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.
Editor of The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’), publisher of Original Plus books, I was born Blackpool 1946 and am now living in Blaengarw, South Wales. While I am still a freelance writer my last day job was as an amusement arcade cashier. But I have also been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator…….. working at anything, in fact, which paid the rent, enabled me to raise my three daughters and which didn’t got too much in the way of my writing. I now have several poetry collections (the latest being Speculations & Changes: KFS) and novels to my name (the 2 latest novels being Marraton: IDP and The Friendship of Dagda & Tinker Howth: united p.c. (see website http://thesamsmith.webs.com/
and for The Journal http://sites.google.com/site/samsmiththejournal/ )
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
It was so long ago, and it all seemed to happen at once. A girlfriend gave me Henry Miller’s Smile at the Foot of a Ladder, and it decided me to become a writer, to try to produce, in my then worthless life ,something as worthwhile as that novel. But when I imagined myself as writer it was as a novelist, not a poet. Albeit that my very first attempt as a ‘writer’ was a poem, about an abortion. I was 22. And over the following 23 years of trying to get my novels published in moments of crisis I often sought to express side issues in poems. But not poems that I ever tried to get published.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Libraries, I think. But I was a voracious reader from an early age, absorbed a lot through cultural osmosis. A post-WW2 baby there was so much change happening about me as I grew, Blighty-type doggerel and tin pan alley pop music was slipping rapidly into the past. Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ginsberg’s Howl, were all showing me how different just song lyrics could be; and I was knocked sideways by the poetry of Thom Gunn. That spoke to me.
But as I say I was concentrating on writing novels and trying to get them published. I was given enough encouragement by leaping various publishers’ hurdles, and by agents briefly taking me on, to keep on writing and trying. Even though my biggest fault so far as publishers were concerned was that they didn’t think my novels ‘commercial.’ Until, after the latest disappointment, when all had seemed so promising, I decided I had to have something of mine in print and poems seemed the easier option. So I dashed off a 5 page poem featuring my work then as a psychiatric nursing assistant.
My friend and neighbour at that time was the painter Derek Southall. I gave him a copy of the poem. He was old friends with the poet and translator Michael Hamburger, and Derek sent him a copy of the poem. Michael commended the poem but said that it contained at least 10 shorter poems. I broke the 5 page poem into shorter poems, submitted batches to various magazines and was soon getting an acceptance a month. I wrote more poems. Within a couple of years I had my first collection. That sold well, and then the novels started getting into print. And I haven’t stopped since.
A side effect of having so much to do with publishers, and curious about how it was done, led me – under the guidance of the late Derrick Woolf of Odyssey Press – to also starting my own magazine and small press. Principally to help others into print, and to put forward my own taste in poetry and to put back some of what the small press had given me, principally confidence.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
They belonged back in school. Except for Thomas Hardy, he was still, and still is, relevant. But beyond school there was Rimbaud, Auden, Eliot waiting and to have me wondering what next? And then of course there was Ezra Pound. But it was all kinds of writing that I was, and still am, interested in, novel ways of looking at any subject by any author in any genre. Just take Stephen Dobyns, thriller writer and poet, or Martin Stannard, critic and poet, Sylvia Plath, playwright and poet.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Up at 6:30, desk at 7:00. Answer emails, fill orders for The Journal and Original Plus; then see where I am in my writing schedule. Which can be my blog – http://www.thesamsmith.simplesite.com – or my latest novel, or ideas for a poem, or to catch up on Submissions to The Journal or edits for a new Original Plus chapbook. The schedule can of course go out the window if there’s something outstanding or urgently required.
That will take me up to midday when I pause for lunch. If the weather is fine and dry I might go for a walk, do some gardening; or more likely get stuck into household chores, family obligations. If it’s raining, and there’s no chores, family things to do, I’ll probably return to my desk, or take up a book, newspaper. Evening’s usually telly: at my age I’m too knackered for ought else.
5. What motivates you to write?
In the beginning it was to explain myself, to tell of the world that I knew, in my way. The way other people used words didn’t match what I was experiencing. And I’m still struggling to find that metier.
Now though writing has become my character. It’s who I am, what I do
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m task-oriented. The work needs to be done, I do it. So I set myself tasks, see them through to completion. Fortunately I’ve never been driven by the desire for either fame or fortune. Fame could have sold more books, and fortune would have been helpful, but really satisfaction lies mostly in getting the job done.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
We had very few ‘good’ books at home. ‘Coral Island’ by Ballantyne I must have read about a dozen times. It was when I was at sea I read most – Hemingway and Steinbeck in the ship’s library among the storytellers. What drew me to them was their willingness to try new ways of telling a story. Then when I left and lived in Chelsea, books that were pressed on me came from many directions. Eliot and Auden I suppose continue to influence, along with William Carlos Williams, and through those three to Japanese poetry. Which among other translated poetry has been a greater influence on my own writing than any in English. Something about the different rhythms, a certain clarity…
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Over the last few years I’ve been amassing the works of Haruki Murakami, fascinated by his storytelling abilities, different again. Of poets another who, like Murakami, can seamlessly introduce the fantastic into the ordinary and make it make sense, is K V Skene. Both are beyond magic realism, make the ordinary extraordinary. But really there are just so many good writers about at the moment and it’s been my privilege to work , as editor and/or publisher, with many of them.
9. Why do you write?
Not to get rich. One of the hardest things to accept in my first few years of being a writer, of trying to find time to write, was having to have a day job. Now, with it being nigh on impossible to make a living out of writing, I see it as part of any writer’s/artist’s calling – the day job.
As I said before I write to try and get across my version of the world, which is still at odds with the mainstream version. I’m still trying to create the perfect work of art. I’ll know it when I see it. But I know now my limitations. I am no showman, am rubbish at publicity and performing. The private bit of writing is what I relish.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Get pen, paper, keyboard; and write. And when you’re pleased with what you have written, submit it to an appropriate publisher; and accept the likely rejection. Look again at the work, identify failings, and try again. And take care over which day job, or way of making a living, you go for: it will inevitably inform your writing.
11.Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve got several poetry projects. One long term one is occasionally adding poems to a collection, Scenes from a Country Life, which has poems covering all the country places I have lived for any length of time. Another looks to be building up to a chapbook length collection of Mock Sonnets. Another in the making is one provisionally titled Futureless.
The novel I’m working on has the working title http://www.spousecheck.com. I’m still uncertain what that’s about.
I started a year of blogging called Beginnings and I’ve yet to bring that to a close. At least let myself off the hook of regular postings.
And then of course there’s the next issue of The Journal to put together. Reviews to do for that; and the latest Original Plus production.
I also have 2 novels, Trees: the Tree Prospectus and Once Were Windows Once Were Doors, sitting in publisher’s slush piles. Should either get accepted then I’ll be immersed in the edit of that. I love working with a good editor. Best learning curve I know
My front page – thesamsmith.simplesite.com
As a writer it is so easy to be seduced into the use, the re-use, the misuse of myth. It is such a convenient shorthand, be it of the savagery of Vikings or, here in the UK, the hardiness of Ooop-North menfolk.