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.
Her website tell us Annette is from Manchester, and moved to the Beara peninsula in West Cork in 1989.
Annette has always read poetry, but only began writing it about ten years ago when a friend persuaded her to go to a poetry workshop.
She has a degree in Ancient Greek and Philosophy from Liverpool University and has recently completed an MA in Poetry Studies from Dublin City University, (First Class Honours) where she read everything from Basil Bunting to the York Mystery Plays, Elizabeth Bishop to Maurice Scully. She particularly enjoyed the range of poetry studied and the close reading of work. She has recently received a scholarship from DCU to pursue a PhD on the work of the Canadian poet Anne Carson, commencing September 2016.
Her poems have appeared in the SHOp poetry magazine, Abridged and When Women Waken Power Issue. In 2014 her work was published in Crannog Summer Issue and Poetry Bus Money Issue. In 2015 her work appears in Tellus Magazine and the Sea, an Anthology in aid of the RNLI. Her poems appear online at Poethead.org and she is Caught in the Net Featured Poet for May 2015 on the PoetryKit website. In 2016 new poems appear in the Lion Tamer Dreams of Winter Anthology.
She won the Bailieborough/ Cara poetry competition in November 2013 and the Poets meet Painters Competition in 2010 and was placed second in 2012 and her work appears in the Poets Meet Painters anthologies. In 2014 she won second prize in the Allingham Festival Poetry Competition, was Commended in the Liquorice Fish “Lost Voices” Competition and was Highly Commended in the Poetry Kit Summer Poetry Competition on the theme of “Film”. She was delighted to be awarded third place in the Basil Bunting Poetry Competition in March 2015 and was commended in the Wordsworth Birthday Blog competition in 2016.
Thimblerig is now available on Amazon
Her website is well worth a visit:
Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
Over ten years ago now I met a friend in a local supermarket who wanted me to go with her to a poetry workshop. My first response was “Why would I do that? I don’t write.” In the end I was persuaded and, after it, I began to write, off and on, over the next few years. The first poem I got published was about a year in the making! I really came into my own after a week long series of workshops with Paula Meehan, who gave me the confidence to write as I wanted, and not as others seemed to think I should.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Although I’m from a working-class background (my mum was a widow and we lived in a council house in Droylsden on the outskirts of Manchester), I went to Grammar School. My English teachers were amazing and I seemed to be always reading poetry with them, quite often poems which were not on the syllabus, and not always looking at them critically. I can still hear their voices: Mr Goodwin’s unforgettably quirky reading of Blake’s “Tiger”, and Mrs Bryce, my final teacher, reading Samuel Laycock’s “Welcome Bonnie Brid”. It was wonderful to me to hear poetry with an accent similar to mine. “Heow tha skrikes” put me in mind of my own mother’s warning to “Stop skriking!” when we were crying for nothing. We read Eliot, Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, Hughes, and Beckett, as well as the usual Tennyson and Wordsworth, which I also loved. In another class we were encouraged to each make an anthology of poetry and prose of our own choosing and had a great school library to burrow into. Although I did Ancient Greek and Philosophy at University it was natural to continue reading poetry for pleasure after leaving school.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I was young I didn’t write poetry. It seemed to me those I’d read could do it so much better and anything I tried to write seemed a bad imitation of their work. When I started writing I was already “older”, but had been to many poetry readings, particularly from some high profile poets who were visiting the Beara peninsula on the West Coast of Ireland, where I still live. The poets I saw were, largely, male and seemed to be poets with a capital P, and I didn’t imagine for one second I could be like them. I was thrilled by their readings, but was phased by their repeated assertions of the “We write because we have to. . .” variety. In my own mind, and unintentionally on their part, this came with the addendum”. . . and if you don’t write it’s because you can’t.” Now I want to shout, “If you read you can write. Finding space to do it is the hard part!” Equally, established poets such as Paula Meehan and Bernard O’Donoghue, who both gave workshops locally when visiting the area, were really encouraging, and this did a lot to build my confidence. I thought, if they believed my poems were good, then they just might be!
4. What is your daily writing routine?
There are times when I never stop writing and times when other things take over. I don’t have a writing routine, but I’m connected to the poetry on a daily basis. Sometimes, if I don’t have an “in” to get started, I focus on editing, or on the business side of things, rejigging a series of poems or checking what I have available to submit, and finding the right place to send to. So often, acceptance or rejection is about getting this right. I usually have a note book with me, in my pocket or in the car, in case something strikes me. I don’t have internet when I’m outside, and this gives my mind plenty of room to range around. I try to be alive to what surrounds me.
