Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kitty Coles

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.
seal wife cover

Kitty Coles

Kitty’s poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. She was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2016 and her debut pamphlet, Seal Wife, was published in 2017. Her poems have been nominated for the Forward Prize and Best of the Net. http://www.kittyrcoles.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I started writing poetry at school, because we had to, and then continued doing it in my own time and as I got older because I found that I got something out of it. I’m still not entirely sure what that something is, but it has to do with a desire to communicate and share experiences, to make someone else think, ‘Ah, so that’s how that feels’.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My parents, first of all through nursery rhymes. My mum knows lots of poetry by heart and I remember her reciting ballads like ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ when I was a very young child and being drawn in by the rhythms and sounds of the words: rhythm and how a poem sounds when spoken aloud are still major preoccupations for me. I also remember seeing my dad’s books of poetry on the bookcase in my parents’ hallway, writers like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Ted Hughes. I didn’t read them till I was in my teens but they gave me a feeling that poetry was something available and part of everyday life.

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

I didn’t start reading much poetry written since the early 60s till about five or ten years ago so I wasn’t aware of most contemporary poets when I started writing. At that stage, I was reading a lot of poetry but it was all stuff like Shakespeare, the Romantics, Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Donne, Wilfred Owen, etc, etc. I didn’t experience it as dominating, more as giving me ideas and encouraging me to try to write better. Everyone I admired had been older than me when they first got published so it gave me hope that, as I got older, my writing would improve.

When you’re 17 you imagine that there’s hope that, by the time you’re 30, you could’ve written another ‘Ariel’. And then you get past 30 and it hasn’t happened!

Now that I’m older, I’ve had the realisation that many of the people I admire (not just poets but novelists, musicians, etc) had either died or produced work far better than I’m ever going to by the time they got to my age. So, if anything, I now experience younger poets as a dominating presence, people who’ve already overtaken me in terms of quantity and quality of output and who I’m never going to catch up with.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t write daily or even near daily. I have a full-time job and various other time-consuming commitments and my energy levels aren’t very high due to ill health. Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to write 52 poems a year, and so far I’ve been succeeding in that, but I might write three poems in one day and then nothing for weeks. In the past, I’ve gone through very long periods of being unable (or not wanting) to write but I find it helpful now to think of those as times of germination rather than sterility. I have a notebook with me all the time and a line or few lines will suddenly materialise in my head and, when I write them down, the rest of the poems flows out almost fully formed, though I will come back to it later and revise it.

I prefer to sit at my desk – with a big cup of herbal tea – to write if I can but sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and write a poem in the dark, which I then have to try and decipher in the morning, or pull my car over to write if a poem occurs to me while I’m driving.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’m prompted by dreams, things I’ve read or observed or experienced, music and being outside in nature. But where the deeper motivation comes from I don’t know.

6. What is your work ethic?

I write when I’m able to and that’s about it. I’m in awe of writers who are more disciplined about sitting down and writing 500 words a day or whatever but unfortunately my brain doesn’t work like that. If I’m not moved to write and try to force it, my mind goes into a blank panic and nothing happens. I’m very interested in how other people are able to write to order and their process for making that happen but at the moment that’s not me.

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

When I was about 13, I would’ve said my biggest influences were Keats and Wilfred Owen but I don’t think either of them has much discernible influence on me now. When I was a bit older, I read Sylvia Plath, who remains a very significant influence. I’m particularly interested in her use of rhythm and the sound of words.

I’m also influenced by prose writers and the lyrics of songs. I first read Mervyn Peake and Thomas Hardy aged about 14 or 15 and they remain big influences, Peake for his folklore-style, archetypal narratives, Gothic atmospheres and ability to evoke incredibly vivid visual images and Hardy I suppose because I found it comforting to encounter a writer who allowed himself to look at things so bleakly.

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

When I first started reading contemporary poetry and submitting my writing for publication, I subscribed to a writing magazine but I found that most of the stuff in it felt very bloodless and wasn’t for me. But there was one poem, ‘Briar Rose’ by Maggie Sawkins, which resonated deeply with me and made me feel like perhaps there was a place for my poems and that some of them might resonate with other people. Maggie continues to be one of my favourite poets writing today and has been very kind to me.

I admire everyone who gives their time and energy to editing and organising open mic nights and the like and provides opportunities for the rest of us.

9. Why do you write?

I don’t fully know but it started as something just for myself, not to be shared, and now it’s connected to a wish to communicate. I don’t think I would write, now, if I had no way of sharing my writing with others.

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

I don’t consider myself to be a writer because it isn’t writing that pays the bills. But if the question was ‘What helps you to write?’, my answer would be:
–          read as much as possible (poetry, novels, non-fiction, play scripts, literary criticism, etc) and listen to songs.
–          try to think of any times you can’t write as times of germination rather than sterility.
–          have a note book with you all the time so you can write down poems wherever they come to you.
–          take an interest and keep learning about new things.

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

I’ve completed a second pamphlet, around the themes of illness and the body, and third, about the natural world and our place in it and I’m trying to find homes for them. I’m about a third of the way through a fourth pamphlet, which is the first one I’ve ever deliberately written as a series of poems with some connection, as opposed to having realised after the fact that  I’ve written some poems that belong together. I’m also trying to write a novel, although progress is very slow as I only write in short bursts.

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