Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Graham Mort

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.

black-shiver-moss

Graham Mort

is Professor of Creative Writing and Transcultural Literature at Lancaster University and an Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He has worked on projects across sub-Saharan Africa and in Kurdistan and is currently helping to develop new writing initiatives in Trinidad. Visibility: New & Selected Poems, appeared from Seren in 2007, when he was also winner of the Bridport short story prize. A book of stories, Touch, was published by Seren in 2010 and won the Edge Hill Prize the following year. Terroir, a collection of short fiction, appeared in 2015 and was long-listed for the Edge Hill Prize. Black Shiver Moss, a new book of poems, was published by Seren in 2017.

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

I was still at school and my father had bought a big old Underwood typewriter. I started to play about on that. I had terrible handwriting, so writing manually was agonising. I had a poem published in the school magazine and that was when the idea of writing took hold, I think. I’d written it pretty much as an exercise, but I was excited to see it in print. I started to experiment on the typewriter and by the time I was sixteen I’d put together a short collection of poems. This was in a terraced house in working class neighbourhood in North Manchester. But, actually, that terrace was full of talent, including some really accomplished musicians, my father amongst them. So, it wasn’t so strange to be interested in poetry; working class communities were much more diverse than people realise, despite the lack of formal education.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

We didn’t really have any poetry books in the house when I grew up, just Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. Then we were studying an anthology called ‘Nine Modern Poets’ at school, which began to hook me. My older brother had gone to University to study English and he brought home boxes of books including poetry. He encouraged me to read the poetry that he’d become interested in. I won some school prizes and they came as poetry books, as well. So, I guess the idea of poetry approached me from a number of directions at more or less the same time. And that was also the time I started listening seriously to music, tuning in to pirate radio stations late at night with an old valve radio, so there was a real sense that my world was expanding, that there was much more out there.

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

I vividly remember listening to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood on the radio with Richard Burton narrating as my mother was ironing and a coal fire burned in the grate. Years later, I walked into the house one day to hear a voice with an accent rather like my own saying ‘The pig lay on the barrow, dead.’ It was Ted Hughes’s voice and was an absolute epiphany that poetry could be so down-to-earth – plain diction spoken with a Northern accent – and yet unmistakably poetry. It’s hard to overestimate what effect that simultaneous revelation had on me. Then my brother took me to hear RS Thomas and Glyn Hughes reading in Manchester and I was magnetised by their presence. I was also collecting the novels of DH Lawrence who wrote so passionately about working class experience, so it wasn’t just poetry in isolation. I was reading everything I could lay my hands on by the time I was sixteen ¬ – I found Lawrence’s poems later, though they often seem overlooked these days.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It depends what I’m working on. I can be pretty disciplined when it comes to prose writing, but when it comes to poetry, I have no particular pattern. Alternating between poetry and prose can be difficult since they seem to occupy slightly different aspects of the imagination, so there can be periods where poetry is set aside in favour of prose writing or academic writing. But I believe that the mind is always active in relation to poetry. Returning to poems in progress after doing other things a can bring a greater sense of recognition and clarity, a new orientation. And, of course, the waste paper bin if the beneficiary of some of that!

5. What motivates you to write?

I think that my motivation changes, depending on circumstance or what I’m reading. It seems to oscillate between moments of indignation about injustice in the world and moments of sheer sensory pleasure in language and the experiences that language recalls and invents. I always feel that there are two states of being: one where you’re not writing poetry, and one when you are. When you are there’s a heightened sense of purpose and pleasure that can approach intoxication or obsession. And there is the aura that a poem casts so that a real experience or a moment of linguistic epiphany seems to anticipate the poem that will arise from it; after that you try to live inside the work as it develops through all its drafts and iterations.

6. What is your work ethic?

I suppose the sense that not to write would be a kind of surrender. Writing is a form of resistance and a form of affirmation at the same time. It’s a way of being alive that one invests in and that investment can be both tyrannical and liberating. I wonder what value I would place on actual experience if it wasn’t susceptible to the transformations of language.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

There’s something odd about now being as old or even older than the writers one admired when young. I still really admire DH Lawrence’s work because he told part of my own story and he believed in a sense of living touch, that life was both profoundly sensual and sacred and that the life of the intellect was both necessary and limited in its realisations. I still feel enthralled by Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and RS Thomas – mainly male poets in those days of course. Now there are so many brilliant women poets. The writers that I admired when younger seem to merge with the new writers that I’m constantly encountering.

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

Well, that’s an ongoing project of encounter. I’ve just returned from South Africa and found some wonderful poets there, Antjie Krog and Kobus Moolman, amongst many others. Then I fell over new poems by Zaffar Kunial, and Jean Sprackland and Kathleen Jamie on my return. It’s not a very systematic sense of admiration, more an omnivorous one. I found a poem by Simon Richey, ‘The Book’, in Poetry Review a few years ago and I really love that poem and what it says about the act of reading and discovery and meaning. It was as if I’d found the poem there in print and at the edge of my own imagination. I think the poets you encounter later in life have a different kind of status than the early reading, when it wasn’t just poets, but poetry itself that seemed so necessary and wonderful.

9. Why do you write?

Because of life and the way we have to live it until it’s over; the way it fills us and then drains from us. Life and its connections that seem so attainable and rich at times and also so incomprehensible and out of reach at others. And it’s not just the sadness and entropy of life that compels attention, but the way that a kind of brilliance of energy fills us at times. We try to reach for it and realise it through language, and then language seems to become even more extraordinary as a tool of engagement with all that lies within us, between us and beyond us.

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

I’d probably say I didn’t really know, except for some people writing becomes the only way they can make their way through life experience. I teach Creative Writing at Lancaster University and see a really wide range of students coming to us. Some are very young but many are more mature students who’ve taken time out of their careers to try their hand at writing. I’d say, ‘Never write anything you don’t care about, however misguided and difficult that seems. Trust your own experience and make it matter.’

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

I’m trying to finish a novel that’s been haunting me for about twenty years and that I need to get out from under. Then a new book of stories which feels almost complete in structure but needs revision. And, despite wondering whether I’d ever write poetry again, a new collection of poems is shaping up, though I want to give that as much time as I can. After all, there is always that sense that there might never be another!

Graham Mort, November 2018.

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Martin Malone

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.

Mr. Willett's Summertime

Martin Malone

lives in north-east Scotland. He has published two poetry collections: The Waiting Hillside (Templar, 2011) and Cur (Shoestring, 2015). His Great War-related third collection, The Unreturning is forthcoming. In addition, he has published three pamphlets: 17 Landscapes (Bluegate Books), Prodigals (The Black Light Engine Room) and Mr. Willett’s Summertime (Poetry Salzburg). Poems from these and his other work have been published in a variety of journals; such as Stand, Strix, Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen, Agenda, Poetry Salzburg Review, Long Poem Magazine, Magma, The Moth, Gutter, Butcher’s Dog, Under The Radar, Lighthouse and Bare Fiction. He reviews for The Interpreter’s House, Stand, Causeway/ Cabhsair and Poetry Ireland Review. An Associate Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at Aberdeen University, he has a PhD in poetry from Sheffield University.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

You know I really can’t recall now. Something I always say to my students is that, after painting the tally on the cave wall, I think the very next thing humans do is try to physically construct their thoughts and poetry is the readiest reckoner there is for that. I’m not trying to be glib. I think almost everyone is in love enough, or grieving a loss enough, at some point in their lives to turn to getting their thoughts down on paper in what can best be described as a poem. This struck me, when 6-months after my father’s death, I came across some writing by my mother in which she was dealing with her grief and which could be best-recognised as poetry. My mother left school at 15, she’s not educated in the traditions of ‘the Muse’ but its elemental template produced poetry in her at a moment of extremity. So, I think the ‘inspiration to write poetry’ is pretty much hard-wired into us all.

