Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Merryn Williams

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.


Merryn Williams

studied English at Murray Edwards College and worked for a while at the Open University.  She wrote a thesis on the novels of Thomas Hardy and various other works about the Victorians, but became more interested in poetry later on.  She is literary adviser to the Wilfred Owen Association and has a great interest in the poets of the First World War.  She has published four collections of poetry and edited several anthologies, including ‘In the Spirit of Wilfred Owen’, ‘The Georgians 1901-30’ and ‘Poems for Jeremy Corbyn’.  She has also translated the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca (Bloodaxe).  She lives in Oxford with her husband John Hemp.

The Interview
1. What inspired you to write poetry?

When I was a child there was no television in the house but there were plenty of books.  I looked into several which were really for adults and clearly remember a fat blue volume called Poems of Blake which I discovered at the age of five or six; the poems seemed much simpler than they really were.  I was fascinated, and often bewildered, by his Songs of Innocence and Experience and still value poems which unite simplicity and mystery.  Emily Bronte is another writer who can do this.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I suppose I introduced myself!  At primary school we were offered nursery rhymes, hymns, and some Georgian poems whose vivid imagery I loved – ‘London Snow’, ‘Silver’, and ‘The Ice Cart’, all by poets of a certain vintage. ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ is another which made quite an impression.

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

I still own The Penguin Book of English Verse, edited by John Hayward, which I carried in a blazer pocket and read in spare moments at grammar school (I was an unusual child!).  I loved and constantly re-read the older English poets, but my interest fell off sharply after Wilfred Owen’s time.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I write in the mornings, as early as possible.  If it’s a poem, that takes precedence over all other jobs.

5. What motivates you to write?

‘In the beginning was the word’.  It has to be a cluster of words, or perhaps a line and a half, and the poem develops or fails to develop from there.  It’s not easy, anyway not for me, to write a half-decent poem to order.  Inspiration has to come spontaneously, and a poet can be inspired by some quite unexpected story or event.

6. What is your work ethic?

I believe it’s important to go on working as long as you have strength, not to waste precious time.

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

I suppose these writers gave me a strong preference for rhyme, which is what most of my poems do.

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

A wonderful constellation of poets born around the time of the First World War – Norman MacCaig, Norman Nicholson, R.S. Thomas, Larkin, Scannell, and above all, Charles Causley.  Ruth Bidgood is the only one of that age group who is still alive; she’s 96 now and I am proud to call her my friend.  I discovered her Not Without Homage one rainy day in an ancient Welsh cottage and it started me writing poetry again after a gap of years.  She writes about the ‘green desert’ of mid-Wales and its vanished people; I also love that landscape and am fascinated by the history of hidden lives.  Tony Harrison is another poet I greatly admire for his technical mastery and his understanding of politics.   There are many more good women poets now than there used to be and I’m impressed by Sheenagh Pugh and Alison Brackenbury.

9. Why do you write?

There is an inner compulsion, I suppose, to comment on aspects of the world and make sense of them.  Apparently you have to practise for 10,000 hours to be really good at anything and I’ve practised for longer than that!  I am a shy person who wouldn’t have been good at a job that involved prolonged contact with people.  In the 2017 election, I wanted to help but baulked at knocking on doors, so, reckoning that my only skills were verbal, I did a great deal of blogging under a pseudonym.

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

Read the best writers, don’t imitate them but practise, keep practising!

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

I’m preparing a Selected Poems to be published by Shoestring in 2019.  Also a play about Wilfred Owen and a German poet, Gerrit Engelke, who were both killed in the last months of 1918, and ought to have met, but did not.  My YA novel Zone 7, which is about a future England under a military dictatorship, will hopefully be published next year.

Website: m.williams.webeden.co.uke

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