A Cold Soil Waiting by Reuben Woolley

Cracking poetry

Proletarian Poetry

headlineImage.adapt.1460.high.Syrian_deaths_092915.1443561481518There are so many deaths in Syria that the United Nations stopped counting in 2014 because it could no longer rely on its own data. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, 222,114 civilians had been killed between March 2011 and September 2018

I drew a sad child because my brother died. When I am sad I draw.” (11 year old girl, internally displaced in Iraq)

There have been an estimated 85,000 child deaths in Yemen over the past three years due to famine. ‘For children under the age of five this situation is proving a death sentence’ (Bhanu Bhatnagar, Save the Children) 

Child casualties for 2017 in Afghanistan stood at 3,179 (861 killed and 2,318 injured) – a 10% drop from 2016.

We cannot sleep day and night due to the frightening sounds of firing,’ an 11-year-old girl told…

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Thank You for Waiting by Simon Armitage

Good stuff.

Proletarian Poetry

boys and girlsBack home in one of the bars in my local, there was no women’s toilet (this was the mid-80s). The few women who did frequent the smoke room, had to go outside, in all kinds of weather, to the single female toilet in the other bar. At the same time an old school down the road still had signs showing the separate boys’ and girls’ entrances. Society remains divided in many ways, not only in gender. One of the most obvious, yet at the same time, nefarious, regards consumer preference.

Platforms (or are they publishers?), such as Facebook and Twitter, provide their services for free on the basis that its users give away great amounts of personal information. So we now have individual profiling to “guide” us in our purchase choices. You know how it works; you may have been browsing holidays online, then when searching a news item…

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Endings and Beginnings: The 2018 Roundup

Latest update from Wendy Pratt.

Wendy Pratt Writing


So much has happened this year, it’s quite difficult to work out how I fit everything in. I set out in January to spend the year working on myself, as much as I was working on my writing career. I was turning forty and having a bit of a melt down (massive, massive understatement) because this coincided with the decision my husband and I had made way back in 2003, that when I turned forty we’d stop trying to conceive our much wanted family and accept childlessness. In reality we decided after the last disastrous IVF cycle that that would be the last cycle, and we wouldn’t go down the donor or adoption route, but I still clung on a little to the idea. Accepting infertility, embracing childlessness is never easy for anyone. It was especially hard after the incredible journey we had been on before reaching that point. However…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Karen Little

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.


Karen Little

I trained as a dancer at London Contemporary Dance School, and as a Fine Artist at Camberwell School of Art, London, performing and exhibiting internationally.
My poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and Tentacles contains ten of my illustrated poems. My first novella Filled with Ghosts was published in December 2015 and shortlisted for the novella Saboteur Award in 2016.
‘Karen Little writes characters with a surface oddness. Whether they are floridly psychotic or merely displaying a level of everyday delusions and compulsions of creativity; they are all unusual and unique. As the book goes on it becomes easier to absorb the deeper psychological movements that the characters have as well as these qualities. However, the opening of the book is quite impenetrable. We hear from Diana, who, in her own words, builds ‘sentences from [her] own spit’. Yet, as when reading someone like Elizabeth Smart, battling through this series of barely linked, intense images is worth it. Once the rhythm that runs through the piece is detected, it becomes easier to grasp what previously appeared to be chaos. The rewards are images such as this one: ‘I catch rainwater in a pan, pour it into my fish tank, filling it with freedom and light’. (extract from Sabotage Review, Sarah Gonnet)
The sequel Ghost Train Leaving was released in June 2017, and the final book in the trilogy (the Spanish Spectres series) Ghosts Treading Water in October 2017.



The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

The first poem I remember writing was about age ten when I won a competition for a poem about a horse. I was actually scared of horses because one bit my mum and another stomped on my foot, but I loved the idea of them. I only remember the last line of the poem HE HAS WON!….probably the first and last time I used capital letters, an exclamation mark….or wrote about winners in a poem. Not the last time I wrote about things that scared me though.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The three subjects at school that interested me were English Literature, Art and Classical Studies. I veered towards art out of the three because I didn’t get told off in art, didn’t get told to sit up and pay attention. I was listening in English Literature, absorbing stuff, getting top marks. But I couldn’t sit up or agree with everything we were told. So I wouldn’t write things down. I got in a lot of trouble in that class, because the teacher was very sincere and I was a brat. Then I ran away from home to London, got into London Contemporary Dance School, did Fine Art at Camberwell College of Art. I have performed as a dancer  and exhibited as an artist internationally. I didn’t start ‘writing poetry’ until after six years living in Spain I got dragged back during a long period of psychosis. Left everything behind, had no art materials or space or anything. So I started writing things down instead of dancing or arting them. I am a bit vague about quite how it happened, but I started at Jackie Hagan’s Survivor’s workshop, then with John G Hall. It was about going to events and reading. I hand wrote stuff, read it. Had a good time.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I am aware that I was once introduced to ‘old poets’ but I have no idea which poets old or new I might have subconsciously absorbed. I don’t and never have felt competitive, nor do I compare myself to other people. I enjoy dancing more than watching dance, making art more than looking at art, writing more than reading, I don’t think anyone’s writing has ever made me feel better about life or my place in it. Music has. I don’t know anyone else living in a trailer with anything like my background. So I always doubt the things I write will affect anyone. Hence I question, not why I write (it’s because I never get over things, and I try to explain things to myself) ….but why I put it out there. And yet I do……

