Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ben Banyard

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.
Ben Banyard

Ben Banyard

Ben Banyard lives in Portishead, near Bristol. His two published collections to date are ‘Communing’ (Indigo Dreams, 2016) and ‘We Are All Lucky’ (Indigo Dreams, 2018). He was formerly the editor of the Clear Poetry webzine. Ben blogs and posts mixtapes at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I was at Plymouth University in the mid-90s, reading English with Theatre and Performance Studies. One of the modules in the first term was Contemporary Poetry, which was taught by John Daniels (a very fine poet in his own right). It was my first sustained contact with free verse, and I began to dabble! I wrote on an off throughout the next four years, but then stopped. I don’t know why, it wasn’t a conscious decision.

I started again in 2012, a few months after my mum died. She’d always been very supportive of my writing and would often ask what I’d done recently. Her death hit me very hard, but at the same time our twins were babies so there was a lot going on which I needed to make sense of, and writing poems seemed to help with that.

2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets, historical and contemporary?

Being an English Literature student, you can’t fail to be aware of the ‘Greats’ but for me they were never an intimidating presence when I was starting out with my own work.

Larkin and McGough were perhaps the biggest influences on me initially but I began to find my own voice and realised you can only ever be yourself.

I can’t bear that type of writing which feels like it’s been moulded in postgraduate courses and most of the individuality which sets a writer’s voice apart from their contemporaries has been sanded away.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

Daily? Chance’d be a fine thing! I work full time and have a busy family life so any writing I manage to do is in brief stolen moments. Inspiration strikes at any given time so I tend to note ideas down in Google Docs on my phone and then attempt drafts whenever it looks like a I might have a spare half hour. Expect my output as a writer to go through the roof as soon as I’ve retired and my kids have left home!

4. what motivates you to write?

I suppose it’s a communication thing, a sharing thing. In the same way that I’ve always made mixtapes of music I really love for people (and still do, on my blog), I have this overwhelming need to talk about experiences, about life and nudge people and say ‘what about this, eh?’. My favourite writers, like Anne Tyler, Nick Hornby, Thomas Hardy, Kurt Vonnegut and so on, are incredible observers of people and society. Even Beryl Cook and Martin Parr, really, noting and marvelling, warts and all. Holding mirrors up.

5. What is your work ethic?

I try and write in complete drafts, otherwise I find it difficult to get back into the feel of a fragment of a poem. Drafts are then stashed away on Google Docs for a couple of months, when I have a play to see how they might be improved. Then they go into a folder ready to be submitted, sit in a ‘Maybe’ folder to be looked at again at a later date, or they land in the ‘No’ folder where they may languish forever! I never delete anything, though, just in case…

I keep careful records of where poems have been submitted and try to manage that side of my writing in as professional a manner as I can.

I also take care to make sure that wherever my poems appear, they’ll be well presented. I don’t often submit to new journals or websites until I’ve had a chance to check them out and make sure they’re of a good quality. I learned that the hard way, shall we say!

I also try to get out and do at least one reading a month. Although I’m more of a page poet in style, I really enjoy performing my work and get a lot out of sharing it to audiences. It can be hard work, in terms of preparation, travel, juggling diaries and so on, but it’s generally extremely worthwhile.

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

Definitely on a subconscious level. But I think I’m more likely to be influenced by brand new contemporary poetry in journals because that’s really what I read, outside of novels.

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

With Clear Poetry and 52, I came into contact with an incredible wealth of poets at all stages of their development as writers.

Although it’s hard to single people out, I’d say I’m consistently impressed by Richie McCaffery, Claire Walker, Geoff Hattersley, Carole Bromley, Rose Cook, Bryony Littlefair and Robert Nisbet. They all have a clarity and a precision about their writing which I really admire.

8. Why do you write?

I enjoy the process of writing. An idea pops into my mind, and before I know it I’m off and running.

When I came back to writing, after that long break, it was like I turned a tap back on and suddenly I couldn’t stop.

And it’s a really good way of ordering your thoughts or emotions, even if the result isn’t much good, or you have no ambition to publish – that process of following things through from an idea to the page (or screen) is incredibly rewarding.

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

Get a blank screen or sheet of paper in front of you. Write or type the first thing that comes into your head. Explore that. At this point you are a writer – not ‘aspiring’, not ‘budding’. There’s no proficiency test – you’re in.

Of course, you can improve – by writing lots and listening to good, constructive feedback.

Read a lot, as widely as you can, and not just in the form or genre you think your work might fit into.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can only call yourself a writer if you’re doing it full time and getting paid for it.

10. And finally, Ben tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

When I closed Clear Poetry last year I did so claiming that it was so that I could spend more time writing, so I need to come up with some evidence of this year’s efforts!

I’ve just finished another attempt at writing a poem a day for a month – it’s a good group, managed on Facebook by Simon Williams. While I didn’t manage the full 30, I have a good 15-20 drafts which I’m quite pleased with.

In the next few weeks I want to start putting my next full collection together, so watch this space!

I’m also aiming to write two or three more short stories by the end of the year.

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