Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kate Noakes

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.

Kate Noakes

Kate Noakes’ most recent collection is Paris, Stage Left (Eyewear, 2017). The Filthy Quiet is forthcoming from Parthian in spring 2019. She is an elected member of the Welsh Academy of Letters and her website (www.boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com) is archived by the National Library of Wales. She lives in London, where she acts as a trustee to the literature advocacy charity Spread the Word.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

As a question of origins, that’s a tricky one to answer. I suspect it was an overwhelming need to say something about something important, at least to me, and in a form that turned out to be economical and a poem rather than an essay. And this has continued to happen on a frequent basis over the last twenty five or so years, or that’s what I try to do, more or less successfully.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Dylan Thomas. Sure, there were plenty of other dead white men on the syllabus in school – I had the benefit of a rather good, if dated, poetic education there. But Dylan is absorbed from birth if you are Welsh, and he taught me about the possibilities of the English language, it’s playfulness and invention.

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

As a youngster – very. I don’t think I knew there were any actual, living breathing poets until I was quite grown up. Thankfully they don’t dominate today, even if everything is flipped around and it seems you are no-one writing anything interesting unless you are very young. I am offended by the present ageism in poetry – young this prize, new poets (meaning young) that prize. I have many friends, who, like me, did not start writing seriously for publication until they were much older. But we are considered old farts and know nothing about life, or good writing, or performance.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Walk the dog then straight into the studio. Two poems before lunch. No, seriously I don’t have a poetry writing routine. The Muse, lord bless her, can’t be scheduled like that. Some mornings I wake up with an idea, which I might think about for weeks, months or years before it finds it’s right expression and form. Other days, I might have a line, not necessarily the first one. At other times a phrase might just pop into my head. I can’t explain it. It just depends on what I’m thinking about. Anyone who tells you whole poems just arrive is probably lying. Reading other people is the best way of getting going on one’s own work, I find. It puts you in the zone.

5. What motivates you to write?

A certain degree of arrogance that I have something worth saying and that other people might enjoy reading or hearing it. Plus the confidence of studied craft. In other words that I can write well.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’d like to say hard. I certainly work hard when I am actually writing – best words, check facts, do research etc. But writing poetry is not a constant daily activity for me, although journaling and note making is. I’m a definite believer in the write something every day school of being though, even if I frequently break the rules.

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

Apart from Dylan, hardly at all, other than by the very fact that they wrote, and showed that it was possible.

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

The list of poets I admire is long– but here’s a few I am grateful for:

Seamus Heaney for precision of language, and finding meaning in sometimes unpromising material,

Gillian Clarke for showing how any aspect of life can be one’s subject, and for sitting on my shoulder still, telling me when I’m doing well and when not (she was my MPhil tutor, lucky me),

Carol Ann Duffy for telling me that all a poem needs is one really good image, and for writing ‘brilliant!’ on one of my early poems,

Philip Gross for dealing with complex emotional subject matter,

Jane Draycott for capturing the Thames on the page,

Robin Robertson for myth and mystery in subject and language,

Pascale Petit for her excellent blend of the personal and the natural world,

I could go on and on, but that’ll do for today.

9. Why do you write?

Cliché warning – because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be me. If I go too long without writing I start to feel that there is something distinctly wrong with my life. It’s more than a vague ennui, much more existentially threatening than that.

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

READ, READ, READ and then READ some more. Anyone who wants to be a poet these days needs a very good knowledge of the canon and contemporary poetry. You have to know from where and in what milieu you are writing. Then write, edit, study craft, get feedback etc. repeat, and don’t be too quick to think it’s ready for submission. And grow a very thick skin because rejection is going to be frequent. Don’t take it personally: it’s the work, not you.

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

I have just put my next book to bed, as it were. Meaning, it has gone to the printers and will be out in spring 2019. It’s called The Filthy Quiet and is being published by the lovely Parthian. So I’ve been doing all the non writing things like proof reading, finding art work, getting blurbs, and having a new author photo taken. Now I’m organising the launch and asking for readings for next year.

I’ve also been working on the manuscript for the book after that. I’ve sorted out two to three years’ worth of poems into ones that I think are pretty decent and form some kind of cohesive whole. I have sent it to a couple of publishers over the summer and am awaiting their responses. Fingers crossed, but we are talking about publication in 2021 at the earliest, realistically. Yes, it takes that long.

Poems come and go as usual, spurred on by the need to take something to my fortnightly workshop group – a good discipline, which I recommend. I am also writing a commissioned non fiction book, a first for me. I am enjoying the research, but I’m going to keep the rest of the details under my hat for now.

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