhead in the tree’s hollow his vulnerable kittens cower In the patchwork drey of woven twigs, leaves and moss. Instinctive parental behaviour kicks in. He is their survival….

Recognising a sudden chill in the wind, he scrabbles urgently Among the dying leaves, as autumn makes its last stand. ‘Chuck chuk’, he stamps his feet in bold defiance, eyes darting warily.

-Margaret Royall.

She says “His breed shows dwindling numbers year on year, disappearing from their British haunts. This is our watch, we cannot ignore the call – Sciurus Vulgaris looks to man for protection; Tomorrow may be too late!” Type a message…

It is such a positive boost for me and my interviews when authors I have interviewed before, and further on in their career ask me to interview them about their latest book/chapbook. It is a validation beyond words.

I am overwhelmed with so much gratitude to these authors who make it so worthwhile with their wondrous words and stories.

I am glad to be one of the channels that they can do this through. One who focusses on the book they have written and doesn’t just ask generic questions, but absorbs the book and returns with questions about it and their creative process. My enthusiasm for it all.

And I do not charge for something I enjoy doing.


sonja benskin mesher

apologies in that I never came back here yesterday

i only went to clean a window

saw the encroaching plants

and other stuff

it is the place by the church where there
used to be a door to our place

olden days they say

she rang while I was in the grave yard with the spade

so we sat on the stone and chatted in the late autumn sun

the old black cat joined us

later they came to look at the roof
they knew all the words and gestures

enjoyed the heat

yet I found

i am used to being here alone


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Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Throatbone” by Simon Maddrell

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews

Simon Maddrell Throast Bone Cover FINAL Layout 2020803 001

Simon Maddrell

born in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1965 was brought up in Bolton, Lancashire. Living in London for 20 years he moved to Brighton, UK in 2020.
Simon has 15 years corporate experience and started-up a multi award-winning charity, Excellent Development in 2002. Simon resigned as Executive Director in 2016 to focus full-time on writing.
Simon writes through the lens of living as a queer Manx man, thriving with HIV. His debut chapbook, Throatbone, is being published by UnCollected Press, USA in July 2020.
Simon was first runner-up in the Frogmore Poetry Prize 2020 and has had poems published in various Anthologies and diverse publications such as The New European, Morning Star, Brittle Star Magazine, The Dawntreader and Impossible Archetype.

Quick link to buy the book is


Launch is Weds 23rd Sept 19.30 (BST)

Zoom Registration https://bitly.com/ThroatboneIOM

Also on Facebook as an event for more details https://facebook.com/events/s/throatbone-poetry-launch/305416114082640/?ti=icl

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

Apart from my teens, my first ever poem was written in 1995 after a tragic experience of death in Africa during an expedition, I wrote it for an 18-year old lad who was with me when it happened to try and help him with the trauma.
I didn’t write poetry again until 2011 after my parents had died over a difficult two years. In many ways I went back to my teens when I should have been listening to Dylan and Cohen. The first poem I wrote was a response to William Styron’s book, Darkness Visible. Poetry was my way of expressing my past and my feelings subsumed like, in hindsight, my love for poetry was by my English teacher who told me I was useless and parental expectations that pushed me elsewhere.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My Dad was a Maths, Physics & Computer Science lecturer but when I was six or seven, bobbing in grandpa’s rowing boat in Port St Mary bay in the IOM, my Dad recited the whole Rime of the Ancient Mariner to me. I was spellbound.

I recently wrote a poem about it, “Half-rotten, half-new”,  which coincidentally I heard this week was longlisted in The Rialto Nature & Place Competition 2020.

Dad also had the tapes of Richard Burton reading Under Milkwood which I (and we) used to listen to in the ‘front room’.

My mum — who left school aged 14 — gave me the love of words & language — especially from sharing Shakespeare & Samuel Johnson.

3. How important is a sense of place in your poetry?

Generally speaking it isn’t necessary — but the genesis of what has turned out to be my debut chapbook/pamphlet — Throatbone — was poems inspired by the Isle of Man, where I was born. Many of the poems are connected to a sense of the island or specific places on it — even if the poems may go somewhere else or turn into something else.

4. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

As a teenager, very much so — to the degree that it seemed like some mystical, monolithic fortress where access wasn’t even conceivable, especially after my English teacher’s comments.

I suppose some of that still hangs over, but mostly I see the traditional poets with love & respect. I am more submerged in younger contemporary poets, especially now Seamus Heaney et al have been transferred to another space. If I think about ‘dominating presences’ too much it will crush my creativity and probably destroy me too.

One of the things I wanted to do in Throatbone was read old Manx poets and be inspired by that as well as the place itself, which ended up either just as prompts, e.g. Threads was prompted by a Mona Douglas poem about a cottage. Or, In other poems, I used words and phrases (especially from TE Brown) to reimagine them in a contemporary context. For example, when I read Sooreyin’ I thought, “that’s so gay!” and rewrote and reimagined it with that lens.

5. Your poetry is very earthy. How important are the use of the five senses in your writing?

Even from my early forays into poetry and my spoken word days, many observed the ‘visceral’ nature of my work.  I guess the sense of place in Throatbone adds that earthiness (perhaps along with my Northern & Manx sensibilities).

My teachers and my own reading have taught me the importance of feeling in poetry — utilising all the five senses is a great way to ‘bring the reader in’ but, perhaps more importantly, connect me to the essence of what could be said. Emerging myself in the senses of an experience can be a gateway to the turn(s) or tangential switch in a poem.

6. What is your daily writing routine?

Probably not a good thing but I don’t *yet* have a *daily* routine — that would definitely change with a writing grant or residency of course.  I tend to have quite intense writing periods for new stuff, either planned or unplanned, — I always initially write in pencil in a notebook and go through several drafts before typing up, which usually creates its own editing in the process, and then I continue to create versions electronically in the same document, always saving the previous versions.

I have a notebook by my bed too in case I get any ideas during bedtime reading or when waking up in the night or morning.

Of course, reading, listening to poetry performances, workshops and classes are all initiators of writing as are deadlines, which are mainly editing and rewriting exercises or organising manuscripts.

7. What subjects motivate you to write?

My prime subject matter as a gay man is queerness.  As a 54 year-old brought up in the North — with a heavy Manx shadow — this means that encapsulates a whole range of subjects from shame, pride, sex, drugs and HIV/AIDS.  I’m still trying to get a pamphlet home for my queer poems!  I also write quite a lot about grief and existence as they fascinate me, in particular the aspects of both that are not talked about often enough, or even widely understood.

I am currently obsessed with the Manx-inspired work because it has such a rich and wide scope:  Identity & islands in all their guises; history  including queer politics & colonialism; folklore, mythology & legends; nature & environment including queer eco-poetics and human existence.

On queerness, I’m currently researching and seeking funding for a poetic biography of the wonderful Jonathan Blake, a co-founder of L&G Support the Miners — featured in the film Pride — and the first person to be diagnosed with HIV at the London Middlesex Hospital in 1982.  Apart from the importance of capturing a queer history far more interesting than mine, the challenge of poetic biography intrigues and motivates me.  He celebrates 40 years with HIV in 2022 — 50 years after the first London Pride — so that’s my target for that book!

8. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

This is a great question with so many places to go!

I was grabbed by the throat by Wilfred Owen, such that I also went to read the other war poets too, especially Sassoon (how I wish I knew about their sexuality at the time!).  I think I was attracted by the visceral nature of it and I’m told that is something I have in my poems.

I think my recent poetry teachers have pretty much pushed the ‘old romanticism’ of Betjeman out of me that lurks in the background muttering rhyme and sentimentality and occasionally getting a word in.

I think one of the biggest things (and it’s almost always something I have to consciously avoid) is the register of language, which comes as much from an enforced Sunday School upbringing as it does my Dad’s Ancient Mariner recital to me bobbing in a rowing boat and his Richard Burton recordings of Under Milkwood.  Rachel Long was only talking to Jack Underwood about this church influence yesterday on Pages of Hackney’s InstaLive.  I often re-listen to Dennis Potter, in his amazing final interview with Melvyn Bragg, saying a similar thing about his childhood memories of language both at chapel and at home in the Forest of Dean.  Whilst religious language, especially in hymns, and dialects like Manx and Forest, have an old, even baroque, register they also have musicality and rhythm, which is something to be eternally grateful for being etched into my brain.

