Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ben Ray

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.

ben ray

Ben Ray

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 .

The Interview

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?!

  1. 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!

  1. 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!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Fay Musselwhite

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.

contraflow image cropt

Fay Musselwhite

lives and writes in Sheffield, where she leads workshops and walks, and collaborates with artists in film, sound and other media.  Her poems have appeared in a range of publications, including The Footing (Longbarrow Press 2013).  Her first poetry collection Contraflow was published by Longbarrow Press in 2016.


The Interview

1. What led you to start writing poetry?

Words have always fascinated me. Even before I could read, I tried to guess at their derivations and connections. Growing up in a politically active household gave me a keen interest in politics, history, and how the world fits together. However, knowing no-one who wrote, I became used to getting my creative sustenance from textile media.

From my teens onwards, I’d jot down bits of memoir and treatise, attempting to get things straight in my mind, and soon began to discover the joy of sentences, their structure reminding me of the physical dynamics inherent to sewing and knitting. During my Film and Literature degree course I took modules in writing fictional narrative, but still couldn’t quite hit my stride.

Then, when I needed to get something said to someone who was dying, I remembered seeing Tony Harrison on television talking about the mechanics of the sonnet, and thus poetry came to my aid. It wasn’t a sonnet I wrote but a ballad, in which I found I could say so much more than with the declarations I’d been trying before.

It seems that the intensity of forcing sound and meaning up against each other, in the way poetry does, makes it almost impossible to tell anything but the truth. As if the concentrated energy required, once mustered can only be used for that purpose.

1.2 Strict form moulding high emotional intensity?

Emotional intensity always spurs the poetry, and strictness of form moulds – harnesses? stabilises? – that emotional intensity. In the poetry I’m aiming for truth
and precision, so the poem is precisely true to itself.

I tend not to write in reusable form, though. My adherence to rhythm and rhyme – the poem’s sound – feels quite strict (to me), but seems to happen at a subconscious level. It’s as though something in me can almost hear what the poem will sound like, and my mind tries to find the words that make that sound, and carry meanings that say what the poem seems to want said.

2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Dominating what?

2.1. I guess what I’m asking is whether when writing poetry you feel the weight of tradition, the established Canon, the All White Men Establishment of poetry putting you under scrutiny.

No, I really don’t.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I always read and write something first thing, with my second coffee, between getting dressed and leaving my bedroom. Other than that, there’s nothing you’d call a routine. If I’m engaged in a textile project, I might not write anything else all day, but usually there’s another chunk of writing before day’s end. And for much of the time in between, there are lines I’m trying to write or resolve running through my mind.

4. What motivates you to write?

Capturing something of the world as art / craft has been satisfying to me for as long as I can remember. Through childhood I enjoyed drawing, painting and textile crafts, for the feeling of being absorbed, connected to materials, of operating in the physical world, expressing it, and, somehow, my place in it. These days I enjoy the feeling of making, capturing, learning and progressing in the same way I always have.

To make a piece of art that combines the shape and atmosphere of something with the energy of how it hits me is a thrilling thing to find I can sometimes do. Seeking that is motivating.

Sometimes I write to find out what I really mean, what I really think, or to try and find out what others might really think and mean. Sometimes to explore a connection or parallel, how far it goes, what else the material holds.

When I’ve got going on a piece of work, when it’s piling up and has started to stay in place on the page – when I feel I’m onto something – then those lines and phrases, and that feeling, are a strong motivation to continue digging to find the rest of it. From that point on, I do it for the sake of what’s already there, to give the work the best chance to be itself.

5. What is your work ethic?

That’s quite a question. Not sure what it means, but I’ll have a go.

Like nature, art is surely an ethics free zone, in the sense that it deals with what actually is rather than how we consciously decide to negotiate the world and each other. That said, art will certainly explore the ethics of those decisions, and I hope readers can see my fascination with those ethics, and the dilemmas they present.

I’ve never, so far, had to ask myself whether it’s ethical to put something into a poem. Neither (as far as I remember) have I been challenged on ethical grounds regarding anything that has gone into a piece of work or workshop draft. Nor can I imagine either situation.

As for the time I spend writing poetry rather than doing something ‘more useful’, well I do sometimes wonder. So I try to make the poetry worthwhile, worth having spent the time on, and hopefully useful to someone.

In collaborations I let my genuine engagement in other people’s work guide my contributions. In teaching and leading workshops it seems important to divide time and attention equally between participants. And in performance of my own work or anyone else’s I want to give the poetry the best chance of reaching its audience, and vice versa.

Then there’s the money side of it: needy and bossy, can’t let any of us be. Its divisive insistence on competition seems antithetical to creative spirit. It feels like an occupation by a foreign force which we all live under, and must perform its rituals regardless of whether we believe in its values. So, we all do what we do to get by.

That said, the difference between art and advertising seems clear enough: if you begin a piece of work without heed to where it’ll end, and follow it until it seems able to stand on its own, then that’s art; if you commit from the start to some kind of end product, for instance a shape, sound or message, then that’s akin to advertising.

These are all points which I’m happy to discuss and, if necessary, change my mind over…

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

The first writer I was excited by was Dr Seuss. A lifetime later, many of his lines and images, for instance his Herk-Heimer Falls –‘where the great river rushes / And crashes down crags in great gargling gushes’ – still keep me company.

As a growing child, I soon enjoyed the same belligerence and joy of language in Tom Lehrer, a favourite of my parents, then later in Frank Zappa. These three confirmed that social commentary needn’t be earnest, nor protest hectoring. Joni Mitchell was another early discovery who showed me subtler ways to express bitter wisdom.

The energy Ted Hughes achieves with stacked consonants, and his other methods of rallying sound, have always thrilled me, though for a long while I thought it all too far beyond me to be worth attempting.

John Clare’s passion for nature and against its enclosure, still fresh centuries later, is and was always encouraging. And like Clare, the war poets I read at school – Owen and Sassoon were prominent – have a way of focussing on detail to illuminate the broader story, and of making public concerns personal.

All these along with encountering Tony Harrison several decades ago, and a growing awareness of Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s poetry, have helped me realise that a desire to relate narrative didn’t mean I had to struggle on with prose fiction when it wasn’t satisfying my creative itch.

7. Of today’s writers, whose work do you admire the most and why?

A few months ago I read Roar! by Martin Hayes and was blown away. The belligerence he gets onto the page is the full-on tone of adrenaline that still kicks around even when despair has fully arrived.  I’ve seen / felt it on dance-floors before, when all you can do is revel in the pure sharing of it – there is no solution, there is no brighter side.  This is the poetry of that experience.

There’s something of the same in Cazique, the title sequence of Matthew Clegg’s latest collection.  I really appreciate how he represents the weapons-grade capitalism that we’re currently culturally subjected to by a grubby little con-man, as much a victim of his own hype as those he cons. The humanity of being invited, by means of compelling poetry, to sympathise with the victimhood of the central character, as well as everyone else’s, strikes a massive chord with me too – we are all complicit in this, none of our hands are clean.

Clegg’s tanka sequence “Edgelands” (published in his West North East collection) has long been a particular favourite of mine.  A series of understated and achingly tender images depict the protagonist’s spell of sharp loneliness after a break-up.

But there are now dead poets who feel contemporary to me, so I must at least mention Ken Smith and Peter Reading, both of whom died in the last fifteen years.  Reading’s Perduta Gente feels so relevant to our times, and the protagonist in Smith’s Fox Running is surely still glimpsed by Hayes’s drivers and riders.

Perhaps because I have a son and no daughters, or perhaps because I’m female, I’ve a strong interest in war poetry, with its insight into that otherness of being male.  Christopher Logue’s War Music is a favourite of mine for the immediacy of its style.  And Rob Hindle’s recent book The Grail Road is a fascinating and atmospheric melding of people and scenes from World War 1 with those from the King Arthur story.  He knows this isn’t a new idea, but his take on these blokes served up to fulfil the power fantasies of those who survive them is well drawn and worthwhile.

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

This is a question I ask myself – indeed recently wrote a poem about – especially as my work often features elements of sound and vision.  Part of the answer must be to do with not needing any particular tools or materials: you can write a poem in your head, scratch it in mud or sand with a stick.  But even if paint and canvas, decent cameras, knitting yarn in any shade, and / or a host of musical instruments were readily available, I’d still favour the craft of corralling words on the page, resolving the snags that arise between sound and meaning.

Because the best language for poetry is the stuff that’s in common use, using it for poetry always feels like a marvellous feat of recycling: like reshaping and realigning a substance that the world has already worked on, and has thus gained in potency.  Yes, words get tired, but turn them over to find them enriched by the history, context and broader references they’ve gathered.  All humans are accustomed to metaphor, perhaps to a surprising degree.  Any word or phrase carries with it – blatantly or surreptitiously – what it’s previously said, bringing depth, texture, tone, colour, action and music to the thing you build.

