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.
Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by Financial Times, New Scientist and the BBC amongst many others. His debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. A member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, he is also chair of the London writer development organization Spread The Word.
- When and why did you start writing poetry?
So (and forgive me if this has the air of a well-polished anecdote) but I cam to poetry late-ish, about 2007, when I was 29, 30. I hadn’t studied literature, and my own real exposure to verse until then had been Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate (a book I still love, by the way). Anyway, I was on Oxford Street in London one lunchtime (I worked just round the corner) and popped into the big Borders bookshop that was there then. As I was going up the escalator, I spotted this book called ‘Ashes for Breakfast’. Intrigued, I grabbed it, opened it and…. BOOM! A proper moment of revelation, damascene conversion if you want to get pretentious. I hadn’t realised – didn’t know – you could do this with words – not go to the end of the page, be all cool in tone, make classical allusions easily, talk about urban life…. I was entranced, and pretty much knew there and then this was the stuff I wanted to write. I had no clue how to write it of course, so I signed up to an introduction to poetry course at CityLit with Clare Pollard, and that was really the start of it all for me.
2. Who introduced you to Vikram Seth?
Again, this was a chance discovery – this time the Waterstones in Oxford when it was a Dillons – it was a Faber reissue with a lovely, moodily atmospheric pink cover, and it looked like it’d be a good follow up to Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, which I’d just finished. Little did I know the treats that lay in store!
2.1 How would you describe the treats that lay in store?
Oh, well – the musicality for one, the sheer joie de vivre with which he animates the Pushkin stanzas, the turns of phrase, the fact that it is actually a novel, with three dimensional characters… Whenever I re-read it, which is quite often, I’m struck by the fact that if I could pull of such a thing, I would die happy.
2.2 How did you get your love of book shops?
I guess it sort of emerged later… To be honest, most of my teenage years were spent hanging around record shops, especially Sister Ray in Soho; lost count of how many CDs I bought in there between the ages of 13 and 18.
3. How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
Interesting that you use ‘dominating’ there… are you suggesting that there are perhaps a few poets, both living and dead, who take up a disproportionate amount of critical and wider public attention?
I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the premise but: let’s start from the vantage point that our aim should be to learn from ‘the best’ poets, old and young, wherever and whenever they were writing. Now, does that and should that definition of ‘the best’ be radically wider than traditionally it has been? Yes absolutely – the idea that ‘the best’ can only be white heterosexual male poets is clearly daft; at least to me it’s self evident that there is plenty of brilliance to be found, that just happens not to arrive looking like how we might have once characterised brilliance to be.
Candidly I’ve never felt ‘dominated’ – what I have been is hungry to try and learn from why these voices might have been lionised, and then try and work out what I could usefully steal for my own ends. Plus I really feel it’s good to read as widely as you can; I love the metaphysicals especially, and have ranged back to Hafez and others… it’s healthy to want to be both part of a tradition… and then also want to tweak its nose a bit, right?
Instead of ‘dominating’ let’s say that I was very definitely looking for role models to learn from, not just in terms of how to write but also how to be a poet. Seeing people like you, writing, being heard is important I feel – it gives you a sense that not only should I be in this space, I can be too.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Multi layered answer to this I’m afraid, as my day job is also as a writer, a copywriter in advertising / branding / design agency. So, I’m pretty much doing some form of ‘writing’ 5, 6 days a week, and every day the blank page will be fllled with something, and sometimes this might even be poetic. If I’m full on at work, then chances are that poems and other non work writing happens in stolen moments at lunch, on the commute home; when it’s quieter at work, I’ll try and steal some time in office hours; there’s a lot of compiling, revising and editing at the weekend, generally in a coffee shop.
5. What motivates your writing?
The obvious ones are vanity, and a horrible realisation that I can’t do much else that is actually practically useful and or able to earn me much y way of coin.
Beyond that – everything starts with a phrase doesn’t it? Something that lodges, that sticks, that you want to talk for a walk and see what happens next… does it capture an image, a mood, a metaphor…? That process of finding out, that sitting down with a notebook and a coffee and for 30 minutes, an hour, seeing what happens – that’s generally pure pleasure, and I guess why I keep coming back to it. When you’re flying – when you’re flowing – there’s only a few better feelings.
And as I do this more and more, well I guess there are subjects I want to start to attack, to try and find out what I think about them; but I’m not the sort of writer who has a view and needs to express it; I need to write to find out what that view is.
6. What is your work ethic?
Ha! Stolen from an old creative director: “Be brilliant, do loads.” I struggle on both counts.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Pass – and not out of a desire to be difficult, but a) I struggle to think of who I was reading when young apart from Aesop’s fables, Narnia… b) because I came to writing poems so late, I’m not sure I can track a straight line of influence through.
8. Why do you write?
For money, for fame (ha!), to trouble posterity (double ha!), because I can’t do anything else, because I don’t want to do anything else, because I’m a failed seducer and flailing intriguer, because I’m not handsome enough to be on telly, and I’m to lazy to do a proper job.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read – Read more than you are right now, read more than you think you can, read what you like, read what you don’t like, read things that you do know, reads things that you don’t, read from first page to last, read only one page and then throw the book away… if you do not read you will never become a writer.
10. And finally Rishi, tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Well, there’s this – tinyletter.com/betarish – flash fiction pieces, 90 of ‘em; a draft of book 2 is inching its way into the world, a long narrative poem; and I have a crazy idea to write something about American Football; but no one wants to read poems about sports, do they?
Cutscenes by Betarish