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.
Peter Boughton has lived in Birmingham, Sheffield and the East Midlands and currently works as a secondary school teacher in the South East. His writing featured in two anthologies published in the 1990s (Both entitled ‘Five’ together with Chris Jones, Tom Roder, Adrian Head, Matthew Clegg and Karl Hirst). More recently, his writing has appeared online in The Honest Ulsterman and Minor Literatures webzines.
• What inspired you to write poetry?
I was very lucky to have a very creative and encouraging mother. I must have started writing at about the age of 7 – about the same time that my family moved from Oxford to Birmingham. Naturally, for a 7 year old, this felt like the end of the world and I must have done a good impression of a pre-adolescent going through adolescent depression. My Mum gave me a pen and a notebook which I dutifully filled with dirges and she endlessly praised me, In retrospect, she was an amazing person – I can’t think of many people who’d like to read my 12-page post-Wasteland epic about a shark AND do a convincing imitation of someone enthralled by genius.
Today, inspiration – well can I put the idea to one side? I tend to write about things primarily that are right in front of me. There isn’t any inspiration. I do a lot of what I think of as ‘bending and stretching’ exercises too – just forcing myself to use a form I wouldn’t normally use. Sometimes I revise and expand on stuff and sometimes, well that’s that. I have an ongoing fascination with wild-life – especially plants and their names.
• Who introduced you to poetry?
I’m an awful reader of poetry- or at least I was. My canon before University was made up of four or five poets. I think I was introduced to poetry properly through friends at the University of Sheffield Writers’ group. Again, in retrospect I was extraordinarily lucky to be in a certain place at a certain time and meet people like Chris Jones, Matthew Clegg, Tom Roder, Adrian Head and later Brian Lewis and Karl (Andy) Hirst. They all had very different talents, diverse interests and they all were incredibly generous with their time and criticism. I could write a thousand lines about each of them – but in short – what they opened up for me was a sense of possibility.
• How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
It’s not a problem now, but it was disastrous in my mid-twenties. This is the downside of meeting people who really know poetry! I spent a good few years doing really awful pastiches of Paul Muldoon and then (and this was a low point) John Berryman. Most of my writing up until then had been in the form of Angela Carter-ish vignettes in verse – not that I was aware of that – and its strength lay in its innocence. I wasn’t aware of what poetry should be like – and even if I lacked discipline I kind of made up for it with the risks I was willing to take. Unfortunately, I discovered that I was very good at soaking up influences and I ended up writing very knowing but clumsy imitations. And I’d add – there are poets that are good for you as a writer (Pound, Bunting Frost, I’d argue)- and others that are so idiosyncratic that they can be like an albatross around your neck. Berryman is wonderful – but he appeared on my horizon at exactly a moment in my life in which Berryman things were happening. Tom Roder, incidentally – did something genuinely new and hilariously funny with the Dream Songs in his ‘Henry’s Dog Poems’ which I believe you can still find fragments of floating around the internet.
• What is your daily writing routine?
I try and write something every day. It’s odd, because I’m a teacher and during term time I’m really pressed for time- but I find I’m much more creative when I’m busy in the first place. Poetry seems to be something that happens when I should be doing something else. I write lots when I’m commuting too. If I have open stretches of time on my hands (and this is rare – I have an impossibly patient wife and two impossibly impatient kids) – I need some sort of structure, and this often means walking. I might take photographs on a walk and these sometimes find their way onto the page in one way or another.
• What motivates you to write?
Ah – I’m a word junkie. There’s something very particular about the pleasure composition can give you when everything falls into place. I’m often surprised by what results as well, but the process seems more the thing to me. Of course, it’s lovely when you find an audience and people praise what you’ve done – but this wouldn’t mean very much if you didn’t believe in it in the first place. I can live with a piece not being a total success if I’ve learnt something new in writing it.
• What is your work ethic?
Not good enough in the last 12 months. I have peaks and troughs.
• How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think one of the pleasures of growing older is that you can read younger influences without that weight on your back. Once every month I get a bit grumpy and the late, great Peter Reading starts using me as a ventriloquist dummy, but aside from that, I’m easy. I’ve got a copy of Lattimore’s Illiad on my bedside table with John Clare’s Collected and Pound’s Pisan Cantos at the moment, and I dip sporadically. I’ve loved Byron for years, but I’d never attempt to write like him – even if it feels like the age we live in could do with a Don Juan. The Graham of ‘The Nightfishing’ is there too.
• Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Oh my. I’ll have to pick Brian (Lewis) – simply because I can’t think of anyone who actually does what he does. The term ‘psychogeographer’ has become a little glib these days and I think he’s be insulted by it – he’s a map maker in the process of creating something impossible. A sort of microscopically defined picture of the vast expanses of the East of England. He’s also a man who has given his life over to poets and poetry in a way that very few can. Matt Clegg as well – Clegg is to diction what sticky toffee pudding is to the tongue – and I’m invariably green with envy at the way he sits so comfortably in a tradition of giants like Heaney, Walcott and Milosz. As I hinted at before, I’m pretty awful when it comes to keeping up with current trends in contemporary poetry. My favourite fairly recent discoveries have all been of dead people – R F Langley, Tom Raworth. Once in a blue moon I pick up Prynne’s ‘Poems’ and spend a good few hours being alternately gobsmacked and annoyed. He’s still alive of course, but everything he does looks like a stone edifice.
• Why do you write?
This is one of those questions where you’re tempted to say that it’s your life and you’d die without it etc. Perhaps I would have said that 20 years ago. Now, it’s knitting. Some day I’m going to make a really great jumper- but in the meantime I like fiddling around with needles and wool.
• What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
There are many answers to this. Get used to being skint being the most obvious one! With students at school the standards that they have to meet at GCSE or whatever are so proscriptive, but the funny thing is, even the ones that fail are writers. There are some things that seem fundamental to being a human being – narrative, sound, character, humour, pathos – whatever. So, without sounding too much like a Zen Buddhist Monk – all I’d say is, you already are one.
• Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I continue to feed an impossible messy narrative project under the title ‘Fragment’s from Arbuthnot’s Asylum’ which you can see unfolding on Facebook. I keep saying I’m going to end it, then something pops up and it continues. Elsewhere, I’m doing bits and bobs with classical meters and occasionally a longer poem pops up. I do have a website on WordPress (DogStandard) but I’ve been very lax in maintaining it of late. I’ve had a few pieces published by the Honest Ulsterman and Minor Literatures in recent years.