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.
Emma Bolland performing ‘Le Silence #2’ at Future Imperfect, 2017.
Emma Bolland is an artist and writer working across forms. Recent publications include ‘Manus’, in On Violence, ed. Rebecca Jagoe and Sharon Kivland, London: Ma Bibliothêque, 2018, and in 2019 her experimental prose work Over, in, and Under, will be published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe Experimental. Recent performance readings include at Offprint, Tate Modern 2018, and at Dundee University’s The Essay Conference, 2018, where she was also a guest speaker on ‘inter-medial’ essay form. For a full list of past and future publications and performances see her website:
1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I have to start by saying that I am not a poet, or rather that I don’t call myself a poet. I call myself an artist writer. I am an artist writer who works through and across forms. However, sometimes certain of my works are referred to as poetry by others, I have work in the collection in the Poetry Library in London, and I have been invited to contribute to or take part in events that are framed as poetry, or even introduced as a poet. I can see that some of my work may look like poetry on the page, or sound ‘poetic’ in that it employs experimental language, but I am not concerned with the ‘poetics’ of poetry in the way that many poets are. Furthermore, I don’t have the knowledge that many of them have, either of the histories and structures of the genre, or of its various theoretical tropes, that comes from doing Literatures or Creative Writing at Universities. I call it the ‘poetry rules’. I am not versed in the ‘poetry rules’.
I will reframe your question as: What were the circumstances under which you began to write?
My background is in contemporary art, and while I have always written as part of my visual practice, I only started writing seriously in 2012. I was doing a collaborative project with another artist, the photographer Tom Rodgers, and the curator Judit Bodor. We were looking at what might be called ‘post-traumatic landscapes’, specifically the sites where the victims of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper had been found. The project was around landscape, memory, and mourning, and as the site visits continued (we made visits to gather material for about six months) I felt the need to write about the experience of walking these desperately sad places. We set up a blog and these, what?, half essay, half fiction, poetic texts began to emerge. It felt, for the first time, like I needed to write, like there was something that needed to be written. I remember thinking, ‘oh, am I a writer now?’
1. Who introduced you to poetry?
I found poetry really dreary at school. Anthologies of white men droning on about wars, butterflies, and Grecian urns. Poetry with a capital P seemed to have very little to do with me or my world. In my later teens and early twenties I made a an effort to read contemporary poetry, but I was getting it from those ‘modern poets’ anthologies from the likes of Penguin et al… so it was a bit of a chore to be honest. I was more excited by the kinds of writing I was coming across at art school: ‘poetic theorists’ like Helène Cixous, ‘punk’ writers like Kathy Acker, philosophies from Freud and Lacan. It was when I met the splendid poet and essayist Brian Lewis (who is also the publisher and editor at Longbarrow Press) in 2012 that I became aware of formalised poetry with a capital P that I found worth reading. We had met via Twitter, and I went to one of the Longbarrow poetry walks, and then he came to the opening of the first MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall exhibition, and I think we pretty much fell in love on the spot—though neither of us realised it at the time—and he would send me stuff by W. S. Graham, Rosemary Tonks, and of course pieces by some of the poets he works with—Kelvin Corcoran, Peter Riley, Angelina D’Roza, and others. Because of these gifts I am now finding my own way through some aspects of contemporary poetry, which has much to offer me. Superb writers such as Claudia Rankine, Anne Boyer, Jay Bernard, Vahni Capildeo, Sandeep Parmar, and many more.
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I have never felt dominated by older poets or indeed by older writers of any description.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
Um… I wish I could say it was good. So much stuff gets in the way… admin, job applications (I really need a job), earning money to live on, depression and anxiety, family illness… I need to be more disciplined about making some of the other stuff wait, and writing / making work even if I feel like shit. Tomorrow (September 14th) the writer Jenn Ashworth and I are starting a round of #100DaysOfWriting. There are no rules, except to write every single day, be gentle, and keep some kind of record of it (we will be using Instagram and Twitter). Jenn invented / devised #100DaysOfWriting, and you can read an interview with her about it here: https://prolifiko.com/100daysofwriting-gentle-productivity/ I’m hoping this will get me back into a routine, as this summer has been difficult.
4. What motivates you to write?
Deadlines. Being in love. Imagining a reader. Ambition. Most of all, feeling that there is something that needs to be written.
