Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Susan Castillo

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.

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Susan Castillo

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London. She has published two collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry, (Aldrich Press, 2015), and a pamphlet, Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016). Her poetry has appeared in Southern Quarterly, Prole, The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, Messages in a Bottle, The Missing Slate, Clear Poetry, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Foliate Oak, The Yellow Chair Review, Poetry Shed, The Lake, Picaroon, Atrium, The Fat Damsel, The Writers’ Cafe and other journals and anthologies.

The Interview

1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?

In my teenage years, I wrote poetry with which I could be blackmailed today! Ghastly neo-Romantic poems in dactylic tetrameter.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was taught to read by my mother when I was around 2 years old. I loved nursery rhymes and nonsense verse because of its musicality.

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

At the moment, I’m aware of the presence of extraordinarily talented younger poets, prose writers and editors. Names that come to mind are Angela Readman, Kate Garrett, Jane Burn, Holly Magill, Sarah Doyle, Kim Moore, Sarah Miles and Mary Norton Gilonne among many others.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

For poetry: I write when a poem starts scratching at my brain. Usually a first draft, and then several edits. For me, less is more, and I pare my poems down relentlessly. For my novel Casket Girls, I set myself a target of 1,000 words a day.

5. What motivates you to write?

That would be like asking, ‘Why do you breathe?’ Writing has saved my life, both literally and metaphorically, on more than one occasion.

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

I love Southern Gothic writers like George Washington Cable, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, for the vividness with which they depict the humour, beauty and absolute insanity of the American South. They capture so well the voices of my childhood.

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

Where do I start! I love the elegance of Edith Wharton’s writing, and the pared-down prose of Ernest Hemingway’s short fiction. In poetry, the amazing Natasha Tretheway, because of the courage and skill with which she evokes issues arising from the complexities of race, gender, and the South’s complicated history.

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

Edith Wharton defined a writer as someone on whom nothing is lost. I think one becomes a writer by being completely present, by living intensely in the moment, and capturing these lived perceptions as richly as one can. I think children should be encouraged to daydream, to cultivate their imagination, and to learn to love to listen to and tell stories around the kitchen table.

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

My novel Casket Girls is coming out this year with Paper Swans Press. It’s a historical novel set in 18th-century about a group of impecunious young women of good character who are sent to New Orleans as prospective brides for the French colonists under the protection of the Ursuline nuns, who were also committed to educating enslaved women, Native Americans, and prostitutes. I am beginning to assemble a body of poems on diverse subjects which I hope will be the basis for a fourth collection. I’ve also been writing a group of poems based on family photographs and daguerreotypes and the stories they tell.

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