Alice Oswald said she became frustrated, when working as a gardener, that she couldn’t quite get to the growing tip of what she was dealing with.  Much as I enjoy crafting things in a physical realm, there are always things you can’t reach, and it can feel more like representation than actually collaborating with an audience / readership to create something real and visceral in the world.  This extends to the way sentences behave, which is also endlessly fascinating: changing a sentence’s structure to alter what it can hold and carry can feel like proper engineering.  Language, for me, is a very satisfying material to work with.

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

I suppose I’d ask them what they think a writer is…

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

Right now I’m writing a piece for a geographer’s PhD project, in which Fens dwellers, who don’t think of themselves as writers, are paired in correspondence with writers who live elsewhere.  It’s an open ended project, and it will be interesting to see how it progresses, where it goes.

Other than that, I’m working on my own pieces, which are yet to coalesce into anything that can be described as one thing, though connections are emerging as I go on.  It all feels quite wait-and-see, and I’m enjoying a time largely free from deadlines.

Thanks ever so much for your interest in my work and practise.

On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Liz Wride

On Fiction 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.

liz wride

The front cover of Issue 3 of @PopToMag (Pop To…Magazine). Her piece: ‘Questions on a Pub Quiz’ is featured inside.

Liz Wride

writes plays and short fiction. Her 2014 Dylan Thomas centenary play toured Wales and was performed at the Lost Theatre’s ‘One Act Festival’. Her short fiction (‘Potato’) has been shortlisted for the 2015 ELLE UK Talent Awards and (‘Fillet’) appeared in The Mantle Arts anthology ‘Beneath the Waves’. Her most recent pieces can be found in @turnpikezine, @poptomag, and @okaydonkeymag. Her work will soon appear in @milkcandyreview.

I’ve included a photo of the front cover of Issue 3 of @PopToMag (Pop To…Magazine). My piece: ‘Questions on a Pub Quiz’ has appeared in Issue 3.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write fiction?

I just really remember always wanted to write. As a child, I remember writing so much, I got a callus on my finger (it’s still there!) In terms of actual books that inspired me – I’d have to say fairytales. The stories I wrote as a child were full or magic and anthropomorphic animals – so the work of Enid Blyton (I still have the ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ book) and Lewis Carroll (I still have the copy of Alice in Wonderland) were definitely important to me.

  1. Who introduced you to fiction?

My parents. They always made up bedtime stories and bought me books. My mother introduced me to a lot of the books she loved as a child (such as ‘Little Women’) my Dad introduced me to ‘The Wind in the Willows’.) I remember vividly ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ being read to us at school – and there was something unmatched about the excitement of the Scholastic Book Fair.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?

As a child? Not really. Looking back, I feel like there wasn’t the avenues (pre-internet) for children to get into creative writing, in the way there is now (or, maybe I was just unaware of them!) I was always impressed by the writers I read at that age, though – I read the blurbs about them, in the back of their books. One author, (who wrote horror) claimed to have a haunted writing desk – I thought that was the greatest thing ever.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I tend to write when, and where I can. I normally write after work, and on weekends. I’ve written on my phone in the Doctor’s Reception; jotted ideas down when I’m doing my shopping. I’ve found that coffee helps enormously when writing, so before writing – there is coffee!

  1. What motivates you to write?

I don’t want to look back, and think I didn’t try hard enough. I don’t want to look back and think: “Oh, I could have been a writer if I’d just done X, Y or Z.” Certain stories are written because I have something specific to say (these are often the hardest to compose); others are written because I get a very strong sense of character or character voice. Seeing the successes of other writers is also hugely motivational.

  1. What is your work ethic?

I like to think I have a pretty strong work ethic. I think the most important thing is to think of any work you produce as a learning curve. You can always be a better writer. It’s important to know what nothing you write is ever wasted – there are no writing failures, in a sense – you can just use what you’ve written for another story, or another medium.

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

I don’t think I’ve quite managed to let them go. One particular writer, Sylvia Waugh, produced a series of children’s books centred around life-sized cloth dolls (The Mennyms series), which I still think are fantastic. As a kid, it was this great, fun story. When I re-read it as an adult, it was clear that there were themes of loss and family, faith and love, that went over my head as a child. It reminds me to keep my intended audience in mind – but also to give my reader credit; to not over-write. Readers are clever – regardless of age – they’ll get it.

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

Zach Doss. I discovered who he was, too late. After his passing, I read the pieces he had linked on his website. I was blown away by the humanity of his prose (‘The Bloodmouth’ in Passages North, is my favourite). There was something so universal about his writing – it really struck an experiential chord – but at the same time, his style and tone were so unique. Kathy Fish’s ‘Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild’ is a masterclass in the specific power of the poetic art form to speak with devastating clarity about social issues.

  1. Why do you write?

I have no idea why I have a general desire to write – I have no idea what fuels that – a tiny little bibliophile inside my brain, maybe? (I am joking!) Day to day, I write because there is a topic I care deeply about; or as a way to work through a difficult time; or a way to document a joyful time, in a creative way; because I’ve been inspired by the work of someone else…the list goes on. It’s fun to challenge yourself in your writing – to see how you can push your creativity.

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

Read. Write. Find a community. For me, that #writingcommunity is Twitter. There are a staggering array of magazines and journals on there – all are a great way to find new reading material; new voices; new ways of seeing things. The best thing about all the journals, editors and other writers, is the support they give. Rejections never feel like something finite; just encouragement to refine pieces and hone the writing craft. It’s a fantastic, creative, collaborative space.

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

I’m putting together a collection of short fiction; and I’m trying to figure out which stories will best go together. There’s a sort of ethereal novella (that involves quite a few science fiction elements) which exists in draft form and staccato sentences, at the moment. I’m constantly looking at online literary journals – I have this dream list of journals – that someday I hope to get published in. I’m slowly creating stories to submit to them.






Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Christopher Bernard

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.

chien lunatique

Christopher Bernard:

is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. He is founder and co-editor of the literary and arts webzine Caveat Lector (www.caveat-lector.org) and contributes regularly to the monthly online magazine Synchronized Chaos Magazine (www.synchchaos.com).

His books include the novels A Spy in the Ruins and Voyage to a Phantom City; two books of stories, In the American Night and Dangerous Stories for BoysThe Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs; Chien Lunatique (poems); and the play The Beast and Mr. James. His new novel for adults, Meditations on Love and Catastrophe at The Liars’ Cafe, will be published this year. His work has appeared in several anthologies and many periodicals, including cultural and arts journalism in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere, and poetry and fiction in literary reviews in the U.S. and U.K. He has also written plays that have been produced and radio broadcast, in part or complete, in the San Francisco Bay Area. His poetry films have been screened in San Francisco and his poetry and fiction have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. He is currently working on a series of children’s books, called Otherwise.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

When I was very young, I had little or no interest in verse; it struck me as an awkward and contrived way of saying what could be said more effectively and directly in prose. I wrote a few poems, for the experience of the thing, when I was nine, and first began writing “seriously”—“with deliberate intent” (a writer is like an imaginary criminal plotting an imaginary crime): my first stories, plays, fragmentary novels, essays, etc. The tenth year of each decade often jolts me into more feverish activity than usual, as though I feel time breathing down my neck more keenly just before the next zero descends on my personal history. The year I turned nine was in fact my own annus mirabilis, when I first discovered the life of the mind would be an immense journey, rich with discovery, invention, adventure, sometimes frightening, sometimes despairing, but never less than interesting, and of which writing would be a central part. My first poem, called “Old Hundred,” was about an imaginary blind, ageing, loyal and loving dog.

But I didn’t really see the point of poetry until sometime later, during my 12th summer: I picked up, at a seaside soda fountain and notions store called Jump’s, a little book of poems with a dazzlingly white cover, yellow edges, and a wonderfully wicked title: “The Flowers of Evil,” by one Charles Baudelaire, translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The combination of lyricism and sensualism, moralism and cynicism (or realism, if one prefers) that I found between its covers entirely fascinated me. I had already discovered the Russian novelists and poets, and the modern-day existentialists, and was already drawn to staring into the abyss down the long well of white pages and black type with the rapt eyes of a bookworm tween. I was even writing a novel in this vein, never finished, called “The Atheist.” (I had already written an adventure novel, about an eighteenth-century pirate with the not terribly original name of Captain Skull, in lieu of my social studies homework for an entire year; my teacher, unsympathetic to the honor of literature, flunked me. The handwritten manuscript was stolen from me by an older, somewhat suspicious friend in Mexico, where we were living at the time.) After wading into Baudelaire’s provocative verses (I hadn’t known poetry was allowed to be confrontational, sardonic, intellectual, even shocking), I began turning my hand at bleak sonnets and sensually rhyming ecstasies between chapters plumbing my strictly literary notions about the tragicomic human condition.