Beyond that, I was always – and remain – a weird kid whose aspirations were skewed in this direction, somehow. So, I always wrote stuff, as many of us do in our teens. And, like most of us, I stopped. My particular reasons for doing so were possibly tied up in the same issues of permission that get so over-performed these days on social media. In my case, here was I, a working-class kid from the north-east, the first of my family to go to university and studying – of all things – English Literature. Faced with ‘the canon’, I simply took my ball home and drifted towards what appeared to be more egalitarian artforms: specifically, rock and pop. For 20-years, I detoured around bands, music production, song-writing, singing, gigging and the like. Until I found myself, at 42, feeling the law of diminishing dignity kick in, suddenly stumbling across the complicated epiphany of fatherhood on Uffington Hill, and emotionally ready to write poetry. So, I did.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

First, the Catholic Masses I was dragged to 3-4 times a week, then Dad’s Irish and C&W records. Thirdly, school and two great teachers I had at English Martyrs Comprehensive in Hartlepool during the 1970s. Gerry Brean was a great wee fella from Belfast who taught me ‘O’ Level English Literature and who I would love to have a pint with now if I could track him down. If only to thank him for taking us all to see The Clash. Secondly, Bob Lewis, who taught me at A-level. He had a brilliant back-story, an arch sense of humour, warned me about Tony Blair from the get-go and who I did once track down, to a home for retired teachers in Bishop Auckland. I took him my first collection. Tragically, he’d had a stroke and all his language would then allow him was a broad smile and the words, ‘Yabba-Dabba-Dooh!’ Life has a sadness you can’t invent sometimes.

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

Awareness is a state that’s all-too-often retro-fitted to make ourselves look smarter than we are. I suppose, like most of my generation (certainly the few of us working-class kids who made it as far as university), I just accepted what was put in front of me and said ‘Thank you’ for some great poetry. This was the late-70s/ early 80s, debates about canonicity, cultural hegemony and the end of Leavisite hierarchies were only just beginning in this country, really. It’d be self-serving and disingenuous to pretend that I was ‘hip’ to the sort of conversations we take as read these days. What I will say is that Nine Modern Poets nurtured a love for poetry and introduced me to some fucking good stuff. And when I got to university, Liverpool had a very traditional English Literature degree. I read Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, for goodness sake. But absolutely none of it went to waste. And, overall, I like older poets. When I interviewed for my MA at MMU I told them: ‘Well I’m alright up until about 1925 but after that, you’ll have to educate me’. And they did. I’ve seen some outrageously high-handed and censorious social media posts these past few years, attacking people for daring to have the genuine preferences they have, rather than falling in behind the latest current consensus on what we ought to be liking. People can no more help their age, gender and cultural inheritance than they can their sexuality, intersectionality or skin colour. We’d do well to remember that. Many agendas are rightfully (underlined, italicized and in bold) having their moment, but I fear that many folk who presume to speak for them are utterly misusing this moment (all-too often for their own short-term gains). It ought to grieve us: firstly, because they’re seeking to replace a wrong-headed culture with another wrong-headed culture, secondly because change must come but not like this, sweet Jesus, not like this! Send us a way forward other than this petti-fogging shit-storm of tedious social media performance. It’s so co-opted and middle-class. We tend to connive in what we deplore, in order to deplore in what we connive. Many of the people who embody the issues others purport to speak for are still voiceless, by dint of social inequality and the evils of rampant capitalism above all else. If that viewpoint damns me in the eyes of the current ‘scene’, then so be it. I’ll away to their gulag. If it’s problematical, then good! Part of poetry’s function is to stick in the craw, not to nurture some bogus notion of a ‘career’ and harvest consensus in the form of social media ‘likes’.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Don’t have one. Not through mere hobbyism, lack of discipline or work ethic but sheer opportunity. For all my education and cultural mobility, I still face the sort of life-economising my father did: I have to work full-time for a living, look after my wee son, live in as harmonious a manner with my rapidly dying planet as I can, and look after my ageing mother as best as I may also. I write when I can and afford myself a wry laugh at this state of affairs.

5. What motivates you to write?

Well, that hard-wired human thing I alluded to earlier and the same sort of weirdness which motivated me as a kid. It’s a mixed blessing really. But I’ll be doing it until the day I die.

6. What is your work ethic?

See my earlier answer. I hope I’ve modelled a fierce work ethic when it comes to writing, editing and teaching against the backdrop of need for full-time employment elsewhere, in order to put food on the table. But who knows, really? I’ve not had to go down the pit or work in a shipyard like my Dad. However, you cut it, I’m lucky in that.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Well, it’s akin to the music you love when you’re young, isn’t it? That Camus quote which Scott Walker uses on the cover of ‘Scott 4’: “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Their influence, then, is lingering: Ted Hughes, R.S. Thomas, Wilfred Owen, Gerard Manley-Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Seamus Heaney. As well, interestingly, as Jane Austen, George Eliot and an amazing Victorian novelist called Margaret Oliphant, who bequeathed me an aspirational model of work in the face of insurmountable domestic odds. Then, there’s Shakespeare. There’s always Shakespeare… And a huge list of inspirational songwriters and bands. How could they not exert an intricate complex of lingering influences? I mean, my most recently published poem is about sitting around in Liverpool waiting for an REM tour to come to town.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Many of them might be novelists, actually. I love John Irving, who has much to teach poets. I think James Hawes entertainingly chronicles where it all turned to shit back in the nineties and noughties. I respect where my old mate, Peter Mills, is trying to take writing about rock music. For all we have our personal differences, I think Kim Moore’s poem ‘My Sort’ says something important, and importantly inconvenient, about the white working-class. I have a number of friends whose work I massively respect: Roy Marshall, Keith Hutson, Richard Skinner, Neil Young, Chuck Lauder, Christopher James, Dawn Gorman, Virginia Astley, Hilda Sheehan, Carole Bromley, Sharon Black, Robin Houghton. All of whom are labouring away quietly, in possession of no little talent, and enriching the scene significantly without picking up any of the baubles used by the publishing industry as its selling tools. But once you start with this it becomes a bit of a list. There a lot of good and under-rated people out there who deserve more attention. In terms of ‘famous folk’, Patterson is pretty good, Simon Armitage is, well, a bit of a genius really, as is Robin Robertson. Niall Campbell is the real deal, as is Zaff Kunial, Dan O’Brien and Kei Miller. I am a huge fan of both Frances Leviston and Vona Groarke, among others. I’m a sucker for Irish poetry, adore Heaney, Muldoon, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. I’m always conscious of who I might be leaving out when asked questions like this. The poetry commonwealth is rich isn’t it? I’ve not even got beyond these shores yet…. As to ‘why’, we’ve just not got the space here to answer that one.

