Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Peter J. King

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 J. King

was active on the London poetry scene in the 1970s, running Tapocketa Press and co-editing words worth magazine with Alaric Sumner. Aside from a brief return to writing and publishing in the 1980s, and translating from modern Greek poetry with Andrea Christofidou, he abandoned poetry for philosophy until 2013, since when he has been writing, performing, and publishing frenetically.
His poetry, including translations from German and modern Greek, has been published in journals such as Acumen, Bare Fiction, The Curlew, Dream Catcher, Eye to the Telescope, The Interpreter’s House Lighthouse, New Walk, Osiris, Raum, Oxford Magazine, the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore,
A Restricted View from Under the Hedge, Shoreline of Infinity, Tears in the Fence, and The Writers’ Café. His latest collections are Adding Colours to the Chameleon (2016, Wisdom’s Bottom Press) and All What Larkin (2017, Albion Beatnik Press). A second, expanded edition of the latter is scheduled to come out some time in 2019.


Peter J. King

The Interview

When and why did you start writing poetry?

It was at school — probably when I was about sixteen or so. I can’t say why (it’s a fairly common thing to do at that age, or was then; perhaps less common to think in terms of people reading it, and to continue writing).

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

It’s hard to say; I have two sets of memories, but they’re not chronologically orderable. One is of my father’s books, and his encouraging me to read (not that I needed much encouragement!); the other is of what I encountered at school, both primary and (more significantly, I think) secondary.

3. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets, traditional and contemporary?

The question assumes that there’s a dominating presence of which to be aware… I don’t feel dominated by other poets; I either enjoy what they write or I don’t. When I do (perhaps especially when I don’t), it might give me ideas for my own writing, or it might have no effect on me.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m not a creature of routine, except when it’s imposed upon me. In the dim, dead past (especially in the 1970s), I used to write a lot at night, often all through the night. That’s no longer possible, but I might write (or paint, or both) at any time that I feel like it. I do tend to like writing in public places such as cafés, restaurants, and trains — but that’s also irregular.

5. What motivates you to write?

I ought to be able to answer that, as my career (?) as a poet has a very useful shape: I was very active on the London poetry scene in the 1970s, centred on the Poetry Society and the Troubadour; I had what might be termed an emotional breakdown which stopped me writing for a few years, but I returned briefly in the early 1980s; academic work then took over, and I didn’t write again until 2013, since when I’ve been extremely active. So, given all that, shouldn’t I be able to say why I did or didn’t write during those different periods? Yet I can’t. I write because I enjoy it, both the process and the product. I’d write even if no-one but me was going to read it, but having other people read and hear my poetry is also a pleasure.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m never wholly sure what that means. There’s the chilling notion of a Protestant Work Ethic, but having been brought up a Catholic (long lapsed) I’ve never suffered from that. Leaving aside an odd usage that uses “ethic” to gesture at a kind of self-absorbed concern with oneself, but taking it to mean some sort of set of moral principles, then I think that most work is demeaning and soul destroying, forced upon people as a necessary part of the capitalist system in which we’re imprisoned. That our current government thinks that it has a duty to force people into this demeaning activity (relabelled “dignity-providing”)­ by treating them badly until they give in, is appalling. On the other hand, as Flanders and Swan so elegantly put it:

Heat is work and work’s a curse
And all the heat in the universe
Is gonna cool down as it can’t increase
Then there’ll be no more work
And there’ll be perfect peace
Yeah, that’s entropy, man!

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

Another one that’s hard to answer. Leila Berg’s “Little Pete” stories have never left me, and my lifelong love of science fiction has had a big (and is currently having a huge) effect on my writing. Of all the poets whose work I read before the age of, say, nineteen (before I discovered “experimental” poetry, and came under the influence of Bob Cobbing, et al.), the ones that made the biggest impression were probably Rupert Brooke, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Paul Verlaine, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, and Kenneth Patchen. They’ve probably all affected me in one way or another.

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

I love Sophie Herxheimer’s poetry — both on the page and in performance. Camilla Nelson and Amy McCauley have both produced poetry and performance that have really grabbed and excited me. Adnan al Sayegh, Ruba Abughaida, Wole Soyinka, Jenny Lewis, Jee Leong Koh… I’ll end up just listing all the poets whose poetryI’ve enjoyed. For the most part, I’m very reluctant to rank them in any way.

9. Why do you write?

I can’t really disentangle that from Q. 5 (“What motivates you to write?”).

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

You write. There’s nothing more. To be a good writer, you read (not just the same things over and over, but new things), enjoy what you read, and write a lot.

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

I don’t generally have projects, as such (I find the idea of “writing my next book” rather perplexing and alien to my understanding of poetry — more like what an academic writer does, or a novelist). I’m currently putting together a collection of poems that I’ve written over the decades inspired by and on themes of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and myth, and writing some new poems for that. I’m creating some new cut-up poems for the second, expanded edition of my “All What Larkin”, coming out next year from Albion Beatnik Press. I’m writing lots of other poems as they come to me, in all sorts of styles and on all sorts of themes. I’m filling in gaps in a sequence of seven-line poems on “Great Britain by Registration Numbers”, which I’ve been writing on and off for a couple of years. I’m also working intermittently on translations of the Greek poets Kavafis, Karyotakis, and Doros Loizou ( in collaboration with Andrea Christofidou) and the German poet Gustav Sack, and on reversionings of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems.

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