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.
Susan Jane Sims
has been widely published in magazines and anthologies and is a Hawthornden Fellow. She loves reading her poetry to an audience and has appeared in London, Bath, Bristol, Bradford on Avon, Exeter and Penzance. Her collections are Irene’s Daughter( Poetry Space 2010) and A number of things you should know ( IDP 2015). Her new collection Splitting Sunlight will be published by Dempsey and Windle in 2019. She lives with husband Chris and runs Poetry Space, a small publishing company from their new home in Beaminster, Dorset. They will be opening a cafe next year and plan to host poetry events.
- When and why did you start to write poetry?
I loved poetry at school. I had a lovely teacher, Miss Thomas who encouraged me to collect poems I liked to make an anthology and she was very encouraging when I started writing my own. The first one I remember being a success was called Black Sunday and it was about the miners strike in the early seventies. I was thirteen.
1.1 What poets did you anthologise?
Back then I chose Walter De la Mare, Rudyard Kipling, Auden, Robert Louis Stephenson, Wole Soyinka, Emily Bronte and I also remember finding this poem called The Twins. It was anonymous but I was fascinated with it. Much, much later I gave birth to identical twins myself.
1.2 What was it about their poetry that appealed to you at the time?
I liked the language of their poetry. For example “Slowly, silently, now the moon, walked the night in her silver shoon” from Silver by Walter De La Mare.
I am not sure I understood what a shoon was but the words were beautiful.
And this from Emily Bronte. Slightly dark.
The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.
The words intrigued me. Made me shiver. Somehow poetry felt like something I could connect to.
1.3 Did you try to write in the beginning like this?
Yes indeed. Imitation is the way we all begin I think. I wrote rhyming poetry to begin with. Later I realised it did not have to rhyme. Now I rarely rhyme. And as a publisher I cringe when poets submit badly rhyming poetry because they have not read any poets more recent than Tennyson!!
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
At that time, not very aware. Most poets I was introduced to in school were white Male. With the exception of Wole Soyinka. A friend later introduced me to a wider poetry scene, in particular poets like Emily Dickinson who write about death and grief and the war poet, Edward Thomas.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
I try to get some writing time in each day but not always at the same time. I had the privilege of going to Hawthornden for four weeks in January and while I was there I wrote every morning and went for a walk in the afternoon. That would be my ideal routine.
But there were no distractions there. Everything was done for me. Meals, laundry, even my bed made.
4. What motivates you to write?
The desire to record, to bear witness to my own experience and that of others. The desire to connect with others. My most recent collection that I am looking for a publisher for, bears witness to my late son Mark’s 23 months living with stage 4 malignant melanoma ( skin cancer). In it, I address the science as well as the personal narrative.
For me it was quite therapeutic, a way to make sense of something totally senseless. Mark was just 28 when he died.
4.1 How did poetry help you make sense of it all?
Lots of different ways. Just the act of writing made me confront what was happening head on. The research I did helped me understand the science. Creating the poems and editing them helped me make something ‘beautiful’ out of what could have just felt like a nightmare.
5. Can you see the influence of poets you read when you were younger in your present work?
There is often both light and dark in my poems. I think both Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson are both influential here. Later though I did my dissertation on Christina Rossetti. I was taken with her because in her poems she is very economical with language. It’s like the words barely touch the page. When I read her, I wanted to be able to write like that. It’s always my aim now, to write economically, to cut any excess words.
6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
My favourites vary as I discover new writers but one ongoing favourite is the American poet, Gregory Orr. His work is often autobiographical and he confronts traumatic events with considerable bravery and lack of sentimentality. I admire that. Another poet I love is again, American but living in the UK and I have met her personally, Carrie Etter. I really admired her collection ‘Imagined Sons’. It is very original and challenging. It gave me real insight into what it may be like to give a child up for adoption and miss their growing up.
7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I would say, get yourself a notebook and start writing. Don’t think too much. Just write. Be prepared to put the time in. Don’t expect immediate success. Athletes get told they need to put 10,000 hours in to start getting results. I think the same goes for writing. And a big part of a writer’s training should be reading. If you want to be a poet you need to read poetry and lots of it, traditional and contemporary. It is all part of learning your craft. It is also valuable to go to readings and workshops. You can learn from others. It gives you ideas. Also learn to edit your own work with a critical eye. This is so important when you start submitting your work. It needs to be the best it can be to be in with a chance of publication.
8. And finally, Sue, tell me more about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I am currently pursuing the idea of a collection exploring the experience of a woman having counselling after experiencing domestic abuse. I want to tell her story and also that of her counsellor. So quite a heavy subject. I am drawing on my own experience as a counsellor. I am also dabbling with the idea of a memoir. I have written some short autobiographical prose pieces that could form part of a memoir. I read one piece in Bath at an afternoon performance with a group I belong to: Bath Writers and Artists Group. Until six weeks ago I was living mid way between Bristol and Bath. We have moved to Beaminster in Dorset but I want to keep attending the group in Bath as it is a great space to share work and collaborate with others.