9. Why do you write?

There is absolutely no logical reason for my doing so, just an inescapable necessity that always outruns me. Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass, at times but I certainly wouldn’t change it. Writing, when it’s going well, makes you bombproof. Even when it’s not going well, it’s good. As Ted Kooser points out, when you’re writing a poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world.

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

I’m pretty sure you know if before you turn your thoughts to ‘how’. If it’s the other way around, then… well, I’d not presume to say it doesn’t work but it would work in a way I can’t fully comprehend. The advice I was always given as a sound-engineer was Just don’t do it, it’s a nightmare. Given that, if you still want to do it then you’ve a chance of making it work. If you’ve not the leg up of nepotistic advantage (as in all walks of life, there’s a lot of it about), then the same advice holds for writing also. I could talk about things like ‘always keep your eyes open, notice things, maintain your openness to new ideas, viewpoints etc’. Or suggest daily writing exercises, workshops, courses, reading lists. But, really, there are loads of ‘How-To-Be’ books out there. Go buy some of them.

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

Well, I am being ultra-patient in trying to place my latest collection – which has been written for 18-months – with the specific publisher I’d like it to come out with. Beyond that, I’m simply using the interim as bonus time to start sketching out directions for my fourth and fifth collections and accumulating some new material, as and when it appears. I did a wonderful month’s residency at Sumburgh Head lighthouse on Shetland back in April and the handful of poems I got written there are coming out as a Stickleback micro-pamphlet with Hedgehog Press some time next year. As I say, I find myself with a pair of new collections on the go: The Trick of Stars which is just a steady accumulation of material I like, and a more thematically linked set of poems to do with my time in bands and as a fan of rock n’ roll. Away from poetry, I continue to write a fair few reviews for journals like Poetry Ireland and Stand, I’m putting together a bid for a Leverhulme Fellowship in order to write a book about the influence of Punk and Post-punk on what could loosely be described as the ‘Armitage generation’ of poets, and I’m hoping to find time to complete my critical monograph on Great War poetry, Lighted by Troy’s Last Shadow. If I get through all of that, it’ll be time for a rest…and maybe a novel.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kola Tubosun

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.

EBH Cover

Kola Tubosun

PembrokePoster


The Interview


When and why did you start writing poetry?


I remember the first poem I wrote: a sappy patriotic sonnet about Nigeria, in 1996, for a poetry competition in my penultimate high school year. I didn’t win. It was a vacuous poem, with overly simplistic aspirations, but it was my first attempt at the form, so I was really proud of it. I had just discovered a book about English poetry from a neighbour who was studying English at the university. I found Shakespeare, and the Sonnet, to be really riveting. A few days later, I wrote another poem, in another form, about slavery. Also very platitudinal, but quite structural: couplets and all. I was really enchanted by formal structures, because that was my first entry point.
My father had The Complete Works of Shakespeare in the house, along with many other books, literary, romance, educational, and other texts, in both Yorùbá and English. I mention him often because it’s interesting to not have paid that much attention to poetry until a neighbour lent me his English poetry textbook, many years after I no longer lived with my father. He was a poet himself, my father, but he wrote (and recorded and produced records) in Yorùbá. So, while I already had sufficient intimation with poetry, oral poetry, oral Yorùbá poetry, my encounter with English and my intention to write it came much later.
So, I started writing because I loved what Shakespeare and Marlowe and Wordsworth, Donne etc did with words on the page through structural forms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to rhyme and make music with text. I wanted to impress my elderly neighbour, who didn’t write much outside of the confines of school, to show that one didn’t need to be in the university to be a poet. It was also then that I chose the university he attended, as my future institution, but I wanted to make sure that I had a collection of poems before getting in. I had the fantasy of walking into my first poetry class with poems of my own (perhaps in hope that I be allowed to graduate early for having already mastered the form. Youth is for dreaming, you see).


How aware were and are you of the dominating influence of older poets?


As usual, this will be answered in two parts: Yorùbá and English. The tradition of Yorùbá poetry under which I was raised was very strong. I was on the frontline to this, so to speak. My father had a record company that produced some indigenous Yorùbá poets, the first time that was being done since the invention of electronic documenting systems. Their work straddled both traditional and contemporary styles. Traditional because these were poets, chanters, and performers whose audience had hitherto been live crowds within the country. Contemporary because the vinyl and cassette had then offered a means to connect their work to the modern world, and it did. So while my father became a type of medium and curator for these movements, I was there merely as a witness, soaking it all in, and it would influence me a lot much later, in a lot of different ways.
But I assume your question was regarding English language masters. Shakespeare and the earlier structural poets I alluded to earlier were very strong and immediate influences. Much later, I would read about Wọlé Ṣóyínká whose work, at the time, was defined by its inaccessibility. There was also Christopher Okigbo, JP. Clark, and many other Nigerian and African poets whom we had to read to get into the university, and while we were there. I found it very hard to relate to many of these Nigerian/African writers at the time, a problem I now relate to the language medium. Either my competence in English wasn’t yet strong at the time or they were creating ideas from local idioms and images which didn’t successfully or elegantly pass through in English.
The work were often tough to get through, often obscurantist, and yet very large in our imagination. But I couldn’t relate with them much. They didn’t have the joy I found in the literatures written in the first language, English or Yorùbá. Not all, but many. It was in this middle point that neither satisfied as deeply as local language work would have nor inspired as much as native English writers would have. This would get better, much later, with writers like Níyì Ọ̀ṣúndáre who managed to bridge the divide and localize and domesticate English, so to speak. Akeem Lasisi, a Nigerian writer, is another one like this, and a few more. But at the time, I never understood what made African poetry in English any special, any better than serrated pain on the page. 


What is your writing routine?


It depends, usually, on what is being written. With essays and other long forms, I prefer early morning or late nights. Get the words out, let them marinade, and return to them later for editing. I have a four-year-old so this is also very pragmatic.
With poetry, it doesn’t much matter except that they be set down as soon as the inspiration comes. There is a common curse among writers that ensures that a writing material isn’t nearby when an idea floats by. My mobile phone has helped mitigate this. Get the sentence out into any text app. Work on it later when I get on the computer. Sometimes I just send it to myself as an email.
I used to write longhand, on paper, but I’ve stopped trying to fight the inexorable march of civilization.


What motivates you to write?


Like every writer, I want to be heard and read. As a non-commissioned historian, I also want to document what I see, what animates me, what interests me, for others’ pleasures and inspiration, and for my own future self, because memory is unreliable over time. I live in Nigeria where history has been degraded both as a school subject and as a concept in civil society. I write to help preserve and enhance collective memory. Much of my essays and long-form journalism have stemmed from this impulse.
I started a travel blog in 2009 as a way to document my travel adventures in the United States. Over time, it became a space for documenting my own frustrations, triumphs, and other journeys. But it is a record of time, of my personal evolution both as a writer and as a citizen. I wrote my collection of poetry Edwardsville by Heart to interrogate America and my own memory of living there. I wrote it to claim my space in the world as a writer, and an African (a Yorùbá man) unbound by any particular limitations on subject or geography or language. On some level, I also wrote it to put the town on the literary map. New York and London have got enough air time.
I write because I have to, and because I can, and because readers exist to whom these words might mean something.


