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.
Amazon says “Suzannah Evans lives in Sheffield and her pamphlet Confusion Species was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business book and pamphlet competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. She has had poems published in The Rialto, The North, Magma and Poetry Review and her poem Helpline has been Poem of the Week on the Guardian website. She has been a Hawthornden fellow and was one of the 2015 Aldeburgh Eight. Suzannah works as a teacher of creative writing and a poetry editor. As a teenager she had an obsessive fear of the apocalypse which has informed and inspired many of her poems, and she still doesnt know whether its best to plan responsibly for the future or party like its 1999.”
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I studied Keats’ Odes at A- level. After a lesson studying Ode on Melancholy I told my teacher that I felt depressed by the ideas in the poem. He had a really good answer for that, which was: ‘that means the poem made you feel something’. So that was it for me then really. I realised that poetry could contain the whole of human experience and that I’d probably never be done with it.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My Grandmother used to read The Odyssey to me and my sister when we were quite young. That sounds a bit pretentious but the stories in that book are brilliant – monsters, witches, people turning into pigs etc. She did leave out the sex and violence though, she was a sensible Granny.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
My school was quite supportive of creative writing and took us on a trip to Ty Newydd in north Wales where the tutors were real writers (including poets) and they seemed like fairly normal people. Like teachers really. I think I thought you had to be dead to be a properly famous poet though.
As I’ve taken poetry more seriously in adult life, I have found older poets to be really supportive and encouraging, not just of me but of poetry in general and new writers in particular. So a ‘dominating presence’ doesn’t really feel like the right term to me.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
It depends what phase I’m in. At the moment I’ve been focusing on editing a book so anything new I do write has been shoved out of the way in draft form ready for when I have time to work on it properly.
When I am getting a lot of writing done I will try to sit down to write a couple of times a week, usually in the morning. I think daily might be too much for me. I’d worry about running out of ideas, and my ideas turn into poems quite slowly – sometimes it can take six months or so. But when I do have an idea I am so obsessed with it that I can’t really do much else. And there’s reading as well. I spend more time reading than writing. I think it’s very important to do that.
5. What motivates you to write?
Obsession. I get completely obsessed with certain concepts and ideas until I’ve written about them. That and the fear of never writing anything again.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Well, youth is relative. At university I discovered the poetry of Roy Fisher and suddenly felt like the landscapes and places that interested me, the everyday urban landscape, could become a subject for poetry and that was revelatory. His humour stays with me as well. I still think about those Keats odes and their rich sensory impact as a benchmark of what poetry can do. The bristling violence of Ted Hughes’ language is a reminder of the power of choosing the right words. That’s all men isn’t it? I expect we can blame the literary canon for that however.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I admire a huge number of contemporary poets. This year I have read incredible poems by: Danez Smith, Liz Berry, Amy Key, Jacqueline Saphra, Richard Price, Caroline Bird, Andrew McMillan. Those poets are all doing different things, so it’s hard to generalise about them. I like poetry that shows its heart but does it cleverly, perhaps that’s something that these poets have in common. I want a poem that will do something to my heart and my head at the same time.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read more. Get obsessed with your art form. Get obsessed with your subject. Writing will follow.
If you mean the profession of ‘writer’ then that is harder to advise people on, because writing itself does not a living make, unless you’re very lucky. Look at what other skills you have alongside your creativity, because you’re going to need those. Are you good with people? Good with deadlines? Have a hawk-like eye for proofreading? You could run workshops. You could look for work as an editor. Are you happy to do writing alongside an unrelated part time job? For many people the answer is yes and it does not in any way de-value their work as a writer, or their passion for writing.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I have a book about to be published in November: https://ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/near%20future.html .
Near Future is a dystopian, apocalyptic book that I hope is as funny as it is dark. If you want to read poems about fatbergs, robot co-workers and starlings on antidepressants then this might be for you.