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.
Sharon Larkin’s pamphlet Interned at the Food Factory was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing on 7 January 2019.
Sharon’s Website – Coming Up With The Words: https://sharonlarkinjones.com
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
The first poem I wrote was as a school kid. It was, I suppose, a political protest poem at a time of social change … the 1960s. Prompted by public anger at the railway closures, the poem was entitled ‘Dr Beeching’s on the Move’. I can still recite the three stanzas which were very much of their period … rhymed and well scanned with an appropriately jaunty rhythm.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Early influencers on my writing were, predictably my parents and siblings (reciting nursery rhymes, tuning in to ‘Listen with Mother’, reading children’s poetry books … not forgetting the Rupert annual). Coming from a mixed church/chapel-going family, and with religious school assemblies a daily reality, the language of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern, were also pervasive influences in my early life. Later, some influential teachers secularised my repertoire of memorised poetry, notably my English teacher, Mr Griffith-Jones (a Welshman, obviously) with his love of poetry and drama. Under his direction, our school put on a production of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, which was pretty audacious and ambitious at the time. Consequently, I was very aware during my teens of Dylan Thomas, as well as the Metaphysical Poets, William Blake, the Romantic Poets … and Shakespeare, of course. An annual competitive verse-speaking festival at school (which I now realise was an ‘Eisteddfod in exile’ for ‘Griff’) introduced me to Thomas Hood, T S Eliot, Patric Dickinson and others.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
The early exposure to Dylan Thomas, especially, gave me an ear for the musicality of words and I still tend to slip, rather too easily, into assonance/alliteration and fusing unpredictable word-partners together. I also detect some lingering Biblical legacy in my writing, in terms of in rhythm and reference, but by my twenties and thirties, I’d also read a lot of Eliot, Yeats, Pound, Plath, Hughes, Heaney, Ted Walker, Peter Porter, Philip Larkin, R S Thomas, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Adrian Henry etc, picking up new lexicons and new poetics en route. Somehow I managed largely to avoid the poets of the First World War, but have latterly come to appreciate the poetry of Edward Thomas. I specialised in languages for A level and beyond, dabbling with Racine, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lorca and Pasternak, but my knowledge and appreciation of poetry in the English language was kept alive by taking English A Level later, and an Open University BA Hons which included a course in 20th Century Poetry (as well as the 19th Century Novel, Drama and Art History). In the last decade, I have acquired an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Gloucestershire, specialising in poetry … and a second BA refreshing my French and Spanish. I also learned the Welsh language to an advanced level, gaining an appreciation for Welsh poets writing in both languages, and a particular admiration for those who master cynghanedd and traditional Welsh forms such as the englyn and cywydd. This has brought another wave of temptation to overdo the assonance and alliteration in my own poetry, which my ‘internal editor’ has had to temper!
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a writing routine. The trigger to write will invariably be something I see, read, hear or feel intensely enough to want or need to ‘offload’ … on screen or in print. Writing is often a way to declutter or clear ‘headspace’ … backing ‘data’ up to a separate ‘hard drive’, if you like, while the ‘main processor’ (brain) whirrs worryingly on, ruminating about the state of the world and my part in it. In theory, this ‘back-up method’ frees up further thinking space, or allows me to revert to child-like awe at the beauty and wonder still to be found in the natural world – and, to some degree, in science. I always have my smartphone with me and invariably thumb lines or whole poems into Notes when I’m out and about during the day. Or I might record ideas for poems in Voice Notes for working on later … often late in the evening, during the night, or early in the morning. I don’t seem to need as much sleep as I used to. Perhaps my biggest motivation to write is the emotional or psychological imperative to try to make sense of human relationships. I find some behaviour and motives extremely difficult to interpret and handle, but poetry seems to help me make sense of some of it, thanks to all the rumination that goes on in my head, trying to give my reactions and feelings some rational context, some form, some ‘rhyme and reason’.
5. What motivates you to write?
I’ve had approaching 150 poems published or accepted for magazines and anthologies, and a pamphlet entitled ‘Interned at the Food Factory’ was published by Indigo Dreams early in 2019. It’s dedicated to those who might describe their relationship with food as ‘problematic’ … and touches on issues such as eating disorders, bullying and abuse, factory food production, vegetarianism, appetite confusion, addiction … and possible ways to alleviate food-related dependencies. The pamphlet is pretty much ‘stand-alone’ with subject matter that is quite distinct from topics that usually interest me: the natural world, relationships, Wales and Welsh. Spirituality remains in the mix too. More recently, politics have been creeping back in, especially given the momentous turns in domestic and world politics over the last two-three years.