9. How did you decide on the order of the poems?

I wanted to start with probably my favourite poem in the chapbook –– “Threads”.  The last poem was quite easy, “Island Home” seemed the best place for it.  After that I wanted to create a sort of thematic flow especially where some poems could help segue from one thing to another. The sequence of three queer history poems were originally separate poems and then I thought that putting them under the name of the first poem, Manx Pride 1986-1992 could work with three ‘X’ & ‘Y’ titles.

To be honest I have no idea if it works or whether anyone else recognises any flow to it.  I did switch two poems very late on as I really wanted “Family of Fissures” to be on a double-page spread.  I wanted to do the same with “Hollow of the Chapel” but I just couldn’t switch anything with it.  In hindsight I’d probably have cut one of the earlier poems to enable both of those double-page spreads to happen naturally.

10. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been one of my favourite writers for over 35 years, for all the many reasons why he deserves The Nobel Prize for Literature.  Armistead Maupin gave me life and acceptance.

I’m a little bit in love with Joelle Taylor, Lisa Luxx and Fatimah Asghar because they are fire.  I can’t talk about fire & queer writers without mentioning Danez Smith –– they are something else.

Richard Scott & Rachael Allen have shown me a very different way to think and do, which I’m yet to master.

Wayne Holloway-Smith is such an amazing poet and teacher and I also love Anthony Anaxagorou who has been such an influence, encouragement and inspiration. “After the Formalities” is brilliant and resonates with my aspiration to explore identity related to bigger subjects of existence.

10.1. What “very different way to think and do” have Richard Scott & Rachael Allen shown you?

Richard and Rachael are very different personalities and styles to me, so there’s so much to learn.  For example, Richard’s delicate innuendo is so far beyond my powers and Rachael’s use of surrealist thought gives me something to aspire to, away from the concrete.

11. How important is form to you in writing poetry?

For me, now at least, form almost always follows a draft.  In my earlier days of doing more spoken word I focussed a lot on a fixed meter or a meter pattern in my poems, whereas nowadays I tend to worry more about sound and rhythm, even though they are of course highly connected and maintaining a fixed meter is a great way to edit a poem, strip it to its essential words (whilst also being conscious that a slavish adherence can also force you to add unnecessary ones).  A few years back, I wrote a series of Pindaric Odes to the exact rhyming and a fixed meter.  It was quite an achievement but the poems had some nuggets of gold in a slag heap and of course were never published.  I tend to write shorter poems so after initial drafting I often see if condensing it to a sonnet — or fourteen lines — is a good way to go.  Sonnets are my favourite form although I tend to focus more on the fourteen lines and a turn rather than iambic pentameter and the various rhyming structures.

12. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I do think you are either a writer or you aren’t, whether you’ve discovered that yet is another thing.  The early passages in Rilke’s ‘Letters to a young poet’ answer that far better than I ever could.  Of course, being a writer isn’t really good enough, I’m pretty certain that every writer wants to be a better writer and knows that they can be better and better hopefully until their last breath.  I’d recommend the book, ‘Ernest Hemingway on writing’ edited by Larry W. Phillips (and a few more I haven’t read yet!).  Hemingway also nicely rounds off the other cliche ‘write, write, read, read, read, write and rewrite’.  Just because it’s a cliche probably means it’s true.  In every walk of life even the most successful geniuses practise.  After his world snooker semi-final, arguably the greatest player to lift a snooker cue, Ronnie O’Sullivan, wasn’t interested in the fact he’d won, just that he’d lost his rhythm and timing and that he was going to go home, read his Joe Davis snooker book, get up early and practise.  He won the final.

13. Why is it important for you to include Manx language in your poetry?

Throatbone — and the poems I’m writing towards a collection — is specifically a Manx-inspired book, hence it draws from its landscape, nature, culture, heritage & history.

