Wombwell Rainbow Interviews:  Julian Stannard 

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.

Julian Stannard

is a poet and a university teacher. He obtained his PhD. from UEA and is now a Reader in English and Creative writing at the University of Winchester, where for five years he was the programme leader for the MA in Creative and Critical writing. He writes critical studies – his most recent book was about the work of Basil Bunting   (http://writersandtheirwork.co.uk/index.php/author/authors-s-u/201-stannard-julian) – as well as reviews, essays, and poetry. His most recent collection is What were you thinking? (http://www.cbeditions.com/stannard.html)(CB Editions, 2016). His work appears variously in TLS, Poetry, Manhattan Review, Poetry Review, Poetry London, Spectator, Guardian, Telegraph, The Honest Ulsterman, The Forward Book of Poetry (2017) and Nuova Corrente (Italy). An essay on the poetry of Leonard Cohen appears in Spirituality and Desire in Leonard Cohen’s Songs and Poems (Cambridge Scholars, 2017.) He is at present writing a study of British and American poetry entitled Anglo-American Conversations in Poetry: 1910-2015 (Peter Lang).
He has read at various literary festivals, including the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, as well as literary venues in the UK, mainland Europe and the USA – including London, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Paris, Rome, Prague, Genoa, Munich, New York and Boston. He teaches for the Poetry School (London) and is often invited to organise and lead workshops in a freelance capacity. He is both a Hawthornden and Bogliasco Fellow and has been a visiting Erasmus scholar at Charles University Prague and the University of Warsaw. Presently he is an External Examiner for the MA in Creative Writing at Birmingham City University and has been nominated for both Forward and Pushcart Prizes for his poetry. From 1984 to 2005 he lived for long periods in Italy, where he taught English and American Literature at the University of Genoa. He has written poetry about that mysterious port city and is now working on a bilingual publication of his Genoese poems for Il Canneto Publishers ( Genoa).


The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

As a young kid I was sent to a boarding school near Sheffield. I had been living in Malaysia  up until that moment  so boarding school  felt like an unexpected  and unwanted incarceration; it could be  nightmarish at times, and it was always  extremely cold! Reading –  as is so often the case, I think,   was  a way of coping generally  and English  was more or less the only thing I was  reasonably good at .
At ‘A level’  we studied  the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins  who, it turned out, had actually taught at the school in the  19th century,  and  we also studied The Waste Land  which seemed to resonate across the years. Something in my head said   ‘Holy shit, I think I like this!’

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Our A level English Lit teacher was an irascible drunken left-wing Scotsman who was nevertheless on occasion  quite brilliant. He didn’t discourage drinking; in fact, he probably saw it as part of our wider education (an extra-curriculum activity), so we would trek across the damp hills looking for accommodating Public Houses.  In the 1970s no one seemed to bother that much about the legal dimension.  A barmaid would say ‘I suppose you’re going to say you’re eighteen?’ and we would say ‘Yes’ in the deepest voices  we could muster.  The beer flowed and in  our state of  inebriation  we would sometimes   talk about  poetry, and  even begin  to write it, in  our heads at least.  At the ages of sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, drinking and writing poetry  and  smoking hash were somehow inter-related and it felt better than most of the other things you were expected to do.
The English teacher had a record of Eliot reading The Waste Land which, as it most  likely seemed the easiest option, he   would  play quite often, invariably nodding off before  we got to What the Thunder Said. We knew much of it off by heart.
At University, in 1983,  I met Fleur Adcock , who came to give a reading and I realised in an instant that  poetry could be conversational,  colloquial and utterly contemporary. For me this was a real breakthrough!

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

In those days it  was still mostly all about older poets, but less so after meeting Fleur.  At University I read  a lot of medieval poets, including Chaucer, who were in turn  indebted to classical poets.   Later when I moved to Italy in the 1980s I learnt that every school child  could cite something  from Dante’s Divine Comedy. And I learnt that Liguria and Genoa, the city  which for a decade or so  became my home , had a rich literary history.   Which included the presence of Byron, Shelley, Dickens, Lawrence, Charles Tomlinson,  Hemingway, WB Yeats, Ezra Pound, Max Beerbohm, Basil Bunting , Camillo Sbarbaro, Eugenio Montale, Giorgio Caproni, Dino Campana.
This year, much to my delight,  the Italian publishers Canneto has published my book Sottoripa (2018), which is  a bilingual  publication of my poems about Genoa, translated by Massimo Bacigalupo.
In 2013 the title poem had been  made into a short film by Guglielmo Trupia  which was nominated  at the Rain Dance Film Festival

But it was also in that period –  the 1980s – I got hold of a copy of Michael Hofmann’s Acrimony  –  an outstanding  collection by such a youthful poet  – Again  it  was a case of reading old and new voices  – and then finding  one’s own voice.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I begin new poems with a mixture of hope and fear and excitement.  Because  I spend a lot of time teaching in  a university which also means  marking, and all that other bureaucratic stuff and then, when possible,  enjoying some recovery time,  I don’t always have a consistent writing routine but I take the opportunities when they arise  – on the train maybe, or weekends or during holiday  time. I spend a lot of time working on drafts or reading new poetry. I like listening to music, especially Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis,  Charlie Parker et al. This helps me write or re-write or just relax.
When  my younger son was living  with me I would  listen to  a lot of  Rap – whether I wanted to or not – and when it comes to   the Notorious B.I.G , I have acquired a coating of  expertise!
And  sometimes I send poems to friends to see what they think.