How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?


It will be a tough task for the writer to pinpoint his own influences, mostly because we are too close to the subject and are thus not impartial nor even always accurate. I can trace my love for rhyming to Shakespeare, for instance, but I haven’t always rhymed in my work. I could trace my love for travel writing to Mark Twain or Jack Kerouac or Daniel Fágúnwà whom I read or Ọlábísí Àjàlá whom I only heard about, but there are obvious divergences. I was influenced a lot by Yorùbá oral poetry, but I haven’t published much in the language. So it’s safe to assume (or hope) that the influences on one’s work have transmuted into one’s own voice such that we can’t tell when one ends and the other begins.


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


I can speak instead of particular books I have read in the last couple of years which made strong impressions on me: The Idiot by Elif Batuman, for instance, is one, for her skill in carrying a fairly mundane plot (or lack thereof) through an engaging style that sustained the attention of both the nerdy linguistic and creative parts of my brain.
Then there is Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, which gives a new, modern, and fascinating insight into the concept of Ogbanje/Àbíkú, which earlier African writing masters have addressed in a far less involved and archaeological way. I also just recently read J.P. Clark’s America Their America, which I highly recommend as an important work on African travel writing and just delightful literature. It hasn’t got as much respect as it deserved. I usually like to add in Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!as well, though it’s not a contemporary book. It is one book I read again every couple of years, for its beautiful tour of the mischief and genius of the world’s most famous theoretical physicist.
Lọlá Shónẹ́yìn is a contemporary writer I admire for her gut and grit. She runs two annual literary festivals and a bookstore in Nigeria, while being a poet and novelist herself, and has provided opportunities for many upcoming writers. Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà is also worth mentioning, and reading, here, for her understated brilliance. Get her book Longthroat Memoirs, which gives a delightful insight into the Nigerian gastronomic imagination. Third would be Nnedi Okorafor, for her seemingly boundless energy, and for showing the delightful possibilities of African science fiction.


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


I do many things else, actually. I just write, nevertheless, because I make better sense of the world that way. 

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


I’ll say that if you find yourself being very curious and imaginative, being unsatisfied with neat answers and explanations, often looking to mentally create alternative endings to real life scenarios, or to dig into answers for further questions, or to document what you see, feel, and experience for others’ or your own benefit, you might already be a writer. What makes you become one is what you do with that impulse. Often, the right answer is that you just write.


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


While in the shower in Catalonia a few days ago, I got an idea to begin work on a manuscript about a time of my life from 2004-2010 and surrounding years and related tumults with personal, societal, and national significance. I don’t know if I will write it or whether I will write it soon, or whether it will be poetry or prose, but the seed has been sown, and I know what the book is going to be titled.
I also have a manuscript of interviews with some of my favourite African and non-African writers. Need to sit down someday to complete work on it, so others can read it as a contribution to the documentation of contemporary thought around creative writing on the continent.
And, of course, there are a number of unnamed and uncompleted manuscripts around my computer, waiting to be returned to, given the right atmosphere and motivation. I was recently shortlisted for a prestigious writing scholarship, (https://milesmorlandfoundation.com/morland-writing-scholarships-shortlist-2018/) the outcome of which will, really, determine the next eighteen months of my writing life.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gwil James Thomas

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

Gwil James Thomas

is a poet and writer originally from Bristol, England but is currently living in San Sebastián, in Northern Spain. His work can be found widely in print and online in places such as 3AM, Empty Mirror, Outlaw Poetry, Expat Press, Punk Lit Press and Midnight Lane Boutique, amongst others. His poetry and fiction has also appeared in the following anthologies:Push: The Best of The First 10 Issues (East London Press).
Handjob Zine Anthology (Hi-Vis Press).
Sunny Side Down: A Charles Bukowski Tribute (Patchouli Press).His poetry chapbooks are as follows:Gwil vs Machine (Paper & Ink).
Hidden Icons & Secret Menus (Analog Submission Press).
Romance, Renegades & Riots – a split chapbook with the poet John D Robinson (Analog Submission Press).He is also the author of a published, but hard to find novel.Captains of Sinking Ships (Kenton).  He is the author of the short story collection Halfway to Nowhere (Strange Days Books) which was translated via the publisher and is currently only available in Greek! He has also read poetry alongside the likes of Joseph Ridgwell, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Susana Medina, Miggy Angel and Martin Appleby

The Interview 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
 
1. What inspired you to write poetry? 

I think that I was always a closet poet. I started off writing fiction and still do, but it took me a while to get into poetry. The first time that I felt inspired to write poetry was after writing lyrics for a band that I was in. I was/am a terrible musician, the band was a punk sort of lo-fi band, which was fitting for my musical ability. Despite that, we were unexpectedly signed and I remember being asked questions about my lyrics. I hadn’t really thought that much about it. The lyrics certainly weren’t stories – nor were they poetry, but they were naturally closer to poetry. I then realised the connection between music and poetry. Although storytelling was fun, I saw that poetry could be drawn from so many sources and took so many different forms. That initial inspiration stayed with me. Now, I might mentally see a poem as a song, a photo, or a painting, a conversation, or a vignette, or just something totally abstract. Ultimately of course, it ends up as words, or deleted – but the process is still what inspires me, it can come from anywhere and it tends to go in a way that it wants.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’m not too sure. The reason I’m being vague is that when it was first introduced to me I couldn’t have cared less for it. My introduction was either through my nan – she was the only other person in my family who’d been truly interested in poetry and prose, or through a teacher. I’ve got a hazy memory of an English teacher trying to shove some sonnet down our throats in school. Not that anyone in that class including myself was taking any notice. I just thought poetry was pretentious, boring and weird. There was no way back then I’d have believed that it was a route that my adult self would go down. Not that I had any concrete aspirations either, like most it seemed in that class.

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

Most of the long gone and great poets felt far too distant for them to have much of a dominating presence on me. I suppose the exception of this would be Dylan Thomas. My nan had a few stories about him and when she’d lived in Swansea back in the day. But those were more about the mythologising of him, rather than his work.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t write everyday and I wouldn’t want to either. Writing is something that’s love/hate with me. I’ll typically write for five nights a week sometimes six. Usually this commences at about half nine-ish and finishes sometime around one. I’ll put on some music normally something without lyrics – classical, jazz, or some weird ambient shit. If there’s a cool beer, or several in the fridge, they’ll get cracked open, if not then that’s fine. I have weird sleeping patterns and usually one day a week I’ll go to bed early and wake up early too and write to the sunrise with a strong coffee. There’s a reason that these times are good for writing and that’s isolation. I can never write in the afternoons, it’s not even a social thing per se. Poets and writers need more in there life than writing 24/7. Sometimes not writing can be more productive than sitting down at the machine –  go outside, find a bar, read, practice five finger fillet, go for a walk in the mountains, take up a new hobby, live a little, get into some strange situations, if nothing else you’ll incubate ideas.