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a routine. I always do something, but it’s varied. I feel like I have several brains that kick in at different times. I should be organising my poems for a collection. But my organising brain is absent. I recently completed a project producing 8 poetry pamphlets for 8 different poets. I made the covers, formatted, suggested, printed, sliced stapled and posted. Made a decent sum of money for two animal shelters. I was so organised and motivated. Perfect project for me. I got to read poets whose work I like/ I like them/they like animals. I got to carry the whole thing through in a few weeks. Then there are days I write a poem or more a day. Days I submit poems to places. I have about a hundred poems published , but at this point can’t imagine having the right state of mind to submit ever again. So ….routine…..probably isn’t the word…

5. How does writing help you“ get over things, and… explain things to” yourself?

Writing doesn’t help me get over things. Nor does art…nor did dance. So I keep doing them. It does explain things to myself, because I tend to blurt things out…..IRL and on the page…..and then I start to understand something. For instance, I have a novella trilogy published. The first one Filled with Ghosts was shortlisted for a Saboteur award in 2016. It is fairly autobiographical, though split between a number of characters. It is about psychosis, about what is the difference if any between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ When you have very traumatic experiences I don’t think you do get over them. But I think it’s important to understand them, how they effect you. how you might take that into your future self. Otherwise you take it out on other people, who don’t deserve it.

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

What is young? At school I never finished a book, I just wrote my own thing in the exams. You can get away with a lot of subjectivity and invention in English Literature. I got A’s even though I had only read a bit of Jane Eyre. In History I would get ‘don’t invent history’ across my tests (which is laughable considering how history is invented and who writes it)….I didn’t start getting into books until I stopped going out into the world and getting into as many things as I possibly could.I have read a lot of books in middle age….

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

I admire writers who are writing out of necessity, to keep sane or to find purpose in existence. If the desire is strong enough to face the organisation needed for getting published, or getting to readings, I admire them if they managed that, particularly if they haven’t got a support network, family, friends, partner. So I can’t give you names. I probably stumbled upon them at a reading in a bar, or in an online magazine….or I will, maybe.

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

You would have to prioritise it. It would have to be necessary to you. You would have to live in order to have something worth writing about. If you want others to know about it you would have to decide how you would like/can tolerate getting it out there and to whom.

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

In theory I am getting my poems into order for a pamphlet and a collection. In practice I am doing a lot of drawing with the idea of getting my poems into order for a pamphlet and a collection. I will do it if it becomes a necessity rather than a notion..

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gerry Potter

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.


Gerry Potter

is a poet, playwright, director, actor, and both creator and destroyer of the infamous gingham diva, Chloe Poems. His published works are included in both the poetry and philosophy collections at Harvard University, and the portrait documentary My Name is Gerry Potter premiered at Homotopia in 2015. An Everyman Youth Theatre alumnus, National Museums Liverpool lists him amongst the city’s leading LGBTQ+ icons.


The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

1979 at The Everyman Youth Theatre, Liverpool. Not in any professional way, purely as a teen group of precocious cafe society poets. It was a small gang of us, hopping from caff to caff, reading, only to each other mind, our oft quite silly pieces. I remember really enjoying this part of my Everyman experience, with no idea it would one day evolve into the overwhelming vocation it joyously became. Being part of a hugely improvisational, theatrically creative place, I guess I was always gonna be a performance poet… it was written in the cue cards.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Again it was that whole Everyman Theatre vibe, there was so much poetry about, often insanely surreal metaphysical stuff. I was more tuned into and turned on by the poetry/poetics of theatre language. It was an incredibly bohemian era, shabby as sleek, The Everyman Bistro being its bohemian art-beating counter-culturally blasting epicentre. It was full of poets, the preternaturally charming Adrian Henri being one of them. It was always a fully charged lyrically palpable moment being sat in The Everyman Bistro, with him and his glamorously motley crew. Looking back it was halcyon in its rag tag purity and poetry was as much in round tabled conversations, as it was anywhere else.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I was very aware of older poets because I was literally rubbing shoulders with them. The Liverpool Poets, featured heavily in almost everything creative at that time. There was a sense poetry viscerally meant something, was from a determinedly defined somewhere and the peoples responsible were very often in physical touching distance. We had tremendous respect for those older poets, they still felt incendiary, witty, vital and happening, responsible even. They brought with them that individualist anarcho-socialist energy I thinks still fractiously obvious in my work today.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m also an actor and respond very naturally to audience attention and response. So social media plays a huge part in my quite odd writing disciplines. There’s an instant online audience who know my work, a lot of them writers/poets/song writers I greatly admire. I can often take time out of writing, but there’s no real solid routine. Also I’m an old raving hedonist, so there has to be an element of that in the process, it’s still as improvisational as it always was, it kinda has to be a bit raucously fun.

