Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ruth Aylett

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.
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Ruth Aylett

Ruth Aylett lives in Edinburgh where she teaches and researches university-level computing. She was joint author of the pamphlet Handfast, published in 2016 (Mothers Milk). One of four authors of the online epic Granite University, she performed with Sarah the Poetic Robot at the 2012 Edinburgh Free Fringe. She has been published by The North, Prole, Antiphon, The Lake, New Writing Scotland, South Bank Poetry, Envoi, Bloodaxe Books, Red Squirrel Press, Doire Press and others.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I don’t really know. Maybe nursery rhymes. I wrote poems when I was a child. I remember writing a piece when I was about 9 in which I had a squirrel leap into his leafy realm – and was very put out when my parents explained it was not pronounced re-leam. I’d wanted it to rhyme. Still, that was my intro to half-rhyme.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’m guessing it was my parents, most likely my father. He would recite poems. I particularly remember Blake’s Tyger, which really entered my imagination. ‘Burning bright/ in the forests of the night’ – how gripping is that! When I was 13 I bought myself a collected poems of Yeats with a school prize, and read it obsessively. I decided I liked Yeats and did not like Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth and all that Victorian stuff. Somewhere around then, my class had to take its turn  doing a poem in School Assembly, and our English teacher suggested we do Rupert Brooks. I was so disgusted by his view of WW1 that I ferreted out a Wilfred Owen and got my classmates  to agree we’d  do that instead. And of course that meant I had to do the reading.

Then I got the Faber Book of Modern Verse. I remember bending my younger brother’s ear when I was 16 or 17, insisting he listen to me read The Wasteland out loud in the kitchen (for some reason this didn’t turn him on to poetry). I got Louis MacNeice’s Collected Poems and typed out the whole of Autumn Journal for myself.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I never saw it like that. When I found stuff by existing poets I liked, I was delighted. And then there was a lot of stuff by famous poets I didn’t like at all. I was about 17 when the Liverpool Poets burst into life and for a while poetry readings became as popular as pop music. I got myself the Penguin Mersey Poets book and was knocked out by Brian Patten’s ‘I’m dreaming of a white Smethwick’, about a racist bye-election campaign there, with its ‘allwhite allright children and the white and white minstrel show’. This wasn’t domination, it was inspiration.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I am not a full-time writer. I actually work as an academic in Computer Science, which has its own fascinations.  So I write around various other commitments. We had four kids as well, with the two youngest twins, so there was a period of more than twenty years when I wrote very little.

5. What motivates you to write?

The need to communicate something, to capture an idea, a feeling, something I’ve seen or heard. Or a phrase comes into my mind and I want to add things to it. And it’s a way of making sense of the world, of grabbing a piece of it and making it mine.

6. What is your work ethic?

I was in Jo Bell’s 52 project on Facebook in 2014 and that improved my work ethic no end. I got used to writing much more quickly, and even now I try to produce a poem a week, with reasonable success. I have also written short stories and I am on the last stretch of my second novel (‘Angels of Alba’), so I move from one thing to another. The novel is currently grabbing my attention a lot as I am on the last lap and it’s calling out to be finished.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I sometimes hear them in my head when I am writing. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, since I don’t want to write just like them. But when I wanted to write a piece about robot drones, Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foretells his Death’ leapt into my mind and I just couldn’t avoid making my piece a parody (‘A robot drone foretells your death’ – Yeats would not have been amused) . MacNeice throws phrases into my pieces all the time, but I often try to take them out again.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I like Don Paterson because I have a continuing sympathy for form, for metre and – unfashionably – for rhyme or at least for half-rhyme. I like John Glenday’s compression and elegance. My ideal of poetry is something that is muscular and more than purely descriptive. I like Adrienne Rich (she was a today’s writer until six years ago, how time flies)  for marrying poetry and feminism, and Tony Harrison for taking poetry into the wide world and engaging with what is happening out there. I like Jo Shapcott because she writes about unusual topics, and especially science, since I write about that too. I like Helen Mort, partly because she sometimes writes about Sheffield, a place I once lived in and for which I retain a lot of affection.

9. Why do you write?

Well, see what I said about motivation. I write because the voice in my head says I must.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

First, just write lots! You have to do it to get better. If you write, you are a writer. If you write poems, you are a poet. But also, read lots. You need to know what people have tried, what you think works and what doesn’t, what is going on out there. You can always tell when you read stuff by people who haven’t read anything.

Sometimes when people ask that question, what they really mean is ‘how do you become a professional writer?’ I am not one, so they might want to ask someone that is. I observe though that very few writers make a living out of it, and certainly not poets. They are all doing other stuff  to put bread on the table– running workshops, teaching, being academics, acting as reviewers, performing.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Well, there is the almost finished novel, Angels of Alba, which you might say is the Iraq war in an alternative Edinburgh with extreme Presbyterians as the religious element. I am on chapter 28 of what should pan out at 32. Then I revise the first draft and try to get someone interested in publishing it. This is my second novel in fact: the first one Collateral Damage, was about a murder and political intrigue in a local authority not a million miles from South Yorkshire. I was pleased with it in the end but my father’s critical comment stuck: ‘Very good, well-written. But who wants to read about that?’

Then I am writing an homage to MacNeice’s Autumn Journal called Autumn Blogging, which I am hoping will eventually get to pamphlet length. I am seven pieces in with this and my plan suggests twelve, so more than halfway through.  Other than that, I have been assembling various single-author pamphlets without as yet getting a taker, though I have been highly commended and shortlisted in various competitions. I also have an idea for a sequence called The Singularity about artificial intelligence and robots (I research these fields in my academic life).  But that’s on the back burner right now.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ryan Quinn Flanagan

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.