Missing language from that list of influences would feel unnatural and poetic sacrilege –– not to do so as it is a crucial part of Manx cultural identity and exploring my own identity.  I know this approach runs the risk of breaking the rule that poems are accessible, inviting the reader in, rather than creating barriers or even alienating them. I’ve done my very best to avoid that but I’d rather create a barrier for some than compromise the integrity of the poems.  There are much more accomplished poets and academics than I who can better express the importance of the use of languages and dialects, especially the marginal languages like Manx Gaelic and dialect, in literature.

14.  Looking at “Hollow of the Chapel”, “Meayll Circle, “Family of Fissures”, how important to you is shape and the use of white space?

Being quite a visual person, I think that the format is very important, hopefully you can see that in the way I insisted the poems were formatted in relationship to each other too.  I’m not at all convinced I’m very good at formatting poems but I try to get the poem to reflect itself.  I guess with the poems you mention it was easier to find inspiration for that as they are inspired by specific places or the journey to it.  Meayll Circle started as a conventional format but I realised quite quickly that it had this pattern to it to read it three ways and create the twelve graves.  It seemed natural then to create the curves.

I don’t know if it’s seen as gimmicky or the actual poem isn’t good enough but I never managed to get a magazine to publish it!  I’ve done another poem about ‘Meayll Circle’ called ‘Twelve Graves’ which is just twelve words in a circle, I’m really pleased it’s being published by The Dawntreader next year.

15. Once they have read your book what do you hope the reader will leave with?

Poetically, I think it is very dangerous to wish for specific outcomes — everyone’s experience will be different for all sorts of reasons — the best I can hope for is that the reader feels something, and they are enriched by that experience.

Personally, as a Manxman, I hope one of the things people leave with is new things they know or appreciate about the Isle of Man.  Some friends have said that they’ve never visited and now they must, so that would be a great outcome too.

16. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have three projects [waves a big flag to publishers].

Firstly, I’ve written about twenty poems towards a Manx Collection and working with Anthony Anaxagorou again to get his fabulous editing help.  I have another ten or so poems I’d like to do to capture the breadth I want it to cover.  Second, I’m desperately trying to get a pamphlet published of my queer poems — there’s a collection worth but probably only a pamphlet worth are good enough.

My third project is very exciting — but I need to get funding to implement it.  It’s a poetic biography of the amazing retired actor Jonathan Blake — one of the first people in the UK to contract HIV in 1982 and now 71 years old.  He is also one of the characters in the film ‘Pride’ about Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners, played by Dominic West.  It’s like being let loose in a poetic tuck shop.  I hope I do him justice.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amanda Stovicek D’Alessandro

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Amanda Stovicek spacespectacular

Amanda Stovicek D’Alessandro

is a poet and teaching artist from Cleveland, Ohio.

Her recent poems have appeared in Barnhouse Journal, Nice Cage, Noble/Gas Qtrly, and others. Her debut micro-chapbook, SPACE SPECTACULAR, was published by Ghost City Press in their 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series.

D’Alessandro has taught for seven years, leading creative writing workshops in the community, and teaching college English at various academic institutions. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Creative Writing from the Northeast Ohio MFA Program, and an MA in English Language and Literature from Kent State.

D’Alessandro’s poem “Last Note Slipped Under the Mattress” in Gordon Square Review (published as Amanda Stovicek) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2018. Her poem “Blueshift” was selected as the winner of the 2017 Academy of American Poets University Prize. She was named the Graduate Fellow for the Wick Poetry Center for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.

Twitter: @poet_amsd

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

 I started writing poetry in my undergraduate Intro to Creative Writing class at Heidelberg University. I’d probably written something similar to poetry before this, but my focus was mainly on fiction writing and comic books. I thought serious poetry was for elitists because my main exposure to it was the works of Robert Frost and Shakespeare (nothing against them, as I appreciate their works now, but at the time, this was not what I wanted to read). The only kind of poetry I liked prior to this was narrative poetry like “The Highwayman” and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

 I guess two people. My dad used to read me limericks and narrative poems when I was young. I liked the way he intoned the meter of the poems, especially when he read me “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. But my awakening to poetry happened my sophomore year of college when my Intro to Creative Writing professor, Bob Reyer, introduced me to poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Wendy Cope. We read a lot of different poems in that class, and emulated the work of the poets, but these three in particular still stick in my memory. Wendy Cope’s poem “The Orange” was the one that made me realize that poetry doesn’t have to be lofty or use flowery language. Sometimes a poem can just speak about sharing an orange.