5. What motivates you to write poetry?

High drama and the seedier nighttime ends of experiential living. From very early on I’ve lived a high octane life, big event and weighty drama have always featured, so I write big drama. I write small, quiet too, but it’s the flare ups, the real life action movies, often grabbing my writerly attentions.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic is simply in the haphazard turmoil of doing, the making happen of writing, theatre, poetry. I’m on a mission to write ten books in ten years, I’ve recently completed book eight. It’s far more about what does ten books in ten years feels, looks, reads right… or not right. I like speed and accident in writing, I think it can be valuable as intense concentration. I’m always creating, I never stop, in many ways my work ethic acts as a constant life companion, seriously don’t know where I’d be without it.

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

I’m still hugely influenced by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, still my favourite book. I love the almost over-written feel he has, his often deeply poetic descriptive energy. He’s a ‘pictures’ writer, I like to think there’s a small element of that in my work.

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

I’m terribly fond of the Scottish comedian Limmy and the band Sleaford Mods. I think they both embody a skittishly natural poetry in their work. A poetry coming from lives uptempo lived and not just acquired by seated learning. They employ a volatile surrealism I naturally respond to, something slightly theatrical I’ve always known. I like risk takers in life, on the page/stage and they have risk explosively banging about their work.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write because I both want and have to. I’m a Scouser and like most Scousers, terribly fond of the sound of my own voice, a voice that sometimes doesn’t quit. I write because there’s still stories to be told, uncovered and often in my case, theatrically presented. I think there’s a sense the creative process, of which writing is one of a few strands, is embedded in me. I’m an auld verse Vaudevillian whose not yet tired of the routines, in fact, is often trying out new ones. I’m far more a ragged, pilled up Judy Garland, than an intellectually intense Larkin.

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

I don’t really do advice, I’m all about the experiential hits of journey, but if you’re serious about anything, you kinda have to surround yourself with it. The only thing I’d say, is writing makes more sense the more you write, same with performance, sometimes, most times actually, you just gotta dive in and drown.

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

I’ve just finished and released book eight, Manchester Isn’t The Greatest City in the world, the Rise and Rise of The Bourgeois Zeitgeist. A book of poetry, prose and two theatre pieces. I’m a compendium, jigsaw writer, life, well my life, feels like many things, I like the books to creatively reflect that.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gaynor Kane

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.

Stickleback Cover - G Kane


Gaynor Kane

lives in Belfast with her husband, daughter and dog. In October 2018, she had a micro pamphlet, ‘Circling the Sun’, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press. Gaynor has also had work published in various journals and anthologies in the UK, Ireland and America. She is now working towards her first full poetry collection with the support of a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

I’m a very late starter. I left school at 17 and went straight into employment in an administrative role. I undertook a diploma in administrative management in my early twenties. At 24 myself and my husband project managed the building of our own house. I had my daughter when I was 30. When she started nursery school, I took a career break and had a go at renovating a house. When I went back to work, I also started a night class studying Psychology. I still spend four days a week working in an office as a manager of a small team. When I turned forty, I decided to do a degree with the open university. I signed up to a broad humanities degree and went through it picking modules that appealed to me. They included: Children’s Literature; Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds, World Archaeology and Reading and Studying Literature. I wanted to end with a module for pleasure and kept Creative Writing as my final module in 2015/16. To prepare, I enrolled for some poetry workshops and that’s where it all started. As you’ve seen from the list above, I jump about from project to project, so I was worried that my writing might just be a temporary thing, but it seems to have stuck and over the last couple of years I’ve been setting writing objectives to keep me learning and progressing.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I grew up in a working-class family. There were no poetry books in our house, actually there were very few books at all. The Belfast Telegraph was delivered every evening for my Dad. So, school played a big part in my introduction to poetry. I became a school librarian and that gave me easy access to whatever I wanted to read. Of course, that was limited and was mainly canonical.

