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 accomplished young poet from the Welsh borders whose work is story-telling, risk-taking and exact in all the right ways’ (Fiona Sampson). His second collection ‘What I heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ is scheduled for release with Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2019, and he will be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August. Since his first publication, ‘After the poet, the bar’, Ben’s work has appeared in a wide array of journals and websites and he has gone on to explore a wide range of poetic disciplines, from mentoring to running workshops in schools and charities. For more information go to: www.benray.co.uk or use the Twitter handle: @BenRayThePoet .
- What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, really. I was lucky in that I grew up in a house surrounded by books (I was bribed to learn swimming with the promise of a trip to Waterstones afterwards!) and was encouraged to keen scribbling stories and poems on scrap paper all the way through my childhood. I’ve always loved telling stories, exploring language and, I have to admit, performing in front of people. I find you can’t write without reading, they’re two sides of the same coin –throughout my life I’ve tried to read as much as possible. When I was 14 I was encouraged to enter a competition to become a local poet laureate, which kept me writing at a time I might have given it up. Miraculously, this position demanded poetry from me throughout the year, and I feel really cemented my beginnings as a poet – I began to take poetry more seriously, and since then never looked back.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
I honestly can’t remember. I think my first encounter was through cassette tapes of Edward Lear and books of children’s poetry as a young child, which I loved. I’ve always wanted to share poetry with others, I think that’s one of its main joys – my family have always had to put up with me reading at them. I was read poetry as a child and had books of children’s poetry around the house – it was hard to avoid the stuff!
- How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Wouldn’t call the presence of older poets ‘dominating’ – whilst of course the ‘classic’ poets like Eliot or Byron can be unapproachable when young, I feel that they will be discovered at the right age. Also, I feel contemporary poets are very present in society, and are becoming ever more present whilst not smothering young poets – on the contrary, they’re giving young poets the vital space and impetus to grow. Like light, poetry doesn’t exist in a vacuum! Once I scratched the surface of my local Waterstones or even logged onto YouTube I found older poets I could relate to and work from to build on and influence my own work.
- What is your daily writing routine?
Oh, I wish I had one! My routine is sporadic, though I try to write a little every day. I find that once I start writing and enter a poetic frame of mind, poetry starts appearing everywhere. I carry a notebook with me where I try to note down any phrases, words, scenarios or ideas I find even remotely interesting – for me it these often take a few weeks or even months to come to the boil and find the right moment. I had a post-it note on my wall for three months where I’d scribbled a line a friend used over the phone. Last week, after visiting a museum and after being inspired by an exhibit, I found the perfect place for them – in the mouth of a 15th century sailor drowning in Gdansk harbour.
- What motivates you to write?
Like most poets, almost anything! I used to study history and thus would write a lot of what I called ‘historical place poetry’ – snapshots or explorations of a certain moment in time. Recently I’ve been enjoying giving my work a more surreal, abstract twist. I’ve loved watching my work develop, and want to see it continuing to grow.
- What is your work ethic?
I think the frank answer to this is that I try to write as much as possible because it’s one of the things I most enjoy. I love exploring and expressing the world in such a personal and intimate way, and I find myself more and more interpreting how I see my life and future within a poetic form. Thus I feel my ethic is quite strict, though this is more due to pleasure than anything else! I also feel that if I come back to poetry after a long absence, it can be hard to find inspiration. I hate this sensation (it feels I have lost a part of my voice), and thus try to keep one foot in the world of poetry constantly.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The poets I admired when younger still shape me as a writer today through their influence on my poetic style – I feel very much moulded by the work I explored when younger. Many poets who influenced me as a child I later return to with a new understanding of the depth of their work. When young I could feel there was something significant and profound in their writing, as well as admiring their writing as much for their wordplay and use of the poetic form than anything else (Owen Sheers, for instance, or Alice Oswald’s fantastic poem ‘Dart’). Now, on returning to these poets, I find myself able to relate to and emulate in turn that significance and deeper layer of meaning I previously could only sense from afar. I think that rereading poets thus reveals not only different layers within their poetry, but reflects on your personal growth as a reader, an interpreter of poetry and a poet.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
This answer changes daily for me – I try to read as much as I can, and love discovering new and unexpected poets. I feel having ‘favourite’ poets and styles can limit your scope of reading, so I try to avoid this. I’m currently really loving Jonathan Edward’s beautifully crafted second collection Gem, and am also enjoying Robert Minhinnick’s book Diary of the Last Man. Go out and read them! I do try to read the shortlist for the Costa poetry Prize every year – it’s a great way of discovering poets I might have otherwise not ventured out to read.
- Why do you write?
I’m tempted to leave a terribly soundbite-style, meaningful line like: “because there’s no way I cannot write.” But in truth, I write because I’ve never loved any other activity more, or found anything nearly as rewarding, fruitful and meaningful. It’s let me grow and develop as a person, opened doors to a world of literature and prisms through which to look at life, and lets me travel, meet and make friends as I perform across the UK. For me, writing is intimately tied up with performing – I am, at heart, a bit of an attention seeker and a performer, and love the ability to hold and impress a crowd. I’ve found a medium of expression that I love, am moderately good at and which lets me perform in front of people in fantastic ways, with limitless forms of expression and experimentation – what could possibly be better than that?!
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read, write, read, write. Try to find work you love and let it influence you. Don’t worry about developing a style – that will come naturally, probably not for a good few years (I’m not sure I’d say I have a certain style yet, to be honest. I love experimentation and pushing my boundaries as much as possible in this sense). Get in contact with and talk to as many poets as possible – be proactive! Enter competitions and magazines, try to get published as much as possible and to perform as much as possible. The more you ‘become’ a writer, the more you will know whether you truly love it and want this as a path in life. The poetry community exists both off and on the page, and is friendly and welcoming – build up a repertoire and get out there performing and meeting people!
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m in the process of publishing my second collection, ‘What I heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ with Indigo Dreams Publishing, which will be out this summer. I am also taking a solo poetry show to the August 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and will be touring the show around the UK in July beforehand. I am currently trying to write a series of longer poems reflecting my time studying in Warsaw and am trying to collate another manuscript for my third publication. Keep an eye on my website for details of my work and upcoming projects – I’d love to share my poetic adventures with you!