5. What motivates you to write?

A little recognition is nice, as is being able to hold something in your hands for the first time, watching it come together from nothing. But I’d say my biggest motivator is, not writing. If I go without it for long enough I’ll start to really hunger for it, as mentioned above. It’s a delicate balance, but as with many things it’s the distance between the temple walls that make the temple great.

6. What is your work ethic?

Work ethic? I’m not sure what that means in terms of poetry and/or the small press. I can work to deadlines if I choose to take them. Other than that I don’t like taking orders, giving them, or working to schedules. Try turning this into a ‘job’ and you might have some productivity, but ultimately it’ll most likely leave you disenfranchised and delusional. Which is sad really. Of course, there’s bigger names in the small press and smaller ones – but it’s still the small press and we’re all essentially in the same pond. Most people outside it don’t even know it exists. It’s this little known secret and that’s cool. Don’t get me wrong there’s some incredible talent in this pond. There are also some that deserve wider recognition and maybe the masses aren’t ready yet. There’s little to no money in this and I’m not one of the fantasists that thinks that submitting work to sites, blogs, zines, magazines, contests, or attending readings is a business. Nor do I suffer from the Van Gogh syndrome for that matter. Writing offers me a lot and the small press has been a great outlet. Of course, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anyone paying me a salary, but being a full time poet would probably be best done by finding some other way, or source to fund it. If I had to say there was some game plan, that’d be much closer to it – or ‘the dream’. If that doesn’t happen (which don’t get me wrong I’m not holding my breath on it either) then this life is good enough for me.
 
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

John Fante was by far my greatest influence. Despite being a fiction writer I loved the way that his words flowed like poetry. Poetry was still fairly alien to me when I first came across Fante, but his poetic style would definitely influence me. I had a novel published called Captains of Sinking Ships, that’s long since disappeared. It was a first novel in many ways, but I’d enjoyed writing it. There were many scenes and themes in that that’d be revisited and recur in my writing in both my own poetry and fiction. Many lines of that book were arguably poetry too, the epilogue for example is totally a poem. I got into poetry not long after reading Fante too.After that there was Dostoyevsky, McCarthy, Woolf, Orwell, Dan Fante, Kafka, Billy Childish, Calvino, Thomas, Carver and of course my link to the Fante’s was through Bukowski. He had a huge influence on me, like  90% of the writers in the small press.

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

I’m into a few contemporary mainstream writers and poets, but the ones that I admire the most are in the small press. Following on from my last answer, I first read Bukowski at around nineteen and started digging about for more information on the small press. Some of the first names I came across were Joseph Ridgwell and Hosho Mcreesh and was blown away by their work. They are tremendous writers and poets, but moreover they changed my perspective of what I thought the small press was at that time. Their books were hard to find and normally so limited that it was likely that you wouldn’t get hold of one. If you happened to come across one for sale second hand they tended to go for quite a bit too. Not only that but their books were more beautiful than any PDF could ever dream of becoming. At first, I considered that with the internet the small press had largely become a place where writers sent out work to every blog, or site that they could. Not in a negative sense, but I just thought that this was what it had felt like. However, Ridgwell and Mcreesh’s work was the opposite of that online world. These books were collectable and again given the fact that you might not be able to get hold of one, a publication could almost become legendary. Like hearing about a certain novel, or chapbook, but frustratingly or wondrously never being able to read it. I felt really inspired by this and as a writer I still try to publish my work primarily in print and if it’s featured in print I’ll leave it there for those reasons. But at the same time, part of me says don’t be too precious about it. It certainly works for some, but there’s also so many great names in the small press online. Names that I’d never have been able to get into properly, had I not been able to see a sizeable amount of their work online for free. I’ve had a lot of work featured online and I don’t want to get into online and print conversation in a polarising way, but it’s something that I’m on the fence with. Not only that, this answer would become even more lengthy if I truly went into it! So beyond Mcreesh and Ridgwell the following are writers/poets that I admire these days that would fall into both those camps, people like:
Jared Carnie, John D Robinson, JJ Campbell, Scott Wozniak, Marc Bruseke, Adrian Manning, Katie Doherty, Sam Pink, Martin Appleby, India Laplace, Dave Matthes, Ian Cusack, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Jim Gibson, Miggy Angel and Rob Plath.

9. Why do you write?

I’m still trying to work that out. But since it arrived in my life a decade ago, it hasn’t shown any signs of leaving. 

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

Realise that there’s probably going to be some sacrifice, or compromise somewhere down the line, if not starvation. Everyone’s path is different, but the choice of writer comes with its highs and lows. But once you get past that you’ll know whether this is for you and if it is then it’s a beautiful journey that’ll leave you experiencing things in a way that others never will. It’s a great fight. Don’t be discouraged by doing readings, it’s perfect way for testing out new material. Write for yourself and don’t let anyone try and discourage you, ever.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
 
I’ve got a forthcoming poetry chapbook Writing Beer, Drinking Poetry that’ll be published via Concrete Meat press and another planned poetry chapbook with Holy & Intoxicated Press. Both of which should be out next year.I’ve also got fiction and poetry coming out in the upcoming issues of Glove, Razur Cuts and Paper & Ink. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a regular contributor to the three of those print  publications. They’re cheap and sell out quick and are full of quality work, by many of the writers and poets I’ve mentioned in this interview.I’ve also got a novel which I’m trimming the fat on, which will be ready when its ready and a short story collection that’s near completion.Maybe in 2019 I’lll finally take the plunge with a website and/or a social media account… maybe. 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jack Grady

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.

Jack Grady

American-born Jack Grady is a past winner of the Worcester County Poetry Contest (Massachusetts, USA). A dual Irish and American citizen, he now resides permanently in Ireland.  A founder member of the Irish-based Ox Mountain Poets, his poetry has been widely published and has appeared either online or in print in Live Encounters Poetry and Writing; Crannóg; Poet Lore; A New Ulster; The Worcester Review; North West Words; Mauvaise Graine; Outburst Magazine; The Runt; The Galway Review; Algebra of Owls; The Irish Literary Times; Skylight 47; The Ekphrastic Review; Dodging the Rain; Mediterranean Poetry; and in the anthologies And Agamemnon Dead:  An Anthology of Twenty First Century Irish Poetry; A New Ulster’s Voices for Peace; Poetry Anthology Centenary Voices April 2016; 21 Poems, 21 Reasons for Choosing Jeremy Corbyn; A New Ulster’s Poetry Day Ireland Anthology 2017; Poesia a Sul 1; and 300K: Une anthologie de poésie sur l’espèce humaine.  He read in Morocco at the 3rd annual Festival International Poésie Marrakech, as the poet invited by its committee to represent Ireland, and he was invited to represent Ireland at the 3rd annual Poesia a Sul, in Olhão, Portugal.  His poetry collection, Resurrection, was published in Belfast by Lapwing Publications in October 2017 and was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize. 