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

I don’t think I’d really thought about it until I joined the organisation Women Aloud NI. Founded towards the end of 2015, by Jane Talbot, its main objective is to raise the profile of the womens’ writing scene and to give female writers a platform to showcase their work. It was then that I became aware of the dominating presence of male poets. The recent Cambridge Companion of Irish Poets instigated another debate around the need for a more representative gender balance. I also think there are many experienced poets around who want to help emerging poets out. I’m very grateful to Moyra Donaldson for her encouragement and support. She has passed some great opportunities my way and is always willing to offer advice and guidance.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I know I should have one but, unfortunately, I don’t. Like lots of writers I struggle with juggling work, family commitments, social commitments and finding time to write. Sometimes I find deadlines a great motivator and I attend a writing group fortnightly which I try and take new work to. I do carry a notebook about for whenever inspiration might strike, and I use notes on my mobile phone if I can’t get to a notebook. I find it very difficult to force myself to write. I’ve tried, and failed, to incorporate daily writing to my routine. Poems tend to present themselves to me when they are ready. By that, I don’t mean that they are fully formed but a first draft will sometimes be written in one sitting. Usually, the idea will have been in my head for a while before I have anything that I can put on paper. Sometimes this is a conscious process where I am aware that I’m thinking about it and will make mental notes of words and images and sometimes it is more covert.

5. What motivates you to write?

Deadlines and challenges. I love the pressure that they put you under to write something within a timeframe and/or about a specific topic. I still enjoy going to poetry workshops/classes as I usually come away with something to work on. In December of 2017 I subscribed to Hedgehog Poetry Press. The editor, Mark Davidson, has affectionately called it The Cult of the Spiny Hog. As part of the membership you get free entry to a number of competitions and he also provides challenges and inspiration. You can find out more about it here: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/the-cult-of-the-spiny-hog/
I am also motivated by my past experiences and memories and I write about my family, past and present. I really appreciate when someone says that one of my poems has resonated with them. I feel very privileged to know that my words can have an impact on someone else.

6. What is your work ethic?

I feel that it’s important to give back to the community. I’ve been volunteering for the EastSide Arts Festival for the past five years. I’m on the committee of my local writing group. I have also been on the Non-executive Board of Women Aloud NI. In addition, I try to regularly attend the Purely Poetry Open Mic Nights at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast and to get to as many book launches and other literary events as possible.
For a long time my Twitter Bio read ‘part-time poet’ but I want to be considered as a professional poet now (even though I can’t afford to leave the day job). Just as I have annual objectives set for my administrative work, I set writing related goals for myself. I review these periodically and set new ones. This year I applied to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a grant under the Support the Individual Artist Programme. I am very grateful to have received an award for mentoring and to allow me time to write poems for inclusion in my first full collection.

7. Why do you write?

For various reasons. Some of my poetry is about events, or individuals, that should have featured more prominently in the pages of history and I write their stories to give them a voice. For example, my first pamphlet, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in October 2018, is about the early female pilots. These aviatrixes were courageous, progressive and self-assured. I felt that more people needed to know about some of their challenges, experiences and qualities. The micro collection is now available as a free download and can be found here: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product/stickleback-gaynor-kane-circling-the-sun-free-download/
My more personal poems have been written because I’ve found the process cathartic. Getting the thoughts and feelings on to the page has been a release and a way of working through the issue or experience.

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

Write. Try to have a writing routine, though this is not essential. Jot down ideas for stories and poems and keep these organised and retrievable. Learn the rules but also know that the rules can be broken. Find a writing group, or group of trusted friends, to share your work with for constructive critique. Learn to listen to, and consider, the feedback offered.
It’s important to stimulate ideas and these can come from reading, walking, attending events, going to galleries and museums, watching documentaries and films. Reading is important, particularly critical reading and asking yourself why you like a specific piece of writing. Asking questions about the decisions the author/poet has taken. For example: What form has been used? What techniques work well? Why has the poet used the motifs and metaphors chosen?

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

At present I’m trying to complete my website, gaynorkane.com, so that readers have easier access to some of my poetry that’s scattered on various online journals but I’m finding it somewhat challenging. I’m hoping to publish a pamphlet of poems about death and funeral practices in 2019 and I need to finish writing and editing those before moving on to putting together my first full collection, which I would hope to have published in 2020 (the year I turn 50). I’ve been lucky enough to receive an Arts Council NI grant to allow me to go on writing retreats in 2019 in order to focus on writing lots of new work and to procure some mentoring to assist in the editing process. Here’s hoping it all works out…

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Daginne Aignend

In memory of the late Daginne who sadly lost her fight against cancer. Her words and work lives on.

The Wombwell Rainbow

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, 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.


Daginne appears in this anthology

Daginne Aignend

According to Creative Talents Unleashed “Daginne Aignende is a pseudonym for the Dutch poetess Inge Wesdijk. She started to write English poetry four years ago and posted some of her poems on her Facebook page and on her website. She likes hardrock music, photography and fantasy books. Daginne is a vegetarian and spends a lot of time with her animals.”

She’s the…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jonathan Taylor

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.


