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 a writer and artist who works in poetry, fiction, theatre, film, photography, visual art, sound art and performance. He has published seven collections of poetry, three of artworks, four of collaborative poetry plus volumes of selected essays and selected collaborations. He has been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Britain, the London Sinfonietta, Wellcome Collection and Liverpool Biennial. He has been sent to Peru, Bangladesh, Iraq, Argentina, Georgia and other destinations by The British Council and has performed at festivals including Hay on Wye, Cervantino in Mexico, Berlin Literature Festival and Hay Xalapa. He was nominated for the White Review prize for Fiction in 2014 and has won awards from Arts Council England, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Creative Scotland, Arts Council Ireland and multiple other funding bodies. His plays have been produced at Rich Mix, where he is associate artist, and his visual art has been exhibited at the V&A, Hardy Tree Gallery and Mile End Art Pavilion. He’s been translated into 27 languages and produced collaborations with over 90 artists. He is the founder and curator of The Enemies Project and Poem Brut as well as editor at 3am magazine and executive editor at The European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture (Versopolis). He is lecturer in creative writing and english literature at Kingston University, teaches at Tate Modern, Poetry School and Photographer’s Gallery. He is the director of Writers’ Centre Kingston and European Poetry Festival. http://www.stevenjfowler.com
- When and why did you begin to write poetry?
In 2010. I began because I embraced the chance entry of poetry into my life and needed its incursion. I was just old enough to recognise that I needed something entirely intellectual that wasn’t theoretical but immersive. Something I took to be best when obscure, hidden, ludic and requiring a grand active application of the individual. And I realised, being hyper verbal, poetry, which was given to me, might be that thing.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
I bought some poetry books in a charity shop. In Paddington, London. So the charity shop system of England introduced me.
- How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I actually have never felt dominated by older poets. Maybe because, also by accident, I found myself, early on, in a very specific tradition in the UK, what we might see as the British Poetry Revival and the older poets were really supportive and generous. More than poets my own age, but they were pretty grand on the whole too. But poets like Tom Raworth, Maggie O’Sullivan, Robert Sheppard, Iain Sinclair, Allen Fisher, Tony Lopez, Anselm Hollo and Tomaz Salamun, I can point to distinct moments with each of them when I had barely written / done anything and they took the time to encourage me. And poets a generation younger too, a generation on from me – Carol Watts, Jeff Hilson, Tim Atkins, Philip Terry, Peter Jaeger, they were also very very supportive. In fact I would say now this is something I take to be a responsibility. To teach the works of these older poets, to share them outside of the UK and to connect my students, those a generation younger than me, to the poets who have lived the life they might follow.
- What is your daily writing routine?
Completely changeable, I have no routine. Often I write while travelling, in London or beyond. Often while reading something. I like it this way. I take it to be a symbol of the freedom of time I have worked for. Years ago, when I worked jobs with very rigid shift patterns I promised myself I would earn the right to set my own schedule and routine and would do something different everyday.
- What motivates you to write?
I often ask myself. I don’t feel easy with the notion of catharsis, I think this is mostly a false and self-serving approximation by poets. I know it’s not for repute or money (well not entirely anyway, as much as one can control these instincts), or I would’ve chosen a different field. I think now, probably out of familiarity and desire to learn, to use poetry as a vehicle for increasingly the possibility of contentment, for meeting other human beings, for creating abstract and mysterious connections between my confusions and still being alive.
- What is your work ethic?
I enjoy working as I work now. I have spent years trying to fashion a work environment where I like what I do, working hard to get that, and now I have it, so I work harder, as it doesn’t feel like work. Both my parents were working class, they grew up in Liverpool during WWII. They grew up without education in bombed out buildings. They worked incredibly hard and taught me their ethic.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I didn’t read when I was young. But when I discovered poetry, I was about 24, there were poets then who startled me, shocked me into a renewed awareness of reading, and writing, and seeing, and I’ve revisited some of them recently, after nearly a decade, poets like Mayakovsky, Herbert, Salamun, Pizarnik. They retain their power over me.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I read backwards. I try to read around 100 books a year, more, I have a system even, and I’m still in the past, trying to catch up. So those I read from now are those I work with, collaborate with and whose poetry ends up in front of me through the computer or with a book generously put in my hand. I can say poets like Harry Man, Maja Jantar, Ailbhe Darcy, Prudence Chamberlain, Ross Sutherland, Christodoulos Makris, Hannah Silva, have my admiration because they are genuinely remarkable, original, leave me wanting to copy them and all share the distinction of being warm and generous human beings while investing so much into their work.
- Why do you write?
I’ve started now. And if I can expand on what I said in the ‘motivates’ question, I don’t know really. Every week I think why do I do this? It’s useless and stupid and no one likes my work and I don’t even like it and there’s something wrong with me. This performance reveals how I feel.
But I also remember a John Steinbeck quote – “A writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to his illusion even if he knows it is not true.” Yeah well, easier said than done. My stuff isn’t that important at all.
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I would say it depends on them, who they are, where they are from, what kind of writing, to what end… There is no one answer, and if I’m honest if someone asks me that, without context, I’d ask them why are you asking me?
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve a few. Well, to keep it succinct, I have a series of new publications arriving in 2019. Many not quite ready for public declaration yet but I’m happy to have a collection with Dostoyevsky Wannabe coming later in the year, it’s a book about neuroscience and poetry, all poems though. And I’ve a new art poetry book coming with Hesterglock Press called Memoirs of a Hypocrite. And a pamphlet with If a leaf falls press as well, called Reading List Massage. I’m a lucky bastard to be able to keep up this rhythm of publications which suits me so well, my own speed of writing, or mulching, churning, moving language, which I spent years resisting, feeling embarrassed about, feeling I released too much, until recently when I accepted it was a genuine expression of my internal mechanism for poetry. Like Schopenhauer said, we can chose what we will but we cannot will what we will.