5. What motivates you to write?

A response of a kind.  The general weirdness of stuff I think – overheard conversations, things I‘ve read, billboards, train announcements (endless!), anger, desolation, joy, memories. I think we’re living in particularly challenging times; the political climate is worrying, more food banks, more homelessness, more poverty, fear of losing one’s job. The wider international situation too.  I have always been a loyal supporter of the Labour Party so that in itself brings  highs  and lows, rather like watching  your football team play brilliantly for much of the game yet somehow  throw it away  right at the end. Brexit fills me with immense sadness.
6. What is your work ethic?
Teaching  often  consumes swathes of my life, it’s  draining , but because I also teach creative writing  I can, from time to time, get inspired by student  work which is wonderful too. It’s a delight to come across real talent and help nurture it.  I like to read  a lot of contemporary poetry and new fiction  generally. I am asked to review quite frequently which is a discipline in itself, a kind of homework, and a way of keeping up to date. Travelling often produces new poetry. Notwithstanding work pressures I manage to write a fair amount; and if a poem demands  to be written I  usually find the time to answer those demands! It’s a lot more enjoyable than writing some anodyne document or funding bid.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Their influence never really goes away, even if you spend a lot of time with newer or different  voices. I think  those ‘early’ poets helped fashion a way of thinking  about poetry  – and it’s  always a great pleasure to return to their  writing, whether it be those earlier generation such as the modernists  –  Eliot ,Pound, William Carlos Williams, DH Lawrence  – or  poets such as Frank O’Hara or Robert Creeley,  and/ or Lowell, Berryman  and co. Not to mention those older contemporary poets, especially if they are still producing new work: poets such as Fleur Adcock, Christopher  Reid, Hugo Williams, Maurice Riordan , Selima Hill, Michael Hofmann-  to name a few.

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

There are so many! There’ s a kind of resurgence in the world of  poetry I feel. I could roll out  a list off the top of my head but I am surely  leaving people  out; but the list would surely include Caroline Bird, George Szirtes, Kathryn Maris, Andrew Macmillan, Declan Ryan, Emily Berry, Tim Cumming,  André Naffis-Sahely,  Claudia Rankine, Sharon  Olds, Annie Freud, Ishion Hutchinson, Luke Kennard, Richard Skinner,  and some pieces  from  Bobby Parker  and Ocean Vuong too. I would also want  to acknowledge the dark genius  of Frederick Seidel, the intimations of mortality still coming from the pen of Clive James. And I take my hat off to my former student and colleague Antosh Wojcik who’s making   quite a name for himself as a performance poet.
And why? Variously and varyingly  there is so much  energy  here, a lot of drive, and risk- taking,  and moments of candour (Lowell said ‘ why not say what happened’?)  and plenty of ludic mischief  too and experiment  with form;  in effect some lively conversations between poetry and prose, including  prose poetry, and other media too, including social media.  Some of the poets above work across genres: variously novelists, translators, essayists,  reviewers,  editors, teachers, events’ organisers  and  publishers . Difficult not to mention Charles Boyle, ex-poet, and now writer of prose under various names and the founder of CB Editions. The blogging of Katy Evans-Bush  –  fine poet – has been  significant and the gregarious Bethany Pope, poet and novelist, is now writing more or less daily reports from China.   I look forward to reading her next book.

9. Why do you write?

After forty years or so of doing it  –  oh  my God ! – it’s become a habit, a way of thinking and even a way of  living. Sometimes reportage, sometimes invention, I guess it’s a way of dealing  with some deep, not always unpleasant,  itch  – which in turn probably answers to  all  sorts of Freudian-like  neuroses…
Writing, at times, is totally satisfying and, in a practical sense, quite easy to do. I don’t need a studio or a theatre or complicated props.  Just the page itself, I guess, which  is a kind of stage.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I’d say Read, read and read yet more  and try thing out. Experiment, take risks, be thick-skinned,  and try and get  plenty of sleep!

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

My last  English collection came out in 2016 –  What were  you thinking? (CB Editions http://www.cbeditions.com/stannard.html) ;
so  I’m grappling  with the creation of a new MS – several pieces of which  have been published in  magazines. Any new collection  has , at least for me , a rather  aleatory dynamic –  feeling  my way forwards, as it  were, letting  poems butt their way in, or conversely slide away …
I’m also writing a book called Transatlantic Conversations – which is about the relationships, harmonious or otherwise,  between British and American  poetry; this is for the publisher Peter Lang.
As well as the above ,I’m  also working with  the novelist and artist Roma Tearne on a collaborative  project  called  Heat Wave  – It’s s a sort of dialogue between  poems of mine and Roma’s  fantastic  paintings . Not an ekphrastic venture I hasten to add. More a dark night of the soul with some gleeful moments too! A kind of synaesthetic fugue….
It’s coming out next year thanks to Green Bottle Press. We’re planning  several readings /events so watch this space!

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