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.
I’m a poet, Noise/Dark ambient musician, painter, local historian, as well as Editor of The Black Light Engine Room.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I wrote my first proper poem in September 1983 and it was inspired by my love of Tolkien and seeing The Stranglers playing Midnight Summer Dream on The Tube. I was a massive Tolkien fan at the time, which affected my writing ha ha. I didn’t read much poetry at the time, or much of anything but Tolkien and Sci-fi.
Obviously my writing has changed a lot since then, as have the things that inspire me.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
No one. There was a lot of poetry in Tolkien, and I was part of a little punky-goth gang that lived in the suburbs of Middlesbrough and we were all into reading and writing poetry. I can’t remember doing poetry in school, though my early teenage years are a bit of a depressive blur…
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I must say I’ve never felt any dominating presence from older poets. I mean, they’re there, some of them have influenced my writing, and historically some of them have cast very long shadows over the way we perceive the history of poetry, but as a presence in my life they’re negligible.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a writing routine. I have an a6 pad with me all the time I’m at home, and I carry an a6 in the side pocket of my trousers whenever I’m out, so whenever inspiration strikes I’m ready! I understand the need to push the Muse a little though, which I do mostly in my prose writing, but my poetry has a tendency to emerge if and whenever its ready. I’ll go weeks without writing any poetry (or months as was the case between April and August this year). Reading a fair bit of contemporary poetry I’m not convinced that writing to order is a good thing, as a lot of what I read is bland. Obviously this is a personal view, from a poet who’s got a very niche style, but I do see it as a problem. Not that I’d tell anyone not to write. Writing is good for the soul, and whether it’s just a record of a memory, or as a means of catharsis, it’s a brilliant tool.
I do, however, think a lot about my prose/non-fiction writing. I usually walk to town every day, and in my role as Historian of Middlesbrough, I’m constantly walking round and looking things. Walking is really good for working out the kinks in a story, or simply running through routines.
When I’m at home I like to read, when not editing, so I’m sometimes more caught up in someone else’s story.
5. What motivates you to write?
With my poetry I’ve a tendency to go with the inspiration of the moment, and this can be anything from the light on damps pavements to birds flocking. My poetry is very precise, and usually focused on a single moment. They’re also, usually, very short, which means I can cram more into each publication than your usual poet! I also suffer from regular bouts of depression and insomnia, so I’ve tried writing about that. The poetry world is a good place to talk about these sometimes difficult subjects, not least because a good number of us have suffered from them in the past. Not sleeping well does have an effect on how I see the world, and how that comes out in my writing. At times its not particularly pleasant, while others it’s like I’m experiencing the world anew, and there’s so much more to it than when I’m feeling better.
6. What is your work ethic?
Well, I’ve been running The Black Light Engine Room as a regular live event practically every month (except Aug & Dec) since May 2010, which is also when I started publishing The Black Light Engine Room magazine for the first time. So I spend a good chunk of each year editing chapbooks, organising events and trying to get my own work out there. I’ve published 36 chapbooks and 15 issues of the magazine since 2010.
I’m a local historian too, so I spend a lot of time trying to track down relevant information, doing volunteer work and giving walks, talks etc. This aspect of my work really appeals to my obsessive streak, as I’m constantly trying to ferret out obscure titbits for future use. Middlesbrough has an interesting history – as most places do – and I’m especially interested in the artistic/literary side – which have been neglected by our local historians, who are all a bit straight-laced (though lovely). And as with the press, live night, its all part of a concentrated effort to raise Middlesbrough’s profile above it being known a shithole with nothing going on.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Tolkien definitely made me want to write, gave me a love of language, and I still have a massive soft spot for him. The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, which I discovered in 1985, had a massive effect on me, as it was where I first read Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes, whose style of writing really impacted on mine. I still read those two, though with the exception of Birthday Letters, only early Hughes. At the time I was very into writing epics – Crow, The Hollow Men were influences, but I’ve grown out of that, thank fuck!
In the 90s I discovered a number of poets who were to have a big influence on me. Hans Favery, a Dutch writer whose poems were obscure, strange but weirdly beautiful all at once. Tu Fu, classical Chinese writer (in translation by David Hinton). Sam Hamill, an American whose poems veer between sharp description to terse political statements. He also, like his mentor Kenneth Rexroth, produced lots of books of translation, as well as essays on the art of writing etc. Lovely man & always ready to answer questions from an English Fan Boy!
Three of the biggest influences on me as a writer weren’t poets, perversely enough. These were J.G. Ballard, Angela Carter and Aleister Crowley. Crowley was a poet, but not a very good one ha ha. It was his mystical, inspired verse that really got to me at the time. Those descriptions of alternate worlds, either in the aether or the inside of his head were/are so moving.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I can’t say I admire any poets as such. Love, yes. There is one living poet I do look up to, though, and that’s Jim Burns. He writes poetry which is funny, moving, and despite its simplicity, just amazing. He’s been publishing since the early 60s, edited a few mags and is still writing and publishing in his early 80s! I’ve published him twice and had the pleasure of meeting him after a year or so of emails & not only was he exactly as he comes across in his mails & poetry he read “Easter In Stockport” one of my favourite ever poems! He’s also got an encyclopaedic knowledge of British poetry over the years and is a brilliant reviewer. We sat and talk for two hours the morning after he read at The Black Light Engine Room & it was one of the best 2 hours I’d spent ever!
The Black Light Engine Room is on youtube, just type in the name.
9. Why do you write?
For the same reason I paint & make horrible music. I have no choice in the matter. If I don’t write – either my journal, a bit of poetry, lyrics, prose, then I don’t feel right.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Just write. Read. Think about what you’re writing. Write. Read more etc etc
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
At the moment I’ve just finished putting together the first book from The Black Light Engine Room, which is a split between me and Harry Gallagher. We’re looking at reading round the country to promote that from February on & if anyone reading this wants to put us on, please get in touch!
I’m also getting close to the end of my first novel, which is a gothic-psychogeographical thing set in Middlesbrough. I’m also working on a lot of flash fiction, including a collection called “down-time” which deals with alcohol abuse & obsession, both of which I’ve had problems with in the past.
I’m also working on a small Local History booklets, which I’m hoping to have out early in the New Year.