But what finally captured me in thrall to the muses happened a few years later, when I discovered the oceanic lyricism of the English Romantics: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron—but above all Shelley and Keats. I will never forget standing inside a silent, shadowy, dusty, cramped, almost empty used bookstore in Philadelphia one Saturday afternoon when I was 18, and opening a green volume of Keats’s poems, the book turning to a poem I had never heard of, called “Hyperion”:

“Deep in the shady sadness of a vale

Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,

Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,

Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,

Still as the silence round about his lair; …”

The lines hit me with the shock of recognition, though a recognition of what was as mysterious then as it is to me today.

I felt at once, with a sharp sweet pain, that I wanted to be able to do something—to be something—like this, just like this—of this dignity and gracefulness and truthfulness and power—in my life ahead. I still confused the poetry with the poet, as I suppose many do. I didn’t want to be a “poet” so much as be a poem—even though I realized I would probably have to be satisfied with being a mere flesh-and-blood scribbler.

Not long afterwards, I came across the recent paperback edition of Aileen Ward’s (for myself, perfectly timed) biography, John Keats: The Making of a Poet; after reading which (“inhaling” it, as the phrase does, between endless underlinings), it was all over for me. I despaired of achieving Keats’s eloquence: that Keats himself never quite realized the heights he had attained makes his story all the more painful. (And yet it remains true that, however great a poet is, he (or she) cannot, if he is honest with himself, be certain, ever, of his “genius”: it could all be mere daydreams and will-o’-wisps. And, in the end, it doesn’t depend solely on himself anyway: a “great poet” is half-created by the poet’s society and the accidents of history.)

But I decided to try; I would rather fail in the attempt than succeed at just about anything else. And I still do, actually, unreconstructed romantic and irrational fantasist as in many ways I remain to this day. Was it a good decision? Perhaps not. And yet . . .

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

Books introduced me to poetry. In fact, no one I knew had any serious interest in poetry. My teachers’ interest seemed to be at best dutiful. I was alone, not that this bothered me terribly, as it has been a condition I have submitted to for a great deal of my intellectual and cultural life.

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Much: I still prefer them, as a rule, to my contemporaries, who are still proving themselves. One of the things that deeply impressed me when I was very young—and still does—is that cultural, artistic, and literary immortality (in the sense of longevity long after one’s body is dead) is the one overcoming of death that is available to us: as long as we are reading Emily Dickinson, she still, in a significant sense, exists.

I have also been impressed by the fact that kings and emperors, pirates and capitalists, empires and armies and kingdoms and cities vanish as if they had never been, but a poem can outlive a monarchy—a line of verse from Sappho has triumphed over all the invasions of Alexander—and can do so even if it is forgotten for millennia. “Oxymandias” and Gilgamesh are the proofs of my, of our, joy.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I try to write on first waking up, for an hour or longer if possible. If I have no particular project, I write in my journal (a serpentine monster that has grown to over a hundred volumes since I was eleven; I have even given my pet python a name).

  1. What motivates you to write?

An idea comes to me, seemingly out of nowhere. usually when I am very relaxed and a bit daydreamy: this can be while in bed in the early morning, while riding a bus, sitting in a café, etc., and that I see I might be able to do something with: some scrap of words, a title, a phrase, numinous and ramifying, specifically and narrowly for a poem, more vaguely, and widely, for a novel.

The literary habit was already well established in our household when I was a child: my father wrote (and directed) for the new medium (at the time) of television, and had ambitions to write “fiction,” his own father had had literary ambitions, having spent time in Paris in the ’twenties, and my grandmother on the same side had been a talented poet.

I never thought much about this until I started getting vocabulary exercises in English class in fourth and fifth grades: a list of new words for each of which we needed to compose a sentence. And we had ample license over what to write. Not much in school up to that time engaged my interest. Education was at best tedious stuff; at worst it was as much fun as wrestling a water moccasin: if you lost, you were killed with an “F”; if you won, you were rewarded with a sense of Absolute Pointlessness, symbolized by an “A.”

But this was fun: I was being rewarded to make things up (when I did this at home, it was called “lying” and brought down on my head the severest punishments). I was always pressing my “vocabulary” luck; to this day I’m amused by what I got away with (nothing terribly indecent: my tendencies lay more toward the fantastic and melodramatic).

Then, around that time, I discovered “horror stories” and the high-style bloody-mindedness of Edgar Allan Poe. And one day after school, having finished one of my vocabulary assignments, and feeling on a literary roll, I decided to try my hand at one and dashed off a quick mystery cum horror tale before dinner, at which I announced it to the family and my great aunt, who was visiting for the weekend. I was invited to read it aloud after dinner, and it proved a hit.

The combination of pleasure in writing and this early taste of “success,” coupled with the active encouragement by my parents (“For a writer everything is grist for the mill,” as my mother memorably told me—some of the best advice I ever received), sealed my fate.

  1. What is your work ethic?

I believe you owe it to yourself, and to everyone else, to do the best you can. Sloppy work has three strikes against it: it is lazy, it is disrespectful, and it makes you lose the self-respect I believe everyone needs in this life.

My cultural and literary attitudes (unapologetically straight, white, dinosaurian Eurocentric male, with a few dozen Facebook friends and little interest in conquering the cyberverse) are far from fashionable, and so the prospect of my making a marketable career out of my words is unlikely. Thus I have to do something other than “writing” to pay my bills (I am currently a freelance technical editor, with some technical writing).

I have strong perfectionist tendencies, and so rewrite constantly. For me, 80 percent of writing is rewriting; to reread my own work is to rewrite it. This can be perilous: in my own case, it has sometimes had the bad effect of draining the work until it becomes perfectly bloodless. It took me some time to work out the right balance: to polish a piece only so far without murdering the original inspiration that gave it life. Sometimes this requires it to keep some of its “imperfections”: better imperfect while still keeping it breathing than a smooth smile in a polished coffin.

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

Those writers include Baudelaire, Shelley, and Keats, as I mentioned before, Shakespeare (in his tragedies), and, above all, Dostoyevsky, whose “Notes from Underground,” The House of the Dead, Crime and Punishment, The Double, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov had an enormous impact on me when I read them in my later childhood to mid-teens. To these I would add more modern writers, such as James Joyce and Malcolm Lowry.

In my puberty and teens, I was also strongly affected by philosophical writing: Plato (the gadfly Socrates may have had more influence on me than is strictly healthy), Aristotle, and the Stoic Epictetus among the ancients; and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (ditto, re influence), Miguel de Unamuno, Jose Ortega y Gasset, and Jean-Paul Sartre among the “moderns.” All of these writers are deeply interested in the vagaries of the human condition, the meaning (or, more appropriately, the many possible meanings) of human existence, the peculiar combination of strength and weakness, power and impotence, the endlessly bizarre combination of cleverness, wisdom, heroism, lunacy, cowardice, arrogance, humility, and brazen stupidity of human existence.

All of these authors continue to influence me as I age and see just how profound their insights were, and are, and how deeply brilliant their writing.

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

Most of the modern writers I admire are now dead: most of them belonged to the second wave of European modernism after the second world war, in particular the “new novelists” based in France, and those influenced by them: Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Samuel Beckett, Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, and the late Juan Goytisolo. Also Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian novelist and playwright, who is a kind of updated Dostoyevskian “underground man” whose “notes” turned into an entire literary career. What I admire in these writers is their insistence on approaching the writing of fiction as an art form, and how they make a virtue of pursuing innovations of form, explorations I have also tried to pursue in my novels. These innovations of form allow one to explore aspects of the human condition unavailable to earlier writers: the result is not just innovations in form (intriguing and often exciting in themselves) but discoveries of what I believe may be important truths, or, if not that, fruitful errors. (Sometimes there is nothing more exciting than finding out just how wrong one has always been.)

I sometimes have a hard time with American writers, as I don’t always find the American literary tradition completely sympathetic (I find, to be candid, just a little too much of the “barbaric yawp” in it, and a kind of compulsive, unconvincing optimism and what I call “the great American delusion” (“exceptionalism,” they call it) that, well as it may often be for society, makes for a literature that can run from the self-important to the hysterical to a kind of manic wishful thinking).

I have a soft spot for Henry David Thoreau (that great nay-sayer to some of our national self-conceptions), and another for the other great “nay-sayer,” Emily Dickinson, and I am a fan of Henry James, hardly a typical “American” writer. I also like Ambrose Bierce and keep his Devil’s Dictionary in my satchel for salutary communion with a saner compatriot on train journeys.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Partly to express, partly to invent, partly to organize my thoughts, partly to explore my feelings, partly to celebrate life and its oddities, partly to take revenge against it, partly to rejoice in language, partly to rail against it through the very eloquence it makes, amazingly, when not alarmingly, possible.

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

You sit down (or take some other posture you can sustain for a few hours at a time without distraction) and you write.

If you don’t enjoy doing that, then you are not a writer, because that is all a writer is: someone who enjoys the act of writing for its own sake. If money and celebrity and status come, all the better. If obloquy, notoriety, ostracism, and contempt, so much the worse. If being ignored, so much to be expected. But write one will.

