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.
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon
Ceinwen lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. After a career as a probation officer, a mental health social worker and a practice educator she is concentrating on writing. She writes short stories and poetry. She has been published in web magazines and print anthologies. These include Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Alliterati, Stepaway, Poets Speak (whilst they still can), Three Drops from the Cauldron, Snakeskin, Obsessed with Pipework, The Linnet’s Wing, Blue Nib, Picaroon, Amaryllis, Algebra of Owls, Write to be Counted, The Lake, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter, Poetry Shed, Southbank Poetry, Smeuse, Bandit Fiction, Atrium, Marauder, Prole, The Curlew, Mothers Always Write, Muse-Pie Press, Peeking Cat, Confluence, Porridge, Hedgehog, FlashBack Fiction and up-coming in Stonecoast Review. She was Highly Commended in the Blue Nib Chapbook Competition and and won the Hedgehog Press Poetry Competition ‘Songs to Learn and Sing’. [August 2018].
In 2017 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University and she is now developing practice as a creative writing facilitator with hard to reach groups. She believes everyone’s voice counts.
1. What were the circumstances under which you begin to write poetry?
As I young child I wrote poetry and poured my heart out onto the pages of my diary. This stopped when my mother found the book and was livid. She said that my thoughts were not appropriate for a twelve year old girl and I was punished. After that, I wrote poetry at times of crisis or exceptional happiness in my life, but I took care to hide them before eventually destroying them. This practice continued through my adult life. Writing the poems helped me to process what was happening to me.
2. Who Introduced You to Poetry?
I always loved language and read voraciously, but this was mainly prose. None of my English teachers worked with poetry and apart from a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury at home, my exposure to it was minimal. This carried on as far as my A Level course in English Literature. In 2014 I signed up for a WEA course in Creative Writing run by Ira Lightman. It was here that I started to learn about poetry, amongst other forms. In 2015, post-retirement, I enrolled on a MA course in Creative Writing at Newcastle University I had already had a number of short stories published on-line (Fiction on the Web) and I expected to develop my craft as a prose writer. In the second year, I took a module taught by Tara Bergin, and I fell in love with poetry. My early efforts were embarrassing but gradually, with generous support from tutors and peers, I began to find my voice. Jacob Polley, who supervised my final dissertation was extremely generous with his guidance and encouragement. Since then I have had the privilege of being taught by a number of excellent poets who are also skilled teachers. I also benefit from being part of Carte Blanche, a women’s writing group that meets weekly in term time, in Newcastle. I am constantly learning from this extraordinary community of poets.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
In one sense very aware, but at the same time everything was new to me. I quickly realised that if I was serious about becoming a writer of poetry (a poet even – although the word scared me), then I had to start reading and listening to make up for my parlous lack of experience.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
It varies enormously, according to what else is happening. That said, I need to write every day for at least an hour and sometimes for most of the day. I am definitely a lark rather than an owl and so, on busy days I try to get some writing time in very early in the morning before everything takes off. On the rare occasions that I do not write for an entire day I feel restless and edgy.
I write best in peace and quiet, free of distractions. For the last few months I have rented a tiny office in our village hall near to my house. This room of my own is wonderful.
I love going to writing workshops to get my ideas flowing. But, I’ve had to accept that I’ll never be a poet who can produced decent work almost fully formed in a brief period of time. I have to keep editing and redrafting. At one point, I was tempted to avoid these situations since I felt that my work was weak. I have to remember, it’s not a competition.
After initial scribblings, I tend to work on the computer much earlier than some people. Partly, this is because my hand writing is appalling but also I find that I can be more analytical with the redrafting/editing if |I do that.
5. What motivates you to write?
At its simplest, to make sense of life, express myself and connect with others. At one level it is a compulsion. When I write I access a mental and emotional space that is the core of who I’ve become. It is here that I process what my life has held/holds, my environment, my links to my fellow humans, my responses to the world. The creative process is absorbing and thrilling and allows me to have some small agency in a chaotic and cruel world. Having discovered it, I have to return here to survive.
In terms of language, I like to re-home words, reclaim them e.g. take sexual language back from being associated with terms of abuse or make words work in new ways in different contexts.
