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.
Paul Iwanyckyj is a poet, musician and songwriter based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. He has on-going involvement with Doncaster Folk Festival, Roots Music Club, Doncaster Ukrainian Centre and other cultural performance activities, including Well-Spoken and Read-to-Write.
Recent examples of his work, written and visual have been displayed at exhibitions in Doncaster, Stratford, Barnsley and Halifax.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I’ve always written verse i.e. since school days, and being a natural hoarder they are probably in an attic box even now. I can clearly remember writing a set of my own words to a Christmas carol in primary school and could sing you the first two priceless lines even now, if you were unfortunate enough to ask.
As my first love was music I always saw such nascent gems as destined for songs, though looking back some clearly were never going to be that and so were more fledgling poems, although I never saw them as such. Odd now looking back.
The real change, believe it or not, has happened since I took early retirement. Local writer and songsmith Ray Hearne, and poet/artist Brian Lewis started a couple of arts-initiatives for the “older artist” based on the simple philosophy that why should all emerging artists be from the younger generations.? Surely with people living longer, retiring early and thus with more time and energy to devote to following their passions, who knows what they might be capable of?
As a result, I have seen many unassuming and lovely people blossom from that 18 month co-operative period, and made some good friends into the bargain.
What it taught me personally is that I am freer and more creative when concentrating purely on the shape, feel and emotion of words without any need to consider how they might fit to a melody etc., and is in fact where my strengths lie. Surprising it took so long really – but perhaps that’s what demanding jobs, family life etc. do for you. In fact, I’m sure when I joined these groups I felt that it was a way to help improve my song-writing. (It may yet)
I still attend a monthly group that Ray hosts in Doncaster, and occasionally work with Brian and his team, known these days as the Northern Fringe.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I’d have to say my mum, but mainly indirectly, in that she took me to join Doncaster Junior Library whilst at primary school, she herself being an avid reader, and a member of both the Bronte and Tennyson societies. She also wrote and had at least one play broadcast on BBC Radio 4, but she was never preachy or pushy about writing at all.
Next came English Lit O ’level, and the Longman’s set book “Poetry 1900 -1965” edited by George MacBeth. A cracking collection that I still have and use, that includes most of the greats of that period as you might imagine.
We were focussed for O’ level on Yeats, Muir, Auden, MacNeice, Stevie Smith, RS Thomas, Larkin, Plath, Donald Davie and Peter Porter (I know because they still carry the pencil asterixis). But I never saw it as something I would take up seriously at the time
The man who has introduced me to poets and poetry in real depth (including re-visiting many of the above) is Ian Parks. A superb poet in his own right, and a natural teacher, with a profound and enthusiastic knowledge of the subject. I make every effort to attend his weekly class and cannot recommend it highly enough.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I wasn’t really until the last two years studying with Ian, except perhaps for Shakespeare, but even then, much more as a playwright. But I’ve always been aware of the names of the usual suspects e.g. Milton, Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson etc. but never felt “domination”.
It’s funny how certain things stick though. I clearly remember Robert Frost from school and particularly “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” – one of the few poems I could recite from memory at the time. Also “Birches”, in fact it so struck a chord with a group of us as school boys that, sad to relate, we became swingers of birches for a couple of giddy days. I would have sworn he was English though.
I could also say I have always been aware of Taras Schevchenko, the famous Ukrainian poet and folk hero. His heavily moustached and brooding presence being ever present at home and any Ukrainian venue we have attended (my late father was a Ukrainian refugee who came here after WW2)
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have one as such due to so many other factors, but I always try and find time to write at some point in any given week; though ideas, thoughts and phrases are ever-present.
Sometimes I manage daily snippets. I do have a great tool to achieve this, “Evernote”, that works on my phone, iPAD, PC or browser. Whichever I choose to use it appears “immediately” on all the other devices, so I can pick up wherever I am. Failing that a scrap of paper will always suffice as an interim measure.