  1. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

The canon of poetry really affected my perception of what poetry was and who it was for. I never thought of myself as a poet, even after I started writing poetry, until I was able to break free of the “purple prose “of a lot of canon poetry. I am grateful for contemporary writers because they’ve helped me discover new ways of rending language and image in poetry–something that has helped me grow as a writer on my own. Some contemporary poets might be criticised for being too gimmicky, but I find that each new way of looking at writing poetry can be valuable to someone, even if it’s not me. The popularity of poetry on Instagram is also something that I am aware of– poets who write a few lines and put a line-drawn image next to it. I am grateful to these poets too, because they open the world of poetry up for people who might otherwise not consider reading it.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

 I don’t have a routine. I wish I wrote daily, but I find my writing comes like a growth spurt–sometimes an idea enters my mind and it’s incredibly ferocious and I must write it down. Usually this comes before I am meeting with my small poetry group, or after I’ve spent the day grading papers and I need a creative outlet. I know some writers argue you cannot be successful if you don’t write every day. But I disagree. I think everyone’s approach to creative work is different, and if the act of creating is what one values, then there is no wrong way to write.

  1. What subjects motivate you to write?

 Space! It’s vast, dark, empty, unknown. I love casually reading wikipedia pages about astrophysics and stories behind star names and stellar phenomena. I’m also inspired by womanhood. It’s hard to separate my gender from my writing; there’s a sense of urgency in the expression of my experiences. I don’t ever set out to write about being a woman, but it creeps its way in. I am in love with gothic imagery and decay, and the way the natural world takes over after we’ve gone.

  1. What is your work ethic?

 I don’t really know how to answer this question! I definitely procrastinate, even though I tell my students not to–it’s some psychological flaw, perhaps. But I always work with a sense of urgency. I find when writing poetry that my best approach is to write as much as I can, then read it out loud. If I’m working on a manuscript, it has to be printed so I can physically arrange the pieces and understand how they work together.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

 I am constantly influenced by Anne Sexton. Her poem “The Starry Night” is what started me on this journey to explore space in my writing. I love the trudge of her language and the way she rendered feeling so deeply with just a few words. I cannot help but go back to reading her work when I have writer’s block, because I’ll inevitably find a poem that sparks something in me.

  1. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

 So many! But I can name a couple whose recent books have given me much inspiration. Emily Skaja and her text Brute is incredible. I love the way she tells a story across the collection, but each poem too can stand on its own. The vulnerability and simultaneous armor of the poems within the collection are incredible. I also admire Terrance Hayes, who I was fortunate enough to meet when he visited Kent State University in Ohio back in 2016. His recent book of American Sonnets is striking and magical. The dives that his writing takes in each piece inspires me to leap in my own poetry.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

 I want to create. Though I don’t write everyday, there is this urgency inside of me to create. And words have always been a vehicle for me to express myself. I want to make beautiful and strange language with my work. I want to use nouns as verbs and write into being images of humanity. I cannot imagine being anything other than a poet. And though I’ve dabbled in other creative pursuits and enjoyed them, I always come back to the poem as a form. I think the restriction of saying something in the white space of a page is what drives me towards creation. And for me, that something must have music and sound that rises off the page. A poem must be spoken.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I had something I wanted to say and I wrote it down. I was inspired by a friend to tell a story, and that story led to another, and another. It helped that I loved reading and immersed myself in a variety of narratives since I could read on my own.  

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m dabbling in a lot of prompt work; I especially like taking a list of five random words and making a poem using them. These poems are adding up, but they’re also an incredible exercise for writer’s block. There’s also a digital project in the pipeline that brings together contemporary and classic poetry with works inspired by them– I’m working on that with a small group of poets and we will hopefully have information coming out about that by the end of the year. I am also polishing and submitting my first full-length manuscript, which features poems about space and human connection. I hope it finds a home soon!

