Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Janet Sutherland

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.

Janet Sutherland Home Farm jpeg

Janet Sutherland

was born in Wiltshire and grew up on a dairy farm. She has an MA in American Poetry from the University of Essex. Her poems are widely anthologised and have appeared in magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review, The New Humanist, The London Magazine, The New Statesman and The Spectator. In 2018 she received a Hawthornden Fellowship during which some of the poems in her new collection, Home Farm, were written.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’d seen that in the finest poetry poets can go beyond what is ordinarily sayable.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I went to a catholic school for a couple of years between the ages of 9 and 11, in those days we had handwriting lessons, taught by copying. You could choose a sheet each day to copy and most of them were poems. I remember copying The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling when I was 9 and memorising The Snowflake by Walter de la Mare, because I liked it. We were also taught songs, heard tracts of the poetry of the old testament, spent months studying The Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker with a student teacher, and we performed The Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow as our end of year performance having sung and it and read it and talked about it for much of the year. We wrote poems too, my first was about the blue flower Scilla when I was nine.

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

I wasn’t aware of that when I was very young but gradually became more aware through school and into University. Rather than a dominating presence of older poets I’d say for me it was and still is a process of discovery, of delight in finding the voices that speak to me through time from Chaucer to Donne to Yeats and Pound and Bishop and so to poets writing now.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I sit at my desk pretty much every day and go for walks in between stints at the desk. My routine varies according to what my current projects are. Now there’s a lot of admin around my new book, Home Farm, and the initial research stages of my next project about a journey my great great grandfather took in 1846/7, which I’ve been working on for the last few years, in between other projects. When I start writing more creative pieces towards the new work I’ll also be thinking about structure and how the thing might fit together. The general process is to write then edit and keep editing through many versions. To try out the new work on writing friends. At the writing stage of the project it’s in my head most of the time whether I’m at the desk or not.

5. What motivates you to write?

It’s like a thought itch— for instance I saw a blue boat on the river near where I live, it was half submerged and as the river is tidal it was keeping up with me as I walked. That image stayed with me and became a poem in which the blue boat was like a soul drowning:

6. What is your work ethic?

To keep at it even when it’s hard. To keep at it even when it doesn’t work. To go for a walk or just away from the desk when I’m stuck. To keep editing until it’s finished and when it is to send it out.

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

They form the bedrock to everything. In my 20’s I loved Reznikoff, Pound, William Carlos Williams, Oppen, Eliot, Robinson Jeffers, Wallace Stevens.

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

I admire Anne Carson hugely. She is a tremendous writer and very innovative, very clever, playful, learned, joyous with language, deep. Reading her is a complicated adventure. My favourites of hers are Autobiography of Red and Nox. I have also recently enjoyed Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, an extraordinary first collection. I love the work of Lee Harwood who died in 2015. I could name so many others…

9. Why do you write?

There are things I want to say that I can’t say in any other way. The process of writing is helpful in sidling up to it.

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

Read as much as you can and find out whose writing excites you then read to challenge yourself and find out why other people like the work of writers you don’t like. Keep reading as widely as you can and develop your critical eye. Then write, if it helps start with some free writing for flow, and edit, edit, edit. Be critical of your own work. It’s helpful to find support from other writers through groups or by exchanging writing with writing friends, or by going on courses if you can afford it or using books on writing practice. But the most important thing is to think (and dream) and write and edit and to do this regularly.

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

I’ve just finished a collection of poems which comes out in January which is called Home Farm. These poems explore the farm where I grew up. You can read a sample of it here:
I’m currently working on my next book which will be about a journey my great great grandfather took from London to Serbia in 1846 and 1847. His name was George Davies and he travelled with a Mr Gutch who was a Queens Messenger delivering government documents. I have his journals which document each day of his travels by steam boat, train, carriage and on horseback. I travelled part of the same journey last autumn and made my own journal.

my website is here: https://www.janetsutherland.co.uk/


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