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.
Recent credits for MW Bewick include Envoi, The Stinging Fly, London Grip, The Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Coast to Coast to Coast and The Interpreter’s House. He was highly commended in Words By the Water’s 2018 competition and his poems have also featured in a number of anthologies. He is the co-founder and director of independent publishing house and art project Dunlin Press, which published his first collection, Scarecrow, in 2017. The Orphaned Spaces, a collaboration with his wife, the artist Ella Johnston, was published in 2018. He is widely published as a journalist and has a PhD in literature from, and has taught at, the University of Essex.
MW Bewick’s website is mwbewick.com and he is on social media as @mwbewick
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I came to the conclusion, after years of writing, that no form of writing can be as instantly, and simultaneously, direct and impressionistic as a poem. The more prosaic answer would be: ‘a full-time job and a commute’. I found I could get some half-decent poetry writing done on the train, on the way into or back from work, and I enjoyed it. Secondly, I also started attending poetry events and soon found myself somewhat assimilated. And thirdly, I’ve always loved short-form texts. I used to write songs, so poetry – though a different skill – felt a natural space for my writing to inhabit.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My secondary school – a Sixties-built Comprehensive in West Cumbria. In the sixth-form library there was a pile of the original Penguin Modern Poets series. To me at the time it felt like discovering punk, or free jazz, or both. It opened the doors. Later, while writing up my PhD on Scottish author James Kelman, Kelman himself got me into Tom Leonard. This led me an Etruscan books festival in Devon and poets such as Tom Raworth and Bill Griffiths. From there, back in London, I touched on Bob Cobbing and the Writer’s Forum group. You’d probably never spot any of this in my own work, but that’s where it comes from and it still gives me a prod sometimes if I’m getting too ‘safe’ in my writing.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I suppose that depends on what’s meant by old. Chaucer? H.D.? Lorca? Wendy Mulford? I like their presence. Sometimes I wish they had more of one. We can still learn. I often feel a much deeper connection with the poetry of high modernity or the 1960s than I do with contemporary writing. In fact, I think there are some incomplete projects in poetry to which we should still attend. I understand the emphasis on ‘now’, because ‘now’ sells and helps keep poetry relevant. But that same impulse also produces a lot of what Richard Caddel might have called “high-street poetry”. It can do a great job in broadening the reach of poetry, but there’s more to poetry than that. The past is an education.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
At the moment, in all honesty, it’s about grabbed hours. However, I tend to grab them when I need them, and it gets done. There’s nothing fixed. I still write a lot on trains – I travel quite a lot on them and find it conducive to creativity, for some reason. You see the world go by, I suppose, while you’re in your little bubble of thought. But I write maybe one new poem every week, some of which I’ll scrap or ‘park’. And I edit every week too. It’s ongoing, regular work.
5. What motivates you to write?
Other poetry motivates me. I can hardly read another poem without wanting to start writing myself. Art and music, too. If I’m at an exhibition or really listening to a good record, then it’s a reflexive response – I can do nothing about it. It’s about being in the world; a way of reminding myself that I’m here and what we’re capable of. I mean, someone’s got to do it, haven’t they? And I’m no electrician.
6. What is your work ethic?
I often feel like I’m slacking but I’m probably not. I have a day job in publishing/editing (though I often work at home), and then I tend to Dunlin Press, the little publishing concern I run with my wife, Ella Johnston. Then there’s writing. They don’t always happen in this order. I think it’s important to write and re-write as much as you can. I always have. It keeps you honed. If you have a block, keep writing anyway. Write your way out. Write something different. But keep going.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think they’re there, even if they’re not visible – like ground water or something. I went through my Robert Frost phase, which told me there are infinite ways that trees and landscape can inspire. That’s present in what I write now. And if I need a kick up the arse or a shoulder to cry on, then the 20th-century avant-gardists buy me a pint and tell me it’ll all be okay.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
In the last year or two I’ve been really blown away by Vahni Capildeo and Emily Berry. I like writers that allow themselves to be playful with form; who aren’t afraid to experiment a little. I’m also a useless minimalist, and wish I wasn’t, so a shout out here to Billy Mills whose long sequences of short poems slowly chip away at the city and the seasons. Finally, two writers who taught me the value of not always listening to other people who don’t ‘get’ what you’re doing, and about believing in yourself and working hard to become better – the aforementioned James Kelman, and the poet and songwriter/musician/cult indie pop legend Martin Newell.
9. Why do you write?
Simple. As Alain Robbe-Grillet put it: to find out what it was I wanted to say.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Everyone’s a writer these days, aren’t they? It’s about what sort of writer you want to become, and whether you want to be good. If it’s about making money, or getting on the radio or TV, or having Instagram followers, or even winning prizes, then that’s a very different thing to just being a writer, or trying to make yourself a better writer. Really, I think you need to read a lot, and really work out what, how and why other writers are doing what they do. Then comes the most difficult thing: casting all that aside and and being your own person.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m reading at Aldeburgh in November, and need to finalise what I’m doing for that. I have a couple of new projects to scope out for Dunlin Press. And I’m still trying to work out what it is I’ve been wanting to say. That will probably continue. I hope it does.