  1. Tell me about the writing.

Writing is a bit like dreaming while awake. I have a certain amount of conscious control of the dream, but not so much my brain can’t surprise me. It’s also like a drug, or like alcohol: it lowers the defenses and lets feelings and thoughts sneak through that might be suppressed or ignored if I were fully awake.

It is like walking on a high wire: keeping my balance while ever moving forward is my uppermost thought. It is thinking in slow motion. It is a game of charades. It is a theater where I am author, actors, director, stage hands, audience, and critic, all in one. It is one of the few escapes, however temporary, from the prison of existence. It is a form of mysticism. It is a form of magic. It is a kind of witchcraft. It is a kind of lunacy, harmless except to the practitioner and a few foolish folk who have fallen into his hands at an impressionable age.

It is one of the keys to the door of possibility that opens just enough to give a peek at a horizon above which lie infinitely changing clouds. It is a displacement of aggression. It is a substitution for reality. It is a cry of despair. It is a form of hope.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Charles G Lauder Jr

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.


Charles G Lauder Jr

was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, lived for a few years each on both the East and West Coasts of America, and moved to south Leicestershire, UK, in 2000. His poems have been published widely in print and online, and in his two pamphlets Bleeds (Crystal Clear Creators, 2012) and Camouflaged Beasts (BLER, 2017). From 2014 to 2018, he was the Assistant Editor for The Interpreter’s House, and for over twenty years he has copy-edited academic books on literature, history, medicine, and science. The Aesthetics of Breath, his debut poetry collection, will be published by V. Pres in late 2019.

Twitter: @cglauder

He doesn’t have a website, but is on Twitter and Facebook. No cover has been produced yet for his upcoming collection, but will probably be available by next summer.

The Interview

1) When and why did you start writing poetry?

I don’t remember when I started writing poetry. I know I wrote my first story when I was seven, which my teacher shared with the rest of the class. When I was eight, I had a story included in a Readers’ Digest children’s anthology, and so the writing bug bit. I’ve wanted to be a writer every since, but I always envisioned myself a novelist. I wrote poems as a teenager, and while I don’t remember which was the first, I do remember one in particular that appeared in my high school literary magazine. It was the first one I had published–that’s probably why it stands out–and was called ‘The Wind Blows through the Barren Trees’. It was about a priest rambling about an empty church, partly inspired by the Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, I’m sure. It was a poem of quatrains with a lot of repeated lines, and the magazine editor very succinctly cut the repeats and turned it into a poem of couplets. It was a much better poem after that.

Like I said, I wanted to be a novelist but kept finding myself returning to write poetry. I studied literature at university and took creative writing courses in both fiction and poetry. The poems were coming as emotional outbursts. I remember writing poems in my journal at night to try and make sense of the day and what I was feeling. Sometimes I would make a real concerted effort to turn some of that doggerel into a poem. So if fiction writing was large slabs of concrete, poetry was what I poured into the cracks between the slabs. Then for 5 years I focused solely on writing a novel and didn’t write a single poem. At the end of that time, my daughter was born, and when she was less than 4 months old, she had a serious accident. She was fine in the end, but those few hours of rushing to the hospital in an ambulance, watching the paramedics give her oxygen to revive her, the tests, and waiting around to hear if she was going to be OK were hell for my wife and I. A week later I had to stop in the middle of working and write it all down. It came out as a poem, and I realized how much I had missed writing poetry and how essential it was for me. And I haven’t stopped since.

2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Growing up, my education in literature was on British poetry up until about the Victorian era, then it swapped over to American literature through modern and contemporary times. My only exposure to a contemporary British poem while in high school (that I can recall) was Ted Hughes’ ‘Esther’s Tomcat’. While studying literature at university, I spent a year focused on the Romantics, especially Blake and Keats. I love the way Blake used his poetry, art and original mythology to portray such iconoclastic philosophy and ideas. In short, he’s a rule-breaker: he was true to himself and his visions.

For American literary history, contemporary poetry begins with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, two more rule-breakers, Whitman being a bigger influence on me when I was younger. Other major American influences on me while at university (or immediately thereafter) included Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Audre Lorde, and John Ashbery. Eliot’s work, especially ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, would not make an impact until much later.

I didn’t start to read contemporary British and Irish poetry until my last year of university. I was working part-time in the English Department when I accompanied one of the secretaries to a reading by a visiting Irish poet named Seamus Heaney. And I was hooked. Years later, Heaney’s poetry would be one of the things my wife and I bond over when we first start dating. A couple years after graduating I moved to the UK and eventually got a job in Collet’s bookstore on Charing Cross Road in London, overseeing the poetry and literary criticism sections, exposing me to a lot of contemporary poets in the process.

I’ve lived in the UK for many years now, reading as much British and Irish poetry as possible; however, as before, it’s difficult to keep current with another nation’s poetry if you’re not living there. Thankfully the Poetry Foundation, under former US Poet Laureate Donald Hall, created the Essential American Poets podcast, which provides a great selection of 20th and 21st century poets to choose from. I like to listen to them while walking the dog.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

My daily writing routine is currently on hiatus–it’s slipped because my discipline has slipped in recent weeks. But it’s on my resolutions to get it up and running again in January. When it is going well, I write for an hour most mornings, mainly Monday to Friday. When my children were younger, I would get up before everyone else and write for an hour or so, then get everyone else up for school, make lunches, etc. Now that my children are off at uni or doing exams, they make their own lunches, and I get up after they’ve headed out. Sometimes when the writing’s going very well, and I’m not getting distracted, I will write for longer than an hour. Then I go walk the dog, where sometimes I will continue to mull over what I’ve written, and then when I get back, I will adjust the poem. On rare occasions when I have an idea or impulse that won’t leave me along, I will jot down stuff when I go to bed and just before I turn out the light. Otherwise, I don’t like to write at night. Also I only work on one poem at a time over several days, until I feel it’s at a good point to be shared with my writing group or emailed to a poet friend for her comments, or ready to be sent out. My ultimate critic is my wife, who while claiming not to be completely astute in poetry is a very sound judge of when a poem works and when it doesn’t. Occasionally if I’m really struggling with a poem, I will abandon it and come back to it weeks or months later. In this way, some of my poems take months or years to write, evolving over many drafts.

4. What motivates you to write?

That’s a good question. I’ve always thought of it as a compulsion. When I was writing mainly fiction, it was a desire to be a storyteller. But in the years since my sole focus has been poetry, I realize writing is a conduit to how I explain myself to the world and how the world explains itself to me. A little over 15 years ago, I had just finished a novel and hadn’t written poetry for 5 years when my infant daughter had a serious accident. In the 20 minutes that it took the ambulance to arrive, my wife and I were in a frantic state. Thankfully the paramedics revived our daughter and life returned to normal. But for several days afterward, the whole incident, how close we came to losing our baby girl stayed with me, and suddenly I had to stop in the middle of work and write it all down. And it opened the floodgates, and it kept them open.

As I mentioned earlier, I can be very undisciplined when it comes to writing. In other words, I’m lazy. And in order to stop this, I’ve made myself get up early to write, to keep myself focused. Otherwise I’ll read other people’s work and end up feeling frustrated with myself for not getting my act together. In the end it just kindles much more strongly that compulsion within to write and create.

In many ways I feel I have no choice. I see the Universe has a great river that we all draw from when we create, and when we create we are choosing to be a conduit for those waters. It moves through us with such force that if we don’t create, if we don’t allow it to move through us, to express itself through us, we end up destroying ourselves.

5. What’s your work ethic?

I need to feel invested in what I’m creating. Also the work needs to be honest. While I take inspiration from fellow poets, I don’t like the golden shovel writing method nor starting a poem with lines(s) from a published work–that way leads to the Dark Side. So I need to believe in what I’m creating: I don’t want to send out or share work that I’m not completely satisfied with. Often that means going down roads I’ve not been down before with my poetry, to take a chance and trust when the direction, often new, feels right. That entails removing ego from the process, which is a very difficult thing–to just be focused on what I’m creating and not to be caught up in self-doubt or envisioning how the work will be received. Removing ego means getting out from underneath those plaguing thought, to not pay attention to those demons and just focus on the work at hand. Lastly is discipline, which I’ve mentioned already: building and maintaining the discipline to work each day, dedicating the time to achieve what I want to achieve: to create poetry I believe in.

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

William Faulkner wrote in long sentences that wandered and meandered, and his narratives are just as complex and convoluted, often of multiple voices. I like that complexity, to the point where I have to be careful not to overload a poem with too much imagery or metaphor. Likewise, I have been intrigued by Eliot’s use of cultural and historical references throughout The Waste Land; some of my poems have focused on historic figures or events, but much more distilled than the richness of Eliot. The emotional power of Sylvia Plath’s work, in contrast to the cerebral power of Eliot’s, shows how words can carry emotional impact, especially the darker side of the heart, how the personal can be the universal. The evolution of Robert Lowell’s poetry, how he continually challenged himself, reinvented his style with each new book, has reminded me not to settle for the tried and tested, but to push and try new ways of structuring a poem, lest I be seen as a one-trick pony. Blake, even more than Lowell, continues to remind me that one should be true to one’s vision. Keats had his high ideas, especially those about love, which compels me to weave mine into my own lines without hitting the reader over the head with them. And Seamus Heaney to write the effortless, seamless poem, lines full of music—to use the sound of the line to hook and enthral the reader.