Jonathan Taylor

is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the poetry collections Cassandra Complex and Musicolepsy (both Shoestring Press, 2018 and 2013 respectively), the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). He is co-editor, with Karen Stevens, of a new anthology of short stories, High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories (Valley Press, 2018). He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, where he directs the MA. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Although I’ve always loved reading poetry, and wrote bits and pieces, I never saw myself as a “poet” (whatever that is) till after I’d published my memoir, Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). After that, our twins were born in 2008 – and suddenly I started writing lots of poetry, without meaning to. By mistake, as it were. I think these were the two causes: finishing the memoir, and the birth of the twins. I know a lot of contemporary poets resist the “autobiographical” urge in poetry, which has been part of how people popularly see poetry since Wordsworth. But personally, I think they’re lying to themselves: yes, poetry can be anything, be about anything. But (perhaps because we’re still overshadowed by Romanticism) one of its most natural homes is memoir and the autobiographical. There’s a sincerity, an honesty, about putting the “I” in a poem – just as, in a different context, I always tell English Lit students that it’s a lie when academics refuse using “I” in their critical essays.

So, from my own perspective, I think I started writing poetry after I’d finished the memoir, because I still had lots of autobiographical material I wanted to understand. This material hadn’t made it into the memoir, because it didn’t fit thematically, or was too fragmentary for prose. So the poetry started as an exploded memoir – where my memoir writing went next, in a much more fragmentary way. A prose memoir (by and large) needs a coherent narrative or framework; poetry can deal with tiny moments, individual images, without having to knit them together. Alongside that, as I say, our twins Miranda and Rosalind were born in 2008. This would have been an overwhelming time anyway – but they were also premature, tiny and ill, and my wife was very ill too; so the sheer emotional impact of that year transmuted my writing into poetry. As Wordsworth would expect, I always seem to write a lot of poetry (or memoir) in the wake of traumatic events – emotion recollected in tranquillity. At present, I’m writing a lot less poetry, because life have been a bit calmer the last year or so.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’ve been reading poetry ever since I was very young – and, in fact, I still think there’s a lot of children’s poetry around that’s as good, if not better, than work for adults. It’s often more direct and vivid but just as emotionally sophisticated (see Michael Rosen, Maurice Sendak, or Julia Donaldson, for instance).

In my teens, I discovered T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” and “Wasteland” – which, as a fantasy and science-fiction fan (at the time), just seemed to me to be poetic versions of a science-fiction story. I still think there are lots of hidden links between the language of poetry and that of speculative fiction. One of my teachers at high school – who, incidentally, also taught the wonderful poet Jeffrey Wainwright – introduced me to all sorts of poetry, including Auden, Pound and the war poets. He was hugely enthusiastic about it all and such an overwhelming presence in class, to the extent of going round tickling students who got things wrong – clearly something that (quite rightly) wouldn’t be tolerated these days. At least the threat made us all sit up and take notice, and made poetry feel dangerous, edge-of-the-seat. Perhaps poetry itself (somewhere in my head) is still associated with the comedy-horror of tickling.

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

Well, it depends what you mean by “older.” As I say, I came to writing poetry myself later – so I myself am an “older” poet (or at least a middle-aged one). Having said that, if you mean by “older” dead poets – well, I’ve always been very aware of them, and love them. I’m a bit suspicious of contemporary poets who only ever read and talk about other contemporary poets. It’s like a poetic version of social media: the eternal “now.” Poets – no, writers in general – should read anything and everything. Look at Yeats: he was a bizarrely eclectic reader, and his poetry (overall) benefitted from it.

In terms of one hugely dominating presence, I first came across Philip Larkin when I was seventeen – at A-Level. We were taught by someone who’d obviously imbibed “New Criticism,” so we weren’t told anything about Larkin himself. Actually, though I’m no fan of New Criticism myself, I think that helped – we just read the words on the page, and I fell in love with them (so none of Larkin’s reputation infected my experience). Here was a world I recognised – growing up in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1970s and 1980s meant that, much as I loved T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wilfred Owen and so on, I didn’t recognise the world they described. But Larkin – Larkin was much closer. I don’t think Larkin’s pessimistic – as I know myself from one or two reviews of my own work, we all too readily mistake “realism” for “pessimism” in a world dominated by bourgeois advertising and “feel good” pseudo-psychology.

