Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sheila Jacob

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.

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Sheila Jacob

was born and raised in Birmingham, has lived in South Wales for ten years and now lives in North East Wales with her husband. She has three children and five grandchildren. She resumed writing poetry in 2013 after a long absence and since then has had work published in various U.K.magazines and webzines including Sarasvati, The Dawntreader, Reach Poetry, Clear Poetry, The Poet by Day, Atrium, Bonnie’s Crew and The Cannon’s Mouth.

The Interview
1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’d say world events and in particular, the Vietnam War. I was born in 1950 and belonged to a generation-and a group of school friends – that was very politically aware. I guess this tied in with the music we listened to e.g. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I remember being deeply distressed by T.V. footage I saw of napalm bombing and of the U.S. troops. Young lads, for the most part, trying to make sense of war in a geographically alien and hostile environment. I remember writing a poem about Laos when I was 16 from the point of view of a soldier there.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

A wonderful, elderly teacher called Miss Lloyd when I entered the Sixth Form at school and began coursework for A level English. She introduced us to T.S.Eliot, John Donne, George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins, amongst others. She was also a great admirer of Ted Hughes. I was overawed by The Wasteland and the haunting beauty of Four Quartets. It was like seeing the world for the first time. I then began reading anything that appealed to me. I loved-and still love–the Russian poets Anna Ahkmatova, Marins Tsvetaeva, Bella Ahkmadulina and especially Yevgeny Yevtushenko who was frequently a thorn in the Soviet government’s side in the late 1960’s.His poem Babi Yar is a masterpiece.
A fellow student introduced me to the poetry of R.S.Thomas when I was at University in Aberystwyth. I was disturbed by his Welsh nationalism but loved his poetry.
On another level, I grew up surrounded by books. Both my parents were working class Brummies who had to leave school at fourteen but they loved to read and my Dad excelled at what was called Composition at school. He was great encourager. After I passed my 11-plus he took me to a department store called The Midland Educational and bought me a Conway Stewart fountain pen. We then went to a furniture shop and he bought me a writing bureau which I still have, it had a slight flaw in the woodwork so was reduced in price. I was devastated by his death at the age of 48, when I was almost 15.
Mum came from a slightly better-off family and before she was married, bought a wooden cabinet she filled with books. Shakespeare’s plays, all the Bronte classics (her favourites), Charles Dickens, Louisa M. Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hans Christian Anderson. And poetry! Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Walter De La Mare. I was a precocious reader and there was no restriction on which books I could look at. I doubt if I understood much of the more complex works but I loved the cadences and rhythms and the layout of words on the page.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I didn’t give it a moment’s thought. I don’t mean this flippantly, it just didn’t impact on me at the time.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I like to write for an hour or more in the morning after (or during!) breakfast, maybe again in the afternoon. A lot depends on what I’m writing and also, of course, what’s going on in the “real world” outside my head! I try to write everyday even if it’s just a few words.My husband is retired and writes fantasy fiction so we try not to bury ourselves in our laptops!

5. What motivates you to write & 9.Why do you write?

I can’t separate these two questions, Paul. I write to sort things out in my mind. I need to articulate experiences I’ve been through, even if it’s a painful process. I believe in the value of shared experience and giving a voice to those who lived the past, who have died but are never gone. What I really love is when I start writing and the poem takes me in a totally different direction from the one I planned. I get a buzzing in my ears and I realise there is a genuine power and mystery to words: to the creative process, if you like.
There are times, of course, when the well dries up and I doubt if I’ll ever write another poem!

6. What is your work ethic?

What an intriguing question! I’ve never considered it before. I suppose it would be to write to the best of my ability and not compromise on deeply-held beliefs and values for the sake of having a poem published.

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

I couldn’t say how they influence what I write but I still read them, and appreciate them more as I grow older. I always read T.S.Eliot at Christmas and Easter. George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins and R.S.Thomas are my go-to poets when I need a spiritual uplift. I read the Russian poets to recapture my sense of wonder.

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

There are so many, where do I start?!
Gillian Clarke, mainly, who is still writing and tutoring at the age of 81. She has a lyrical, incisive and inquiring voice rooted in her Welsh upbringing which was complex because she wasn’t taught to speak Welsh at home though it was the first language of both her parents. When she was growing up, English was the language of privilege and achievement. She is passionate about her Welsh heritage, the language and the many ancient myths of Wales which she incorporates into her writing.
In my opinion she is one of the finest women poets to write about domestic affairs.Keeping house and garden (in her case, “fields” would be more accurate!) bearing and rearing children, nurturing grandchildren and rearing and keeping livestock. She shows that the ordinary is actually extra-ordinary and sacramental.
I also admire Carol Ann Duffy, Eavan Boland, Mary Oliver, Myra Schneider.Menna Elfyn, Kim Moore, Alison Brackenbury, Angela Topping, Wendy Pratt, Katrina Naomi, Pascale Petit, Clare Shaw and Liz Berry… Simon Armitage, John Foggin, Jonathan Edwards, and Owen Shears.
I know I’ve omitted many names, impossible to list them all. I also love the poetry of the late Helen Dunmore. An untimely death.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

My initial reaction would be to say “I’m still working on it!”

Write, read, read, read, edit, get in touch with other poets even if it’s only online, learn from others but believe in your own voice.

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

I’m hovering in between projects at the moment. I’ve recently completed a 20-poem themed
Collection about my Dad, Through My Father’s Eyes (expertly mentored by Wendy Pratt) which I’m looking to publish with someone, somehow. I’d rather not self-publish but I’ll probably have to.
Since September I’ve taken part in two wonderful courses run by Wendy Pratt in a closed Facebook group: The Wild Within and Seasons Of Mists, both of which explored our relationship with the natural world. I’m having withdrawal symptoms!
I’m halfway through an online Poetry School Course about Postmemory and Historical Trauma. This deals with the poetry of trauma, and why poetry is such a prevalent response to genocide, acts of terrorism etc.
When this finishes I’d like to turn my attention to the strong,  hardworking unsung Brummie women of my family who kept house and home intact through two World Wars. I have a few drafts in a folder and I hope to make poems out of them.

 

 

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