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Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born writer presently residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online at many cool joints such as: Ariel Chart, The Rye Whiskey Review, Under The Bleachers, Outlaw Poetry Network, Evergreen Review, Cajun Mutt Press, and The Dope Fiend Daily.  His personal website is: http://ryanquinnflanagan.yolasite.com/

Personal website: http://ryanquinnflanagan.yolasite.com/

Links: Poem to Knock the Sun Out of the Sky: https://www.amazon.com/Poems-Knock-Sun-Out-Sky/dp/1948920069/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537646963&sr=1-5&keywords=ryan+quinn+flanagan
Copious Amounts of Nothing: https://www.amazon.com/Copious-Amounts-Nothing-Quinn-Flanagan/dp/1724874284/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1537647188&sr=1-7&keywords=ryan+quinn+flanagan

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

For me there was no single inspiration.  It is much more of a compulsion.  I’ve just kind of always done it since about the age of ten onward.  No specific reason or subject matter, I just kept doing it and haven’t stopped.  I feel much more comfortable expressing myself through writing than I do in day-to-day conversation or other social interactions.  I’m quite the shut-in and introvert in many ways so writing offers a way to express myself that is fairly anti-social.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I guess that would be the public school system.  Within months of switching schools, my new school made you do two types of public speaking as a way of promoting socialization and communication skills.  The first was speeches which you had to do in the first half of the school year and the second was poetry.  Each student had to stand up in front of the class and recite a poem that had to be longer than 2 minutes in duration.  Your classmates marked you on such things as: verbalisation, eye contact, clarity etc. and the teacher also marked.  It was truly terrifying!  Most students went to the library and found a poem to memorize and recite.  I was the only student who wrote my own.  It never occurred to me to just go find one.  I am slow to everything.  They made us do this each school year.  I just kept writing new ones each year and even when the school didn’t ask me to do it anymore.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Not that much until I went to university.  Before that, I had read some Leonard Cohen and other things such as Siegfried Sassoon’s first world war trench poetry and some Auden, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.  But I really was a true novice in such things and almost completely unaware of what was really out there.  I just stumbled along with my own thing and worked back breaking jobs.  At university, I spent my nights in the library there and read everything I could get my hands on.  Not just the poems themselves but on the lives of the poets and various philosophies and artistic movements behind them.  Each offering seemed to open so many new doors.  I did that for four years, making friends with the security guard at the library because I pretty much lived there during that time.  It was amazing to see all the things I really had no idea about.  My education really had nothing to do with the classroom.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

When I have an entire day to write, I don’t shower.  I want the dirt of living on me and I want to feel it.  I make some oatmeal and listen to music before heading upstairs pouring some wine or beer and putting on some classical music and writing for about six or seven hours.  I often have no notes or idea of what I will write about.  I just zone out and clack away.  I am usually pretty sauced by the time I am finished but the poems are there.  Usually 20-25 on a good day.  Then I make a late dinner and watch some television before going to bed.  I repeat the process as many times as I can throughout the year, almost always eating the same thing and going through the same process.  The rest of the time, life invades and very little writing gets done.  I have always written in spurts when I can find the time.  I used to write late at night, but now it’s more in the afternoon and early evening.

5. What motivates you to write?

As aforementioned, it really is much more of a compulsion for me.  So nothing really motivates me to write.  I do enjoy seeing what my friends and other writers are doing though.  I always find that interesting and inspiring.

6. What is your work ethic?

I try to make as many days as I can clear for writing.  Then I drink and write.  When I feel I have enough poems to construct a book, I print them out and see what I have.  Then I build the book as if I were constructing a concept album.  Music has always been such a big influence for me.  I loved all those great album covers growing up and listening to the music and reading the liner notes.  I treat books the same way as I do albums.  I try to create something that pops like all those great albums from my childhood used to do.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Early on it was a lot of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl.  Both Huxley and Orwell were a huge influence on me in my teens.  I read them as warnings about both technology and human nature.  Along with William Golding and Salinger as well.  Then I found the Romantics and the Beats and enjoyed their musicality of language and image.  Then the more realist writers such as Bukowski and Fante provided a much more assessable and relatable form of writing.  I’ve always been heavily influence by strange writers or stories though.  Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov were huge, along with Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe’s strange stories and Richard Brautigan’s humour along with bp nichol and e.e. cummings experiments with form.  And William Blake’s art and Emily Dickinson and so many others!  All these things have created a hodgepodge that has influenced me greatly.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Oh, there are just too many cool writers out there at the moment to name here.  We’d be here all day.  My boys at the Frat are doing amazing things, but yeah, there are so many people out there right now that the future looks bright.  And not just for writers, there are so many fantastic fine artists and publishers out there really pushing things along.  Even a few columnists doing great things.  The wealth of stuff out there at the moment is great to see!  So many people out there creating is an amazing thing to me.  I try to support them in any way I can and I know many others who do as well.

9. Why do you write?

Just a compulsion for me.  Even when I am not writing poems, I am always scribbling on oatmeal packets and spiral notebooks and making lists and observations and such.  I just scribble over everything, always have.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Just be yourself and try to find your own voice and way.  When you start out there will be some mimicry, but as you go along more of yourself should reveal itself over time.  Trust your instincts and don’t let others tell you how to write or what is acceptable to write about.  Go for broke and do not be afraid to experiment, try to surprise yourself.  If you can still do that, than you’re doing alright.  Besides that, just sit down and write.  That is the only way it will happen.  All the rest of it is secondary to sitting down to the actual act.  Bang those keys as much as you can and just let it come.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Many writing projects on the go at the moment, I am always working on something.  I find it is good for me to stay busy.  Currently, I just released a new book with Pski’s Porch titled: Poems to Knock the Sun Out of the Sky.  New collections while Weasel Press and Marathon Books should be out in the coming weeks titled: In Winter’s Dreams We Wake, and Once Around the Maypole, Twice Around the Sun respectively.  I am also working on a new collection of short stories with super talented artist Marcel Herms for Alien Buddha Press.  We are just creating and putting it together now.  Marcel and I are also working on broadsides with John Robinson and a split chapbook early in the new year.  Probably about nine or ten other projects on the go as well with various fine artists and publishers.  I like to stay busy.

