Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, 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.
Luke Bradford is an experimental poet living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His latest collection of constrained poetry, Glossology, is available for free download as a PDF or for purchase as a book at lukebradford.xyz/glossology. His work has been published by Spacecraft Press, Penteract Press, and Timglaset.
His website is lukebradford.xyz.
1. When did you start writing poetry?
A quick look through my hard drive turned up something from when I was 14. I’ve never written much by hand, so this probably really is one of the first things I produced. Naturally, I’ve churned through many different styles over the years, and my interest in constrained writing in particular has grown from a small seed into a deep passion. I’ve only been writing poetry in what I’d consider a truly serious way, making it part of my daily routine, for about two years.
1. Who introduced you to poetry?
No particular moment stands out as an introduction to poetry. I had many great English teachers and professors over the years who exposed me to poetry in various ways. I think my love of poetry grew organically out of a broader love of language — since I was very young, as early as five, I always imagined writing books.
2. What do you mean by love of language?
I’ve always been fascinated by words. When I was younger, this manifested itself in constantly playing word games like Ghost. Later, I fell in love with etymology. To me, the history of a word like ‘chartreuse’ — that the color came from the liqueur, which comes from the Carthusian monks, whose name comes from the mountains where they first lived — is one of the most beautiful facts I know. I studied Latin in high school and college, which infused English with an additional richness.
I’ve always been a reader, though not a particularly voracious one. My tendency is to get extremely attached to specific pieces of writing and return to them again and again. I read novels more than I read poetry. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves had a huge impact on me, and showed me how thoroughly a book can demolish boundaries. Other novels I love include Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Obviously three very different books, but each with a particular aesthetic that really took root in me.
At some point in college, I was introduced to Christian Bök’s Eunoia. Today, Bök is by far the biggest influence on my writing, and I keep copies of Crystallography (my favorite work of his), Eunoia, and The Xenotext: Book 1 within easy reach. A book like Eunoia treats language as a material to be worked, like wood or steel, in a way that is incredibly compelling to me.
Today, my love of language manifests itself mainly in writing constrained poetry. Sometimes I imagine the entire English language as a vast cloud of words and meanings hovering like dust. Working with constraints unearths the hidden seams in that cloud. This type of work is like mining, in that you’re discovering beauty that’s in some sense already there. When I find something that strikes me as perfect, like the fact that ‘canoe’ is an anagram of ‘ocean,’ I feel like the language itself is speaking to me, and that these words are speaking to each other across the universe.
I love art in general, but I think that language is the most interesting medium to work in — largely because human beings have this powerful, innate apparatus for processing language, which means that art built out of language can intrigue us and move us in such complex and subtle ways.
2.1. In what way is Bok’s language compelling
Bök’s poetry has a level of intricacy, precision, richness, and joy that I haven’t found elsewhere. Constrained writing has a mechanical quality, by nature. When done well, it’s both mechanical and organic, like a machine made of blown glass.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
Nearly every weekday, I wake up early and go to a coffee shop a very short walk from my apartment to spend an hour or two writing before work. I have the luxury of living close to my office, which essentially means I’m writing instead of commuting. I love having this time to myself to focus on my projects before anything else takes my attention. I’m often writing in other spare moments throughout the day, especially when I’m feeling excited about a particular piece, but the morning routine is the most critical part of my process.
4. What motivates you to write?
Creativity has always been extremely important to me. I love art because it’s the most human thing we have — it’s what human beings do in the absence of all need. I’m driven to try to create beautiful things and put them out into the world. I also really enjoy the process of writing, which for me is very meditative.
5. What is your work ethic?
I’m in the lucky position that my creative projects very rarely feel like work. Sometimes, especially early on in a project, they are some combination of play and relaxation. At other times, a passion to produce takes over me, and I lose myself in the work. In the rare cases when it feels like a slog, my vision of the finished product is what carries me to the end. It’s more of a need than a want.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I was a Harry Potter fanatic as a kid. I designed Harry Potter board games, made exhaustive lists of spells, and read the books over and over. I love the richness of the worlds that Rowling creates, and in my writing, I strive to use description in a similar way, to build windows into a world that feels immense and detailed. I was also a big Stephen King fan as a kid and teenager. King is a master of storytelling, and books like The Gunslinger have an atmosphere all their own. The major lesson I took from his work is that writing does not need to be fancy to be effective. Simple words and images can be the most powerful, which is critical to my writing today, since constrained writing often demands simplicity.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Bök, definitely, since I love his work so much. I admire Anthony Etherin, who produces tightly constrained works like palindromes, ‘aelindromes’ (palindromes of heterogeneous units), and anagram poems, for his extraordinary craftsmanship. Other poets whose work with constraint I find compelling are Ken Hunt, Nikki Sheppy, and Lucy Dawkins, all of whom (at times) combine strict rules with a clean, subtle aesthetic sensibility.
Outside the world of constraint, I’m a fan of poets like Rosebud Ben-Oni and Douglas Kearney, who (in vastly different ways) revel in experimentation and grant each poem its own dialect. I admire the simple grace of Billy Collins and the exuberance of Jonathan van Belle. Although I should say that, especially with mainstream poetry, I’m much more likely to become attached to individual poems than to a poet’s body of work. Outside the world of poetry, I admire the intellect and imagination of Neal Stephenson and the evocative language of Annie Proulx.
8. Why do you write?
I love the process and the products of creative work. Creativity is at the core of who I am. There’s a deep satisfaction to putting art out into the world that I’m proud of, art that I think is worthwhile.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?
Here’s what worked for me — at least, here’s how I went from toying with writing to finishing and publishing projects I’m proud of:
Take a hard look at your internet addiction, and eliminate the time you waste compulsively checking websites. Establish a routine and stick to it. Write the thing you know you want to write someday — just do it now. Only put things out into the world when you believe they cannot be improved.
10. And finally, Luke, tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
You’ve caught me in the limbo period between major projects. My most recent collection, Glossology, came out just under a month ago. I have several individual poems that are nearly done, some to submit to specific places. Many, many more are in their earliest stages. Some of these are lipograms following the same rule as Glossology: definitions of a term that use only the letters in the term itself. As for a larger, longer-term project, I’m currently playing with a few possibilities: a collection of reverse lipograms; a collection of “column poems” similar to the poems “The Barn” and “Yes I’ve Loved” from my debut collection, Abacus; a loose collection of constrained poetry guided by the alphabet in various ways; and a loose collection with various numeric rules around letter counts. Of course, there’s a good chance I’ll scrap all of these when I get excited about another idea and run with it.