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.
Trinidadian poet Andre Bagoo’s work has appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, St Petersburg Review, and The Poetry Review. His books include Trick Vessels (Shearsman, 2012), BURN (Shearsman, 2015), Pitch Lake (Peepal Tree, 2017), and a book-length visual poem The City of Dreadful Night (Prote(s)xt, 2018). He was awarded The Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize in 2017. Twitter @pleasureblog
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
In my teens I wrote poems for boys. I made little chapbooks and would gift them to these baffled studs, sometimes anonymously. Poetry became me.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
The answer to this question depends on the answer to another question: what is poetry? I feel poetry is around us all the time even when it’s not on our radar. So it’s hard to say who introduced poetry to me. But I do remember a teacher who showed me a whole new level of analysis when it came to reading poetry. This was in secondary school. We had Mr Perkins for English. One hot afternoon he came in and told us to open our textbooks and read ‘Mass Man’ by Derek Walcott. He unpacked the poem word by word, line by line in a way that felt like discovering the world is not flat. I went deeper. I explored the National Library’s collection. I found poets like Samuel Beckett. (I encountered his poetry before his plays, which was a blessing.) The poem became not only an object but also a process. All at once so much opened.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
As a reader first and foremost, other poets, other voices, always dominate. Very early on, encountering each poet’s work was like encountering strokes of a painting, shapes of a costume, notes in a score: the form always seemed magical and meaningful. Dominating was not the word. It felt like communing. It still feels that way.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Someone once advised me to always listen and wait for the poem. To give it time. To let it happen. So I would say it depends on what you mean by writing. The preparation for writing – researching things, feeling things out – is as much a part of writing as typing words or making jottings in a notebook. Sometimes I latch onto a form or rhythm that works. In those instances I might devise a routine to support the work. Other times I am haphazard. So I guess if there is a routine it is the absence of routine. Opening a space for mystery, accident, surprise.
5. What motivates you to write?
Dancers have this thing called muscle memory. Writing feels like something that happens to me because it’s now part and parcel of me. Even when I step away, even when I cross into other terrains like dance and visual art, it remains. Heidegger believed poetry was the essence of all art and sometimes I think that’s true. In a way, then, everything motives me.
6. What is your work ethic?
One of my favorite books is What Work Is by Phillip Levine. Something about its searching, its reportage, its drilling down and surrender to the profound questions that surround human beings and our labours beguiles me even in its uncomfortable moments. It all seems to implicitly ask: What is the work of the poet? Someone once said every poem is an ars poetica. I feel each poem makes a world while also becoming a part of it; is a setting-into-being that opens setting-into-being to new possibilities. So, to go back to your question, I guess we can look at this in terms of what work the poem does, what work the poet does, and whether there is a relationship between both things, or a separation, and what patterns or systems might shape how much I do any of these things. I am tempted to say I have a strong work ethic driven by the fact that I’m not sure how much time I have on this planet. At the same time, Locke’s insights on labour and mercantile notions of productivity don’t seem to be useful models when approaching poetry. All I can say, then, is these things called poems come, sometimes frequently sometimes infrequently. Always there is a questioning: is this a poem? Why? Why not? At which stage is the poem a poem? When someone else reads it? When I write it? When it forms, inchoate, in my body? Do I have a responsibility or relationship to it? And do only poets write poems? It’s hard to paper over all of this and describe my own processes. Even if I dream of a world where poems, which seem to do nothing, change everything.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I like to read in an engaged way. I’m experiencing what I am reading. I am also analysing what I am reading. And learning from what I am reading. So whatever I read tends to soak in. I’m very permeable that way. I am not too sure how to trace the strands of influence but it’s there. But influence is more than just a surface resemblance. It’s about process and context; particularly civic context too. Real influence might not be discernable on the page.
8. Which writers do you admire the most and why?
Currently, I’m drawn to Heathcote Williams’ audacious investigative poetry; as well as Tom Raworth’s work. Raworth was one of the first people to have open heart surgery and someone once suggested you could sense a different kind of heartbeat pulsing through his writing, an idea I find not only beautiful but true when considering the sensibility of some of his poems.
9. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
In 2018 I published The City of Dreadful Night, a book-length visual poem that takes James Thomson’s poem of the same name and seeks to dialogue with it through a sequence of images. I like to think of form in poetry in a wide sense, extending beyond questions of whether a poem is a sonnet or a villanelle to include questions of medium. I’m drawn to this idea of drilling down to the essence of things using whatever is at hand. To go back to Heidegger, perhaps what he said was true, “All art is poetry”.