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.
Lesley Quayle was born in Fife and spent much of her childhood in Glasgow. She lived for thirty years in Yorkshire, with her veterinary surgeon husband and four children on a small farm where she bred Herdwick sheep and trained Border Collies. A co-editor of Leeds based poetry magazine, Aireings, for 10 years, she and her husband also ran a folk/blues club in Horsforth. She was a winner of the BBC Wildlife Magazine Poet of the Year award and the Trewithen Prize for rural poetry and she has been placed first in the Split the Lark and Envoi poetry competitions. Her poetry, flash fiction and short stories have appeared in many magazines and journals and she has read at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. She has a chapbook, Songs for Lesser Gods (erbacce) and a collection, Sessions (Indigo Dreams) plus her most recent pamphlet from 4Word – Black Bicycle.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Almost from the moment I learned to read, I wanted to write. It’s pretty much a compulsion and I can’t imagine not writing, particularly poetry. I have always been inspired by the natural world and indeed the first major poetry award I ever won was the BBC Wildlife Magazine Poet of the Year, with a poem about the sad demise of my ancient Herdwick ram. My poems are more often than not trailing mud in their wake and have bits of grass and leaves and the odd feather dangling from their hair.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My mother. She was an avid reader and a poetry lover who not only read to us as small children, but recited favourite poems and encouraged us to read poetry. Burns and Dylan Thomas featured large in her repertoire and, for some reason, she could recite almost the whole of Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven. Later, encouraged by an English teacher at my horribly staid girls’ grammar school, I ventured away from the school curriculum (Blake, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Browning etc) and discovered the Liverpool Poets. The same English teacher took a group of us to see Brian Patten and Roger McGough and, being an acquaintance of Patten, he introduced us to him, explaining that I wanted to be a poet. ‘Well be one then. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.’ said Patten with a smile – which was all the encouragement I needed. Life got in the way for a while, including children, but I eventually went to university in my thirties and studied Literature – only to be a little disappointed that the curriculum was still dominated by the same poets I’d studied for A Level. However, I was, via my lecturer, Cal Clothier – a well-known (sadly deceased)Yorkshire poet – introduced to the work of Hughes, Plath, Tony Harrison, Rabindranath Tagore, Anne Sexton, Ian McMillan, Anna Adams, among others, and to a group called the Pennine Poets, of which I was honoured to become a member, much later. Now, I read everything I can, although I still have a huge soft spot for all the above mentioned.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I first joined Pennine Poets and Aireings, a Leeds based magazine I later co-edited with Linda Marshall for 9 years, I was the youngest person in the group. So, from that point of view, I was in awe of their achievements and experience. In the wider world, I was only aware of poets that I admired and writing of a standard I dreamed of attaining, by scouring bookshops and libraries. Access to other poets, of any age, was very limited due to geography and family/work/life commitments. No internet at that time, only snail-mail, and I often felt isolated from any wider poetry community that there might have been. Now, I’m an ‘older’ poet and, oddly, I’m very aware of the dominating presence of the younger ones – probably due to social media. It’s no bad thing and I’m not complaining as I’m blown away by the standard of so much of their work and the energy needed to be a part of the current ‘scene.’
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have one. As anyone who knows me well will attest – routine and I don’t see eye to eye. I spent so much of my life shoe-horning writing into any small gap in the day not taken up by my children, the farm, my elderly parents and my husband’s job, that I have never developed the knack of routine. This means that I am an inveterate scribbler and last-minuter. Empty my bag and you will find scraps of paper, receipts and backs of envelopes scrawled with poetry and ideas for poems, along with the usual ten year old lipsticks, hairy Polo, tissues, broken penknife and bar of chocolate – just in case of a hypo!
5. What motivates you to write?
The more rushed I am, the more the poems come knocking urgently. Almost anything can motivate me from an overheard conversation, a single word, an emotional response, a view, being outside, nature, hard work, pain and injustice.
6. What is your work ethic?
Poetry hasn’t ever felt like work to me. When you’ve been up all night in the lambing shed or hauling bales or chasing sheep in the snow, or trying to organise four children to get up, get dressed, get out and go to school (or do anything!) shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving – poetry is a blissful respite. It’s not a part of my work ethic, I guess, because I don’t consider it work.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Truthfully, they probably don’t influence me these days. My reading and writing habits have moved in many directions since I first discovered them, but they underpin my literary footings so I hold them dear and return to them again and again.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Helen Mort is someone I admire enormously. Her work seems so effortlessly accomplished and never a word out of place. I love her poetry. I was delighted to be part of her Leads to Leeds project, which paired poets to write and respond to individual poems about the city. Her innovation and encouragement were in no small part responsible for the fascinating and diverse poetry that emerged from the venture. I’m also a huge fan of Liz Berry, Ian Duhig, Caroline Bird, Roddy Lumsden, Paul Henry. These are just a few who immediately spring to mind – there is a huge pool of modern poetry to be admired.
9. Why do you write?
The simple answer is because I have to. It’s a compulsion and a passion.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
By writing. There’s no mystique. Just as Brian Patten once said to my 15 year old self, if you want to be a writer – be one.
11. Tell me about the writing
projects you have on at the moment.
Earlier this year, I embarked upon the 4Word Poetry Press venture with Stella Wulf. Stella and I first met on 52 – the online ‘write a poem a week’ group, devised by Jo Bell. The whole 4Word project arose as a result of a Facebook thread and our first three pamphlets were launched in May of this year. We have just launched a fourth (Girl Golem by Rachael Clyne) and are currently working on our fifth, by Mary Norton Gilonne, to be released on December 1st. And there are three others in the pipeline. (See 4Word.org for details) Exciting times.
On a personal note, I am working on a series of pieces about what I feel it’s like to be an older woman, or rather what it’s like to realise you’re not young anymore! And there are also poems which just happen upon me or trip me up in my day to day musings. I’m still submitting poems to various magazine, online and print and, to my joy, still getting accepted. And there is my novel, languishing in a file and still needing to have a final, hard, editing thrash. It’s a procrastination project – terrible when cleaning the fridge can seem more pressing, even attractive, than getting to grips with the dread task of editing.