Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
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.
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
Morning Paul. When I try to recall poetry in my teens I struggle to put it into context. I enjoyed the poetry we did for O Level, and D Thomas, Elliot, Blake and John Donne left an impression, but I don’t recall being required to write poetry at school. More likely it was song lyrics, particularly Dylan, that inspired me to write. Friends of mine who had a band set a poem of mine to music and that definitely spurred me to pick up a guitar. For the next 30+ years, all my written output, I would say, was intended to be song lyrics rather than poems. To put that in context, though, interspersed with working as a musician, there were long periods where I did no writing – family priorities, running a business and heavy academic studies took up a lot of time and energy. And, is was the process of searching out renewed inspiration to write songs 6-ish years ago that led me to a class that Ray Hearne was instigating – I knew him as an excellent song writer, but had not been aware of the depth of his poetic knowledge. Almost without realising it, my writing began to lean more self-consciously towards poetry than lyrics,
1.1 How much is music an influence on your style?
I have great difficulty analysing or enunciating my style at all! That might be because I don’t spend too much time thinking in those terms. I have always leaned to wards music where one would say the lyrics are of particular importance – Dylan, Springsteen, Steve Earle, Elvis Costello; protest singers and also the so-called singer-songwriter movement. I also love folk music and its emphasis on telling stories, but counter-intuitively, my poems lean towards a lyric rather than narrative style. Although I treat song lyrics with the same respect as poems, I would say that in terms of influence it’s more by osmosis that anything conscious.
1.2 What was it about D Thomas, Elliot, Blake and John Donne that stayed with you?
That’s a big question! A couple of generalisations: poets who can paint pictures with words – Blake’s work is intensely visual, and I recall reading Elliot’s Journey of the Magi and feeling as if I were in a film. The way language which appears oblique on the page could have such emotional resonance – both Elliot and Thomas are masters of taking you on an odyssey without you having to understand each sentence. And existentialism, which has a strong undercurrent in my writing – I guess Donne’s No man is an island and Death be not proud would be good examples; there’s an element of that which appeals to teenage angst. Hopefully I’ve leaned to articulate it in a more mature manner in the intervening years!
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Is that question deliberately in the past tense, i.e. as I was first exposed to poetry? I would say not at all. Obviously among those who I listed as early favourites, they span from Donne in the 16th century to Thomas, writing in the 30’s and 40’s, but since I had not formal poetic tuition, the period of their output, historical context and their relevance to poetry as a genre was entirely lost on me. I can remember, shortly after, discovering – still 10 years after the fact – the Liverpool poets, and feeling some sort of kinship or recognition that they were speaking a language more closely allied to my own.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a routine. My life is too crammed with other obligations – family and day-job as well as music and poetry commitments – to adopt a formal routine; at least, that’s my excuse! It is an ambition, I’d even call it a plan, to organise life in future to give me the license to make more structured creative time.
5. What motivates you to write?
That’s difficult as it’s so ingrained in me that it can be anything. I have a passion for writing about the locality, so am constantly aware of the landscape and social politics of Doncaster and district, as well as being inspired by travel and my interaction with other places. I can be inspired by art, but that’s a more deliberate and self -conscious exercise. A relatively recent phenomenon for me is a consideration of my own past lives and relationships; what went right and what went wrong, and how I ended up where I am. I hope that’s not a form of mid-life crisis, but either way, I am finding that is fertile ground for self-reflection and exploring my attitudes.
6. What is your work ethic?
I am good at deadlines. I am an inveterate scribbler of notes and ideas, but not very good at the self motivation it takes to hone them into finished articles, But if I am told, or make someone a promise, to deliver a poem by tomorrow, it becomes, by magic, an obligation I am duty-bound to fulfil and I will skip meals, sleep and whatever else to achieve it.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The writers I have listed were foisted on me, I suppose, and unless there are others who I have conveniently written out of my memory, I would say the choices were pretty good ones as they have stayed with me. Working with mentors – Ray Hearne and, more recently, a very close relationship with Ian Parks – has opened lots of new doors, but, just as importantly, has rekindled my interest and given new perspectives to what I was already familiar with. I think the process of studying poetry, as much as the influence of particular poets, is what inspires me to write of late.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
JH Prynne continues that lineage of poems that can look willfully obscure but be very moving, I have a lot of time for Simon Armitage for his micro-observational sense, Alice Oswald has that intense use of visuals that I referred to earlier, and Don Patterson, who is great at breathing new life into the traditional forms of poetry as well as for achieving a sense of transcendence that makes me somewhat jealous. I can’t not mention our own Ian Parks, who in recent years has been the biggest single influence, both for his poetic practice and for the weaving of the personal and the universal into poems with a politically radical edge.
9. Why do you write?
I have always felt, even in the protracted periods I have produced little or nothing, that it’s one of the activities that defines me and gives my life value as well as being personally fulfilling. I see it as a way of making sense of the world around me.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Ha. I don’t consider myself qualified for that, but in my experience 1) Have a piece of paper constantly to hand and write something, anything, as often as possible. 2) Give yourself some reflective time with all your scraps of paper and tell yourself you will produce something complete that you believe in, and 3) Join a writing group. I can’t comment on the quality of these in general, I might just have been lucky, but for me it has put me in the proximity of people from all walks of life, with every sort of prior experience, but each of whom has something to teach me, and the act of being in that environment is a great spur to write.
I was lucky enough to have had a pamphlet published this year. It’s the first time I’ve been referred to as a poet and felt I could accept is as both an appellation and a compliment without feeling an impostor, and that feels good.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I want to produce a larger and more consistent body of work to either form a second pamphlet or a more substantial first book collection. I need to both make more time to write and to seek out opportunities to perform in order to improve my on-stage delivery to do the poems justice.
I have an ongoing writing project with Ian Parks, in which relationship I cede the lyric writing to Ian while I concentrate on the music and arrangements, We produced an album – Songs of our Town – last year, of which we are both immensely proud. That arrangement remains constantly fruitful and a second CD will almost certainly appear in 2019.
I also work with a rock band, a bunch of musician friends that have been friends for more years than we care to admit. We released our first album for 35 years in 2018, and the reception that it received has inspired us to pursue that with a little more vigour, so that will be my outlet for the songwriting side of my written output.
Tied up with all these is to shed a few responsibilities of my day job, which is not proving as easy as it ought. Some sort of semi retirement is the goal, though I hesitate to use the word retirement, as the intention is just to shift time and energy towards the things I love doing most.