Thanks so much Paul!

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Antony Owen

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.

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Antony Owen

Antony Owen is an award winning poet from Coventry and the author of five collections of poetry. His latest collection The Nagasaki Elder by V.Press was shortlisted for the coveted Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry. His poems have been published worldwide and translated in several languages with regular teaching of his work in Hiroshima, Japan and UK schools in CND Peace Education resource. He is currently writing a sixth collection with poet Isabel Palmer and both were winners of the British Army’s first ever poetry competition for Armistice in 2018

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Ever since I was a child I drifted off into another world from the one I was presented with. I never accepted a singular version or definition of something unless I felt it. For example making pictures of clouds are the building blocks of artistic expression. Art is both escapism and from what is perceived as real to what we redefine as real. What inspires me to write are people who do not have the ability to curate wonderment or a sense of the otherworldly such as conflict.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I would credit both my Junior school teacher Mr Indian and my high school teacher Mr Taylor for that. Both were unorthodox in how they taught, both made individual connections with students as opposed to collective which leaves some students like me stranded in a SEND limbo.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I don’t think this is exclusive to older poets and the presence should be in the influence a poem holds and not a deluded person who thinks they are influential in art. It is only the work that matters, emotions not emoticons.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It presents itself as a feeding and that could be daily or weekly yet unpredictable. If I read of a baby teargassed by soldiers then I have to write something if I feel it. For me we live in the blank pages of a burning diary and we must write those poems before the flame eats the page and it is lost forever. We must beat that burning orange line of fire and be frozen in time bringing the artefacts of our age so others can learn of them. I always listen to music, film scores which create a cinematography of the mindset. I have to transport, leave the world and write in a dreamscape. Poetry is that dreamcatcher of reality.

5. What motivates you to write?

People. All that we are, were, can still be. Important things, yeah, people are important as are all species on earth.

6. What is your work ethic?

Poetry is a discipline not a hobby. It is the ultimate manifesto of one.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I was always more interested in the screen presence of actors like John Cassavetes, Kirk Douglas, Barbara Hershey than poets like Pam Ayres my Mum and Dad had on the shelf. Kerouac and the beats inspired me as did Jim Morrison. Some people see poets as the jewel encrusted scabbard instead of the sword and how it was made from water. I was inspired by people like my Mum and Dad in the Thatcher era struggling to make ends meet. They were the poems as were many icons from the 80’s who suffered from inhumane policies home and abroad.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Bernadette Cremin because she always tunes into people and creates them into music. Wendy Pratt who is one of the bravest poets mixing technical brilliance with emotional intelligence. Wendy has that ability to turn her work into living entities as if letters are the tools of what makes a poem. Liz Berry is exceptional, a perfectionist and a maven. I will only mention women poets as they are hugely unrepresented. Isabel Palmer is one of the strongest talents writing war poetry today and I adore her work so much we are writing a book together. Ruth Stacey wrote one of the best books in Queen Jewel Mistress and Helen Ivory is also someone for me who manages to effortlessly bring and sustain a mood from her poems, they are like stage sets with each line delivered perfectly. Merryn Williams resuscitates many forms of poetry, she is one of those who knows how to end a poem and not patronise a reader. Many Japanese poets as well inspire me, Aya Yuhki and a peace army of Hibakusha poets. Jacques Gaucheron for me is also a poet that stirs me from deep within. Joe Horgan and I developed a lifelong friendship from writing together and I admire his poetry, he is a class act and captures people brilliantly and defines consequence and migration so well.

9. Why do you write?

It’s as natural to me as breathing and without writing I am dead. I write because survivors of war are dying out and the pen is a baton they pass on to tell people of what they experienced. It is neglect to ignore that. My role is a human one, not a British one, we are all equal in my eyes. When I open the pages of a book it is like a bird preparing to fly for the first time. Some poems crash and burn but some soar and make people sigh, that is the moment when I am a writer.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

You don’t become a writer if you writing solely for yourself. Writing is an injurious privilege and the payment itself is art when created.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

The Unknown Civilian – a collaboration of peace poems with poet Isabel Palmer. It will cover 100 years of war from the death of war poet Wilfred Owen in 1918 – 2018. It will show the evolution of war poetry about soldiers to peace poetry about civilians. Many conflicts are covered and women for one are the main protagonists. Long overdue, there has never been a collection that has taken this on over 100 years and we are both extremely proud of the poems and the coruscating imagery and scapes developed. War poetry is evolving to peace poetry and being at the forefront of that movement I take that responsibility super seriously.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Katrina Naomi

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.

 

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Katrina Naomi

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.

http://www.katrinanaomi.co.uk

The Interview

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.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Bethany Rivers

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.

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Bethany Rivers

Bethany Rivers has had many poems published in the UK and the USA including: Sarasvati, Envoi, Blithe Spirit, Bare Fiction, Amgydala, Scintilla (USA), Fair Acre Press, Three drops from a cauldron, I am not a silent poet, The Lampeter Review, Cinnamon Press, Clear Poetry, The Ofi Press and The Fat Damsel. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University and has been teaching creative writing for ten years. Her biggest passions in life are writing and enabling others to write. She runs poetry inspiration and poetry healing courses: http://www.writingyourvoice.org.uk

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

My very first poems, I must’ve written when I was about seven or eight. There was an old lady who lived across the road from me, Mrs Dorothy Butt, and she’d had some poems published, and one had even been read by the Queen.  She’d never married, due to the lack of men after the war.  And she lived alone with her cat, and I enjoyed giving the cat biscuits and listening to Mrs Butt read her poems.  That was my first encounter with poetry.