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Making Tracks” by Katy Wareham Morris

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews

Making Tracks Front cover

Katy Wareham Morris

is a lecturer in Media & Culture and Creative Writing at the University of Worcester, UK. She has a particular interest in gender and queer studies, identity politics and digital humanities. She is currently working on her critical / creative hybrid PhD research in literary gaming, play and post-queer politics. Part of this involves developing methods of collaborative digital writing practice. She often gives papers and workshops at prestigious academic and writing conferences including NAWE, as well as performing her poetry at local and national literary festivals and spoken word events. 

Katy’s debut poetry collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon was published by Bristol-based, experimental publisher Hesterglock in May 2018. The collection is a collage of womxn’s voices. Katy’s poetry duet with Ruth Stacey entitled, Inheritance was published by Mother’s Milk Books.  The pamphlet was launched at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2017 and won a Saboteur Award in 2018 for the Best Collaborative Work. Katy’s most recent publication, Making Tracks was published in September by V. Press and interrogates the connections between local and social history, memoir and family.  

‘Making Tracks’ has been endorsed by Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan. You can read other reviews and order the pamphlet directly from the V. Press website: https://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/from-very-first-page-of-this-pamphlet.html?m=1

You can connect with Katy on Facebook or Twitter: @Katy_wm. Her website is: katywarehammorris.com

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I first started writing poetry as a child from about age 7. I even started entering adult competitions from this age and had a poem published in an anthology. My parents were so proud that they told the local news and I was in the paper.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My father gave me my first collection of poetry, Wordsworth’s Collected Poems. My father had no formal qualifications and started working at the car factor in Longbridge as an apprentice aged 15. In his late teens / early twenties he decided he wanted to be a writer and went on a few courses although promotions kept him working at the factory. He worked there for 36 years until it closed in 2005. My latest pamphlet covers this personal history, whilst also working with the social history associated with the factory community and integrating our shared love of poetry. It is because of my father that I am who I am.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I became more aware of different types of poetry through my education, at school and studying English Literature both at A Level and for my undergraduate degree. I do respect formal poetry and the poetry of the canon; I feel as writers we need to understand our history, those tropes and traditions that underpin definitions of ‘poetry’ so that we can work with them and be brave enough to bend those ‘rules’, to challenge them and to experiment with them.

My Masters introduced me to many more women writers and writers of colour. I fell in love with the writing of the female Beat poets and their work allowed me to believe that it was ok to use experimental and hybrid techniques, and that this was poetry. I find the work of Diane di Prima inspiring.

I don’t think experimental hybrid writing has hit the ‘mainstream’ yet but it is gaining much more respect and prolife because there are now indie presses willing to publish and promote this work.

As a writer from a working-class background, I am acutely aware of those writers who have been to the ‘right’ kind of Unis, studied the ‘right’ kind of creative writing courses and have mentors and through them develop relationships with big presses. These writers seem to have ‘profile’ right from their first publication – winning awards, being interviewed by the national press etc. It is sometimes demoralising to think of this as it can make the poetry world seem very competitive and closed off.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It is very hard to maintain a daily writing routine with full time work commitments and a young family.

I often have a lot of ideas percolating in my head. I will write notes; I will write things down in prose. When I come to type this onto my laptop, I can then begin to think about a poetic line and the shape on the page. I like to write listening to music – music that I feel matches the style / tone / mood of the poem; I find this really helps to inspire me.

I found lockdown very difficult – managing work and home-schooling two small children. However, I also realised that I have to write, I need to write to feel like me – to be who I am. Forcing myself to find time for writing really helped to survive the stress, pressure and anxiety of this time.

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

I am motivated most to write about my own identities and experiences. It is important for me to challenge perceptions and stereotypes associated with being female, disabled and working class. In the last 18 months I have been diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease which is a debilitating, incurable bowel disease; it is also a registered disability. I have struggled to come to terms with the unpredictable and vulnerability of my physical body particularly as I am a very able and capable person, and also a control freak. I hate that my body lets me down and makes it impossible to things when I want to do them sometimes. I lot of my writing recently has been about coming to terms with this.

