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.
is a poet, editor and arts coordinator from Northern Ireland. His work has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and the US. Having had a childhood speech impediment, attending speech therapy classes throughout primary school, Colin s initial interest in language and words grew out of this formative experience. His personal history of depression and mental illness is also an ongoing influence on his work. Known for his devotion to supporting and developing the Northern Irish poetry scene, and one of Eyewear’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2016, the x of y is his debut full-length collection.
- What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I remember starting to write poetry for two reasons: one, to make my friends laugh; and two (perhaps the oldest reason of them all), I fancied a girl in my class and was too shy to say anything to her. This is perhaps at the age of 12. I filled pages with naïve notions of young love, or nonsense rhymes, shared with my friends, the more absurd, the better. The earliest poem I remember writing was about an earwig, which entered my brain, causing me to die, and be reincarnated as… an earwig. Needless to say, I won’t be doing a Hollie McNish and putting any of these in my next collection.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I was aware of poetry from an early age: throughout primary school, we looked at poems, but often we responded pictorially, rather than with the written word. The first poets I really latched onto were Blake and Yeats, which were on our GCSE syllabus. I will always be grateful to my teachers for being enthusiastic about the subject, and sharing their love of verse. As soon as I got into them, I was writing constantly, and haven’t stopped since I was fifteen.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I never really considered the demographics of the poetry world until a few years ago, when I started to get published more and try to get my own collection out. I also actively increased the volume of poetry I read, to help focus and bolster my own output. You learn pretty quickly, especially in the Irish canon, that poetry was/is rather male-dominated. I think most poets don’t really hit their stride until they get to their forties, but I am happy to report there are up-and-coming poets who completely blow that theory apart. And happily, the tide is slowly shifting to support and promote more women writers, thanks to movements such as Fired! and #ReadWomen
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Ah, it would be a luxury to have one at all! I usually write only when an idea enters from the magical ether, and gestates inside the mind, marinating away until it can’t be ignored. Then it’s all hands to the laptop, notepad, mobile, edge of the newspaper, whatever is at hand. I’ve done short stretches of daily writing before, but I find you if you go for a month, you end up with five decent ideas and twenty-five useless ones. My poems are usually short and focused, so I don’t feel the pressure of having to write daily at all.
5. What motivates you to write?
Poetry can be a response to anything at all, and shouldn’t be limited in theme or scope. A news item, an overheard snippet of conversation, a countryside walk, an interesting new word in a novel, all of these can prompt me to get writing. A large part of my writing dealt with my mental health, trying to formulate a picture of what life felt like with depression. I’m trying to look outside of myself more now for ideas, but I still believe in advocating whenever possible.
6. What is your work ethic?
I am the laziest poet in the word, and loathe deadlines. Anything that puts writing into a spreadsheet frame of mind just feels unnatural. I am more motivated to promote other people’s work than my own, oddly enough. I’m not too sure why; some kind of misaligned modesty or embarrassment perhaps. I typically work in a flurry. Only today, in about two hours, I compiled a manuscript of poems for a chapbook contest, collated from poems already written. Most poets would take careful, lengthy consideration over something like that. I work best when reacting spontaneously to something, without too much time to think. Although the wise person leaves a little bit of time at least for analysis and introspection.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’m not sure that they do. As an adolescent, I was a voracious reader, but what I was reading wasn’t particularly inspiring or insightful: largely read Hardy Boys novels, Choose Your Own Adventure books, or what we would now call Young Adult fiction. I certainly didn’t read much poetry, regrettably. My father taught English Literature and Philosophy in the Open University, so I grew up surrounded by books, and was encouraged to visit the library often as a child. I think the fact that I was just subjected to books, any books, was a factor in me becoming a poet. Getting a child to read anything is a positive step, you don’t need to be starting with Proust and Ulysses (both of which were on the lower shelves of my dad’s study).
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I enjoy and admire Paul Durcan’s easy, conversational tone, shot through with wit. Ross Thompson, a Bangor-based poet, is quite possibly the finest sonnet writer today, look out for his work. I also was fortunate enough to read through the manuscript for Glen Wilson’s forthcoming book from Doire Press. Glen won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing in 2017, I think this book is going to be big. Maureen Boyle, Michael Farry, Alice Kinsella, SK Grout, Niamh Boyce, Ruth Carr and Jess Traynor have also had great collections out in the past year or two, to name but a few.
9. Why do you write?
To quote the great Dan Eggs: “Because I’m good at it.” But less facetiously, if I didn’t write, I probably would explode from unexpressed ideas and frustrations. I could take those out elsewhere, through another medium, but I’m not great on the guitar, and I’m gotten rusty with my pencil sketching. Poetry is a way for me to make sense of the world, and my own place within it. Otherwise, I’m pretty much lost.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I would ask, how did you become a human? It’s the same method.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve a Twitter project, starting on the 1st January 2019, called The Lost Stations (https://twitter.com/theloststations ). It’s a novella told through fifteen different locations, and I’m going to be tweeting a bit of it every day for a year. My wife, Geraldine O’Kane, and I will also be continuing to edit and publish work through Poetry NI, including FourXFour Poetry Journal, and hopefully a few other things from Northern Irish poets. Also next year, I want to get down some musical ideas too – more soundscapes and experimental pieces that traditional songs, but perhaps coupled with poetry too. And as always, poems will appear from somewhere to write and redraft. There’s a lot ahead, I’m excited.