Larkin’s world, for me, was simple realism. I don’t think it’s literature’s role just to “reflect” or “represent” people’s lives; it’s also literature’s role to change it. But that shock of recognition, especially for younger readers, when they come across something close-ish to their own lives, is really important, indeed life-changing. I came across it in prose with the works of Arnold Bennett – and particularly his novel Clayhanger. I read Clayhanger when I was sixteen-ish, and suddenly found myself crying at the description of the main character’s father’s illness. It was – believe it or not – the first time I’d discovered in literature something analogous to my own experience, the first time I’d seen mental or neurological illness portrayed in writing. In fact, the novel talked about these things before they were spoken out loud by my family or friends.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I’m generally so overwhelmed with university paperwork, marking, emails, that I get very little time to write. So I write in the corners of days, in my head, or (primarily) in two or three weeks I get in early Summer, between end-of-academic-year marking, and the twins breaking up from school. I can’t say I write much in the Summer holidays, because I’d rather be spending time with the twins. Despite all this, I can now write – if I have a couple of hours spare – at almost any time. I’ve trained myself to do so. So I’m writing this, answering these questions, on the end of the sofa, with the twins in their pyjamas next to me, watching their crazy favourite youtubers on their tablet. I’ve developed a kind of polyphonic consciousness, where I can deal with writing, social media, and the twins saying: “Daddy, look at this!”, all at the same time. Modern life is like a crazy dream. And probably quite an unhealthy one at that.

5. What motivates you to write?

Love. I love doing it. I think I’d still do it even if there was no chance of publication. It’s a pleasurable compulsion – to tell stories. At base, I think all writing (including poetry) is about that: just different ways of telling stories. All forms of writing are, at base, sitting in a pub with some friends, recounting some funny or sad anecdote. I’m a bit sceptical when people talk about the pain or agony of writing, or even writer’s block: surely it should be pleasure to tell stories to friends? Of course, there are times when it doesn’t go as well as it should, or when you hit a difficult bit. And certainly, it’s harder when you’re starting out. But honestly, overall, writing should be primarily pleasurable. As Freud understood, creative writing is an attempt to recapture the pleasure of child’s play – and ultimately there’s nothing more important than that. If it’s not pleasurable, perhaps it’s not the right subject. And if it’s not pleasurable to you, how on earth is it ever going to be pleasurable to a reader?

6. What is your work ethic?

I’d like to think poetry is the opposite of a work ethic. In fact, I think “work” is a difficult word when it comes to writing poetry (or creative writing in general). It reminds me of that Monty Python sketch – the one where the son turns up at his parents’ house, but the father refuses to speak to him, because the father’s disgusted with his son’s pretentious and snobby decision to become a coal miner, instead of a bohemian artist (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQDeU6dHX-c). There’s far too much faux-professionalisation among writers these days, where writers behave (or are expected to behave) in certain ways. “Professionalism” so-called, at its worst, can imply institutionalisation, de-politicization, being bought out by capitalism – even a kind of prostitution. I think “amateur” is a much better word – because etymologically it implies lover of …

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

I didn’t learn to read till quite late – I was eight when I cracked the code, and I did so through books like Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I understood the music of it, the rhythms and rhymes – and by learning it that way, I finally started to recognise the squiggles on the page associated with the music. That’s not dissimilar to how I learnt the piano. From Dr. Seuss I no doubt imbibed an idea of the musicality of storytelling, the close relationship of poetry, narrative, music.

Then I went on to reading a lot of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien – in fact, I hardly read any so-called “classics” till I was fifteen. I read s.f. and fantasy. Again, that’s probably had an effect: I’m suspicious of terms like “realism” and “realistic” (or, for that matter, “literary fiction”) when it comes to writing, because of my earlier reading. It seems to me that all good writing has an element of fantasy or speculation – because so-called “reality” is fantastic, weird, bizarre, lunatic. There’s nothing in Tolkien so weird or unnatural or “unrealistic” as postmodern life. These days, the literature I enjoy the most injects (or perhaps rather finds) the Tolkienesque fantasy in the real – and that goes as much for poetry as it does for fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the most unrealistic genre of all is now non-fiction. That’s where we go for fantasy.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most
and why?

Despite what people say, I think there are some wonderful writers out there at the moment. Whether the writers who are most “lauded” by the newspapers, literary prizes, societies, funding bodies, etc. , are the ones who are most “wonderful” is a different matter. I think, in Britain particularly, the pseudo-hierarchies we inherit are extremely suspect, shot through with politics, class, dubious institutions, and so on. Writers, musicians and artists in Britain who’ve been really special have done so in spite – not because – of the institutions and establishments around them. Almost all of the great artists in Britain, I believe, have been outsiders in some way (whether geographically, socially, ethnically, religiously, or in terms of social class).

Anyway, I’m getting away a bit from the question. To go back to today’s writers – well, as I say, I think there are a lot of excellent writers out there, though I often admire writing rather than writers, particularly when it comes to the contemporary scene. I’d single out a writer like Blake Morrison for special mention – he’s provided a role model for me in all sorts of ways, as a memoirist, as a poet, as someone who manages to cross between forms and genres (and write well in all of them), as a successful writer who’s also a very kind and supportive human being, and as someone whose work deals head-on with the most serious political and emotional issues in nuanced and poetic ways. He writes about what’s important – tackles real issues in fascinating and new ways. As Ezra Pound understood, British writing – and poetry in particular – is always in danger of a certain kind of escapism, of a pseudo-pastoral political quietism. But that can’t be said for writers like Blake.

