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.
is a poet living in Carlisle, Cumbria. She won the Poetry Society’s ‘Foyle Young Poets’ competition in 2017 and was longlisted for the Christopher Tower prize in 2018. She recently worked on an upcoming anthology of new Cumbrian poetry, This Place I Know (Handstand Press, 2018) in which her poetry also appears. She was a featured young poet at the Kendal Poetry Festival and co-runs a Poetry Symposium in Carlisle.
1. When did you start writing poetry?
October 2016, so exactly two years ago!
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Nobody introduced me to reading poetry, but I was given a list of poetry magazines to submit work to and a copy of one of the Forward Prize anthologies by a rather wonderful poet and teacher, Andy Hopkins. He also introduced me to a cracking local open mic group which was run by Nick Pemberton. The Cumbrian poetry scene is really supportive.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
This question makes me think of Sylvia Plath! There’s the joke about young female writers going through a Plath phase – but rather than ‘phase’ in the singular, it’s more like there are multiple stages of reacting to her work that you have to go through. (Think the Kübler-Ross Change Curve). There’s the ‘obsession’ stage, and then the ‘renunciation’ stage, and then you get to a point where you can see the enduring value of her work without letting your readings be marred by biographical context. (Which is not to say we shouldn’t be critical of the anti-Semitism.) Sheep in Fog is one of my favourite poems.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write on a daily basis at the minute – it’s more a case of sporadically writing down interesting thoughts and phrases when they come into my head (when I’m on the train, when I wake up, etc.) and coming back to them later. But I’m part of a poetry group that meets weekly, so I attempt to write at least one poem per week.
5. What motivates you to write?
‘Would you still write if you knew nobody else would read your poems?’ is a question I find it fascinating to ask other poets. Most often people have told me they would, because they feel a compulsion to write. But for me, writing poems feels like communication abstracted from conversation; it’s like asking, ‘Do you understand me?’ or like tricking somebody into listening to your dream. I don’t think I would feel that need to organise my thoughts into a poetic form if I didn’t imagine that they might have meaning for someone else when presented that way; I would just keep my journal full of unpoetic shorthand observations.
6. What is your work ethic?
I think I’m a very driven person! It always feels a bit sacrilegious to refer to poetry writing as being ‘work’, though – which is not to say that I don’t see poetry as a skilled craft, but rather that I think focusing too much on “productivity” and publication “success rate”, etc. is creatively stifling. There’s no money in poetry, unless you’re Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I don’t think I can answer this one; I’ll tell you when I’m in my 30s or 40s (if I’m still writing!).
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
This is a difficult question. I don’t want to play favourites and name one individual poet. I do think of Bloodaxe and the Poetry Business as cornerstones in terms of British publications, but there’s so much work being published at the minute that really interests me. It was great to read at the Kendal Poetry Festival this year (alongside Pascale Petit, Nikola Madzirov and Hannah Hodgson who are all outstanding writers) as the Kendal Poetry Festival is an example of everything a poetry festival ought to be in terms of inclusivity. I admire poetry as a vehicle for social change.
9. Why do you write?
I might just be repeating what I’ve already said in Question 5 here, but I like the idea of literature being one long conversation spanning generations. I write in reaction to other writers and in the hope that someone – even just one person – will appreciate and find useful what I have to say.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
This depends on their definition of ‘writer’. If they mean ‘somebody who writes’, then the answer is to write. If they have a more complicated definition, I don’t think I can help!
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve recently been involved in the publication of an anthology of new Cumbrian poetry – This Place I Know (Handstand Press, 2018) which is available to buy now. I’m going to be reading at a couple of launch events in the upcoming months, at Borderlines book festival in Carlisle on the 6th October and Maryport Literature Festival on the 18th November. Our next Carlisle Poetry Symposium is on the 24th of November and we’ll be announcing the line-up soon. Otherwise, I’m working on magazine submissions and poems for an (eventual) pamphlet!