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.
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).
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!