My first poems weren’t very good at all.  And I don’t remember writing much more until I hit the age of 12, and my father died.  I started to write a lot then.  It was a way of not only expressing feelings that I didn’t have anyone to talk to about, but also a way of figuring out what I was actually feeling in the first place.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?
See above.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

See other answers

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a daily routine.  I write whenever I need to.  I find I get a lot of writing done in workshops, either run by others, or when I run them.  Also, if there is a certain strong emotion or idea that is burning to be told, I will endeavour to express that the best way I can, through a poem.  Competitions that offer a theme help me to produce poems.  And I work really well to deadlines.

5. What motivates you to write?

I have to write.  I need to.  Writing is in my blood.  I start to feel out of sorts if I haven’t written anything for a while.  Writing makes me feel at home.  It’s bliss – the creative act of writing.  I forget the world and the words flow through me.

6. What is your work ethic?

See other answers.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I didn’t know of many poets when I was young.  It’s taken me many years to discover poetry, and a long time to discover poetry I liked and felt inspired by.  I don’t think the education system helps with this at all.  Poetry written by others was not really on my radar until I got to university and started studying it there, but it was many years later I actually found poets I was inspired by.  I’d much rather say that my poems are in conversation with others’ poems, rather than influenced by.  All poems are different threads of the same tapestry.  Today I’m in conversation with the poetry of many poets, here are just a few: Mary Oliver, David Whyte, John O’Donohue, Zeina Hashem Beck, Sharon Olds, Rebecca Perry, Ocean Vuong, Tishani Doshi.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Mary Oliver is by far and away my favourite poet.  I love how accessible her language is, and how, simultaneously, she offers many layers of interaction with the text. I love how soothing her poems often are, and how they offer hope.  I love how her observations of nature are so acute and how she then uses these to make profound points about life, without at all being preachy or obvious.  I love how her poems are quietly spiritual, and that you can take on board  as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.  I don’t write anything like Mary Oliver, but she’s the poet I return to most often.

9. Why do you write?

There are so many different reasons why I write.  And different reasons apply at different times.  But that feeling of oneness with the universe, when I’m writing – I love that.  I write to see what it is I’m feeling, what it is I really think.  I write to find out about who I am.  I write to connect deeper with myself.  I write in the hope of connecting with others.  I write to dig deeper and find the textures of truth.  I write because it’s fun and I love it and enjoy it.  I write because I have no choice – I need to write.  All humans have an innate impetus to create, and writing is my way of creativity.  I write because it offers wisdom and insight and healing.  I write because writing is alchemy.  And sharing writing with others is where healing and connection can happen on a deeper level.  Writing together with others can also be calming, meditative, powerful, centring.  I write to find out what it is I’m going to write.  Every piece of  writing is a mystery and an adventure.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

That’s a complex question.  It’s a combination of things.  The impetus has to come from within.  Being a writer isn’t just putting words on paper – it’s an attitude to life, an approach to things.  It’s as much about observation, day-dream time, the books you read, the films you watch, the passions and obsessions you have, the culture you absorb and how you absorb it.

Writing is about the time and place you live in.  Writing is not separate from life – it’s a part of who you are.  So there is the element of that from within, which isn’t distinguishable from the rest of the self, and in some ways can’t be taught, but it can be facilitated, it does need to be given a safe space to be expressed.

There is also the craft, learning the craft.  The time you have to put into reading copiously, the time you have to spend putting pen to paper (fingers to the laptop, though I’m old-fashioned and prefer to handwrite everything first) – you have to put that time in, and keep doing it.  You have to push through the pain barriers that the inner-critic keeps presenting you with and write anyway.  You have to ignore all the other voices in the world that tell you not to write, that there are a million and one other things that need to be done.

You have to love it.  Enjoy it.  You need a sense of playfulness, a sense of curiosity, in order to begin and in order to keep going when the writing-road gets rocky.  Playfulness is key – that sense of openness, and a wondering what will happen if…  And you need cheerleaders, to egg  you on when you’re flailing, faltering, falling.  Each writer’s journey is unique, each writer may need slightly different things in order to nurture their craft, yet they all have universal elements: reading voraciously, a sense of play, persistence and perseverance, and the love of writing – they’re essential.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m currently waiting to hear back from publishers as to whether my full poetry collection will be accepted (this will be my second poetry book).  My book on the creative writing process, Tell it slant, will be published next March (2019).  I feel as though I’m in limbo really, as regards current writing projects, as I’m waiting for these two babies to be born into the world.  I’m constantly writing poems, so they’re accumulating all the time.  There’s a gentle and quiet bubble of an idea for a children’s story which is too shy to emerge as yet.  I’m open to ideas right now, for something meaty to get my writer’s-teeth into.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Peter Raynard

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.

Peter Raynard

Peter Raynard is editor of Proletarian Poetry; poems of working class lives (www.proletarianpoetry.com). He has written two books of poetry; his debut collection ‘Precarious’ (Smokestack, 2018) and The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto (Culture Matters, 2018)

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I wasn’t inspired to write poetry. It was a totally alien thing to me; at least in how it had appeared to be from afar. Although Malika Booker showed me it can be more relevant to my own working class background, enough to get me writing (it was a module of a MA), I have since found that predominantly poetry generally isn’t. However, there is enough poetry that I found interesting and important.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Malika Booker, when teaching me on my MA course. Then Jo Bell, who was my mentor a few years ago.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I find this question a bit left field, in that all of the other questions are about writing itself, yet this one makes a statement about a particular demographic. I feel the dominating presence is not so much to do with age, rather more to do with the themes and agendas of a white middle class generally cocooned from political events, thus rarely writing about them and so we don’t see poetry that reflects the wider world.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I am disabled, so it is when my body and mind allow me to. But I generally manage a couple of hours during the day.

5. What motivates you to write?

The feeling I have something to say that isn’t being said by many people, especially those who hold the power.

