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.
Lucy A. Evans
was born in Kingston upon Hull and lives in rural mid-Devon. She is a former stand-up comedian and the burlesque pioneer Pixie Truffle, founder of the world s only lesbian burlesque troupe, Lesburlesque. She received an MA in the History and Philosophy of Medicine, Science and Society in 1998, specialising in the history of alienism, witchcraft and magical belief in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She was recently named one of Bunbury Magazine s Best Kept Secrets in Poetry . In addition to writing, her spare time is taken up with luthiery and arcade cabinet making.
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I had a career as a burlesque performer. To be honest with myself, I was average at best. That being said, the troupe I started – Lesburlesque – was wonderful. For a few years, at the beginning of this decade, the troupe flourished, got the attention of the UK tabloids and elbowed its way into burlesque history. But in 2013 everything disintegrated.
While my life was spiralling out of control, I met someone who was in the middle of a turbulent and chaotic summer of her own. She was a published poet. I started writing poetry in 2014, really to see if I could. I’d post it on social media in the usual hopeless expectation of support from friends, but also to see if she’d be impressed because I had a tremendous admiration for her gift and her craft. I continued because she and one or two others felt I had the beginnings of a talent.
2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
Now that’s a heck of a question. The honest truth is that I paid them no mind whatsoever when I revised my first stanzas. The friend was a British beacon on the alt-lit scene, and I became delighted by the British Next Generation poets Luke Kennard and Melissa Lee-Houghton. Of course, I reacquainted myself with Sylvia Plath. Yet, the inspiration never went beyond admiration because I felt it all to easy, to borrow a phrase from my poetry friend, to ‘Plath the fuck’ out of my own creations. So I stood clear of being too traditionally confessional.
In the last couple of years I’ve developed a huge admiration for Frank Bidart. When I’m caught up in the anxiety of birthing verse, I’ll take to imbibing Frank. It seems to do the trick.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
Chaotic. I binge write. I’m working on my first full collection at the moment and it’s harrowing. It charts a thirty year friendship with a boy I met at school in 1983. He took the off ramp from this world in April 2013. It devastated me and it angered me. Writing about him has a re-traumatising effect. So I can go weeks without writing. I string together phrases while I’m busy doing health and safety audits at night for my full time job. When I’m bursting with them, I’ll write 25 poems in a few days. As chaotic as that may be, it works so well for me that I’m loathed to force it. As a result I’m late on a deadline for it. But I’d sooner get it right than do my memory of him a disservice.
3.1 How does the trauma and anger motivate you?
The Legal Deposit ensures that printed books have longevity. At first I had the intention of keeping my friend alive, making him immortal by having his name mentioned in my first collection. But anger has overtaken that sentiment. He is referred to throughout as ‘the boy,’ ‘the lad,’ ‘the fella.’ His name was Giles Adrian Stevens and that’s the last time he’ll be associated by name with this book. To be clear, my anger is with myself. I trained as a psychiatric nurse and I had no idea he was suicidal. He knew this, and chose to keep his distress from me. The only anger I have toward him is caused by the humiliation of knowing I probably meant less to him than he did to me; a sort of reluctantly requited friendship. The trauma keeps me from writing, the anger motivates me through it.
4. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Ah I get to liberally proselytise my youth. I grew up in Hull. I wasn’t scrabbling around the Victorian ruins of the old city or the bombed out prewar factories that still partially stood erect in the seventies. But I am a product of the seventies and eighties version of deprivation in that city and firmly working class and northern. I did little to no reading as a youngster. I had regular visits to Hull Royal Infirmary as a child, whereupon my mum and I would be photographed and categorised because we share a genetic pedigree that manifests itself as small hands with a bilateral simian crease. This was endlessly fascinating for paediatric doctors who wished to make us their latest research paper. Being around the medical paraphernalia and staff woke my brain up at exactly the right time in my intellectual development. From that moment on academia was rarely challenging. In that sense, I didn’t need much literary input to flourish intellectually. It wasn’t until my late teens that I began to read and only comparatively recently that I took up reading poetry.
5. Who of today’s writers do you admire and why?
I am fortunate enough to read the kinds of poetry I could never write. Jane Clarke’s The River is simultaneously joyous and sorrowful. Bidart’s early confessionalism is as inventive as it is nuanced and, for some reason, allows me the out-of-body aesthetic I need to unhinge and write. Plath darkened the cult-like hypnosis of the light of the natural world. There’s a writer that launched with me in December 2017 called Derek Harper. He has that same quality as Plath without obvious style cribbing. I’m fortunate enough to have formed a friendship with Derek.
6. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
It isn’t the only artistic pursuit. It just happens to be the one that I’m enjoying the most and that costs me the least in terms of finance and resources. Also, it’s enthralling. I had this mantra as a burlesque performer, ‘this is my world to rule, to ruin and to reinvent.’ It is a maxim I’d like to put behind me. Writing gives me the capacity and breathing room to imagine. That has a back-feed that makes the routine of life so very bearable.
6.1 What do you think burlesque has brought to your writing?
I did a brief secondment into filthy stand up at the end of my burlesque career and that gave me the ability to hold the gaze of an audience with just a monologue for company. The truth is that be is responsible for me having the intestinal fortitude to put myself in a critical crucible. I take submission rejection very well. I have a moment of grief for letting go of the fantasy of being published in a particular journal and then see it as an opportunity to improve. Taking my clothes off for an expectant paying audience was a baptism of fire that means I take criticism very well. It could never compare to surviving a routine that goes badly wrong on stage.
7. What would you say to who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Notwithstanding impostor syndrome, that I have in a large psychological lockup somewhere about my internal landscape, I’d say I’m probably not a template for aspiring writers. It would be a much more rewarding and pleasant experience to follow the conventional path of courses, open mics and community immersion. I feel I made a dog and pony show of my talents, having stepped from a fairly flamboyant stage to obtain the limited success I’ve enjoyed so far. Do it my way and you’ll be forever looking over your shoulder for the hand of reason that pulls me back into a reality that says ‘well done Lucy, now let the real poets prevail.’
8. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m loath to take on too many projects at once. So I have a few on the back burner. Once my full collection is ready I’m going to write a short story about a time traveling historian that plagiarises a well known rock album, only for fame to ruin her life. Then finally I’ll sit down and write my Sovereign trilogy, which would take far too long to explain. In any case, in between these projects, I’ll keep plugging away, writing poems and submitting them to various journals and playing what’s the time Mr Wolf with the hand of realism.