Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I wrote my first poem at 7. My parents had been told I’d never be much of a reader or writer. I’d swapped schools as a result and was slowly trying to catch up. I remember the teacher told us we could write describing sentences about Autumn and this was going to be a poem. My handwriting was appalling but she painstakingly got me to read it back to her and then showed the headteacher who said I could type it up. It was a green Amstrad computer – the only one in the school, it took me forever to find the letters but I realised this poem thing was a way that I could communicate what was inside my head, something I’d never had before.
2. So would you say she introduced you to poetry?
She introduced me to the idea of writing in a certain style, but my introduction to poetry came much later. I don’t think I understood at that age that this was a thing that other people did as well.
2.1 How did the poetry community emerge for you?
At 15 I read in a local newspaper that a poet was to lead adult classes at the library. I forged notes to my Physics teacher so i could attend the class on a Wednesday afternoon. The poet was Barry MacSweeney. In my late teens Barry was the only poet I knew and he was my poetry community. He would send me books in the post and we spoke everyday on the phone until his death in 2000.
I stopped writing when I went to university for a time as I found writing academic essays to really kill my creativity. After I graduated I was invited to be part of the Gen Txt tour with penned in the Margins and that was my little community for a while. A real sense of poetry community is a relatively recent thing for me.
2.2 What was Barry’s legacy to you?
Barry’s legacy was that he taught me how to perform. I only saw him perform a few times, but he was incredible. He believed in the theatre of it all and also the importance of the gaps and the silences that allow the words to be
2.3 How did the Gen Txt Community work for you?
Tom Chivers introduced me to a lot of people, such as Les Robinson who was then editor at Tall Lighthouse, he published my pamphlet collection. Seeing how people like Inua Ellams and Joe Dunthorne who were both part of that collective were working showed me what could be archived. I am still a huge fan of all three of these guys and they’ve all gone on to be incredibly successful. It was strange because after that tour I went back to Cumbria and they all lived in London so I did fel very isolated in terms of community and opportunities.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of poets, traditional and contemporary?
Blake was a big influence in my teens and I would re read Songs of Innocence and Experience over and over.
Emma: What do you mean by dominating presence of poets ?
Paul: Some might say poetry was once dominated by white, male upper class closed coterie.
Emma: ah dominance of male poets – got ya
Yeah, most of the stuff that I was shown at school was white male and I certainly had an idea that that was what a poet was. I had a lot of difficult stuff around my own gender on top of this so it was a thing that I was aware of. MacSweeney introduced me to the work of Anne. Sexton and that was a big moment fir me, though I found it very hard to write after reading her as I was trying to emulate a voice that felt so different to me.
At university there was a section titled ” women poets” which I really hated as I disagreed with the separatist nature of it.
I knew the poem Tiger Tiger from somewhere. I loved the rhythms and images but I don’t actually remember who introduced me. As kids we had a few books that were nursery rhyme books or written in verse and I always liked those. I thin Tiger may have even have been on ine of them.
Its a big leap from Blake to Sexton. Describe the “Big moment” of her.
There were stepping stones in the middle!
But Anne Sexton was just like a voice I didn’t recognise but was desperate to hear
It felt very contemporary even though I 18 years old and reading it 30 years after it was written
i didn’t have access to poetry magazines so i wasn’t reading anything that had been written of that time
Also – the white male poet thing – this is question that needs to be asked of white male poets, as they have a responsibility to acknowledge their priviilage and do somehting about it
apols for typos – my Facebook doesn’t actually let me see what i am typing until I have pressed post
No apols needed. I get the gist. I go through editing when I collate the answers. Its important to get down what you feel. Grammar and spelling is corrected later.
What is your daily writing routine?
Access to work was actually a bigger thing than I realised. I was very isolated and so MacSweeney was a gateway, but of course they were his choices.
I feel very guilty about the lack of a routine
I am much better at being in a routine when I am editing my own work.
Every new year I decided that I will develop a writing routine but I am very bad at self discipline. I am much better now, though at capturing moments when I feel or think about things, there have have been too many occasions when I’ve had a good idea that I have then forgotten through sheer laziness
You’ve acquired a work ethic?
I’ e acquired a deeper commitment to myself as a writer I think. For a long time I found it hard to take myself seriously.
I somehow felt it was fake to get up and sit at a laptop and say I was “writing” especially if there was no deadline for a commission or something
I’ve had imposted and proper job syndrome.
But I’am so much more relaxed about everything in life than I use to be and tgis has allowed me to take myslef more seriously
What motivates you to write?
The opportunity to communicate soemthing that I otherwise wouldn’t know how to voice
I also write a lot if I’ve been reading a lot
it’s like the rhymth and tones and get in my head and i just start adding words to a template
How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I go back to MacSweeney almost as an answer. Like I randomly flick open a book of his and read two lines and take it as advice for the week – which yields some pretty weird results!
I also recently re read some Carol Ann Duffy that I had made very cringe notes in the margins from my early 20s. It’s amazing to see how your reaction to a poem can change over time
Our tastes change.
not so much that, i think i was just a bit clueless and precocious
or university just had me believing some very weird shit
i was obviously writing some wanky essay at the time
Carol Ann Duffy links into my next question: Who of today’s writers do you most admire and why?
I do admire Duffy – I am reading Sincerity at the minute and I was also taught by her. I think Raymond Antrobus is incredible and found myself crying when I was reading his work and also I have a very physical reaction to his words in performance. Joelle Taylor for her sheer passion and honesty, Mark pajak for his ability to contsrct an image that once seen you can’t ever understood why you never saw it, Clare Shaw, kim Moore
for their willingness to share
Andrew MacMilllan for his ability to explode the ordinary
oh, i saw Sam Sax recently too and he was bloody brilliant and had that amazing American way of delivering while appearing to give zero fucks who knew what about and in fact pushing the idea of sharing sexual intimacy with strangers
*who knew what about him
Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
It’s the thing that feels the most familliiar, I guess. It’s both private and public. And somewhere along the line other people told me I was good at it, so I just kept doing it and now it is just a part of who I am
i am also priviliaged that as a a white woman in a western country, my writing can be heard.
What would you say to someone who asks “How do you become a writer.”
the classic advice of read a lot.
keep writing and share that writing with others, it’s only then you know if you’re doing something right
Final Question: Tell me about a writing project that you’re involved in at the moment.
My own writing revolves around a project called The Eve Gene which I am hoping will be a collection. It’s all about mitrchondrial DNA and so references family a lot. I am also just about to start a project with Apples and snakes where I will be running orkshops in a library