6. What is your work ethic?

Don’t let people down.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I didn’t start reading until I was in my mid-20s. None of it was poetry. It was mainly the Russian greats. I have been reading poetry since 2012, and a lot of it is young poets.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Fran Lock and Melissa Lee Houghton. They are fearless in their writing, highly intelligent, and are top of the tree.

9. Why do you write?

See answer 5

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Go to a writing class. The main reason being you will be amongst your own, and you will learn together. Writing is lonely enough.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I continue to write poems for my second collection, and write features for my blog Proletarian Poetry.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Vincent Zepp

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.

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Vincent Zepp

Describes himself as “Arriving at the time in history (including literary history) when I did. I was blessed to have such a rich tradition of poetry, art, music, and culture available to me. This continues to allow my poetry to flourish in a rich loam of influences. The work I believe is representative of the best thoughts and intuitions of my generation of writers whose challenge is to move forward with the gifts given to us from previous generation of artists. From Ferlinghetti who opened my eyes to Pound and Eliot through the various significant literary and art movements of the 20th century. Then there was the haiku master Basho who showed us frogs leaping into the pond of our mind. John Berryman said our poetry should be something no one else could do. I’ve tried to focus on that idea.”

The Interview

  1. When did you start writing poetry?

I’ve had this thing called a creative urge as long as I can recall. I was too poor for piano lessons and my art work was never hung up at school. As a senior in Ligonier High School poetry, the poem, the poet was what was part of English class. Senior year was British literature. It didn’t resonate with me but I was a good student and I did my assignments and got good grades.
That year there was a student teacher attached to our English teacher. He was a good guy, close to our age and part of the culture we were all immersed in. In an attempt to spark our minds he would bring in poems that he felt might serve as flint. He brought in lyrics from the Beatles and others. One day he brought in a poem by a guy named Ferlinghetti that began: in a surrealist year of sandwichmen. I read it, understood it and enjoyed it. I thought if this is poetry I can do that.

2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

at that time not at all…..

2.1 Later…?

i majored in english in college…which meant i studied american literature…focusin­g on poetry…in the beginning i immersed myself into ferlinghetti….but not so much as an influence…

Ferlinghetti opened my many eyes to poetry not the friable texts of English classes but something alive. Without a conscious effort I took the first steps on the road not taken-before i even knew Frost. Before I would read Lao Tzu who said the journey of a thousand li begins with the first step.

I flew the Ferlinghetti nest because it was time to go. I was well fed and well kept by him but it was time to fly. Around that time John Berryman jumped off the bridge and killed himself. Reading about that incident led me to read his work. I read everything he wrote. The one thing about him was that I couldn’t lapse into imitating him which often happens with novice poets. One day I was reading an interview with him. At one point he said- the important thing is that your work be something no one else could do. Read that again. That became the litmus test against which I judged my poems and everyone else’s continuing to today.

I became voracious to live up to that idea. Growing up we were told-choose your friends don’t let your friends choose you. In doing so I ran into a book called Haiku Ancient and Modern by Asataro Miyamori. The best book on haiku ever. It’s still in print. Asataro took a grandfatherly approach to haiku. But what a grandfather to have. What a beautiful thing haiku is. It introduced me to Basho. I never hesitate to say the best poet ever. His frog leaping in the pond in my mind still. The whole cosmos in a few words. The 17 syllable thing is only relevant in Japanese. He got to the quantum level before the physicists. The flash in the mind pure without cleverness.

When I first read the poem In a Station of the Metro I thought-there’s a guy who knows how to write a short poem- a great piece of comedic irony. Ezra Pound was one of the creators of modernism. His name today still in some circles raises the hackles. But no one can consider themselves a truly worthy poet without having read the Cantos. It’s the Mount Everest of modernism and stands along Picasso’s work of that period as one of the monuments of modernism. Modernism is not a movement but the moment we find ourselves in no longer wandering like a lonely cloud. Caught in the cacophony and crapulence with nowhere to go but forward. Pound taught-make it new. When the moment of poetry arrives no longer welded to the past constrictions or contemporary conventions. Not unlike Basho’s call for freshness of expression. Pound also introduced the west to Asian literature with his transition of the Jade Mountain poets like the lovely Li Po. It was Pounds vanity that caused the curse upon him-leaving that wrenching line in the Pisan Cantos- pull down thy vanity. Another grandfather to me.

If I didn’t mention Allen Ginsberg there’d be a big hole in the page. One of my personal favorite accomplishments was being able to produce a reading for him. I always learned something from him when I would read his poems. Learning the mantric realities of the word, the role of the poet in the world, similar to Pound’s idea of poets as persons of action in history. Allen was a gentle soul and I wish he was still around. I miss my friend Dennis Brutus every day.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

i dont have one…..i write when the poem arrives…..the period of not writing is as important as the period of writing…i dont believe in writers block…its like waiting for ups..the routine can be a distraction….the poem may be coming from that direction but one gets too focused on looking in this direction…and misses the opportunity….a lot of folks write the same kind of poem…ive been lucky not to…i think it may come from not having a fixed perspective…..sort­ of what denise levertov touched on in her essay on organic poetry……

4. What motivates you to write?

now that its football season …and im not a big sports guy…but living in pittsburgh you have to be or they kick you out of the city…i like to watch the players during pregame warm up where they yell and scream and beat on each other for motivation…i think that would be funny to see poets do that..

poetry like all the arts is a gift given to the true poet…and theres some kind of….responsibility­… to the gift….and now that we are in the period of art where there are no rules …i think the responsibility is even greater…..i might be wandering off here……so my only motivation is to be true to poetry….which is a real thing…like oxygen…the true poet is given the gift to be able to perceive the emanations of poetry..which is all around us…and to be able to collect the emanations into a container we call a poem….thats all a poem is….a container for the poetry…and doing it in such a way that poetry remains alive….not like the pressed butterflies our grandmothers collected….

4.1 so the motivation is the subtext for all that….

now there is an excitement that accompanies a job well done….and maybe thats my motivation…the excitement of creativity…the surprise…..

5. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

.i have an enormous love of the poets who are part of the idiotic and feeble minded poets facebook page….and wouldnt want to slight any of the active poets there through accidental omission

its good to know that gary snyder is still with us …as is mr merwin….i was over joyed to find that michael horovitz from england is still doing his thing…..

6.  What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

t think its like elwood p dowds story of how he came to meet harvey the pooka….it introduced itself to me…. and gave me a lifelong gift of friendship.

7. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment

i finished my 16th volume of poetry LIM1IN6AL in december and its being published through alexander szep as part of the ongoing postpublsihing world effort…as a digital book…anyone who would like a gift can contact me through facebook or by email at postpublsihingworld@­gmail.com.. (if you’d like a copy lemme know)
ive begun poems for my 17th volume

im beginning a project to archive the poetry organization and production work here in pittsburgh ive done with the szep foundation…through­ the heinz history center

im continuing my work with the IDIOTIC AND FEBBLEMINDED POETS facebook page…….featuring poets from 16 countries and 5 continents those who are interested should check it out at https://­www.facebook.com/­groups/­idioticandfeebleminde­dpoets/

also considering re-running the posthumous poetry series that first appeared on youtube.. perhaps in december https://­www.youtube.com/user/­alexanderszep
THE IDIOTIC AND FEEBLE MINDED POETS

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Claire Dyer

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.

Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese.

Her latest novel, ‘The Last Day’ is published by The Dome Press. Her previous novels, ‘The Moment’ and ‘The Perfect Affair’ and her FREE short story is ‘Falling for Gatsby’ are published by Quercus. Her poetry collections, ‘Interference Effects’ and ‘Eleven Rooms’ are published by Two Rivers Press.

Claire has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which means she now has Three Degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!

Her website is: http://www.clairedyer.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’m not sure. It just kind of happened. I wrote some poems when I was a girl that my family seemed to like and so poetry became my go-to place to express myself. There were, naturally, some awful poems in my teenage and student years but the more I read of others’ work, the more I learned!

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My English teacher at school. I remember we were studying a poem and the whole class thought it was about falling asleep. The teacher told us it was about dying and I got quite cross because I believed poetry should be allowed to have multiple meanings and resonate on different levels to different people. I therefore now think poetry is a gift, ie. something a poet gifts to a reader and says, ‘This is what I want to say about this subject, but it’s up to you how to interpret it.’

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Very. I was extremely taken with the Romantic poets at school, particularly Keats, but then I found a copy of ‘The Mersey Sound’ in the school library and realised that poetry came in many different shapes and sizes. It was a revelation!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one! Every day is different depending on what my diary commitments look like. I teach creative writing, run an editorial and critiquing business, curate a monthly poetry event in Reading and write novels as well as poetry. I do try to plan my week to give myself some blocks of writing time but poems tend to come when you’re not looking and so I normally find myself at my keyboard when I should be cooking dinner!

5. What motivates you to write?

Feelings, experiences, being set homework by my poetry class or being commissioned to write a poem for certain occasion/campaign.

6. What is your work ethic?

Ooh, that’s a tricky one! In my novel-writing life the motivation is to get published. I have an amazing agent and together we will work on a manuscript until it’s honed and ready for submission to a publisher. In my poetry-writing life it’s a bit different. The poems come, I work on them for weeks or maybe months and then I may submit them to a competition or a magazine or I may just keep them close and not let them out of the door!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Greatly. I think everything we read gets stored away somewhere and makes us the writers and readers we are today, seeping through into our phrasing, word choice, sense of rhythm, etc.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Another tricky question! There are so many, probably too many to mention. I keep up to date with the shortlists for The Forward and the TS Eliot prizes and am interested in how they may be seen to be pushing boundaries, saying something different or adhering to traditional forms and material. But, just as importantly, are the poems that get produced in workshops or that I hear at readings and book launches, ones by poets who say, ‘This is me. I am here.’

9. Why do you write?

Because I have to. It’s how I make sense of the world. If it doesn’t sound too pretentious I ‘see’ in poems and use them to marshal my thoughts and reactions. They are also like a puzzle, getting the right pieces in the right order to make some sort of sense. When I write novels, it’s my characters who drive the stories forward, they stamp their feet inside my head! When I write poems, it’s often a phrase or a line or just an image flashing across my mind that I want to try to pin down.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Practice. I liken writing to throwing pots. You don’t expect to sit at a potter’s wheel and throw the perfect pot the first time. So it is with writing, you need to practise, hone your craft, learn from others, seek advice, take risks, keep believing.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I currently have a novel out on submission and another with my agent for review and I’m working on a collection of poems I hope may be published in 2021.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jane Burn

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.
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Jane Burn

Jane Burn is a writer and artist who is originally from South Yorkshire. She currently lives with her family in the North East of England. She spends eight months of the year at their 1920’s eco-friendly, off-grid wooden cottage in Northumberland, which she and her husband have spent the last three years restoring with almost entirely reclaimed or recycled materials. She has a keen interest in gardening and nature and loves to spend time with her beloved Jack Russell Terriers and Gypsy Cob, Orca. She works in a supermarket to make ends meet and dreams of a day when she can devote herself to her art and writing full time.

She has been a member of 52, the North East Women’s Collective, the Tees Women Poets and the Black Light Writing Group and regularly performs at many poetry nights.