5. What is your work ethic?
Not sure what you mean? If you mean do I have a disciplined routine, then see above… If you mean what are the principles by which you frame your practice, then pretty rigorous. There are people and platforms that I would not write for.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I don’t know if I hold with the idea that one is ‘influenced’… I think rather that there are writers who allow one to see the possibility of writing… I don’t think that I have brought many of the writers that I read when I was young with me into middle age… if I look on my shelf to see who is there from 30 years ago, then there is still Cixous, still Acker, still Freud, still Lacan. There are writers I still love from back then, but they don’t necessarily feed into my own writing style…
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most
I think who one ‘admires’ is changeable, depending on what one is writing, how one’s writing is unfolding, either in the short or long term. And perhaps better framed for me as who excites me, who offers me possibilities, who frames me, who offers me context, whose writing I feel I have a relationship with… so at the moment, looking on my desk (and not all of these are ‘today’s’ writers… Anne Carson, Nathalie Léger, Marguerite Duras, Lara Pawson, Kate Briggs, Maria Fusco, Imogen Reid, Maggie Nelson, Claire Potter, Claudia Rankine, Anne Boyer, Raymond Williams, Freud, Lacan, Clarice Lispector, Walter Benjamin, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)…
I could write a page on all of the above, but to pick out a couple of examples… I have in front of me Anne Carson’s Float, (2017), (a surprise present from the poet A.B. Jackson—thank you Andrew!). It is a boxed collection of 22 slender chapbooks whose various forms include performance notes, scripts, poems, essays, lists… it epitomises the kind of writing I am currently engaged in (or at least aspire to). Fragmentary, inter-medial, open, offering possibility, managing to be both anti-didactic and magnificently assured. Nathalie Léger’s A Suite for Barbara Loden (2015, French edition 2012) is a brilliant, reflexive account of an investigation that uses fiction as both material and archive. Léger has set out on the trail of Barbara Loden—actor, film director, and the second wife of film director Elia Kazan. Loden wrote, directed, and starred in the highly acclaimed film Wanda (1970), based on a newspaper story that Loden had read about a woman who had been convicted of robbing a bank. Léger writes that ‘Barbara would say how deeply affected she had been by the story of this woman—what pain, what hopelessness could make a person desire to be put away?’. Léger drills down through the layers of real-and-fictional-real ‘selves’: Barbara, Wanda, and the imprisoned woman, returning again and again to the question of who writes who, and the question of piecing together truths from fictions. I am now reading the French edition—reading a book you know and love in the original (or indeed in translation) is a great way of learning a language. I started teaching myself French like this about a year ago… Also, everyone should read the poet Anne Boyer’s prose fragment collection Garments Against Women (2015).
9. Why do you write?
Because language suits me.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read. Keep reading. Never stop reading. Be curious. Consider your reader (which is not the same as being considerate to your reader). Be ruthless with your work (sometimes we write rubbish—not everything should be read), but do your best not to do yourself down. Be generous. Take an interest in what other people are writing. Find a critical ‘other’: this could mean a trusted friend, a reading group, anywhere you can find an honest eye to give you feed back. (I’m very lucky to be shacked up with Brian Lewis—we operate as each other’s first stage editors, and we are brutal). Don’t be comfortable. Find a community, or create one: start a reading night, start an online journal or magazine where you publish others… write what needs writing. Edit, edit, edit. Read your work out loud, over and over, it flags up mistakes and develops your rhythm. I always aim for my work to work both on and off the page. Read. Keep reading. Never stop reading.
When it comes to advice on being published, I am not the best person to ask… but I guess one piece of advice is ‘do your research’. If you are sending work to a magazine / journal then check that it is suitable for what you are writing. Do they have formatting guidelines? Are the submissions even open. Ditto presses. Don’t send huge manuscripts to ‘the editor’—this is a human being, find out who they are. Take an interest in what they do. Buy one or two of their books! Check if they even accept submissions. Some writers / editors, (especially the kind of cultural gatekeepers who wouldn’t recognise their own privilege even if it walked up and punched them in the face), are snobby about self-publishing. I’m not.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I have a few finished pieces being proofed / tweaked for publication. The first is an experimental essay (poem-like in parts) ‘White’, which was commissioned by Emily Speed from a book that will also include pieces by Eley Williams and others, which will be out later this year (I have forgotten the title of the book I’m afraid). The second is Over, in, and Under (after Über Dekkerinnerungen) a novella length ‘experimental’ translation of a Freud essay, that reads like a prose poem—that’s being published early 2019 by Dostoyevsky Wannabe, (I’m also editing the Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities ‘Sheffield’ book, but that is under wraps for the moment). The other one is an article for The Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance. Its talking about a long term project in which I am experimentally translating, rewriting, a screenplay for a lost 1920 silent film by the French impressionist filmmaker Louis Delluc. The article explains my methods and thinking, and they are also publishing the first part of my ‘rewrite’ alongside it. I guess parts of this are ‘poem-like’ too.
In terms of things I am actually writing ‘right now’, I have two deadlines. One is a collaborative performance text / zaum poem with the artist writer Helen Clarke, which we are performing at the ‘Writing Photographs’ event at Tate Modern on October 13th. The other is a piece commissioned by the artist Kevin Lycett (who is also a founder member of The Mekons), which I am performing t the opening of his exhibition in Leeds on October 26th. It is going to be about monsters… I think…
BIOGRAPHY / PUBLICATIONS
Emma Bolland is an artist and writer working across forms. Recent publications include ‘Manus’, in On Violence, ed. Rebecca Jagoe and Sharon Kivland, London: Ma Bibliothêque, 2018, and in 2019 her experimental prose work Over, in, and Under, will be published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe Experimental. Recent performance readings include at Offprint, Tate Modern 2018, and at Dundee University’s The Essay Conference, 2018, where she was also a guest speaker on ‘inter-medial’ essay form. For a full list of past and future publications and performances see her website: https://emmabolland.com/about/