The Interview


1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Brother Gerard, headmaster and English teacher at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, MA., USA ( a university preparatory school which Frank O’Hara also attended, long before me, of course). Brother Gerard told the class that the sonnet was the most difficult form to write, that is, if you follow the exact rules.  For some reason, I took that as a challenge, and wrote one poem in the Shakespearean form and another in the Petrarchan form (though, being inspired by French writers I was reading, I referred to it as a sonnet in the style of Pierre de Ronsard).I continued to write poems in older forms (and even language style) until I first read Allen Ginsburg’s Howl.  What a fantastic discovery that was!  I was liberated.  Nothing was sacrosanct.  Nothing was forbidden. I then wrote a Beat-style poem called Pigsty of Desire (long since wisely lost and forgotten), and then wrote a number of others in that style.  A friend of mine said Howl ‘was like buying pornography…It’s been called the birth scream of the Best Generation.’ And, indeed, it freed me from the limitations of pre-free-verse poetry.


2. Who introduced you to poetry?

That one I can’t answer. I imagine that it was one of my teachers in primary/elementary school, but I didn’t really take any notice of poetry until I attended St. John’s.

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

To me at the time, all the established poets were older than me. It only seemed natural that they would be the dominant ones.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I like to start working as soon as I get up in the morning.  First, have a cup of coffee, but breakfast might have to wait a while, especially if inspiration immediately hits me. On the weekends, I get up quite early in order to get as much writing done before I have to do the usual weekend chores.  When I am free to work later in the day or at night, I often use that time in revising my poems. I also make sure I squeeze in some time to read the work of other poets as well, and I usually have one book of prose (sometimes fiction, sometimes factual, usually related to history) going on at the same time.

5. What motivates you to write?

The work of other poets, history, war or rather anti-war (I am a war veteran and am much opposed to war), old-time jazz, visual art, death, love, loss, empathy for all creatures great and small, and nature, or Gaia (particularly relating to the oneness of life and all things).

6. What is your work ethic?

Basically, it is to be diligent in applying myself to my craft as much as time allows and not to procrastinate. I also ensure that I work hard at revision.  Few poems, if any, are perfect at the first writing, and only a very small percentage get by with a few drafts.  In my case, I won’t hesitate to do a hundred or more revisions on a work until I am satisfied with it.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Not so much. Every once in a while, I still turn to poets like Anne Sexton and Robert Bly, and to Seamus Heaney, whose work reinvigorated me, helped in my poetic resurrection; but, mostly, it is to poets that I have read more recently.One poet from the past who still inspires me, though, particularly with regard to any politically-related poems I write, is Kenneth Patchen.  He remains my poetic conscience.

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

There are so many of today’s poets I admire, including Adam Zagajewski, Nikola Madzirov, Tishani Doshi, Marvin Bell, David Lehman, and Guy Goffette, to name just a few of the many poets whose work I admire. I can also name innumerable Irish and British poets whose work I much admire, but the list would get too long. And then to explain why I admire each one would require a book in itself, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.  So, I will choose one poet who has most impressed me over the past couple of years. It is a sort of tossup between Adam Zagajewski and Nikola Madzirov, but I’ll go with the younger of the two.Macedonian poet, Nikola Madzirov, is one of the best foreign-language poets writing today. The influence of history has had a major impact on his work, as it also has on mine. He is from a part of Europe which has endured centuries of conflict and destruction, even relatively recently. But he also knows that he cannot/should not be bound by history. He seeks an escape from his roots, from all that conflict and hatred that still lingers, if not simmers, in the Balkans.‘History,’ Madzirov says, ‘is the first border I have to cross.’  Just as in the Balkans, Ireland has a similar history, and the Irish also need to liberate themselves from the divisive borders of history. Know the history, but don’t be ruled by it. Madzirov’s spirit is a travelling one, one that goes beyond the limitations of religion, nation states, and ideology, to seek and find the oneness of being, the oneness of us all. I see in his imagery the influence of Transtromer. Madzirov’s poetry is full of startling images but is succinct.  He has a knack for finding that elusive Deep Image, the sort of image that all of us seek as a way to say so much, so many different things, with minimal words, with a single image. As a fellow poet who loves Madzirov’s work once told me ‘he makes me think’.

9. Why do you write?

Some spirit inside prods me. Call it a Muse. I am happy when I am writing, when I am producing work that I like, that I think is good (and I am not an easy critic on myself). If I don’t write at all, I am miserable. Writing is an essential part of me. Also, I think that, with all the depressing problems in the world today, poetry keeps me going, keeps my ship afloat. Poetry is my helmsman.

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

Read, read, read, and then try your hand at writing. But always read loads of other writers. Then, join a writers’ group, if there is one nearby, or start a writers’ group yourself. And don’t just read your work to each other.  Provide feedback to each other. Learn to accept criticism, get a thick skin; otherwise, you will shrink inside yourself and give up when you receive your first rejection letter.
 
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Well, one is a collection like my recent one, Resurrection, which will include poems on a variety of subjects, though some themes may dominate.  The other project originally started out as a sequence of poems; however, it has since expanded to the point that it will be an entire collection in itself, and it deals with one particular subject, a person who lived in the eighteenth century. The poems are written or will be written in her voice and those of other characters in her tragic story. The idea of putting these voices from the past into poetry was inspired by Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, Yves Bonnefoy’s Pierre écrite, Mary Madec’s Demeter Does Not Remember, and Susan Ludvigson’s Trinity.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rachel Burns

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 fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

wp_ss_20181122_0002

Rachel Burns

was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and lives in County Durham. She was selected for a screenwriting talent scheme with Northern Film and Media in 2012 and produced a sample script for ITV Vera. She was shortlisted for the Gillian Hush Award and received a place on an Arvon writing for radio with Anjum Malik and Peter Wild. She has been longlisted in several playwriting competitions, including High Tide, Verity Bargate and Papatango. Her scripts were longlisted in recent BBC Script Rooms 11 and 12 and received feedback and she was invited to a special event at BBC Writersroom. She was longlisted again in Script Room Drama 2018.
She has completed a one year’s mentoring scheme 2017/2018 with Arvon and The Jerwood Foundation mentored by the playwright Tim Crouch. An extract from her play The Graffiti Bunkers was performed at The Free Word Centre in June 2018.
Rachel Burns writes prose and her short story was published in Mslexia and Here Comes Everyone. Her flash fiction was published in Flash Fiction Magazine. She has completed a YA novel and took part in the Northern Writer’s Awards, Summer Talent Salon 2017. Her YA novel was selected for TLC Free Reads.
Her poetry has appeared in various magazines including The Fenland Reed, Head Stuff, Ink, Sweat & Tears, South Bank Poetry, SOUTHLIGHT, The Herald Newspaper, Marble Poetry, Arfur, Crannog and is forthcoming in the Poetry Salzburg Review, SurVision, Eyeflash and The Rat’s Ass Review. Poetry has been anthologised in #MeToo; Poems for Grenfell Tower; Please Hear What I’m Not Saying; Our Beating Heart: NHS hits 70; and Poems for the NHS. She has been shortlisted in Mslexia Poetry Competition, The Keats- Shelley Poetry Prize 2017, HeadStuff 2018 and Poetry School Primers 2018.

