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.
He’s won the Ruskin Poetry Prize, Ireland’s Dromineer Festival Prize and was runner up in the Bridport Poetry Prize and Poetry Society Stanza Prize. His work been published in The Irish Times, London Magazine, Magma, The Independent and POEM International among many others. Normally resident in London, he’s working temporarily in the UAE.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Growing up near a slow, dirty river – The Nene in Northamptonshire. As a lad I’d go out for day-long walks and want to return with something more in my head than a memory. So poetry at first was a way of putting together the pieces. I then left poetry writing (not reading) alone for many years until a number of jarring events meant I needed to piece together the fragments once again – a Weltanschauung that reflected more connection to the world.
My Dad used to illustrate pocket sized poetry samplers for the novelist JR Carr who had his own mini-press in Kettering which published Clare, Blake and Keats. I think you can still get them. Anyway, I’d read these and wonder at the worlds they created. I was also lucky enough to have that inspirational teacher who figures in the lives of so many of us. Mine was called Danny Hickling. He made Chaucer a riot, Shakespeare a visionary and even Dryden turned into a philosopher.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Aside from a few dour and pin-striped men on the TV, not really aware. Then punk came along and changed everything. I started reading Rimbaud and Verlaine and the Beats. It was that sort of tatterdemalion Romanticism, I guess, that all revolutions need. Then at college at actually got to meet a few of them, like Ginsberg. Although I was supposed to be studying Philosophy, I spent most of my book money on Heaney and Hughes. Later, I got to work in Washington, DC as a journalist which introduced me to wonders of the American poets like Bishop and Sexton. They seemed to write with such directness and clarity.
Wake at 6.30. Coffee. Write for an hour and a half. Go to work. Reserve half a day at the weekend for consolidation.
Wonder sometimes, if I’m lucky. Other times, it’s the need to explain something to myself or to find out what I really think. Poetry is like a tool that I hope gets sharper with use. Poems I write out of anger – and I must have written 100 about Trump – end up in the bin. Poems I write to please other people always sound like birthday cards.
I’m pretty disciplined. In my other life I work as a creative director with deadlines every day. This helps. Although I’m as distracted by coffee and cake as the next poet.
They feel more like friends than writers. I sometimes feel my own poems are conversations with them. But if we’re talking children’s writing, there’s an equally strong influence from the illustrators too. For me Edward Ardizzone was able to conjour up private worlds with a few cross-hatches of his pen, whether accompanying the poems of Walter de la Mare or Dylan Thomas.
There’s a warmth in his work and a power in his economy. Like Heaney, he’s a writer who’s always “reaching out” if that makes sense. I’m a big fan of Ada Limon and the fluidity of her imagery, her mysterious truth-telling. I’ve recently discovered the stark sensuality of Louise Glück. Could have done with her earlier on. Another poet who deserves a much wider audience in the UK is Zeina Hashem Beck from Lebanon with whom I’ve read several times over the past year. She’s fierce and tender and her new style of duets in English and Arabic are the best way to understand some of the issues of identity and memory in the Middle East at this troubled time.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I would first ask if they were a reader.
10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m working on my second collection. At the moment. It’s called ‘How to be Quiet’ as much as a reaction to social media as the populist frenzy which has supplanted what we knew of as democracy. These are poems about friendships and love and belonging. Nobody dies, except me – almost – and my Mum who as a teacher and book lover all her life was a huge influence. There’s more on celebrity, work and the issues that bamboozle us daily. And an Ode just to keep my hand in.My job has taken me overseas so I’m Brexiled for the moment. But it’s brought me into contact with a number of poets exiled from real conflict zones like Palestine and Syria. Run by Zeina Hashem Beck, we have a monthly open mic called Punch Poetry that brings together voices from all over the Middle East and Asia. I’m still learning so much.