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.
lives in Glastonbury. Her collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, concerns our relationship with nature, (published by Indigo Dreams). Recent anthology: #MeToo. Journals incl: Tears in the Fence, The Rialto, Under the Radar, Shearsman, Lighthouse, The Interpreters House. Her new pamphlet, Girl Golem, about family, migrant heritage and sense of being ’other’, is published by 4Word Press.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I grew up with Christopher Robin. As a child I went to elocution lessons, to obliterate my flat northern vowels and because I was clearly a little, show-off performer (I later became a professional actor). I spent several years reciting: Hilaire Belloc, Gerard Manley Hopkins & Edwin Muir. I remember relishing the word sounds. My Mother loved poetry, so there were classic collections at home, that I could read. I started writing when I was reading Eliot, Donne, Herbert, Dylan Thomas, Wilfred Owen and such at school. I wrote to express teenage angst and a longing to escape. Angst kept me going for a decade or so, until my sister became ill with cancer, dying in 1985. I was then commissioned to write a book for cancer patients and began to take my writing more seriously.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
As mentioned, my mother loved poetry, then elocution classes & school, particularly A levels. In the eighties a friend introduced me to Angels of Fire, a poet performance group. We’d sit a write in a café near Tottenham Court Rd. I performed with them a couple of times. It was the perfect combination of being an actor & poet. I still love doing collaborative readings with a touch of theatre.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I’m pretty old myself now, so it was normal to read Victorian & Georgian War poets, back then. Then, there was ee cummings and William Carlos Williams. Then, there were the Liverpool Poets – my generation, who had accents & wrote in common language. I grew up just outside Liverpool and was a teenager in the 60s.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Bed & more bed! I used to avoid writing, by going to my desk, turning on my computer to check emails, telling myself I’d do it after, but time always ran out. Thankfully now I work less, I’ve reversed it. I can spend whole mornings in bed reading poetry, writing, going online. Jo Bell’s 52 got me writing daily, which she encouraged.
5. What motivates you to write?
Hmm it’s changed. I don’t have so much to say these days and rely more on prompts, workshops and hearing certain poets.
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m not sure what you mean by this. I try to keep myself challenged to improve and get feedback. I read, go to events and keep connected to the poetry community, which I love. Ethic to me, also means being supportive of other poets, writing about issues that matter to me, such as #MeToo anthology, eco issues.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young, influence you today?
I’m not sure if they do. Living itself imbues us with outlook, values and all sorts of subliminal stuff. I don’t go back and read them. I’m an Aries and tend to keep moving on. There are so many amazing poets today, I just trust that those of the past have gotten into my woodwork and added to its patina.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I tend to respond to poets who are direct, with fresh imagery, who write with passion, and who connect me to my heart. I’m not good with very cerebral poetry. There’s something about poets who’ve experienced dark times and have courageously kept their humanity. They’re way-showers and help us too. Poets like: Jo Bell, Kim Moore, Kai Miller, Ocean Vuong. I also love poets who are witty, surreal and playful like Kathryn Maris, Hilda Sheehan and lately I enjoyed seeing the American writer D.A. Powell.
9. Why do you write?
I’ve always been creative in different forms, with a desire to communicate. In fact, it overwhelmed & confused me, when I was young. I had periods of doing art, and times of writing, in between acting jobs. The ‘in between time’ was far greater than working time. I no longer do art, but have a much more fraught relationship with it, than with writing. I’ve a massive resistance block with art, plus cost of materials, need for storage space. Writing, and poetry in particular, is so portable. You can pick up & put down a poem. It can last for years of tweaking, editing. I still have a rollercoaster relationship with self-belief in my writing, as do most poets. One moment you’re in love with your latest poem, the next, it’s dog-chewed doggerel. I’ve written 2 self-help books since being commissioned to write a book for cancer patients & families, back in the 80s. I love the idea that someone can benefit from my writing. I have a regular column of articles in the local journal. I’m a psychotherapist so it’s an outlet for my insights about human experience.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Oh gosh, there’s so much on this topic. Firstly, a desire/need to write that will not be put-off by the many obstacles. Just write, even if it’s a private journal, get used to putting your thoughts down. Observe things closely. If you want to get published, join a writing group, do a course. This means being prepared for feedback and re-editing work you hold dear. It’s confidence building to have support from other writers, not just friends who adore everything you do. Learn to take rejection and keep going. Reading is paramount, find writing/writers you admire; let them inspire you and identify where you might fit into the broad church of writing. Like many naïve poets, I thought reading others might interfere with my ‘voice’. I was so embarrassed when I realised my arrogance. So, beware of grandiosity and leaping ahead of yourself. It’s pointless sending your unseen manuscript to Faber when you’ve never been published. Having said that, try to avoid comparing yourself with your peers, it’s a deadly pursuit that spawns envy and wrecks confidence. You’ll never be a Carol Ann Duffy, that part’s taken. There are so many talented poets out there. Aim to be the best you can be, challenge yourself. Be genuine and write from who you are.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m still enthusiastically launching my new pamphlet, Girl Golem, which was published by 4Word in September and doing readings. It’s the culmination of several years’ writing, on my childhood & family heritage. My parents were child migrants from Ukrainian Russia in 1912 & 1914. The sense of ‘otherness & foreignness’ is a major theme, one that pervaded my childhood and youth. Being Jewish was one factor (as was not being an orthodox Jew), being left-handed, creative, spiritual, and lesbian were other obstacles I battled with. It took me till nearly 50 to feel at home in myself. Despite my current post-publishing doldrums, I hope to expand Girl Golem into a collection that explores wider themes of identity, in relationships, with nature, society and of course ageing. I will be 70 next year and it feels like a big deal. I may be entering my last decade and I want to make the most of it, while I can.