https://rachelburnssite.wordpress.com

twitter @RachelLBurnsme

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I was a late starter only signing up for a WEA creative writing course in my thirties. We were given homework assignments each week and I’d write a poem. Jackie Litherland partner was the poet Barry McSweeney. He died of alcoholism. I read his poetry collection ‘Horses in Boiling Blood’ which is his translation of Apollinaire. The title poem is called ‘Horses in Boiling Blood or The Fenwick’s Third Floor Hair -do.’ I love the inventiveness of his language, he writes half-Apollinaire, half-Geordie poet about love and the horrors of war but also at the same time about the horrors of addiction. It completely changed the way I thought about poetry. Colpitts Poetry was still going strong, organised by the poet Michael Standen, editor of Other Poetry. I saw some incredibly talented poets read, too many to name but included Matthew Sweeney, George Szirtes, Vicky Feaver, and Anne Stevenson.  I signed up for another evening class at my local college in creative writing and was tutored by Gillian Allnutt which was around the time she won the Northern Rock Award. We wrote in the session sometimes to music or with a line of poetry as a prompt. I remember her talking about her own work, saying her poetry had become more condensed over the years. Kevin Cadwallender took over the post from Gillian and he was another source of inspiration. I loved his Baz poems and the fact that he came from a northern seaside town. He talked about growing up in Blackhall Rocks and his journey to becoming a poet.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My Dad introduced me to poetry. I should say ‘brainwashed’. He played Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood at bombastic volume throughout the house, and another tape of Burton reading Hardy, Coleridge and Donne. As a child I read children’s poetry, my Dad’s cousin was a travelling book salesman and visited regularly so I had my pick of books.

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

I’m more aware of the dominating middle-classes in the world of poetry than a dominating presence of older poets. Poetry costs money, attending poetry events and festivals, paying for poetry course fees, studying poetry at a higher level, entering competitions, and subscribing to magazines. These are barriers to low income writers and off putting to anyone thinking about embarking on a poetry career. The people who dominate the poetry world in general are middle-class academics. There is a huge north-south divide. I don’t think we see enough diversity in poetry not by a long chalk. Barry MacSweeney again, ‘We want new sounds not neat Faber and Faber/ we want new sounds no Simon Armitage/with hands in the pockets of his suit in Paris/ half a pound of badly-fried chips on each shoulder.’ (From Victory Over Darkness & The Sunne.)

4. What is your daily writing routine?

My writing routine varies. I write plays as well as poetry and I am currently working on a YA novel. I have an arthritic condition of the spine which means I can’t sit for long periods, so I tend to write in bursts, an hour at a time. Some days I’ll take the dog and walk through the woods and down to the river with a notebook. I juggle writing with supporting my three kids who all have dyslexia, so although my youngest is nine, she still can’t read. My time is spent attending meetings, making sure support plans and provision is in place and arranging extra-curriculum support. I’m also active in a voluntary capacity. I’m a partner patient insight partner with Arthritis Research UK reading grant proposals. I volunteer with a prisoner’s charity at two Crown Courts, supporting defendants facing a custodial prison sentence and providing information and advice to their family members. I’m a writing mentor with Live Tales, Live Theatre working with primary school children encouraging them to think imaginatively and creatively.

5. What motivates you to write?

I can’t imagine not writing. I was always and still am a voracious reader, so writing is an extension of that. I do have periods of despair and think why on earth am I doing this? What is it all for? The poem by Anne Stevenson, ‘Making Poetry’, sums up how I feel about writing poetry in a far better way than I can articulate.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic is pathetic. I am the world’s greatest procrastinator. I’m terrible for wasting time on social media!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I didn’t read much poetry from about age ten as it wasn’t considered cool! Instead, I read and memorised song lyrics. Artists such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, X-Ray Specs, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Paul Weller, and The Sex Pistols. I can recite the lyrics (as can all ten-year-olds from that era) to The Sex Pistols, Bodies off by heart.
She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was a case of insanity
Her name was Pauline she lived in a tree

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

Patti Smith is the greatest living female poet. I have listened to her Horses album 1975 many, many times. The lyrics on that album are belter. Horses lyrics start with ‘The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea.’ and builds into, ‘he saw horses, horses, horses, horses…’ and then turns again ‘life is filled with holes, Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin…’ It is genius! I saw her perform the entire album live at Newcastle, then again at Manchester during Horses Tour 2015.

9. Why do you write?

Writing has become an addiction. I don’t do anything by half. I throw myself in at the deep end. If you drown, you drown, to hell with it!

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

When I first took up the pen, I read a pile of ‘how to’ books in the hope that the answer to the Holy Grail ‘becoming a writer’ might be in the pages somewhere.
It wasn’t sadly. My advice for anyone starting out would be sign up for a creative writing class either online or in the community. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Future Learn is free and online.
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/how-to-make-a-poem

Creative Future is a good resource for marginalised writers.
https://www.creativefuture.org.uk/

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

I’m currently stacking/juggling projects, poetry (of course) a Young Adult novel, a radio play, and re-writing two stage plays.

 

 

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Aoife Lyall

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.
 
wp_ss_20181122_0001
 

Aoife Lyall
 

is an Irish poet living and working in the Scottish Highlands. Longlisted for the inaugural Rebecca Swift Women Poets’ Prize 2018 and shortlisted for the Hennessy New Writing Awards 2018 and 2016, her writing has appeared in The Irish Times, The Stinging Fly, Magma, Banshee Lit, among others. She has just completed her first collection, which explores pregnancy and early motherhood.

Website: https://aoifelyall.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @PoetLyall 
 

The Interview 

1.Who introduced you to poetry? 

As a student, it was my teachers. As a teacher, it was my students. As children, we are exposed to poetry every day through lullabies, nursery rhymes, and rhyming stories. Yet, as we get older, poetry can become a childish pursuit, then an adult and inscrutable one, determined to catch you out and show you up, something you could ‘get wrong’. I knew I would have to impress my students with the cleverness of the poems we were studying, so I studied them in great depth and developed my own appreciation for the craft at the same time. 

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

In university I was drawn to studying poems and poets; from Beowulf, the Gawain-poet, and Chaucer, right up to Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Patrick Kavannagh. While I didn’t feel dominated by older poets in the sense of being intimidated by the quality of their work, I was keenly aware of the hierarchy of subject matter. Having read very few poems about pregnancy, motherhood, and family, I felt these topics were unimportant, off-limits, and self-indulgent and, for a long time, felt any reading should be prefaced with a self-deprecating acknowledgement that, however well-written, they were ultimately ‘domestic’ poems. My earlier poems, which I never put forward for publication, focused on illness and death and grief and these felt more palatable, more acceptable topics in the context of these older poets. It has taken years to shake that feeling of being lesser. 4. What is your daily writing routine? To read and write every day. Before I was a parent, I could be very rigorous and systematic: up at 6am, write until 8am, go for a walk, edit in the evening. These days it is a case of writing and editing when I can. My daughter is almost 3 now, and most mornings or afternoons we sit at the kitchen table in companionable silence as I write in my black notebook and she draws in hers. Editing I do when she is asleep. The lack of time removes the opportunity for procrastination and doubt: first drafts are written freely, and editing is ruthless.  