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

The contemporary poet I admire the most is Seamus Heaney–he has such a music to his poetry that I love listening to and reading again and again. He makes it seem so effortless and simple, when actually it’s not. His poetry is also deceptive in that there’s more depth to the lines and to what he’s writing about than what you might imagine at first. I’m always learning from his work.

After him, Sinead Morrissey runs a close second–her imagery is so rich and you get the impression that all her words, flowing so easily as they seemingly do, are painstakingly planned out. I feel at ease when I read her work, but also deeply invested. Among American poets, I love the complex imagery and deeply feeling poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa, as well as the frank intimacy of Sharon Olds’ work.

Among British poets, I love the beautiful music and imagery of the poems of Alice Oswald and Nichola Deane. The way Mark Goodwin splits his words and sounds, gappy poetry as he calls it, is quite experimental, ground-breaking, and inspiring–he’s also pushing himself into new areas. Martin Malone’s poetry has a great mix of history and contemporary life, deeply felt, and very intellectual at times.

The poetry of Buddhist priest Dh Maitreyabandu is quiet and subtle, unexpectant. Finally, Lavinia Greenlaw, Jane Draycott, Selima Hill, and Julia Copus are four poets whom I don’t read enough of–again the emotion and the imagery and the music of the lines speak to me, stop me in my tracks, make me want to have the same effect in my own poems. When I read all of these poets’ works, I am deeply inspired and amazed at what poetry can doIf I wasn’t writing, I’d probably be a mathematician or a computer programmer. I’ve always been very good with numbers, and love mental calculations and math games/puzzles. I was studying English at university and my family were strongly encouraging me to study math instead, and for a while I did switch my major to mathematics. But one day I remember sitting in my differential equations class and thinking how bored I was. ‘x’ will always equal ‘x’ … whereas with writing there was so much more possibility. I’m sure mathematicians would argue that x could equally be of any value you wanted. But it wasn’t the same–it was a Blake vs Newton moment. So I switch back to English and haven’t regretted … except that perhaps with math I would have earned more money.

8) Why write, as opposed to doing anything  else?

Writing opens up the world for me, releases the imagination with such elation. It is hard work at times, but it is such a joy to discover what can be written about next, or when I feel I’ve managed to capture what I was trying to say or that a poem has evolved in a direct I wasn’t expecting at all. I love drawing and I love photography, too. For a while, I fancied creating comics, but my drawing skills just aren’t good enough and I’m much more critical of them than of my writing ability. If I’m drawing and drawing and it just continues to look like shit, I give up, whereas if my writing is failing and crashing, I try to learn why and make it better. No matter how hard my writing/poems has fallen on its face, I’m willing to get up, brush myself off, and try again. I don’t know of anything else in my life, with the exception of my relationships with my family, am I willing to do that with.

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

I’m sure others have answered this before, but the simple answer is ‘Write, write, write!’ It definitely takes a discipline, in particular to write everyday, but that is the essential step.

What makes the difference is what you do with the writing. If it’s purely for your enjoyment, that’s fine. However, if you intend to share it and perhaps publish it, then being a writer also entails ‘Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting!’ You have to not only be able to create, but as Allen Ginsberg said, to ‘kill your darlings’ as well. To realize you’ve not gone far enough or deep enough. To be willing to learn. Basically, you’ve got to be willing to put the time in. And that takes passion, and from that passion springs a commitment, a commitment that if you were tasked to describe yourself, being a writer would be first and foremost.

Being a writer is not a completely joyful task—it is very stressful, full of hard work, but it calls to you. It’s an innate calling that you have to come terms with, make peace with. So in that regard, “How do you become a writer?” also means recognizing that passion, that calling within yourself and acting on it.

10. Tell me about a writing project you’re involved with at the moment.

I’m currently putting together my debut poetry collection, “The Aesthetics of Breath“, which will be published by V.Press in November 2019. The publisher, Sarah Leavesley, is a very thorough, committed editor, and I’m enjoying working with her. She’s very hands on and it’s good to get her opinion on my work. The other half of the project is putting together a strategic plan on how to promote it, which I’m currently doing with Nichola Deane, whose collection “Cuckoo” is also being published by V.Press at the same time.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Paul Sutton

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.


Parables for the Pouring Rain, (BlazeVOX, December 2018)

Paul Sutton

was born in London, 1964, but brought up in Hertfordshire and Wiltshire. He graduated from Jesus College, Oxford, worked in industry until 2004, then left to travel, and now teaches English at a secondary school. He finds this environment stimulating – the joys, rages and stresses are exactly the spurs needed for writing. And the insight gained is revealing; of how dull and pointless most ‘mainstream’ poetry seems, to those who don’t have to feign interest.
A related inspiration is the liberal intelligentsia’s stranglehold on poetry – the absurd perfection and self-appointed moral guardianship, of language and much else, that they seek. Poetically, this is manifested in the domination (particularly in Britain) of the low-voltage faux-modest lyrical anecdote.
He has published six poetry collections –Falling Off (The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, January 2015) was Poetry Book Society Recommended Autumn Reading, in 2015.

His most recent are The Diversification of Dave Turnip (The Knives, Forks and Spoons, March 2017) and Parables for the Pouring Rain (from US avant-publisher BlazeVox, December 2018):




The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

My father was an Eliot fanatic, and I was immediately hooked. As a teenager, I tried to write some Eliot-like pastiches. He also bought me this corny anthology “Other Men’s Flowers”, which I devoured.

I did sciences at A-level – hated dropping English – and also at university. But I wrote for myself, for years – mostly lyrics, for imaginary bands.

I had no idea how to get anything published – though, tragically, used to send stuff to competitions! Crazy. Eventually I joined a poetry writing class – and the discipline of that gave me the focus (and the anger) to be much more serious.

1.1 What was it about Eliot that hooked you?

The sleazy, urban settings, mixed with mythology. Dad played recordings – and I couldn’t believe the dryness and precision of the voice. I’d heard Dylan Thomas – who I now revere – but I was repulsed by the gaminess of it! And Eliot has phrases which, once heard, you can never forget. At the time, I’d never read any urban poetry.

At school, we’d have done Hughes – but all that animal stuff bored me to death. The first modern English poet I liked was Roy Fisher – in fact, I wrote him a fan letter, in 1997, and corresponded on and off with him – organised an Oxford reading, in 1999.

1.2 What attracted you to the sleazy, urban settings, mixed with mythology?

I’ve very powerful memories of late 60s/early 70s London – especially around Kings Cross, to which my parents commuted (both doctors, they worked at University College Hospital). It’s a very Eliot landscape – with Bloomsbury next door (Russell Square in particular). Utterly changed now – but the mythology is both universal but touching – and funny:

While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse.
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.

2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

When I write, I’m totally unaware of them, at a conscious level. But unconsciously, I guess everything one has read is somehow accessed – when it’s going well.

I don’t think any contemporary British poets are “dominating” – perhaps the last who were would be Larkin or Auden.

The “elder statesmen” poets we’ve had recently, at least here, are too dull for that. Heaney is a frightful bore. Geoffrey Hill is more interesting, but lacks any of Eliot’s magic. Hughes leaves me cold.

The recent ones I most admire – Roy Fisher, Ken Smith, Peter Reading – aren’t dominating, they’re wonderfully underrated. The big names – Don Paterson, Armitage and Duffy say – just aren’t good enough. No wonder they’re so unknown internationally.

But wonderful American poets – say Ashbery – well, that’s different. But he’s inimitable.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I wait until I feel pressured, almost obsessed – and then do it, wherever. I’ve often written at work. But then I’ll edit – mostly for the dynamics. I tend to write sequences, so usually have one “on the go”.

This may be misleading – since the ideas are always churning around. Then a phrase comes. For example, I wanted to write something on pure joy, but had a terrible awareness and inhibition, of how awful that could be.

I was in my local, and a song I realised I loved “Heaven must be missing an angel” came on – and that gave me it:


4. Is this need to write about a particular thing what motivates you to write?

Yes, though there’s more than one! But I’ve certain obsessive ideas and interests – decay, violence, crime, gentrification, authenticity, serial killers, humiliation – and many more. I especially like mixing the absurd and hyper-reality (as opposed to surrealism, which I dislike). The great French writer Celine (can’t do the accent on the e) is the model for that. I think this captures our reality our frenzied state far better than surrealism, which is often very dull.

4.1. How would you describe hyper-reality?

“Hyper-reality” is a frenzied state, but using concrete objects and ideas from the base situation. It merges internal and external consciousness, without any distinction.

