Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Joe Williams

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.


Joe Williams

is a former starving musician who transformed into a starving writer and poet in 2015, entirely by mistake. He lives in Leeds and appears regularly at events in Yorkshire and beyond. He has been published in numerous anthologies, and in magazines online and in print. His debut poetry pamphlet, ‘Killing the Piano’, was published by Half Moon Books in 2017, followed by the verse novella ‘An Otley Run’ in 2018. He won the prestigious Open Mic Competition at Ilkley Literature Festival in 2017 and was runner-up the following year.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

It was very much an accident. Back in 2014 I decided, for no particular reason, to try writing a haiku every day, and posted them on Facebook. I got quite into it and ended up doing 50 haiku in 50 days. I stopped doing them daily then, but still did them in bursts, and set up a Facebook page called Haiku Hole where I could share them. Early in 2015 I saw a poster in the Chemic Tavern in Leeds, advertising Word Club, their monthly poetry night with open mic, so I decided to give that a go. I really enjoyed it, and discovered a whole world of local poets and poetry events that I hadn’t known about before. From there I got the bug and started performing more regularly, and writing different types of poetry, inspired by the wonderful poets I saw at those nights. It all spiralled from there.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t think I really was introduced to it until I started going to all the events. I’d done the usual stuff in school, and I have a background in music so I was used to songwriting, but I feel that’s quite a different discipline, and poetry wasn’t really on my radar as either a writer or a reader. That first time I went to Word Club – and I didn’t get up on stage that time, I just watched – was a huge moment of discovery for me, seeing what contemporary poetry was really about, and what could be done with it. I’ll always remember the line-up of guests from that night – Joanna Sedgwick, Winston Plowes, and Gaia Holmes. Three fantastic but very different writers. The quality of the open mic was very inspiring too.

2.1 How did you know about Haiku?

I remember that from school, the 5-7-5 Westernised version of haiku. I didn’t particularly think about it as being poetry.
2.2 Inspired by the poets you heard what different kinds of poetry did you write?

Some of the earliest poems I did still used the haiku form, but I strung them together in a longer sequence. I wrote a few rhythmic rhyming pieces too. That felt natural to me because of my music work. After that I started doing some pieces that used a fixed syllable structure – not necessarily a recognised form, just patterns I’d created and worked within. I learnt a lot from those techniques, which helped me to then go on to writing free verse without over-writing or rambling, keeping things tight and quite minimal. I still tend to write with a rhythm or a beat in my head, though it might not always be obvious to a reader.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I don’t pay much attention to them, and know little about them. I’m more interested in the local and grass roots scene. I don’t dismiss the older or more well-known poets, but I don’t seek them out either.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m very bad at routine, and not just with writing. I try to do something related to writing every day, but that isn’t necessarily writing, or editing, it might be submitting work for publication, promoting events, getting work out on social media, that type of thing. When I have a specific piece of writing I want to work on I usually get away from my computer to avoid distractions. Usually that means going to the pub, but it’s just for work of course!

5. What motivates you to write?

I’m mainly motivated by ideas. Something might pop into my head, a thought or a line, or I might thank of a “what if” scenario based on something I’ve heard or observed. Sometimes I write to prompts or themes, but then it’s still usually about finding the interesting idea, trying to dig into the prompt and find an angle that isn’t the obvious one. Original and creative ideas are often under-rated and under-used in poetry, in my opinion.

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

The very best, for me, are those who can combine strong writing, which works on the page, with the ability to deliver it live in a performance. It doesn’t have to be an overtly performance-orientat­ed poet, and in most cases it isn’t, it’s someone who can deliver their lines in a way that gets to your heart or soul. I can think of dozens, and especially in Leeds and Yorkshire we’re blessed with many of them, but here are a few examples: Gill Lambert, Louise Fazackerley, Toria Garbutt, Sandra Burnett, Steve Pottinger, Cecilia Knapp, Vicky Foster… that’s just the tip of the iceberg

7. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

When I started doing the haiku I’d been away from the music business for a few years. I think one of the reasons I got into it was because I was missing having a creative outlet, and probably didn’t realise how much that had been lacking in my life. I’ve always written bits and pieces but it was only the absence of the music that made me start taking it seriously. I’m not sure if that really answers the question, but it’s the only explanation I have!

8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

For poets especially, I’d strongly recommend getting out to open mic nights and other events, get to know the other writers in your area. For prose writers it can be a bit more difficult because the open mics tend to be poetry-focused, or sometimes poetry-only, but there are lots of different events around and you’re bound to be able to find out that you like and that suits you. It’s good to be part of the writing community, which in my experience is very supportive. Learn from other people, read their work, read a wide variety of published writers, literary magazines. Absorb as much as you can, and keep writing, keep editing, keep improving.
9.  Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

My second book ‘An Otley Run’ – a verse novella about a pub crawl – has just been published by Half Moon Books, and we’ll be launching it at the Original Oak in Leeds on 2 December, so at the moment I’m mainly focused on that and arranging gigs and promo stuff for next year. If anyone has events they’d like me to read at, please get in touch! Beyond that, I’m working on a collection of short stories, and have a long-running idea about doing a poetry pamphlet themed around sport, so I expect one of those will be my next book. Who knows what the future will bring though? One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that you can never be entirely sure what’s going to come up next.

http://www.joewilliams.co.u­k and http://www.anotleyrun.com



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