5. What motivates you to write?
Anything. Today it was raking windfalls below our fruit trees. Yesterday it was thinking about my mum and dad’s smoking habits. On holiday it was contemplating the sea. I also gain motivation from reading and hearing other poets, admiring their take on a subject, or just a certain phrase will set off a train of thought, or triggers my own memory of a similar event that gets me itching to get it down. Tonight, I plan to catch Helen Mort in Barnsley, always interesting.
Sometimes its attending Ian’s class or a workshop session somewhere. I am someone who seems to thrive on being given a task and a deadline, well most of the time. Occasionally it fails to inspire, but often that will be because the brief is too prescriptive and thus limits creativity, but they are the exception fortunately. I do get satisfaction from taking an exercise and coming out with a finished product that is a poem, not simply a completed exercise,
6. What is your work ethic?
I feel I have always worked hard, and still do. Unfortunately, it’s not always poetry related, but when I am writing I take it very seriously. I do rail at convention at times, if for instance I feel that in trying to write to a “traditional” pattern or style or using rhyme is distorting what I trying to say. Thus, although you will find sonnets, sestinas and rhyme in my work they will tend to be in the minority. But who knows? – that may change.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I am not sure they do so much now. When I first started I think I wrote with some quite old-fashioned phrasing at times because that was what my ear had been brought up with especially as a regular churchgoer in my younger days. But most of my influences now are from my studies of the last two to three years, and though many of those are featured in my O’ level poetry book, they have now been studied with my adult eyes, ears and sensibilities.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Oh, now you are asking, as I was only recently studying Seamus Heaney and Ian Hamilton as relatively modern writers, both of whom I enjoy greatly, but who are sadly no longer with us.
As regards those extant, for one I’d have to say Ian Parks as I have come to know his style well as you might imagine. He is both a compelling writer of romantic lyrical poetry, but equally at home giving his voice in support of the oppressed, both now and in our turbulent past.
I do enjoy a slew of female poets for some reason (mainly because they are good I suppose) e.g. Helen Mort, Wendy Cope, Carol Ann-Duffy – who I had the pleasure of seeing last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, and was much more engaging and humorous than I had pre-supposed.
I also get great pleasure from people who can write well and with great humour – a very underrated art-form and skill, (as are great comedians) e.g. Cooper-Clarke and especially the great Les Barker. On the more serious side Tony Harrison, forever cocking-a-snook at the established view, and of course a Yorkshireman, and although we lost him last year Derek Walcott, such an individual and warm poetic voice. Maybe a not very original choice, the dark dryly humorous and another Yorkshireman, Simon Armitage.
9. Why do you write?
Maybe this helps, its something I wrote in response to a similar question in a quick exercise.
Why Do We Do It?
For me it’s a voice in my head saying “Do it”;
a nag in the heart that says “Just do it”;
or landing fully-formed saying,
“I’m here, now what are YOU going to do?”
Creative compulsions that eat away
then gush forth to flood the mind.
Quiet times arrive when other matters occupy,
then, triggered by the innocuous, an idea forms,
it must be captured, before, like some rare butterfly
it disappears over the horizon, possibly forever.
Or, for no other rationale than “I must do this”;
deriving satisfaction simply for the act itself
delivering something new into the world
then – it simply works for me
– now, what about you?
Active Arts – 8 min exercise – 9th Dec 2015
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Not sure how qualified I am to answer that but here’s a few common-sense suggestions:
– keep writing, keep reading.
– write whatever you feel compelled to write, not what you think others want;
– join a group or two, live ones, and on-line, you will always learn from them;
– if you do join, give wholeheartedly to them don’t sit back, the more you give the more you’ll get in return. But leave room for others as well, and be generous and respectful;
– don’t be afraid of criticism, everyone gets it, and again you will learn something;
– ask questions of and take advice from people you respect;
– and keep writing, keep reading.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
– The big one for me is the launch of my first pamphlet of poetry “Through A Cracked Mirror “ from Glass Head Press. September 29th.
– I am also experimenting with longer format poems, which appears to be going pretty well.
– Beyond that, simply finding time to try-out some of the pages of ideas for poems that I have in “Evernote” and seeing which ones fly and which ones soar.
………………… Thanks for asking, and cheers to an interesting project.