9. Why do you write?

Because I want to tell stories about a world which is beautiful, horrific and very, very weird. Because evil exists. Because I’m always trying to give it up – always thinking “this book is my last” – always trying to take up electric trains instead – but writing won’t let me go. Because writing is therefore a terminal disease. Because the world is too complex and ambivalent to leave to politicians and tabloid journalists. Because writing is one of the few pure pleasures left. Because I’m an idealist and want to imagine something different – or at least stick my tongue out at the world. Because I find language difficult. Because I love reading, and I believe literature is a kind of participation sport. Because I wanted to be a musician but – like Peter Porter – was never practically gifted enough, so took up the next best thing. Because language is a code which I’ve yet to crack, but have been trying since I was eight. Because books are a strange but compelling fetish. Because I’m totally impractical, can’t change a light bulb without breaking the light fitting, and am no good at anything else. Because – who knows, really?

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

There is no one way – and again, that’s why I’m so sceptical of “professionalization.” It’s a lie: a writer is someone who writes. It’s not someone who gets commissions, who’s been published, who’s got a grant, who works in a university, or any combination thereof. It’s just someone who writes. There’s no mystery about it, and I believe the beauty of writing is that it’s an entirely democratic art form (or a “participation sport”). Someone who enjoys writing poems for themselves, and keeps them in their attic, is a writer – as Emily Dickinson understood. Someone who writes little stories just for their grandchildren is a writer. So you become a writer by writing – that’s all.

What you decide to do with that writing will all depend on your own aims – and “success” will depend on how close you come to realising your own aims. It’s a matter of knowing what your intended audience is, and reaching them. If your intended audience is your grandchildren, then the process of reaching them might (and I stress might) be relatively straightforward. If they enjoy your stories when you read them out, then you’ve been a success. If your intended audience is a national, or international one, the process is understandably much more complex (and inevitably tied up with the paradoxes of capitalism). You have to build up in stages.

For poets in particular, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of connecting with an audience by attending events, and reading at open-mic poetry evenings. It’s a way you can judge how your work connects with people, and also a way of meeting people – and even, perhaps, publishers. Writing, and especially poetry, is a communitarian thing. For that reason, you should always be at least as interested in other people’s work as you are in your own.

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

I’m currently completing an academic book called Laughter, Literature, Violence, 1840-1930, which will be published next year by Palgrave-Macmillan. On moving to Leicester University, I wanted to go back to writing theoretically and academically, something I’d not done in quite a few years. Part of me, whether I like it or not, is academic, philosophical, and I’ve enjoyed returning to that kind of writing. The book’s about laughter, comedy, jokes in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and particularly about the darker side of laughter – for example, the role played by comedy in the First World War. It arises partly from my fascination with the disturbing early writings of Wyndham Lewis; and it starts with a late story by Edgar Allan Poe, called “Hop-Frog,” where a court jester burns his king to death, declaring that it’s his “last jest.”

One hallmark of my own writing – which many people have pointed out – is a kind of grotesque or dark comedy; so I wanted to find out about some of the ways that laughter and comedy often seem to overlap with horror. One critic said about my first short story collection that it could be “mistaken for mere comedy.” But surely it’s ridiculous these days to think of comedy as a lesser genre – it can be the very hardest thing to do well – and also I’m not sure that anything is really “mere comedy.” Comedy is always mixed up with other emotions, politics, relationships, histories, genres, and so on. The best sit-coms understand this – that comedy is never just itself. And I wanted to explore all this in my book, explore laughter’s connections with other alloys. Funnily enough – given my answer to one of the questions above – now I come to think of it, there’s a short section in the book which explores the relationship between laughter, tickling, horror and literature. When you look back on it, you realise that everything you do is connected, unconsciously speaking.


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jude Cowan Montague

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.


Jude Cowan Montague

is an artist. writer and composer with a multi-media practice that crosses disciplines. She is active in new printmaking, installation, poetry, prose fiction, film history, vocal work and performance.

She is known for her innovative work with international news agency output. This practice developed while working as an archivist for the Reuters Television Archive. Her first collection For the Messengers (Donut Press 2011) re-formed edits from the Reuters output during 2008 as individual poems. Her album The Leidenfrost Effect (Folkwit Records 2015) was co-composed with Dutch producer Wim Oudijk and reimagines quirky stories from the Reuters Life! feed.

She is a broadcaster and curates and hosts The News Agents a weekly hybrid news-arts show on Resonance 104.4 FM.

Her First Class BA (Hons) degree in English Literature from Oxford University was followed with a PhD in film studies from the Birkbeck College, University of London and later by an MA in Printmaking from Camberwell School of Arts. She was awarded the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers’ graduate prize, 2014 – 2016.

Her website is https://www.judecowanmontague.com/

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have always been a reader and writer of poetry but I first began seriously engaging with the contemporary poetry scene in 2007 and 2008. After being a serious musician for many years I took some time out from songwriting to concentrate on my career as a film historian and archivist. When I returned I wanted to improve my approach to lyrics and bring in more variety, more ability to jump with confidence between ideas and symbols and events with word. I decided to expand my work by writing poetry but I initially found it hard to work fluidly without music. I felt that I needed a project. I was working as an researcher on the Reuters Television archive and began by writing poetry about the short news and ‘quirky’ stories I was cataloguing. This led to my first collection of poems, For the Messengers (Donut Press, 2011).

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

My dad loved (some) poetry. He was a fan of A E Housman, Siegfried Sassoon, many of the Georgian and WW1 poets. He also was a great reader of Tennyson and Shakespeare and perhaps mostly I remember his affection for poets who used humour alongside the witty and sarcastic songwriting of Tom Lehrer.

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

I was brought up with the English literary poetry canon but also was encouraged to be suspicious, critical and to think for myself. So I always felt like a bit of an outsider rather than a member of a group. I feel like a natural outsider. I probably am. I am. So I have my own voice. It’s easy to hear my own voice these days. But so many choices. What to write? Should I try this technique? Or another one? I can ask questions and pick and choose. I don’t have to be dominated by any poet as a writer although I might find that to be published, certain strategies of writing will be favoured over others, depending on the press.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

When I am on a roll, as I call it, I write obsessively. Whatever I’m doing I do as much as possible while I’m feeling ‘hot’. I love to do other art forms, including music and art which I also do passionately. I tend to push projects along while they’re feeling good. When I write poetry I tend to write first thing in the morning as that’s a good time for me to be creative. I like those post-sleep moments when the brain is cleared and aired and anything can happen. It’s all ‘to be written’ and that gives me a thrill.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I like to work. I like to do things. I like to write. I write about feelings that I see around me. I find it easier to be me when I’m writing. I also like conversations. They motivate me. Improvising over time with what I see and feel.

I’m very obsessed with gesture and watching animals. This directly affects my drawing but it also relates to my work as a writer. Noticing and observing. Feeling. Sympathy and empathy.

The universe is fascinating isn’t it. I need to understand it. I need to relate to so many different aspects of what is inside and outside of me. What doesn’t motivate you to write?

  1. What is your work ethic?

I have a natural work ethic which I just let happen. I find it hard not to work. I guess I have a naturally immersive tendency.

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

At the moment I am particularly influenced by the use of word and drawing together. Poets who still influence me from a child include Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. As a young woman I read Christina Rossetti and the Romantics. I wonder how much they still influence me? Obviously they do, nowadays Wordsworth more than Coleridge. Also song artists such as Syd Barrett and Kevin Coyne. Aren’t they poets?

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

So many writers doing brilliant things today. Songwriters I really like include Kevin Coyne’s son Eugene who is a good friend and uses imagery of animals and magic in South London. Kath Tait who is a marvellous, sympathetic writer about London life and her own experiences. She is hilarious and sensitive and brilliant at narration and choruses. And poets who I admire and love include Matthew Caley and Mark Waldron. Matthew’s very learned and expert and contemporary modernist form, playing with concerns, language and metre and subverts pomp and self-importance in literature. Mark is a philosopher, a twister and turner, I identify with his work and approach. It is as if he takes a subject, an event, an element, it could be light or poverty or an observed moment and riffs on it, pulling backwards and forwards with the idea and photographic reality. I’ve been enjoying working with Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún and refreshed by his straightforward yet complex and autobiographical, reflective work. We need writers like him who are honest and generous, direct and using observational intelligence.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

It’s part of the techniques I use to reflect on the world and my life. I like to use word in combination with other art forms particularly music and sound and with drawing. And separately. It enables me to stand outside myself and observe myself sideways, to make sense of my surroundings. To tell stories which rewrite my sense of self and this whole universe. To be connected to other life forms. It’s a method of talking and of performing in full view. It witnesses my existence.

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

You are a writer. Just write about anything you like in whatever way you like. Read whatever you like. It’s all important. Who is to say what is more important than anything else? You decide. It’s your decisions that are important. Have a play, have a laugh and don’t be fooled by the idea that those who shout the loudest are the best. Don’t thrust your business cards, virtual or otherwise at people and think you’re being clever. Look for moments of genius and applaud them. Actually I wouldn’t say anything like that I’d probably say ‘Show me what you’re writing. Tell me what you want to write.’ And then listen.

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

I’m currently polishing a manuscript of sonnets (or perhaps just fourteen line poems) about my father, provisionally titled A Scottish Werewolf in London. I’m also finishing a graphic novel about my marriage to a man who was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic called Love on the Isle of Dogs. Very excited about both projects.