Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Alison Brackenbury

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.

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Alison Brackenbury

On Amazon she tells us “I am possibly Britain’s only poet to have worked in a boiler suit! Born in 1953, I grew up in the countryside and come from a long line of shepherds and farmworkers. I won a scholarship to study English at Oxford, and have since worked as a librarian, accounts clerk, and, for twenty-three years, in the family metal finishing business.

I have recently retired, and am gratefully rushing around the country doing readings from my new collection, ‘Then'(published in 2013).

I am married with a daughter. I have published eight collections of poems, on animals, history, love and politics (especially global warming).

I am keen to reach readers, have a blog,www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk, and a Facebook group sending out free poems, called “Poems from Alison”.

My poems can now be heard (and read) on the marvellous Poetry Archive site:
http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/alison-brackenbury”

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

I was six. I was sitting outside a Victorian farmhouse in Lincolnshire. We lived in part of it, but did not own it. My father was a farm lorry driver, and my mother, a teacher, had been eager to camp out in the farm’s grandest, if decrepit housing. But I wasn’t admiring the marble fireplace by which we stored apples. I was listening to the deep sea sounds of the small wood around the house (which, to me, made up most of the world). I then wrote a two line poem which started in a promising rush, then suffered total rhythmic collapse. Nothing changes.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?
First, my mother, who had been to a teacher training college in London, and owned the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter De La Mare. Then my Great-Uncle Will from Buckinghamshire, a former merchant seaman who loved poetry, gave me the leather-bound books his failing eyes could no longer read. In ‘The Golden Treasury’, I discovered poem after poem which are still very close to me, including some fine work by nineteenth century women writers. I also read a good deal of poetry at both my schools. Anthologies were the widest gateways.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
This didn’t trouble me at all when I was very young. It was perhaps more oppressive when I was at university. I knew very little about the techniques which underpinned the writing of Wordsworth or Eliot, so at times their work could seem as dauntingly perfect as the marble fireplaces of my youth. When I read the poems of John Clare, I began to glimpse an alternative, ballad tradition. This was more open to a writer like me, who had not had a long training in classical metres, the apprenticeship of many of the poets I had studied.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I try to write for an hour before breakfast, before the world wakes up, the post comes, and the telephone plays me recorded messages. The white cat slumbering peacefully on the sofa is my main ally. My main cause of distraction is myself.

5 What motivates you to write?
Tennyson – also from Lincolnshire – said that for me in three words. ‘Because I must’.

6 What is your work ethic?
Patchy. I can concentrate ferociously – but not for very long. I’ve never tried to write poetry for hours. I suspect I’d end up spoiling what I’d started. Perhaps I will try that, when I’m very old. (I’m only 65…)

I allow my daily writing of poems to be disrupted by frequent travel, and by commissions (e.g. reviews). The travel does lead to other poems. I also think I have a duty to be a good citizen and will spend hours helping with campaigns to protect local oak trees…
7 How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I possibly have rather old-fashioned tastes – although I think poetry can have many forms. My bookshelves have Ashbery next to Ayres. I am particularly drawn to narrative, strong rhythms, poems which are close cousins to song. That may well stem from the lyrics and long story poems in Uncle Will’s leather-bound 1912 ‘Golden Treasury’!

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

Out of writers active in my lifetime, I would probably single out Philip Larkin. I don’t think that what today’s readers may hate in his letters, for example, is often evident in his poems. These are shadowed by something very close to despair, yet, time and time again, they bring their reader face to face with vision. This is possible partly through superlative technique, including an interweaving of rhymes so subtle that my ear cannot tease it apart.

9. Why do you write? ‘

‘Because I must’. Then, to publish: to give the work away to strangers, as widely as possible.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I can only suggest a possible pattern of becoming a poet.
You read. Painstakingly, you study formal techniques, of metre and verse form, even if you think you will never use them again. Then, when your subject falls out of the sky on top of you (quite possibly at a time of pain and chaos), you will be ready to write.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
There are hundreds of them. Yes, honestly. They’re called poems. They date from 2013 to today, and they are in a stout cloth bag, now so heavy that I can barely lift it.  Meanwhile, I keep travelling, rashly taking on commissions… and writing new poems faster than I can thin out the old.

I am also thinking about my project for my 80s (I’m only 65…) This is a prose memoir of the extraordinary village where I grew up, with Victorian waggoners, a pioneering Edwardian woman archaeologist, racehorses, a very large and black ghostly dog … and me. If we meet, please remind me to take my daily vitamin tablet. I must make it to 85, so I can start work on  ‘Village’…

 

 

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