One of my greatest challenges is to learn the craft of compression – concision is the natural antidote to my tendency to be over-wordy, lexically flabby. Learning to use language in a cleaner and more muscular way, helps me to think more clearly too. In these present socio-political and economic times, I need to do this more than ever before.
6. What is your work ethic?
I currently have the luxury of being able to do what I love. I want to honour that and work as hard as I can. I have been helped on this journey by so many people and I hope to give something of that back by supporting others, especially those in challenging circumstances, to find their voice and express themselves through creative language.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I love work that speaks of women’s experiences, in the fullest sense. Writing that embraces good behaviour, bad behaviour, sexuality, flawed humanity, strength and struggle, weakness and decay. Work that avoids stereotypes and the madonna/whore dichotomy. Poetry that channels reflection on the big issues through the specific, intimate and domestic engages me profoundly.
I also enjoy many male writers, but most of them already have sufficient exposure, whereas the female voice has often been lost in the noise or actively suppressed.
It is so hard to choose my favourite authors, but the authors/books in this list have all meant a great deal to me over the last couple of years:
Helen Farish (Intimates), Sharon Olds, (Stag’s Leap), Ellen Phethean (Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman), Helen Dunmore (Taken from Inside the Wave), Dai George (The Claim’s Office), Sinead Morrissey (Parallax), Tara Bergin (The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx), David Morley (The Gypsy and the Poet), Anna Woodford (Birdhouse), Kate Garrett (Land, Sea and Turning), Raine Geoghegan (Apple Water: Povel Panni).
Lisa Matthews (Callisto)
Elizabeth Strout (especially The Burgess Boys, Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible), Lydia Davis (Collected Short Stories), Sarah Hall (Madame Zero), Lorrie Moore (Birds of America).
8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?
Read, read, read and write, write, write. Do both things as widely as possible and start to learn to read as a writer, building up knowledge of how writing works (or not). Learn to be brave and share your work with critical friends. Take their suggestions seriously but also trust your own judgement.
When you do start to submit work for publication accept that rejections are inevitable. Even accomplished and experienced writer receive numbers of them, (so they tell me!) Take the pieces back to the drawing board, redraft if necessary and then resubmit elsewhere. Don’t take rejections personally – they may indicate that a poem isn’t fully realised and needs more work. However, the personal aesthetic tastes of the editor(s), the overall shape/theme of a publication and the nature of other submissions can also lead to good poems being rejected.
9. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment?
I am trying to establish myself as a freelance arts tutor. I have a particular interest in working with people living with dementia and I have some opportunities unfolding at present. These involve using the Timeslips method of group story telling. This approach relies on stimulating the imagination of elders rather than drawing on memory.
I continue to try to find publication opportunities for my poems and I hope that I might be in a position to release a pamphlet before too long. I have a significant number of poems although they do not maintain singular themes.
Teachers have given me very good advice:
When writing, recognise what causes you discomfort and go there anyway. That is where the magic happens.
I would also say:
When you write, be fearless with no holds barred, with the caveat that when you offer work for publication, be wise and recognise the potential impact of your words. You are not obliged to modify your work to protect others, however be self-aware, clear and deliberate. Once your poems are ‘out there’, you can’t pull them back.
Overcome the fear that readers will assume that all your work (with its characters, points of view and values), reflects your own behaviour and attitudes. It is worth tearing off this straight-jacket. Whilst most pieces have some relationship to the authors lived experience, many are not strictly autobiographical.
Don’t confuse maintaining the truth/authenticity of a poem (as a work of art), with slavish attendance to factual accuracy. The introduction of fiction and play can make a poem’s tonal voice ‘more true’. Also, attending to poetic form, the sound of words, effective images and rhythms of speech can make that truth more accessible to the reader. These all validate the making of adjustments to the structure and content of the lines in the poem. Even the central conceit of a poem might be fictional yet allow the poem to communicate something personal and important e.g. a childless woman poet might write in the voice of a mother.
I was honoured, and a bit overwhelmed, to be invited by you to do this interview. I am very much an ‘early career’ poet although I am sixty-six years old. This process gave me chance to reflect, especially on all the support that I’ve received from the poetry community in the North East and on how far I’ve come since 2014. It has been a lovely experience to participate in your project, and I’d like to thank you very much.