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.
According to Longbarrow Press “Rob Hindle is the author of several collections of poetry, including Some Histories of the Sheffield Flood 1864 (2006), Neurosurgery in Iraq (2008), The Purging of Spence Broughton, a Highwayman (2009) and Yoke and Arrows (2014). Five long poems and sequences, collectively titled Flights and Traverses, appear in the Longbarrow Press anthology The Footing (2013). The Grail Roads is his first full collection with Longbarrow Press.”
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I started writing fiction first and found the early stuff was so derivative I had to pare it back and back until it felt more authentic. Then I found that these taut (or thin!) pieces of writing had some lyricism in them as well as story – and increasingly, I preferred to work with the lyricism (although most of my poetry has a strong narrative element – and in recent years I’ve worked in sequence form so I can explore the idea of story through poetry).
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Ian McMillan and others in the Circus of Poets came to my school when I was 15 or 16. It wasn’t a Eureka moment but I enjoyed it. Then I did A Level and didn’t really engage with it: probably I didn’t have enough understanding of the world to understand poetry. But (after a fair bit of arsing about) I took a course on Romantic Poets at Sheffield University’s Extra-Mural Department. Eventually I did a degree at Leeds and loved the whole lot. Well, not Pope and (sacrilege!) Wordsworth. Perhaps the Circus of Poets sowed a seed about the deep satisfaction of poetry; but then I had to work at the engagement before getting that.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Massively. Because of coming to poetry through pretty formal routes I had a slight sense of awe: of the big white tower at Leeds, the old library, the Victorian houses of the School of English. So poets were Poets. One of my Professors had known some of the Beats: pretty cool, but not quite Keats. And as I say, when I started writing poetry, it wasn’t mine. In fact, I think I wanted it to be someone else’s – preferably Eliot’s.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
When I started properly writing poems, my son was a baby, so it was from when he woke up (about 5.30 or 6am) until breakfast. Another reason for writing poetry: you can achieve something in an hour or even in 20 minutes. Then for years I wrote most evenings between tea and around 8. After finishing a big project (see below) I stopped for a few months. Then I started again for a few months. Then stopped, until yesterday – but this is a story. I feel a bit poemed out at the moment. It’ll pass.
5. What motivates you to write?
At first, stories; then once I get going, sounds and patterns, and what they add to the meaning of words, lines, poems, books.
6. What is your work ethic?
When I’m in a project, the work makes me work. The actual process of it. And if you’ve made a good line or couplet and you put it away then get it out the next day and it’s still there, you’re back in.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
As above, I didn’t read much poetry when I was young – except the usual (Cat in the Hat and so on). Fiction had a much bigger influence. There was a lot of strange fiction for children around when I was young: The Midnight Folk, Stig of the Dump. This kind of thing has always appealed to me – the slantwise look at the world. I did a PhD on Mervyn Peake, even. The themes and approaches that motivate my poetry are influenced by this, I think. I inhabit byways and eddies (geographical and historical) to get a different view.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Alice Oswald for what she has done (in Dart and Memorial) with the form: the creative interaction with narrative and epic / drama heightens our awareness of the language.
Steve Ely’s Englaland for its necessary challenge of orthodoxy and privilege. Although the formal ancestor is Geoffrey Hill, his political anger is mined from the northern experience of Tony Harrison.
If today’s writers offer me ideas and different ways of approaching the work, it is twentieth century poets – Heaney, Hughes, Plath, Bishop, Larkin, Lorca, Eliot, Owen, Edward Thomas, and those still working – Mahon, Walcott – that are constantly sourced. It is like playing scales.
9. Why do you write?
I used to think (and say!) I wanted to be a writer – and for me, that was as much about a way of life. Now I know that a writer is someone who writes – and is urged internally to write. It is fundamental for me, both in terms of the whole process (idea, research, organisation, production, organisation) and the craft, one word then another.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Write. The clue is in the title.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
As I said earlier, I’m drawing breath following a long project. This is a reworking of Malory’s Quest for the Holy Grail, set in the Western Front. In all the current focus on the First World War, I’ve been struck by the fact that north west France has been a killing field for millennia: Malory, they say, fought at Agincourt, where farmers dig up bullets and barbed wire each autumn; and the nationalism of his quest is echoed in Kitchener’s call to arms: us against them. So nothing changes: the victors write it up and ‘the dumb go down in history and disappear’, as Harrison had it. Galahad dies gloriously; Launcelot comes home to live wretchedly. ‘If I should die’ and all that. The book is called The Grail Roads and it is being published by Longbarrow – next week.