5. What motivates you to write?
I’m motivated by a thing, person, sound, memory or phrase which catches my attention or which I’m curious about in some way. Something scratches at me and I want to take it further, listen to it, look at it differently, wash away my old ideas about it, and start as clean as I can. To start with I usually just write and wait for the words which rise to the surface, and take it from there. Quite often I wake at four in the morning, after sleeping with these words tumbling in my head, and I have some of the lines, or shape, I need. When this happens I get up and get on with it. I think to write differently, you have to be in some kind of altered state. A four a.m. state of mind is about right, everything takes on a new light then. A really long walk also works for me
6. What is your work ethic?
After the intuitive four a.m. stuff comes the graft: the draft, re-drafts, return to the start, the scrapping, the salvage. Every word matters and so does every space. I’m trying to get a second collection out there at the moment and there are times when I’m sick of looking at it, as I consider, in particular, the dynamic of a full collection: how one poem rubs off another, or the others. This is the hard part because, until it’s right, it’s difficult to see your way. With an individual poem you can get a buzz from a word or phrase and you can see it coming together. Putting around sixty poems together, most of which you’ve read a hundred times, can feel like your hands are full of too many plain-wrapped parcels.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
After some thought it strikes me that I’m very influenced by T S Eliot, particularly Four Quartets which I’ve carried in my pocket on walks for many a long year. This didn’t immediately spring to mind as I haven’t read it recently, but I’ve loved that book all my life. As a child there was a programme called Timeslip where children would accidentally walk through portals into the past in each programme. I wanted nothing more, and did it in my mind instead. I fully agreed with the opening lines . “Time present and time past/ are both perhaps present in time future,/ and time future contained in time past.” and this still influences my poetry. I also loved the fantastic images , created out of simple words, and the music of lines such as “Garlic and sapphires in the mud/ clot the bedded axle-tree.“ He responds to what he sees and hears and reflects on it, and this is also what I try to do, though I try not to do too much overt reflection in my poems. I am inclined to ask myself what that tree, or shell, or patch of land is telling me, while I’m in the process of writing. I’m also influenced by Homer and Sappho which I read at school, and characters from Homer and Greek plays can come up in my poems. They help me to explain things to myself, and have done since I was eleven.
Poetry has a Northern (English) accent for me and poets from the North of England, such as Basil Bunting and Tony Harrison are influences to some extent. Homer and Sappho were meant to be read aloud and I embrace Bunting’s assertion that poetry is “lines of sounds drawn in the air which have not even a name in prose.”
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I’m currently doing a PhD on the Canadian poet, Anne Carson, and the more I delve into her work the better it gets. There’s a cleanness, a lack of clutter, but there’s also a wealth. It’s an amazing combination which gives and gives. I love Mark Doty and Kei Miller. They both show a massive humanity, Doty writing about his barber or a young man’s sneakers, Kei Miller’s A Light Song of Light or the idea of a “heartbless”, which keeps coming through in a more recent collection, but also his telling of Jamaica’s colonial past through a poem like “ A Ghazal for the Tethered Goats”, restrained and terrible. I also love how their poems are crafted, the space Mark Doty breathes in his poems and the sheer beauty of Miller’s words and the music in his lines. I’m completely taken with the searing, seeming simplicity of Lavinia Greenlaw’s writing, Alice Oswald for making the past immediate to me, Paula Meehan for the lyrical beauty of her poems, her speaking out, her celebration of ordinary things. I could go on, there are so many poets, well-known and not so well-known, who have poems that set me on fire, or poems that feel like a homecoming.
9. Why do you write?
Once writing takes over it becomes a way of thinking. “Wool-gathering” implies your not thinking of much, but it’s like that, seeing wisps and skeins on bushes and fence posts or on the coat of a person that you meet that you can catch at. It’s as low key and constant as that. Then you have to be open when the stuff you gathered in your notebook wants to be made into something. A dialogue starts between it and yourself, a long running conversation. Since I started writing I’m not often bored or lonely.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Writers agonise so much about calling themselves writers. The first time I called myself a poet was in my twitter bio, because my publishers said I had to. I still find myself hiding in my jumper or qualifying the word, on the occasions when I need to introduce myself as such. It seems to me that you become a writer if you write. The key is finding time and space to do it. You also need to read, otherwise it’s like trying to swim without water. You can go through the motions but you won’t get the movement or the lift. One thing that has stayed with me from my working class origins is a feeling of a lack of entitlement, which I still struggle with, especially in a room full of creatives. I’m still convincing myself that I have the same right to be there and as much to contribute as everyone else. I want others from a similar background to know their worth, and to feel that sense of entitlement.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
These days I’m putting the finishing touches to “that difficult second collection”. This has taken me some time, and a bereavement put a stop to it for a while. The great thing about writing poetry is that you can submit individual poems for publication in magazines and journals during the process of creating a collection, and this gives you a certain buoyancy, and visibility, while you grapple with a body of work. I’m very grateful to the publishers of these magazines, on-line and in print, who keep going on a shoestring. They are so important to the health and wellbeing of poetry.
I’m also collaborating with other U.K. and Ireland based poets who live on the coast, in a project devised and currently being worked on by the Liverpool based poet, Maria Isakova Bennett, which she’ll present at the Aldeburgh Festival in November. Each of us had to go to our chosen part of the coast, on or around 31st August, we read a poem which had resonance for us, and wrote a few lines. We also took a photo. Maria has the task of putting these lines together in some way for a final exhibition in the Lookout Tower at Aldeburgh. Maria makes handmade books, with hand-stitched cloth covers. They are art objects in themselves, and this project grew out of one issue of these beautiful books, the Coast to Coast to Coast Irish Edition, which launched at the Belfast Literary festival last June. Those two days in August I had the sense that our lines were like stitches over the surface of the sea, connecting all of us along the coasts of these islands.