In fiction, Dostoevsky’s most psychological prose would be a perfect example.

4.2. No distinction between fantasy and reality?

Well, more like an elision. But the important thing is a heightened energy – almost a delirium. The point then is to make it readable.

Another favourite (prose) writer of mine – the crime/psychological novelist Patricia Highsmith – is brilliant at it.

4.2. How do you make it more readable?

That’s the question!

I think far too many people – I’ve certainly been guilty – forget this. Poetry is a very highly differentiated type of writing, simply from its name – with all the connotations.

Personally, I just read it cold, and see if I find it interesting.

I ignore all the stuff about form/craft – NOT that this is unimportant. But it can totally obscure the basic act of reading.

As for what makes things readable, I’m convinced it’s pacing and energy – how this is structured. I’m unconvinced “poetic craft” is that relevant – though it is vital, for the poet.

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

I’m so glad you focus on “writers”, not just poets. By “young” I guess you mean early teens on?

Hugely! I’m addicted to all the Sherlock Holmes stories – which I reread constantly. And Orwell was my first great love, at school. And Alan Sillitoe. Then I discovered Greene and Waugh. I remember reading “Decline and Fall” literally in the middle of A-level exams. But then reading say Kafka or Doesteovsky – well, it’s like an explosion.

I think the influence is in subject matter; both the mainstream and the dull “experimental” people, with their obsessions over form, seem very limited. Put very crudely, poetry is so marginal an activity that this is pointless.

Subject matter is so much more interesting to experiment in. And virtually all poets seem too sane and measured – poetry can inherently create this “superior seer” mode, which increasingly seems ridiculous.

Again, very crudely, so much mainstream work seems “nice” and preachy – almost like Soviet era propaganda, but for a patronising left-liberal mindset. The group-think aspects are horrific.

6. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I won’t (much) distinguish between living and dead!

I think Coetzee is by far the greatest living prose writer, in English. “Disgrace” is his masterpiece. I can’t think of a better modern political novel, which uses the human condition and exposes the ruthless authoritarianism of modern “liberals”.

I’d say the same of Philip Roth. “American Pastoral” is comparable to “Devils”. Again, he is driven and almost deranged, but incredibly tight and, when that novel ends, one is speechless.

I also think David Mamet is a genius. Better than most poets, in energy, rhythm and imagery. He captures so much that “on message” writers can’t.

Poets I especially admire are: Ken Smith, Roy Fisher, Peter Reading, John Ashbery (all dead, but near contemporary).

I’d not want to say much about truly contemporary ones – but Martin Stannard is one of the finest British poets. I also admire David Harsent, though he is too much “in the scene”.

I think Tom Raworth is outstanding – above all, for the speed and the energy.

7. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write because I love doing it; it’s the only way I can use how I feel and think.

I’m a state secondary school English teacher – working part time; I don’t think a poet can write “full time” – you need another string.

I worked in contract negotiation, purchasing offshore gas fields, for years – a highly technical and very aggressive environment. I hated the corporate environment, but it was very inspiring – I used to write (and photocopy!) extensively at work.

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

I don’t want to sound trite – but you write and, above all, find out if you can stomach your own stuff. Read it sideways, drunk – whatever. Reread it constantly – and, any slight dislikes you have, act on.

What you don’t do is listen to self-appointed gatekeepers, droning on about whatever.

You find what you enjoy writing, and focus on that,

The “poetry world” is now – like so much of life – managerial and group-thinking, with ludicrous prizes and meaningless “leading figures”.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having picked up their latest hyped figure/collection and thought (as a reader):

“Christ, this is shit.”

Not always, of course. But it’s best to not try and fit into that structure.

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

I’ve this alter-ego (Dave Turnip), who I thought was finished with me – but I don’t think is.

My last Knives Forks and Spoons’ collection (“The Diversification of Dave Turnip“) collected up all the work – and was illustrated, by an amazing comic artist:


The madman has now started stalking me, and I’m going to do another one, as a graphic novel.

He moves between service stations, waits for those perfect dawns found only on slip-roads.

Then foot down – and he’s in the rear-view mirror.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Clark Allison

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.

Clark Allison

Born 1961 Glasgow. Attended Glasgow University 80-81. Resident in California 83-92. Studied further at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Took up library studies at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen 93-98. In continuing education in Aberdeen 2000s. Moved to West Lothian 2015. Publications include two pamphlets ‘Temporal Shift/Daubs’ (Trombone Pr 98) as Carl Engerson, ‘Unspoken’ (Smallminded Books 17). Reviews and poems in Shearsman, Robert Sheppard’s Pages blog, Tears in the Fence, Stride particularly. More limited work experience, though trained in librarianship. Continuing regardless with periodic reading/studying and a varying amount of writing.


Stride stridemagazine.blogspot.com/

and archive https://www.stridebooks.co.uk/archive.htm

Shearsman www.shearsman.com

Robert Sheppard Pages robertsheppard.blogspot.com/

Tears in the Fence https://tearsinthefence.com

The Interview

1.What inspired you to write poetry?

I might prefer a term like ‘persuaded’ or ‘conduced’, since I didn’t have to write. However, I put a lot of it down to social adjustment, and how one chooses to think or behave. The short version would have to cite the anthology ‘Poetry 1900-75’ (Longman 80) ed George MacBeth, which was read and studied in high school, including such poets as Eliot, Yeats and Edwin Muir (no MacDiarmid incidentally).

Having become acquainted with poetry especially in high school, but also essay writing generally, I took it upon myself to continue with a significant amount of reading and writing after I left high school. I wanted to, and did read more by Eliot, including a biography of his early years by Lyndall Gordon. I thought Prufrock and The Wasteland set the bar for short form poems, real set pieces, other instances being Olson’s ‘Kingfishers’ or Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’, though this type of poem is actually quite rare, and maybe even ill advised! And yet equally I’m altogether out of the kind of class consciousness Eliot presented or inhabited, my parents were not well to do, it was a sense for me of being inspired by the writing.

I did write poems after high school. These were decidedly not modelled on Eliot, nor really on anybody else particularly. I’d say my earlier poems were much more influenced by what I might term phenomenology or psychoanalytic association, since I was, equally, very interested in psychology, not at high school, but at university. I thought poems might engage, express and reveal what happened to be going on in my mind, but these were uses of language, too. I was getting a kind of ‘subjective’ orientation from psychology and an ‘objective’ one from Eliot, but I really wasn’t writing poems of that kind. I took up more of his critical ideas fairly seriously, the ‘objective correlative’ and the ‘dissociation of sensibility’, notably. My awareness of behaviourist social conditioning psychology (Pavlov, Skinner etc) had quite an effect, the stimulus-response school.

So, one could either write for an audience, wherein I just didn’t have one. Or one could write as an inquiry into self awareness via language, which is what I found myself doing.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Well, this goes back to the first question, that was high school English classes and mainly the MacBeth anthology. We studied Shakespeare too, ‘Lord of the Flies’, Grassic Gibbon. Memorable teaching sessions included whether The Beatles ‘She’s Leaving Home’ counted as poetry; and whether John Cage’s ‘4’33” counted as music or art of any description. I think I was early on struck by the seeming inconsequentiality of writing much. But what I called my writing exercises and reading material continued on, even after I left Scotland in 1983 for the US (until 1992). I really wasn’t sharing my writing much at this time. I found one small magazine called ‘Outposts’ that looked promising and John Calder’s ‘New Writing’ series, but I never took to sending them anything, ie where would that get me anyway?

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

Well, part of this was that I didn’t encounter any poets in person. On the other hand we did have a lecturer in film studies who had published a new book, John Caughie ‘Theories of Authorship’, and he was very engaging and down to earth, while warning us that some of the film/social studies theory was difficult.

The key poets for me, Eliot and Yeats, were long gone. In terms of successors to them, I wasn’t really coming up with a lot. I went off to the States and found that they were much more interested in Pound and Olson rather than Eliot, too Anglophile, likely. In Los Angeles, where I lived, I did encounter Holly Prado’s writing group in person. She’s a fine poet I think, married to Harry Northup an actor and fellow poet, published by Bill Mohr’s Momentum press, and I think I gained a lot from her seminars. She was unintimidating. One felt mostly an invitation to try to comprehend the process, which for her certainly included classical myth like Orphism and Thoth (kind of the Egyptian Hermes) and a kind of sensibility question where one would be taking off from certain themes, eg Robert Bly and masculinity. Holly Prado has a wonderful essentialist work called ‘Word Rituals’ (Boxcar 2). Meanwhile I was if anything more interested in the journals Temblor (ed Leland Hickman) and Sulfur (ed Clayton Eshleman), to whom I submitted but was not published. Hickman encouraged me to send work on, even though as it turned out he didn’t use it, and there was a short correspondence. Paul Vangelisti who had been in Temblor was also running seminars, but I felt it beyond me, and not altogether reasonable, to attend both.