3. What motivates you to write? 

The awareness that while everything can change in a hearbeat, change is more often a gradual transformation and something that is easy to miss. My poems bring me back into my intimate emotional memories in a way few photos can. 6. What is your work ethic? Be prepared to succeed, be willing to fail. In the beginning every acceptance was euphoric, a validation, while every rejection was a devastation. Now I am pleased with good news and more, if not totally, accepting of bad news. I have learned that opinions don’t change the quality of the work, and it is up to me to judge whether I am happy with it or not.  

4. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

 I mostly read novels when I was young- The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women. In these books I found characters I could identify with; sour girls, oppressed girls, wildly talkative girls, story-writing girls. But nothing beyond that. Nothing about navigating womanhood and motherhood. That is a narrative I want to share.

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

Jacqueline Saphra, Sara Baume, Anna Burns, Sally Rooney, and Imitiaz Dharker to name but a few. All women exploring a narrative that has been historically downplayed, silenced, or simply ignored. This narrative is fascinating to me.  2018 was a year I dedicated to reading more women writers; 2019 I will be focusing on writers in translation. 


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

Pay attention. Write things down. Give yourself permission to take it seriously. Don’t tell anyone you’re doing it- to begin with. Too much scrutiny, even from well-intentioned eyes, can be overwhelming.  Be prepared to change your thinking, your interests, your style, your attitudes. Start developing opinions. Go online and ask for help. Read: I am currently writing a creative non-fiction piece inspired by a novel I read recently. It was a revelation, understanding that I could write in my own voice, and I have written over 200 pages so far. 

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

I am currently submitting my first poetry manuscript to publishers. I am also working on my first piece of extended creative non-fiction. I have used 2018 to write reviews of poetry collections and pamphlets, and will decide how to record my exploration of writers in translation in 2019.

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jeremy Dixon

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.
 
 
In Retail cover
 
 
Jeremy Dixon
 
lives outside Cardiff making Artist’s Books that combine poetry, photography, queerness, individuality, compassion and humour. His poems have appeared in Found Poetry Review, HIV Here & Now, Liberty Tales, Lighthouse Journal, Really System, Roundyhouse and other magazines both online and in print. He was commended in the Cafe Writers Competition 2016. For more information visit; http://www.hazardpress.co.uk, or follow him on Twitter; @HazardPressUK   
 
The Interview
 
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
 
I am incredibly grateful to two people who both inspired me in different ways and without them in my life I doubt that I would be writing as I am now. The first was my English teacher at Radyr Comprehensive School, Mr ‘Gus’ Williams who would have all the class recite Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas and then ask us what these combinations of words actually made us feel. He also took us to an open air performance of the Mabinogion in the grounds of Cardiff Castle where there were real horses, jousting, a medieval fair, and even a representation of gay sex, all of which I remember vividly! Secondly, there is the wonderful Sarah Williams, who back in the 1990s after many months of having to listen to me moan that I wished I could write poetry, that I’m sure I could write poetry, that I should be writing poetry, entered my name (without telling me) for a ¬Bristol Poetry Slam competition, which gave me just over a week to compose and perform my first ever complete poem (and I made it through to the second round).
 
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
 
I’m slanting this question to acknowledge those poets of the past who have influenced both my life and my writing just by them being part of the world, they are my creative possibilities of how you live and write in societies that are constantly threatening and manipulating the ‘other’ to conform or to face erasure. There is an alternate queer history of modern poetry and writing that is never quite acknowledged, one that begins with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and runs through many, many lives including: Oscar Wilde, Hart Crane, Countee Cullen, H.D., Federico Garcia Lorca, Gertrude Stein, Allen Ginsberg, Joe Orton, Audre Lorde, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, Thom Gunn and John Ashbery. These are just some my dominating presences and I can only hope to try and live up their varied examples.
 
3. What is your daily writing routine?
4. What is your work ethic?
 
I have gradually shaped for myself a portfolio career where I undertake a collage of different jobs such as shop work, Yoga teaching, dog walking and freelance design in order to carve out enough time to create. This means that every day is split differently and so my creative routine will vary. As well as writing poetry I make artist’s books, which I describe as ‘poetic queer artist’s books’, and as such both writing and making are pretty much of equal importance to me. I only have so much creative energy, so one day I may draft poems, the next I might photocopy and stitch pamphlets, I see it as all part of a whole. All I ask myself of a day is that I spend at least some part of it on a creative project.
 
5. Why do you write?
6. What motivates you to write?
 
Time is what motivates me! How much longer can I afford to create, how much time do I have left on the planet, how much longer will the earth exist, am I using my time to my full creative potential, am I writing and making poetry and books that need to exist, can I lead through example, can I inspire others to be creative, and by unlocking the collective’s creativity can the world be saved?
 
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
 
Listing and mosting feels rather too excluding and subjective for me, any list of names would change and grow from day to day, moment by moment, but here they would be frozen on the page and I would soon regret who wasn’t there. However I must say that I find this fantastic new generation of queer poets worldwide incredibly inspiring to me. As I mentioned earlier, the history and example of any kind of queer poetry was deliberately hidden from me as I grew up, and now that no longer has to be the case. These new poets are enabling and showing us different ways of how poetry can be done, of how we can live our lives now. There is hope for change and for the future because they are creating in this world.
 
8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
 
Here’s a secret that I wish I had known earlier, that you don’t really ‘become’ a poet or writer, if you write then you are already a poet and a writer and you don’t have to hang around waiting for someone to bestow a title upon you, you should just get on with the job of creating. You must be a writer to yourself, you must write, and redraft, and edit and write more. You should read and read and read and actively support the work of other poets and writers and presses. Join Twitter, follow everyone. Join a writing group. Join a tribe. Join as many libraries as you can. Enter competitions, pamphlet call outs, submit to magazines, submit to publishers, go to book fairs. Or then again, don’t do any of this if you don’t want to. Don’t denigrate, judge or bitch about the work of others. Don’t compare yourself to others, let them be them, let you be you. Do the WORK. Own your WORK. Be prepared for it all to take time. Remember that only you have the power to be the means of your own ‘becoming’.
 
9. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment. .

I am very excited that in February 2019 my first poetry collection will appear in the world, just one month ahead of my 55th birthday (please seeyuupûyoo second from last line in the question above). The book is called IN RETAIL and is being published by the wonderful Arachne Press. I am very lucky that my editor, Cherry Potts, has been incredibly supportive in terms of pushing the envelope of how poetry can be presented in book form and the collection incorporates influences from my parallel world of artists’ book. The poems contained within IN RETAIL are the result of my part-time job in a well-known high street chain of chemists, which rather unexpectedly turned out to be a great source of inspiration. Most of the poems began life as hurried lines scribbled on the back of a length of till roll in the lull between sales. I’m in the process of working out how to perform these poems and also arranging a reading tour (which is all completely new to me, so if any of your readers have any ideas or suggestions that would be fantastic!). IN RETAIL is available for pre-order now from Arachne Press (with free UK p&p and a free limited-edition IN RETAIL badge). Order link: