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 an experimental poet and digital artist. Void Voices, a reimagining of Dante’s Inferno, is available from Hesterglock Press.
Void Voices link: http://www.hesterglock.net/p-007-james-knight.html
- What inspired you to write poetry?
As a teenager, I was in a crappy rock band, for whom I wrote some embarrassingly bad lyrics. Moving on to poetry became a logical extension. I got serious about it when I was 19, writing over-wrought pieces indebted to the early modernists.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
Like all school children, I had been subjected to poetry at school from an early age. An anthology edited by George Macbeth still makes me shudder. It wasn’t until I was studying A level Eng Lit at a sixth form college that I started getting excited about poetry. William Blake was the first poet I loved. T S Eliot and Sylvia Plath followed swiftly. The floodgates truly opened when I bought a copy of Edward B Germain’s Surrealist Poetry in English. That book, combined with a translation of Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, began a love affair with surrealist writing that persists to this day.
- How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I did not become particularly aware of living poets until I started buying periodicals and submitting poems to them, in my early 20s. Those more established poets came from another world, it seemed to me. I didn’t ever expect to be one of them, and I still don’t now.
- What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a routine. My job takes up six and sometimes seven days a week, so I usually write in the evenings, on my iPad. I don’t write for a fixed amount of time or attempt word-count quotas, both of which are symptomatic of our joyless performance target culture. I write totally self-indulgently and lazily.
- What motivates you to write?
Some writers talk romantically about being driven to writing, as if putting words on a page is as essential an activity as eating or having a poo. I write with great enthusiasm and enjoyment, but never because I consider myself a tortured soul seeking catharsis. Generally, enthusiasm strikes if a peculiar image or phrase pops into my head. Then I let that image or phrase play out, see where it takes me.
- What is your work ethic?
I have no work ethic, although I feel frustrated if I haven’t written for a few days.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Surrealist writers like André Breton, Joyce Mansour and Paul Nougé made me think again about the function of language, its relationship to reality, and its potential to subvert and liberate. I still consider myself a surrealist of sorts, not stylistically, but in outlook. Eliot’s mastery of different voices and the immediacy of his imagery have been an influence since I started writing poetry; the big man even makes an appearance in my long poem, Void Voices, as my guide to Hell. Harold Pinter had a wonderful ear for spoken language, and I am conscious that several of the voices I employed in that poem owe a lot to his example.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are some fabulous small presses out there, publishing a myriad of exciting writers. There is an atmosphere of joyful possibility reminiscent of the early days of modernism around publishers like Hesterglock Press, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Haverthorn and Salò Press. I’ll just name a few writers whose work I find particularly inspiring right now. Poets Astra Papachristodoulou (author of the phenomenal Astropolis) and Matthew Mahaney, fiction writers Shane Jesse Christmass and Georgina Bruce and visual poet Catherine Vidler all ask fundamental questions: What is a literary work? What language can it use? What should the reader bring to the party? What is meaning? They all have distinctive voices, they all challenge and delight, and their work conveys the illusion of effortlessness. I must also mention the subversively inventive poet/artist Paul Hawkins, Miggy Angel (Extreme Violets is nothing less than visionary) and Joanna Walsh, whose work is in a league of its own. I could easily name a dozen or more brilliant writers who are making their mark. These are exciting times to be a reader!
- Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I don’t know. I suppose that the childlike urge to create never left me. And I hope it never does.
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?
For many people, you don’t qualify as a writer until you’ve had something published. That strikes me as ridiculous; if you enjoy arranging words on a page, you are a writer. Publication is another issue. I don’t think writers should be considered superior to everyone else just because they love working with words. The preciosity of #amwriting threads on Twitter makes me want to throw up. As Lautréamont wrote, “Poetry should be made by all.” Write if you want to. Enjoy it. Don’t get hung up on the persona of the “writer”.
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My last book, Void Voices, was (by my standards) gargantuan. It was also highly chaotic. It had to be. I’m now working on a long sequence of short poems that are the exact opposite, terse and intense. I am also in the early stages of a couple of collaborations, so keep an eye out!