I also submitted work to Barrett Watten at ‘Poetics Journal’ (co-ed Lyn Hejinian) and James Sherry at Roof publishers, which they did not use, but were considerate and respectful in responding. I continued writing exercises on my own account, feeling it, as I said, possibly revelatory or therapeutic, part of the process of getting through things. Reading Kerouac and Burroughs helped a little too. But I had little cognisance of any eventual reader.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I effectively don’t have one. I try to set aside time for writing, and try to write down anything halfway important that pops into my head. My appetite for writing exercises has reduced, whereas I might formerly write 3 pages a week, now it might be less than one even. I guess I try to establish where it fits in in terms of psychological need. I don’t set a quota.

5. What motivates you to write?

I guess this is back to the psychology. I’d maintain there is a revelatory aspect to writing, ie going through the act of doing writing changes something and it can be personally enlightening and perhaps socially too if you share your work. It might be a bit like thinking and feeling out loud. Write it down! even if for personal reference.

6. What is your work ethic?

I studied continuing education philosophy. Ethics is exceedingly complicated. More than anything I’m a bit of a Darwinian, ie the survival and preservation of the self and of those others in the collective you happen to identify with. Compared say with crop failure and starvation writing poetry can seem like very small beer. On the other hand writing creativity can be inculcated in the education process. Writing surely has an ethics if we seem to mostly be disagreeing just what that is. Art for art’s sake has an argument behind it, but does not seem to me fully defensible, but then neither is Soviet style social realism..

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

Here I could perhaps mention that there were a few writers very relevant for me early on, and they still are. All that has happened is that some of my more youthful enthusiasms have worn out to an extent, so that I’ve diverted attention more latterly to such poets as Charles Bernstein, DuPlessis, Silliman and Nathaniel Tarn. I think that High Modernism is on the wane, and we’re diverting more attention back to the Romantic poets like Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley etc. Ah, did ‘Ancient Mariner’ in high school, but I don’t think it’s at all Coleridge’s best; I look more to the ‘Biographia Literaria’. I think accepting the claims of new writers is a cause for some perplexity; they have to persuade and convince, always that problem of the primacy of first acquaintance.

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

This overflows from the last one. One could get quite caught up in a long list. Trying to keep it short. Among contemporaries, usually older, I would include people like Bernstein, who’s a bit of a spokesman for the Language school, Silliman, Bruce Andrews, DuPlessis, Hejinian, in Britain more ‘innovative’ poets like Robert Sheppard, Maggie O’Sullivan, who actually I struggle with, Ken Edwards, Denise Riley, Peter Riley (no relation as he keeps saying), Prynne, Wilkinson, Drew Milne, Andrew Duncan, Alan Halsey, Geraldine Monk, Rupert Loydell, Martin Stannard, Charlie Baylis, Allen Fisher, Rod Mengham, David Rushmer, Kenneth Goldsmith (the Conceptual school), another struggler for me Vahni Capildeo, also poets in translation, but there it tends to thin out, Raul Zurita etc or Zizek’s latest pronouncements on theory and crit.

What I admire most is a sympathy with the innovative and progressive, and addressing writing to the realities that confront us today. However, I don’t think we have to be loud or confrontational, a lot of what’s effective comes out of the words themselves.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Well, everything in a sense surely comes down to communication and behaviour, of which communication is a part. Communication can take numerous forms, and indeed many writers now are trying to experiment with other artforms besides, like installations or video etc. I just regard writing essentially as part and parcel of communicating., and that includes the likes of social theory, in which I’m also very interested (eg structuralism, Frankfurt School, narratology etc).

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

Here I think early education is very important, preschool and primary school included, literacy. Where you have a certain fluency with words it becomes a possibility. But it ties in with motivation. What do you want to do, or achieve? What are your better skills? What is the best use of your time?

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

Here it becomes a bit indeterminate. I’ve just had a few book reviews posted or due to appear online, of writing by Wilkinson, Richard Gwyn and Vicente Huidobro. There may be some more poems, but I have to say the muse is not entirely with me at present. I seem to have gotten into a pattern of writing responsively to other things I’ve read. I like Terry Eagleton’s phrase, ‘hope without optimism’.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rupert Loydell

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.


Rupert Loydell

is Senior Lecturer in the School of Writing and Journalism at Falmouth University, a writer, editor and abstract artist. He has many books of poetry in print, including Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and The Return of the Man Who Has Everything (Shearsman 2015); has edited anthologies such as Yesterday’s Music Today (co-edited with Mike Ferguson, Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2014), Smartarse (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011) , From Hepworth’s Garden Out (Shearsman, 2010) and Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: manifestos and unmanifestos (Salt, 2010). He has contributed creative and academic writing to Punk & Post-Punk (which he is on the editorial board of), Journal of Writing and Creative Practice, Musicology Research, New Writing, Axon, Text, English, Revenant, The Quint: an interdisciplinary journal from the north, and Journal of Visual Art Practice; and co-authored a chapter in Brian Eno. Oblique Music (Bloomsbury, 2017) and in Critical Essays on Twin Peaks: The Return (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

Stride magazine is now online at:  http://stridemagazine.blogspot.com/

Details of Loydell’s Shearsman books are at:  https://www.shearsman.com/british-poetry-books-H-L  [scroll down]

Details of Loydell’s Salt books are at: https://www.saltpublishing.com/collections/author-rupert-loydell

Details of Loydell’s solo and collaborative books from KFS are at:  https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/all-books

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I attempted to write poetry at school, although my English teacher thought all poetry should be formal and did not encourage my early work. Like many others, I started to write dreadful teenage poetry to emote about girlfriends (real and imaginary) and the pains of adolescence. When I started an Art Foundation course at 17, Brian Louis Pearce – a poet friend of my father, was the librarian at the college and encouraged me to attend the college poetry group. He also introduced me to small presses, poetry magazines and various poetry reading events. Living in London I was very lucky to be able to see many authors reading, including Ted Hughes performing Crow, Tom Pickard with Robert Creeley, and Peter Redgrove, as well as many more obscure authors. In the mid to late 1980s there was still a culture of alternative bookshops that stocked small press zines and pamphlets.

2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I don’t think I was very much. I had to study Shakespeare at school, but as a playwright, and I was lucky enough to go to a school that was sensible enough to take us to see performances rather than just rely on the text. So, I saw Macbeth in four different productions over two years. I think we studied Keats at some point, and probably the WW1 poets. I didn’t take much notice.

My father, who had become a teacher after being an engineer, loved T.S. Eliot, and I had to study ‘The Waste Land’ but also loved it, mostly as declamation and a London poem. I guess the formative poets for me were Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot, Robert Creeley and Brian Patten. Adrian Mitchell, too. Only later did I pick up on Eliot as a Modernist, Creeley as a Black Mountain poet, and Patten as one of The Liverpool Poets, which Adrian Mitchell was an accessory to, although more political and anarchic.

Tradition simply seems to me to be another word for history, and history has tended to be somebody in power’s version of things, trying to establish some sort of canon. I’m not that keen on those kind of ideas, but I do read contemporary (20th and 21st Century) poetry widely, although as I get older I try and spend more time with poetry of interest. I’m not very interested in end-of-line rhyming verse, or poems that tell stories, heading towards some kind of epiphany or answer.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m not sure I have one. I often grab some time in the morning to read and edit, I sometimes take paper drafts to work to work on, I have notebooks in all my coat and jacket pockets, I sometimes type new texts up at work and email them home to myself. A lot of my poetry is assembled from other texts, including my own, or written back to images and ideas. I tend to write some poems in my head before committing to the page, others are forced out of the textual material around me to get a first draft I can work on. Most poems stay in my writing folder for several months, being re-read and edited most days, before I decide they are finished. There is usually enough time to get notes and phrases down, and other times to shape and edit properly in my study.

4. What motivates your writing?

I am interested in the amount of information we are swamped by now, and how memory, time and our attitude sieves and juxtaposes that. I also write about (or from) fine art and place. I think language is wonderful and enjoy playing with it: it’s how we understand the world and is a fantastic elastic, pliable and elusive medium to work with.

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

An interesting question. ‘The Waste Land’ certainly provides a model for collage and juxtaposition, though I dislike the author’s assumption that we’d be learned enough to know Sanskrit and Mandarin and various European languages. Robert Creeley was a master of minimalism, and transcribing thought processes as they happen, alongside the imagistic. Peter Redgrove, who I was fortunate enough to publish several books by through Stride, opened my eyes to radical use of the senses and the mystical; I’d probably put Ted Hughes’ Crow sequence alongside Redgrove’s work, although it adds mythical and magical elements. Brian Patten showed me the romantic and idealistic; Adrian Mitchell the political lyric and satire. I don’t know if any of them except Creeley have had a lasting and ongoing influence, but formative influences are fine! Sometimes one needs to revisit the familiar past – I’ve actually had a volume of Patten’s selected love poems beside the bed for a couple of weeks, as I picked it up cheap in a secondhand bookshop recently. There are other works such as Ken Smith’s original version of Fox Running, Gavin Selerie’s Azimuth, and Julian Beck’s poetry and theatre journals that I still return to.

