Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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 states “Poet. Katrina’s poetry has appeared in The TLS, Poetry London, The Poetry Review, and on Radio 4. She received an Arts Council/British Council award in 2017 to travel to Japan. Her latest collection, ‘The Way the Crocodile Taught Me’, was published by Seren in 2016. Katrina was writer-in-residence at the Arnolfini in Bristol in 2016 and will be writer-in-residence at the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 2018. She tutors for Arvon, the Poetry School and the Poetry Society. Her previous books include: ‘Hooligans’, (Rack Press, 2015), ‘The Girl with the Cactus Handshake’ (Templar Poetry, 2009), which was shortlisted for the London New Writing Award, ‘Charlotte Bronte’s Corset’ (Bronte Society, 2010) following her residency at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and ‘Lunch at the Elephant & Castle’, which won the 2008 Templar Poetry Competition.
1. Who introduced you to poetry?
I’d hated poetry at school. I didn’t read any – and wouldn’t have dreamt of writing any – until I heard the poem ‘I Go Back to May 1937’ by Sharon Olds. This was in my late 20s. I was a bit of a late starter, I’m not the kind of poet who wrote as a teenager, I think I was too busy dancing and going out.
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Well, I was certainly aware of the dominating presence of male poets of a certain era – this, and how poetry was taught, helped to put me off at a young age. Every poet that we read at school was male and white, and probably from a century or two back. I found poetry incredibly dull and elitist, it had no relevance to my life, as a working class young woman. If you’d have told me that I’d be writing poetry now, I’d have laughed in your face.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
I write most mornings. I usually start by reading a collection, and I’ll always have a mug of tea on the go. I read for half an hour, or until something in another poet’s work sparks something off for me. I’m reading Lorca’s Selected Poems at the moment. I’ve just finished Zaffar Kunial’s Us, Zeina Hashem Beck’s Louder Than Hearts and W S Graham’s New Collected Poems. I don’t think you can write unless you read. Once I’ve got an idea, then I either free write for a page or two, or I might go straight for a draft, which will be messy and sprawling. Once I’ve got something down, I’ll do two more drafts of the same poem at a sitting; at the end of this process I’ve got what I call my first draft. This takes most of the morning. After lunch, I’ll go for a walk, swim in the sea, go to the gym, or see a friend. Then in the afternoon, I might edit poems, write reviews or articles, and catch up on admin – emails, social media, website stuff. I try to keep my evenings free for other things, I’m never much good at writing at night.
4. What motivates you to write?
I’m lucky, I don’t need much motivation to write. It’s the opposite, I feel strange if I don’t write.
5. What is your work ethic?
I’m quite disciplined about it, boringly so! I do my emails before breakfast, then I’m free to start reading and writing. But I find it’s important to do other things. I love walking, I walk every day, I also hate staring at the screen for too long – happily I write with a pen and notebook – and I love swimming, and seeing friends.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Apart from Mum reading me Dr Zeuss, I didn’t read poetry when I was young. I didn’t start reading poetry regularly until I was in my 30s. After Sharon Olds, I read Mark Doty and I’ve continued exploring ever since.
7. Which new writers do you admire the most and why?
Blimey, there’s so many poets I really admire. I’m delighted about Danez Smith winning the Forward Prize for Best Collection. I remember seeing ‘Dinosaurs in the Hood’ in The Poetry Review a couple of years back and just going ‘wow’. It made me cry. I remember reading it to everyone I could think of – even to friends who can’t stand poetry. There’s so much great poetry around at the moment, it feels a really vibrant time. I’m lucky enough to be mentoring Mary Jean Chan, she won the Anne Born Prize with the Poetry Society, so I’m reading a lot of her work, and I think she’s going to be one to watch. Also, I’m aware that there’s so much wonderful poetry in the world that I don’t know about – particularly poets writing in other languages that I might not have heard about or seen translated.
8. Why do you write?
That’s quite hard to answer. Partly because I feel I have to, and if I’m being honest, I suppose like most writers, I feel I’ve got things I want to say, things about my life, women’s lives, the state of the world…But I also write to find out what I think about things. If I know where a poem is going when I sit down to write it, then there’s no point in continuing.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I’d tell them to read contemporary poetry – if they wanted to be a poet. And I’d tell them that they’re likely to be in it for the long haul, that it will take over their life, mostly in a good way. And that it can be hard – not like working down a mine is hard – but it can be quite tough mentally. And to spend time with other writers, share what goes well and, more importantly, what doesn’t go so well. We all need support. And also be sure to have friends who have no interest in poetry whatsoever. That’s essential, they keep your feet firmly on the ground and help stop you becoming a poetry bore! But basically, you need to read and to write, and to carve out time for yourself. You need to be disciplined but also to know how to enjoy yourself. It’s important to have other interests too.
10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve been commissioned by the BBC to write a poem for National Poetry Day, that’s on 4 October. I’ve just finished this and it’s been filmed and I’ve got to go to be interviewed about it on the day. I’m working on a new collection, which will come out with Seren in June 2020 and I’m just finishing a pamphlet which will be published early next year. So it’s a busy time. Busy but exciting.