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.
Tania Hershman’s third short story collection, Some Of Us Glow More Than Others, was published by Unthank Books in May 2017, and her debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions, by Nine Arches Press in July. Tania is also the author of a poetry chapbook, Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open, and two short story collections, My Mother Was An Upright Piano, and The White Road and Other Stories, and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014). Tania is curator of short story hub ShortStops (www.shortstops.info), celebrating short story activity across the UK & Ireland, and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. Hear her read her work on https://soundcloud.com/taniahershman and find out more here: http://www.taniahershman.com
- When and why did you start writing poetry?
I started tiptoeing towards poetry in around 2011, when I went on an Arvon course in radio drama tutored by Sue Roberts and her husband, Simon Armitage. I was too nervous to go on a poetry course but I decided I could sidle up to Simon during the week and ask whether some of my very short flash fiction stories might actually be poems, as a few people had mentioned to me. He was extremely supportive and helpful, pointing me to poets like James Tate in the US – he won the Pullitzer Prize for Poetry and to me his work looks like short short stories! This gave me permission to start to think about poems and poetry, which I had always found unfathomable at school. In 2013 I went on three poetry courses where I would keep asking the tutors, What is a line break? Help, I don’t understand! Until finally, on one of the courses taught by Pascale Petit, it began to click, I started to feel what breaking a line might do – to the breath, the pacing. And that’s when I started to fall in love with poetry, to see how it could enhance and extend what I wanted to do in fiction, and allow me to do new things.
2. What motivates you to write?
It doesn’t work like that for me. I don’t need motivation to write because writing is how I am in the world, it’s how I make sense of things, how I process what happens in my life – through fiction, poetry, other – and what I read, what I hear and see. I’ve always written and I am in some ways always writing, always noticing, thinking. I had two new books published last year, and I finished my PhD, so right now I’m putting no pressure on myself to produce anything in particular. I don’t worry about “not writing” because that seems a bit like “not breathing” to me.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
No daily writing routine – no writing routine at all!
4. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
If you’re asking if I am aware of the poetry community and the poetry scene, then very aware and extremely appreciative of its richness and diversity. Coming from a background in short story writing, we don’t have anything like the institutions that promote poetry in the UK – the Poetry Society, say, and the Poetry School and the Poetry Book Society… I could go on. The short story scene is extremely vibrant, there’s so much going on, but you have to dig a little to find it, which is why I set up my short story site, ShortStops, 4 years ago, to try and create a one-stop-shop to find much of this activity. With poetry, you have so many places to find out what’s going on, so many courses, workshops, prizes. And you have the amazing prize-giving events for, among others, the TS Eliot and Forward prizes, at the Royal Festival Hall every year, which give such a valuable look at contemporary poetry today. I don’t feel a dominating presence, generally. I feel encouraged to do my own thing, there are always kindred spirits to be found.
5. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You become a writer by writing, it’s that simple, no qualifications necessary. You become a good writer by reading. Read everything, things you think you’ll like and thinks you think you won’t. Then find a way to keep that inner voice quiet enough – everyone has their own methods – to start warming up your writing muscle so that you can write what you want in the way you want to.
6. Why do you write?
I think I covered that mostly under the motivation question! I write both to try and make sense of the world and also to more clearly express my questions about it, not to necessarily find any answers. I write because I love words and I love putting them in a certain order that feels pleasing to me. I write to meet the characters who appear in my fiction and to do their stories justice. I write to connect with strangers, too, there’s nothing more moving to me than when someone gets in touch, somewhere in the world, to say that they read one of my stories/poems and it spoke to them. That means everything.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
To be honest, I get less of a crush on poets than on individual poems – and individual short stories. For example, Adrienne Rich’s ‘Dreamwood’ is a poem I go back to again and again, and ‘Under One Small Star’ by Wislawa Szymborska. Also, Peanut Butter by Eileen Myles, and the House On Terry Street by Douglas Dunn. I am a huge fan of Sharon Olds, I took a workshop with her a few years ago in the US, and do have a bit of a poetry crush on Louis Macneice. I find new poets and poems to love all the time from literary magazines, in particular POETRY magazine from the US, and various UK magazines such as Butcher’s Dog, Rialto and Magma.
8. Finally, Tania, tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Well, I’m shopping around two pamphlet-length works: the prose/poetry/fiction/non-fiction book inspired by particle physics that I wrote for my PhD, and a poetry pamphlet which includes poems I wrote as responses to Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. I’m currently writing something I’m only prepared to call a Long Thing, which is a sort of fictional speculative memoir-in-collage. And I’m going to start working on a hybrid popular science book on time next year. Also: some poems and short short stories. Busy!
Thanks so much for having me, Paul!