Her poems have been published in many online magazines such as, Ink Sweat & Tears (where her poem was voted Pick of the Month in June, 2015, Nutshells and Nuggets, I am not a silent poet, Antiphon, Alliterati, The Stare’s Nest, the Loch Raven Review, Proletarian Poetry, Algebra for Owls (where her poem was voted Reader’s Choice), The Blue Nib, Writers for Calais, The Poetry Shed, Open: Journal of Art & Letters, Visual Verse, The Learned Pig, Culture Matters, Rat’s Ass Review, Bonnie’s Crew, Work to a calm, The Ofi Press, Zoomorphic, The Poetry Orchard, Amaryllis, Diamond Twig, Deepwater Literary Journal, Deseeded Vol III and The Rose and the 2018 Poem of the North Project from the Northern Poetry Library.
Print magazines her poems have appeared in include Material, The Edge , Black Light Engine Room Magazine, Butcher’s Dog, The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed With Pipework, The Curlew, The Fenland Reed, A Restricted View From Under The Hedge, Strix, Under the Radar, Bare Fiction, Issues of The Rialto (in which she has had five poems), Prole, Firth, The Linnet’s Wings, Long Poem Magazine, Skylark Review, The Projectionist’s Playground, Smeuse, Elsewhere, Crannog, Domestic Cherry, Iota and The Poet’s Republic.

Her poems have featured in many anthologies, from Seren, Picaroon, Three Drops Press, Kind of a Hurricane Press, The Emergency Poet, Poetry Box, Beautiful Dragons, Paper Swans, Slim Volumes, The Emma Press and Fairacre Press as well as the New Boots and Pantisocracies anthology, the Please Hear What I’m Not Saying Anthology (to raise funds and awareness for Mind) from Fly on the Wall Press and the MeToo Anthology published by Fairacre Press.

In 2014 one of her poems was nominated for the Forward Prize. She was long-listed for the Cantebury Poet of the Year Award, 2014, commended in the 2015 Yorkmix and highly commended in the 2016 Yorkmix poetry competitions. She won the inaugural Northern Writes poetry competition in 2017 was shortlisted in the 2017 Poetry Kit Summer Competition and highly commended in the 2018 Poetry Kit Spring Competition. She won second prize in the 2017 Welsh International Poetry Competition and won second prize in the 2018 Red Shed poetry competition. She was awarded the first place Silver Wyvern in the open category in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition and has had four poems longlisted in the National Poetry Competition between 2014 – 2017 and was longlisted in The Rialto Nature and Place competition, 2018. She won the 2018 PENfro Book Festival Poetry Competiton, was shortlisted in the Live Canon 2018 Poetry Competition and was commended in the 2018 Battered Moons Poetry Competition.

Her pamphlets and collections include –

fAt aRouNd tHe MiddLe published in 2015 by Talking Pen
Tongues of Fire published in 2016 by The BLER Press
nothing more to it than bubbles published in 2016 by Indigo Dreams
This Game of Strangers (co-written with Bob Beagrie) published in 2017 by Wyrd Harvest
One of These Dead Places shortly to be published by Culture Matters. Exact date unknown.
Fleet to be published by Wyrd Harvest Press, exact release date currently unknown.

The Interview

• What inspired you to write poetry?

My simple answer is I don’t know! I couldn’t nail it down to one particular thing. There were people and programmes I loved when I was young that have always stayed with me – Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, Fingermouse, Kizzy, The Children of Green Knowe to name a few. I come from a small ex-mining village in South Yorkshire and we were not a well-off family. We did not have a house full of books – just a small number of random things from heaven knows where.

I was a voracious reader though I cannot tell you what started off this love of books. The ones I borrowed from school, the library, or was given, or got from jumble sales (and when I was lucky, new from a shop) were absolute lifeblood to me. I treasured my copy of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass and was mesmerized by pieces in it like The Jabberwocky. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I once promised my brother that I would return his copies of the books from The Lord of the Rings series to the library but instead kept them. It took me a very long time to plough through them at the age I was and when he got a letter detailing the fine he had been given he was not pleased!

I enjoyed anything that took me away from the life I had at the time. I often wrote and obsessively kept diaries. I wish I had kept them but when I left home, all I cared about at the time was leaving everything behind. The drive to write and produce craft and art has always been with me – I cannot remember a time when it was not.

• Who introduced you to poetry?

This is going to sound very pretentious of me but it was two tiny and beautifully bound books that had come from my mother’s side of the family – perhaps they had belonged to her father, or her older sister. They were very old and only a few inches in size – one was Gems from Burns and the other, Gems from Keats. I was fascinated by their miniature world and if I had to choose a favourite, it was the Keats one. The poem, Meg Merilles used to fire my imagination and I remember a lot of amateur dramatics and loud sniffing as I used to lay there imagining her death. Another poem that was in there is still beloved to me today – To Hope. I even produced a huge pencil drawing to go with the poem when I was eleven. I still have this and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. I think what has stayed with me most of all was the language and the ‘antiquated’ feel – something I use a lot of in my writing today.

• How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I wasn’t. I was so far removed from the poetry world. When I did my English Lit. A level, the wonderful teachers introduced me to more contemporary poets, who’s existence I hadn’t been aware of before – Seamus Heaney, Stevie Smith, Philip Larkin and John Betjeman. We also read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I can still recite A Subaltern’s Love Song by heart today. Lines like ‘mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells’ were like fireworks going off in my brain. I don’t feel intimidated – it just makes me want to keep raising my game. The only time I feel like throwing in the towel is when I have been reading Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast – whatever I want to write, it seems to have already been written. Otherwise, I just think, come on – you can do this!

• What is your daily writing routine?

I do not live an organised life. I have a son, a husband, two dogs, and a horse. I work part-time in a supermarket to make ends meet. We have spent the last three years renovating a cottage which was bought as an absolute wreck and have a second dilapidated property which we haven’t even begun to fix up yet. Every minute of our day is filled with something, as at our cottage we are totally off-grid and responsible for our own power etc, so there is always something that needs to be done.

I get up very early to go running almost every day too, for health reasons as I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic last October and have had to make many physical changes. Yet, there is always time in every day for writing – I can honestly say, hand on heart that I do write every day. I take advantage of any and every opportunity, be it five minutes or two hours. I think I have become a master of this smash and grab writing style. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking – there are notebooks and pens stashed in every room, next to the bed and in every bag. My brain never stops which can get a little wearing sometimes.

