Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
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.
- What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I did some family history research and was asked by my mum to look into the story of her uncle Jim Hooper who was killed in the pit at the age of 20. A chance remark then led me to the Memorial Garden project at the National Coal Mining Museum where the family contributed to the art installation there. I attended a commemoration service where some mining poetry was read. I went straight home and wrote Jim’s story as a poem. Everything followed from that.
2. Digging into your past, who introduced you to poetry?
Originally it was through school – Wilfred Owen and William Blake are the two that stuck in my head. I did also have to learn poems at Sunday School. My dad wrote poems as well.
2.2 Why do you think Owen and Blake stuck in your head?
I think it was the imagery – the brutal descriptions of war by Owen had a profound effect on me politically too. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to send people into battle and it certainly worked on me. Blake – I’m not sure why him and not other Romantics. The Tyger is the one most people know, or Jerusalem, but The Chimney Sweeper is a more interesting poem that I liked.
2.3 Interesting? In what way?
It looks at first like it’s saying that you get your reward in heaven so just get on with your lot in life. As a child raised as a Christian the realization that in fact he was saying the opposite possibly led to me become sceptical about religion.
Or at least that you didn’t have to accept that kind of nonsense.
2.4 It made you question your own beliefs, and showed you a new way of questioning those beliefs?
Yes – in both cases. Lucky I didn’t find Shelley or I might have become a revolutionary!
Since I restarted, 40 years later, I’ve found that different poets appeal to me, although I still look back fondly on those two, very different, poets.
3. Both Owen and Blake followed strict rhyme and form. How important is this to you?
Less so now than it was then. It’s the main way that going to workshops and poetry groups has changed my own work. I still like form but I don’t define what I like, or don’t, by the form that’s chosen.
3. What kind of poetry did your dad write?
A variety really. I’ve got about 10 pieces of his. Mainly events from his life but one or two are more lyric pieces. They are influenced directly or indirectly by his Christian beliefs.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Don’t have one – I have a reading routine in that I try to read something every day. Maybe from a favourite, something new or something random online. I let the writing come to me, unless I’ve got an exercise to do for the group. Then i have to force myself to do something and I don’t like that. The poem has to come to me – but when it does i have to start it right then. I hate not being able to work on a new idea. This morning I found something I’m excited about using but have to wait until later to start work. I’ve just jotted a few things down for now but I’ll be thinking about it all day. Like an itch.
5. An urgent impulse? What motivates you to write?
Just an impulse to convert an idea or a story into written form and get it out there. It’s mainly selfish really, if people like them it’s a bonus.
I’d hate to try and make a living from it.
Thinking again about the “routine” question, in addition to writing new stuff I will also, when I have time and feel relaxed, spend an hour or so redrafting or re-reading the poems that are half finished, or exist as ideas and a few lines. If nothing is jumping out at me to finish, I stop.
6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
The scene today is interesting because of the explosion of performance poetry. and the ability of so many people to publish themselves on the internet. This can’t be a bad thing in terms of making poetry “cool” but in terms of longevity much of it will disappear. I’ve always liked John Cooper Clarke, the grand-daddy of the modern style. I read a lot of current work but I can’t pick anyone out who would make my top ten all-time list.
7. Why do I write?
I think it’s because it offers an intellectual and emotional challenge that’s very different to my day job as a manager in a software company.
8. “How do you become a writer?”
I would say in addition to the obvious “start writing”, I would find a group where you can share your work in a comfortable and supportive environment. To do this go along and see how they deal with others’ work. I would also read as much as possible. Pick great writers with established reputations – find out what works. Don’t get seduced into slavish copying but take some notes as to the poems and the sections that appeal to you and examine what it is about the piece that makes it great.
At a workshop with Ian Duhig, he pointed out that everybody starts with a great splurge of work that gushes out – good, bad and indifferent. WIthin that, it’s important to find out which is which and to start finding your voice. After that, it’s refining the work to make it cleaner. More experienced writers will help with some obvious tips.
9. Current projects
I am about to publish my first pamphlet “Heritage”. It’s been an interesting exercise to work with an editor and to find the right poems out of the 100 or so that I’ve got that work together in 29 pages. It was difficult to leave some out but I’m pleased with the end result. I hadn’t intended to seek publication but when Ian Parks approached me to do it I felt it was an opportunity not to miss.