I was committed to becoming an academic alongside writing since I completed my undergrad degree, because of financial circumstance I had to get a full-time job and complete post-grad study part-time. It took me 12 years to secure the full-time permanent contract of my dreams at the University of Worcester. However, I struggle with imposter syndrome daily and am still figuring out what it means to be a ‘working class academic’. This is also a key theme of my writing at the moment. Working class experience and identity is a key theme of my latest pamphlet.

I am also inspired by social and political issues: I was a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party and being a feminist is an integral part of who I am. I continue to support their campaigns and activities and find that this and my research in gender studies and identity politics often infiltrates my writing. This was especially the case for my collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon with Hesterglock Press. Being committed and inspired by social, cultural, political issues, a lot of my very recent work is inspired by the precarious condition of our natural world and all that jeopardises it – the climate crisis, nuclear armament, the proliferation of smart technologies. I am exploring these issues in the creative writing element of my PhD research.

6. What is your work ethic?

I am self-confessed workaholic! I work 40-50 hours per week in my day job at the University of Worcester as a lecturer in Media and Culture. I teach and have research goals. I make time for my own writing around these commitments, an average minimum 10 hours a week. I would like to have more time for writing and reading!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

I think I write about nature and the natural world because of my very early love for the Romantics which also includes Blake who also write about controversial social / political / cultural issues. This may also be why I am interested in human capabilities, identity and potential.

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I am a big fan of so many poets, it is hard to say! I enjoy the work of Andrew McMillan because of the way he uses space on the page to create rhythm and pace, but also because he writes frankly about his own experiences and identity.

Most recently I have really enjoyed the writing of Sean Hewitt, as I love his use of nature imagery and metaphor and its connection to the body. I find the poems in Tongues of Fire like mesmerising incantations; I got lost in the magic of the poem.

I love John McCullough’s Reckless Paper Birds. Again I like his use of form and the way he uses form to develop a sense of his own distinct voice. I also appreciate his allusions to traditional high culture juxtaposed with contemporary popular culture – I find this brave and refreshing. He is highly skilled at making something unusual or mundane, even gross sometimes, appear beautiful and magical.

When looking for inspiration for writing about nature and animals, I always turn to the work of Pascale Petit. Her most recent collection, Tiger Girl is so emotionally stirring, bringing the connection between humanity and the natural world alive, forcing us to examine that connection and relationship.

I am of course a huge fan of female writers: Helen Ivory, Helen Mort and Liz Berry. All inspiring writers when thinking about the writing of our own experiences as women in contemporary society – our childhoods, our relationships, our bodies, our roles. I also loved the recent collections from Ella Frears and Rachel Long.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I think writing is a cathartic experience for me, but I also find it exciting to play with language and imagery to create something different out of the familiar; something that perhaps lures people in but then cause them to (re)think or question. I think a good poem is one which covers an experience or setting you know yourself, that you recognise and can. make recognisable to the reader, yet the way it’s described or interrogated reveals something wholly new, surprising – that is the magic of poetry. Just when you think you know what you’re getting, something else entirely reveals itself.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

You read and then you write…and write… and read and write…. When you feel like you have something ‘finished’, get someone else to read your writing; use their feedback to write some more; do some more reading. Look at the writing prompts set by the poets you admire. Join a writing group, go to workshops. When you’ve built up handful of edited poems, start sending them out to magazines, journals or ezines. It is important to make sure you have read those magazines, journals or websites first, so you know if your style ‘fits’ there. Being a writer also means you have to learn to quieten the self-doubt… and just get on with writing! If I’m having a ‘negative’ day, I distract myself by reading poetry and then I go back to writing later. Building a community of fellow writers who you trust and admire is important too – you can ask them for feedback and learn from their work too.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have just had a pamphlet with V Press published, Making Tracks so I am busy promoting that. It is an experimental hybrid of my dad’s car factory memoirs, found elements and my own thoughts and feelings on childhood, family and duty.

During lockdown, I completed another pamphlet of poetry which explores the fragilities and vulnerabilities of humanity in light of the climate crisis, but also in light of the gross subjugation of marginalised identities in our society – women, working class, disabled – subjugations that most people perceived as ‘over’, battles that had already been fought and won. I was also heavily influenced by how I responded to Lockdown and that extraordinary context, especially as someone in the shielding category.

I also began a novel during lockdown – something I never thought I’d write! In fact, I need to make time to get back to writing that! It’s influenced greatly by modernist writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf – it is a story of people and relationships.

I am also working on the creative writing part of my PhD research which involves writing and building a digital literary game dispersed across many internet networks and platforms.

12. How did you decide on the arrangement of the poems?

As this was a collection of poems about specific moments in my dad’s and our family history, I wanted to capture a sense of memory: memories do not reveal themselves to us in chronological order, so I wanted to try and recreate that in the arrangement of the poems and their placement. I wanted the reader to feel like they were going backwards and forwards in time, as dad and I were during those early interviews. In terms of spatial arrangements, I experimented withh different formats and layouts including tables and diagrams because this is how some of their generation promo material I used as found source material was presented so wanted to mirror that. Also working in a factory, documents would often be written as manuals and instruction guides / programmes are often written in diagrammatic format where the reader moved between portrait and landscape, hence why I tried to recreate this in the pamphlet.

13. How important is the visual look of the poem on the page for you?

The visual look is very important because I feel space on the page is just as important to the poem as the words and punctuation. I am inspired by writers who use the space on the page to create a sense of rhythm and pace and I am trying to do this in my own work – using space to give the poem shape, which may help to enhance a certain mood and / or to mirror the way I speak naturally.

14. “You say you could never live in automatic, but you had already written your programme” (Pressure) “the people who are made of trees” (Landscaping) In one poem folk are described as if becoming machine=like, in the other they are described as trees.

There is a purposeful use of contrast in the pamphlet between the man-made / manufactured and nature, this is because the poems examine the theme of nature versus nurture – are you born / programmed a certain way, or do you grow and adapt to your surroundings, can you change your programme? I thought this was interesting: was dad born to work in factory? If so, why the love of poetry? Did he work in a factory just because his dad and brother did? Was I born to be a writer, or did I love poetry and writing because I felt it was integral to developing a relationship with dad? What other traits or characteristics did I inherit from Dad? And how have the affected my perceptions of my own marriage and family? These are questions I don’t have the answer to, but that I hope the poems explore – do we manufacture who we are? Or are we already manufactured – born that way, a product of nature? This contrast between manufacturing and nature also allowed me the opportunity to explore the allusions to Wordsworth – instead of wandering in the natural world, characters in the pamphlet are wandering through a factory. It then raises questions about the potential beauty of a factory environment.

15. What made you decide to use different typographical devices like bold, strike-through, faded words?

Again this was a way of recreating memory and it fallible nature. I also wanted to give a sense of voices and how the stories were relayed to me, and how these compared to the voices / experiences of others. These devices can also be an effective way of communicating different emotions – horror, sadness as compared to excitement and passion.

16. Once they have read the pamphlet what do you want the reader to leave with?

I would like readers to firstly appreciate how big an impact that factory had on the lives of so many families and generations of families, the community of Longbridge – to appreciate its nearly 100 year history that has almost been completely physically erased. I hope the collection goes some way to memorialising the factory and the many many workers and their families who were so proud to be connected to it. I couldn’t build a museum, but I could write poems! I want people to start paying attention to working class experience because it is ‘culture’ and those experiences are valid and should be shared and heard. I also want readers to question the concept of ‘duty’ – what is it? Who do we have a duty to and why? How does this effect our identity and relationships? I also want people to think about the concept of nature and nurture and of ‘family – we have our biological family and then a ‘family’ we choose. I think in their form and layout and also because of the use of working class idiolect, this pamphlet also challenges what ‘poetry’ is and can / should be / look like. I was honoured to get such fantastic endorsements from Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan because I struggled at time to believe this was indeed ‘poetry’ and these endorsements really validated what I’d created and what I was trying to achieve.