6. What is your work ethic?
My work ethic can range from ‘All’ to ‘Nothing’ depending how urgent the ‘making sense of the world’ becomes. I can become fully immersed (uninterruptible without irritation) when captured by an idea for a poem – or trying to perfect one. Concentration can prove difficult if there is an atmosphere of conflicting priorities around me. Strangely, I often work best in a café, over a coffee or two. There is something about being ‘in company’ but having no demands made upon one by that company. At other times, especially when other people are expecting or hoping for some interaction, I just have to abandon any idea of work and go with the flow until the ‘demanding hordes’ (which may be just one or two people!) have dispersed, and there is relative calm again. Another disruption to creativity is if the weather suddenly turns marvellous and my camera is shouting at me for an outing. Taking photos is not quite the obsession that writing poetry is … but it almost is. While poetry can be ‘done’ in any weather; capturing the natural world in pixels is best undertaken in the right light conditions and with minimum precipitation. Occasionally, taking photos will trump poetry but, more often than not, words will win over pictures. Increasingly, though, I find myself wanting to combine them … in photopoems.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today
Please see what I have already written about having to be on my guard about unconsciously emulating Dylan Thomas!
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I still read a great deal of poetry, and there are many poets I currently admire: David Morley for his affinity with the natural world; Pascale Petit for similar reasons, but also for her global sensibility and love of art and myth; Gwyneth Lewis, Menna Elfyn, Mererid Hopwood, Gillian Clarke, Paul Henry, Owen Sheers and Jonathan Edwards for the spirit of Cymru in their work (irrespective of language) … and many, many more: Martyn Crucefix, Andrew Motion, David Harsent, Simon Armitage, George Szirtes, Frieda Hughes, Kathleen Jamie, Sharon Olds … even Billy Collins. I could go on and on. Reading and writing are habits I cannot break. My brain seems to need a constant fix, in the quest to make sense of a complicated world with puzzling people in it; or to tame raging emotions; or to gee myself up when feeling defeated by the age we’re in. It’s a psychological imperative, I suppose.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Writing is overwhelmingly my major activity but, as I mention elsewhere, photography and learning languages, most recently Welsh, are also passions. Taking photos can act as a prompt for writing, or a complement to it. Knowledge of other languages enriches my awareness of other cultures, as well as occasionally adding flavour to my poetry. Learning Welsh, specifically, has not only given me a deeper awareness of my own family history and heritage, but it has enriched my knowledge of Welsh history and literature in general, and intensified my love and appreciation for Cymru in all respects.
10. What would you say to who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Advice on becoming a writer? I’d say “Read loads and loads. Write a lot. Join with other writers, IRL or virtually, in order to learn from them and benchmark your own efforts. Submit yourself to writing, and submit your writing to places publishing the kind of writing you like to read. Basically, it’s an unending circle of reading > writing > analysing > critiquing > editing > submitting > getting rejected > re-editing > resubmitting > getting work published > getting work published in better places and in better company > reading more > writing more … ad infinitum. And, crucially, if you can help other writers along the way, it will help you make further progress. I find that organizing Cheltenham’s Poetry Café Refreshed and chairing Cheltenham’s Poetry Society bring many opportunities to reciprocate and support, to give and receive … all to mutual benefit. Thus the poetry community supports itself … and thrives.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My future writing hopes and plans include getting more work published, of course! I started a publishing outfit myself last year – Eithon Bridge Publications https://eithonbridge.com – to specialise in anthologies, but possibly venturing into publishing pamphlets and collections eventually. So far, I have published All a Cat Can Be for a cat charity (New Start Cat Rescue) and another anthology is in progress, featuring poems from fellow members on a course entitled Invisible Zoos, held at Tŷ Newydd in September 2018, tutored by David Morley and Pascale Petit. I’m also proud of the on-line anthology of poems entitled Good Dadhood https://gooddadhood.com/the-poems/ that I curated three years ago. Perhaps they might make it into print at some point in future. Personally, I have at least four or five of my own books banging on doors, impatient to gallop out in the world … but I definitely don’t want to self-publish them. The books waiting in the wings include themed pamphlets drawing on the natural world (birds, plants, water creatures). There’s also a ‘making sense of relationships’ collection, and a Welsh-flavoured collection pining for release … and a goodly body of ‘spiritual poetry’ is longing for a sympathetic audience. Small hopes for that in these über-secular times, perhaps. But things have changed in the past … and they might change again.