Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Martha Sprackland

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.

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Martha Sprackland

is a writer and editor. She was co-founder and poetry editor of Cake magazine, was assistant poetry editor for Faber & Faber, and is one of the founding editors of multilingual arts magazine La Errante. She is the editor of independent press Offord Road Books. In 2018 she joined Poetry London as associate editor. She is also a freelance editor working across the publishing and poetry industries.
Twice a winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, she was also the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and was longlisted for the inaugural Jerwood–Compton Poetry Fellowships in 2017. Glass As Broken Glass was longlisted for a Sabotage Award, and she placed in the Poetry London Competition in 2015. Her work has appeared in Poetry Review, LRB, Five Dials, New Humanist, Magma, Poetry London and many other places, and has been anthologised in the Salt Book of Younger Poets, Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam, Best Friends Forever, Vanguard, Birdbook, and the Best British Poetry series, and she has read at a number of festivals, including Port Eliot, The Good Life Experience, Caught by the River Thames, and Curious Arts Festival. In 2015 she was invited to participate in the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation poetry festival in Sofia and Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria. In 2017 she spent a month in residence at Yaddo. In 2018 Martha returned to Sofia as part of the Sofia Poetically Animated conference, and in September 2018 she will be in Tunisia with the British Council and Modern Poetry in Translation.
Martha is poet-in-residence for Caught by the River. Her debut pamphlet, Glass As Broken Glass, was published by Rack Press in January 2017, and she is currently working on a full-length collection. A non-fiction book on sharks is forthcoming with Little Toller Books in 2019.
 
“[With] formal acuity Martha Sprackland’s ‘Domestic’ characterizes a broken relationship as helplessly frozen syntax teetering on that very word – as – everything that’s just happened in a nameless quarrel ‘as’ something faraway, free of it, clear of it, like smoke or sky. Numbness of spent emotion, wonderfully anatomized: ‘Glass as broken glass.”‘ – Glyn Maxwell


“Sprackland refreshes the domestic and mundane in poems which are outwardly calm, but lit from within to reveal unusual visionary angles.” – Eric Gregory Award judges 2014

 

The Interview 

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

The first poem I remember writing was at a creative workshop in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, in the beautiful Victorian glass pavilion, the Palm House, that is filled with exotic hothouse plants; bromeliads, palms, orchids. My mum, who is also a poet, had brought me and my brother there; probably she was doing a reading or leading a workshop. During a writing session run by poet Deryn Rees-Jones I wrote a poem, in felt-tip on sugar-paper, about a mouse. I think it’s still in the attic somewhere. I was probably five or six.

2. Did your mum introduce you to poetry?

Not explicitly, I don’t think – there were lots of books on the bookshelves, and I would just take and read them. Lots of fiction as well as poetry. I remember coming by Sharon Olds that way, among many others. She would sometimes take us along to things, though, and I’m sure that piqued my interest.

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

Not really at all, I don’t think. Or if I did then I don’t remember. Only once I started being taught it in schools, maybe.

4. What motivates you to write?

To be honest, I think it’s just for the sheer pleasure of construction. As someone who also writes prose, I don’t feel that poetry is a burden, or a gift, or that it is my only outlet; it’s more a joy, albeit a fierce one, than a therapeutic tool or cathartic exercise. For the latter, I go elsewhere. I don’t have much truck with pronouncements on the muse; inspiration, another itchily motivational word, I’d always rather simply call ideas. I don’t much like a lot of the passive, sentimental assertions I see around the writing of poetry – that it sets us apart in some mystical way; that poems are delivered from elsewhere; that we are slaves to an anthropomorphised driving force that pushes us to write. Rather, I want to feel that it’s all my own work; that I chose – and choose – to sit down to write something; that there are practical skills and exercises that you can do to improve, and that putting in the work (by reading other poets; by redrafting; by looking at things in an inquisitive way) is what makes a good poet, not chance, fate, or ‘the muse’. What motivates me – I enjoy it. It feels good. Satisfying, fiddly, rewarding.
 

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

The writers I read when I was young certainly do still resonate. I mentioned Sharon Olds already; her work has long been a touchstone for me. There’s a sort of euphoric brutality that I aspire to there. Some of my feelings about sound and rhythm come from Jack Lindsey’s Clue of Darkness and Keats and other things. One of the first poets I read was Selima Hill – I love the weirdness of her animals. Adrienne Rich. Plath, of course. Glück. Lorca’s deep midnighty feeling. Akhmatova. O’Hara. Walcott. Hopkins. Celan.

6. You’ve mentioned some contemporary writers so far, please could you expand on those of today’s writers you admire most and why?

So many, many of whom I’m lucky enough to know or have met – Amy Key, Rebecca Perry, Clare Pollard, Wayne Holloway-Smith, Vahni Capildeo. I love Karen Solie, and Sara Peters, and have recently been reading Shivanee Ramlochan’s Everyone Knows I am a Haunting, which is brilliant. Denise Riley, Richard Scott, Dorianne Laux, Kayo Chingonyi, Hannah Sullivan, Ilya Kaminsky. I found Danez Smith’s book addictive and euphoric. I can’t wait for Rachael Allen’s debut, from Faber next year, or Anthony Anaxagorou’s. I’ve been watching Romalyn Ante’s rise, too – I think she’s fantastic (and at tie of writing has just been announced as the winner of the Poetry London competition) Many of the poets I admire I get to edit – which feels like ridiculous good fortune: AK Blakemore, Helen Charman, the whole roster at Offord Road. The list of contemporary poets I love is long – the world feels very full of extremely good and exciting work at the moment.

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

It’s only one of things I do, really. I’m currently studying Arabic at SOAS, and have done translation in the past (from Spanish). I’ve been a teacher. I studied horticulture, I run, I review, I draw, I swim, I am pretty obsessed by food. I’m more often being a publisher or editor than I am a writer – people always look sympathetic when I tell them that, but I love being an editor as much as I love writing.

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

Depends on the kind of writer you want to be.

Write first thing in the morning, not ‘just after checking these emails’. Use nice sharp pencils with a little rubber on the end, and a big flat A4 pad of lined paper. Beautiful notebooks are great, but I think their beauty can be intimidating; you want to feel free to scribble, cross out, fold, tear, rearrange, crumple.
 
Otherwise, just try and read every day. It does matter. Oh, and find likeminded people – whether in real or online life – to exchange poems with and swap feedback. Take advice well, grow a thick skin, kill your darlings. Interrogate first lines, and almost always excise them. Spend as long on the title as you do on the poem. Be disciplined about sending them out to magazines, if you want them to be published; print them out and bind them together to look at and feel proud of, if you don’t.

9.  Final question, Martha. Tell me about any writing projects that you are involved in at the moment.

I’ve got a new pamphlet, Milk Tooth (on Rough Trade), launching next week, which is nice. (http://roughtradebooks.com/editions/milk-tooth/)

It’s actually a bit nervewracking, as it’s a lot more personal than previous stuff I’ve allowed out into the world. We’ll see. Otherwise, I’m finishing my collection, which should be out in early 2020. Doing a bit of a reviewing. And translating some interesting Arabic poetry, by two poets I met in Tunisia earlier this year – Zouleikha Elhamed and Fatima Al-Zahra, from Mauritania and Libya respectively. I’m also finalising the texts of Seán Hewitt’s and L. Kiew’s Offord Road pamphlets, as they’ll need to go to press right after Christmas. Always something to be getting on with!

 

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