• What motivates you to write?

I think there is a sense of urgency as I get older – I have a strong sense of wasting too many years not really being sure what I wanted to do. I squandered much of my younger days being drunk, stoned or falling in and out of dreadful relationships. My mental health has taken up too much of my life and rightly or wrongly, I have this real ‘borrowed time’ feel about my writing – there is so much that I still want to say. I do suffer from severe OCD and have a fear of stopping, of not occupying my hands – if I did, what would I be? There are so many fascinating and powerful subjects out there. There are not enough hours in the day!

• What is your work ethic?

When it comes to myself, I am punishing. Brutal. Demanding. I am my own harshest critic. I am an obsessive researcher who above all, loves reference books. ‘Work hard, then work even harder’ would be my motto. I push myself often into the realms of fatigue and madness and am extremely hard to live with when I am fully immersed in a project. It can be tough (almost impossible, sometimes) to have to snap out of it and instantly be ‘mam’, or ‘Jane’ again.

• How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

The bible has been a constant source of inspiration – I spent many years at our little Methodist Chapel as I was sent to Sunday School, Brownies and Guides in the hope that it would ‘get me out of the house’. I have always been both horrified and delighted by the stories, concepts, beauty, terror, structure and language within. If there was a book that would keep you occupied forever, it is that. I still to this day love to belt out a good hymn.

I recall my childhood tomes with fondness – I used to have a stash of pony story books – Ruby Ferguson’s Jill series, Cobbler’s Dream by Monica Dickens, Dream of Fair Horses by Patricia Leitch, the Jinny books (also by Patricia Leitch) were treasures. In them was such a piquancy of emotion, which is something I try to express in my work. They were such a comfort to me in my desolation.

I have already made reference to the LOTR, Narnia and Gormenghast books – these were amazing sources of inspiration. The extreme levels of obsession that it must have taken to write these is something I can only aspire to. The images and poetic expression that I find in them, the mixture of verse and prose and the unashamed enjoyment of each book’s characters and themes are just a joy to me. Reading Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath when I was eighteen just reinforced my love of ancient dialect and language and this has most definitely remained in my writing – I can be quite the anorak!

Moving on to the purchase of poetry books took a little longer for me – I had to wait to give myself permission to buy them. It still felt as if those books were not for me, that I was not good or clever enough. The first poetry book I bought was the Poems on the Underground anthology, in 1991. I would have been twenty years old, which just shows how slow I still was to waking up to what my heart desired. Because it was so accessible, it was like being given permission to go ahead. What? These poems are everywhere, for anyone to see? You can tell that I didn’t have any poetry friends. One of the poems that stood out for me then was After the Lunch by Wendy Cope – it was such a moment to see a poet simply write what she thought and felt. It was a real lightbulb moment. I still have a weakness for anthologies – they really seem to suit my scatterbrained ways.

• Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I tend to most admire poets who are brilliant in their own right yet remain friendly, accessible and approachable and who want to ‘give back’ what poetry has given them. Poets like Deborah Alma, a talented poet herself, who has also given us the Emergency Poet anthologies and helped put together the incredible MeToo anthology. Rita Dove, who’s Sonata Mulattica is a superb example of what passion, talent and thorough research can produce. I was lucky enough to meet her once and she was brilliant, warm and down-to-earth. Carolyn Forche, who will simply blow your mind. Gillian Allnut for her subtlety and control. Bob Beagrie, my fellow history and language obsessive with whom I have written two collections. I want to say Anne Sexton too – her voice is so current and mighty that she cannot possibly be dead!

You could go on forever – I admit that I dislike lists like this as you must always leave people out or waffle on forever – I have read so many stunning poems from so many people that measuring them against each other seems unjust. There are all my wonderful contemporaries – the amazing poet friends I have met through Facebook, the North East and Teeside poetry scene and projects like Jo Bell’s 52. To mention some would mean to not mention others and my friends know how much I love and respect them and enjoy reading their work in all the many publications out there today.

• Why do you write?

It is my outlet for the things you wouldn’t normally have the courage to say – in my poems I express my sorrow, rage, frustration, heartbreak, confusion, bitterness and trauma. I am unflinchingly and unashamedly honest in a way I would not be if I was talking to you on the street. I feel as if I really can say anything. I use poems to document my memories and experiences.

I also use them to express my great love for the outdoors, for nature and the animal kingdom and how I relate within both. It is where I give vent to my current obsessions – periods from history, places, famous people. There is so much out there in the world to take notice of, that my brain constantly fizzes with ideas that I just have to put down – a way of emptying the mind, so to speak.

I use poems to express my unshakeable hopefulness that no matter what, seems to stay with me. If I did not write, then my mental health would be much the worse. Writing is also such a pleasure – I feel so lucky to be able to do it. Writing is both a curse and a joy – that is the balance of it, just as you can’t have love without hate, happiness without sadness.

• What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say, simply pick up a pen and write. What comes after is unknown until you try.

• Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have just about completed two new collections which are in the final stages of editing and checking for typos (not my strongest skill, and the thing I find the most stressful as there were gaps in my education that still seem unfilled). They are both entirely different – one, which is called One of These Dead Places (to be published by Culture Matters) is a look back at my growing up and my life now as a working class woman. The other, Fleet (to be published by Wyrd  Harvest) is a long poem about women, hares, rivers, magic and the survival of abuse. A third and deeply difficult and personal collection is also hopefully going to make it into a book at some point soon. Otherwise, I am continuing to write as much as possible. I never have less than five things on the go!

I do cherish the idea that I might return to studying in some capacity – I try not to feel too much anger at the (quite frankly) rubbish education I received and always have the feeling that I have so much catching up to do. Academia seems a closed and secret world to me, but is another door I hope to be knocking on before too much longer. Whether or not I can make this a reality remains to be seen but I am currently producing writing which I hope might go towards this.