I think the music I listen to (and sometimes review or write about), as well as the visual arts, creative non-fiction, postmodern theology, cultural theory and art criticism, along with a number of contemporary poets all influence me far more than those writers from the/my past.

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

Wow, how much time do you have? Allen Fisher, Robert Sheppard, Rachel DuPlessis, for their sustained sequences and linguistic explorations. Charles Wright (who Stride published in the UK and Europe) and David Miller for their obsessions with doubt and faith. Luke Kennard and Dean Young for their wit and absurdism. Cole Swensen for her discreet themed projects. Other books by many other authors, including Mark Strand, Sheila Murphy, Ann Lauterbach, Tony Lopez, John Wilkinson, Alan Halsey, Brenda Coultas, Barrett Watten, Jorie Graham. Influences from deceased poets such as Robert Lax, John Berryman, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Ted Berrigan, William Everson, Thomas Merton, Karen Solie, Kenneth Patchen, John Taggart, Yannis Ritsos, Montale.

I like the fiction and creative non-fiction of Teju Cole, Iain Sinclair, Olga Tokarczuk, Dubravka Ugresic, Gabriel Josipovici, Giles Gordon, Rodrigo Fresán, Joan Didion, J.G. Ballard, Charles Williams, Guy Davenport, Alan Garner, Russell Hoban and many others; I have big bookshelves. The third book in Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla trilogy has just arrived – I am so looking forward to reading that.

I think I should stress that I admire the work, not so much the authors. I know they’re entwined, but it’s the work that counts.

Fiction and music and non-fiction has as much influence on my poetry as poetry itself. In fact I find it much harder these days to get excited about books of poems than non-fiction.

7. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

What a strange question. I do lots of other things, just as any other writer does. I have a day job as a university lecturer, I am an editor for various journals and magazines, I am an abstract artist who has solo and group exhibitions, and in the past I have performed and recorded with various bands. I’m also a father, a friend, a canoeist, a sailor, a car driver, a letter writer, an avid reader and listener, and a hundred other things.

As I said above, I write because I am interested in how we (society) and I (just me) deal with the changing world around us, which we understand through language. Language is how we think and construct our world. I like what happens on the pages of text I construct, and other people seem to do so too.

8. What makes non fiction more exciting than poetry?

Mostly that it’s not full of people emoting and whining about themselves. If am more polite, I think that the forms of Creative Non-Fiction are really being pushed at the moment, combining prose poetry, fiction, biography, mapping, psychology, photography, geography and other subjects. I’d recommend David Shield’s book Reality Hunger, a kind of collaged poetics of non-fiction as a pivotal document. What’s interesting is that experiment and innovation in creative non-fiction are happening in the mainstream, whereas fewer and fewer poetry publishers are publishing innovative poetry. More than ever, the most interesting poetry is happening live, online, in limited edition pamphlets and artist’s books. One has to look harder than ever, I think. Maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy old man.

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

I would say start writing, but also start reading and find out how and why poetry has changed in the last century. Read work that confuses, puzzles and surprises you. Work out why you dislike or like some work. Think about how poetry might be renewed or adapted for the 21st century: it clearly makes no sense to write 16th century sonnets about courtly romance today, though that doesn’t mean the sonnet can’t be [ab]used as a poetic form. Think, also, about what you are doing that is different. I always tell my students that it is almost impossible to write new teenage love poems; also that most people have been through that experience. We don’t need any more poems on certain subjects, and we don’t need any poems that work by empathy, that we respond to by emoting and saying ‘I feel that too’.

On a practical level there will come a point for an aspiring writer where the work meets an audience, be that a writing group, a magazine editor (and maybe the readers) or a seminar group at university. That changes everything. The realization that poetry, indeed all writing, goes out alone into the world, open to misunderstanding, dislike and being ignored, is a shocking moment. The more you understand how language works, what poetry can and does do, how the publishing industry and the alternatives work, the better you are prepared.

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

I have just submitted a new book to Shearsman, which is the third and final part of a loose trilogy about Renaissance paintings, Italy and the annunciation. It includes a section written by Sarah Cave, who I worked with on the second part, Impossible Songs. I’m starting to think about a follow up to The Return of the Man Who Has Everything, which includes more of a loose grouping of my occasional poems, often collaged in response to what is going on around me

I’m working with several authors and artists, including Maria Stadnicka, on poetry and prose poetry about death and how the dead ‘live on’. Not in any spiritual or ghostly sense, but how we remember them, the objects and traces they leave behind. Daniel Y Harris and I have more collaborative books to take to print, and I am working on several interviews with writers and musicians for academic journals. My university colleague the novelist Amy Lilwall and I have almost completed a second short prose work which we are looking to publish in an academic journal, and Kingsley Marshall, the Head of Film at Falmouth University and I are working on a new book chapter and a new conference presentation about Twin Peaks: The Return. We’re also wondering about continuing our collaborative writing about the music of Brian Eno.

I will also be continuing to write book and music reviews for International Times and I have been invited to write a critical book about Brian Eno’s albums, which I am not sure I have the time for at the moment. But you never know…

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Muanis Sinanović

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


Muanis Sinanović

(1989) is a Slovenian poet, writer and an essayist of Bosniak descent. He has published three books of poetry and an experimental novella. His first book was awarded as a best first book in Slovenia at the 2012 Slovenian Book Fair. His writings have appeared in numerous regional magazines as well as in a Greek and Czech anthologies of young Slovenian poetry. He has read in different cities across Europe and has been a host at the Sarajevo writer’s residency in 2016 and a European Poetry Festival (London) in 2018. Occasionally he translates and is also involved in literary, film, music and theatre criticism. He’s also an editor of IDIOT literary magazine. Currently he is working on flash fiction, his next poetry book, a book of essays about immigrant experience in Slovenia, an avant-garde music-poetry collaboration with Andrej Tomažin, and experiments with literary performance.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry? 

Aside from writing some lines about kebab for a bad joke in a high school earlier, I started writing first poems at the age of 17 on a web forum. It was a hard period in my life, struggling on a personal level in many ways. My father had died recently. I caused a lot of troubles at school and spent a lot of time reading and posting random stuff on the Internet. I was reading a lot of modernist literature back then. There was a section on a web forum for literature. I just tried writing. And it seemed to me that I have found a field of free play, noninhibited imagination and a possibility to free myself from the pressure of meaning, from a seemingly inescapable flow of everyday conventions. Then I continued. A guy who worked at a bookstore discovered me, he is now my old friend, his name is Jernej Terseglav. At one point he invited me to a reading at his working place in the capital city of Ljubljana. Four people turned out and it was my first contact with the poetry world.

2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Very aware. In Slovenia, where poets are considered to be fathers of the nation, you can’t avoid it. Despite the fact that poets are not nearly as influential today as they were in the past, some of them still gain almost mythical status in literary community. Some of them succeed in one way and don’t want to listen to anyone else. I wrote harsh polemics against them. But I don’t do it anymore. I’ve found out that if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t listen, at some point you will cease to listen and repeat their mistakes. On the other hand, from almost all of the poets I’ve admired and turned to them, all of them gave me a positive feedback and helped me to overcome the myth of a great poet.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t think I have one. I work on ideas almost all the time in my mind. And when they crystalize, I put them down. It wouldn’t be possible if I would write the novels, of course. But with poems, flash fiction and essays I just wait for some kind of inner energy and lucidity to be at a peak level and then I put it down with deep focus and attention. Usually I do it in the evening. I read, watch things and play videogames, do sports a lot in between. I go to theatre, organize events and so on, so my schedule is not fixed at all and is depended on daily circumstances. But there is one constant – I like to go to sleep very late and wake up quite late too. Living in a nonstressful small town or in a small capital allows me that. Sometimes having long walks at night help me to develop ideas. Then I just feel an urge to run home and write.

4. What motivates you to write?

A wish to give sublime a form and communicate it with some other people. Before there was sometimes a need to prove something with writing but not anymore.

4.1. What does “sublime a form” mean to you?

To shape a feeling of sublime which appears at different occasions in our lives, to give it some form, to be able to share little personal revelations with other people.

4.2 How would you describe “sublime”?

I would say that sublime is something that is bigger than us or our daily lives and we are in the awe in front of it.
I’m religious but it doesn’t need to be of explicitly religious nature, it can be found, for example, in the power of history, nature, scientific achievements or even in a language. Sci-fi fiction is, for example, very concerned with the sublime. There are lot of authors interested in everyday life and ordinary things. I’m mainly on the other side, I’m interested in what’s beyond ordinary. But separation is not complete, sublime and ordinary live along each other.

4.3. Why does “ sublime” evoke awe?

Because it is unexpected, it is not something we are prepatwenties. Srečko Kosovel, a tragic poetry hero, was bringing constructivism into poetry, and there was a great amount of experimental poets among leading people of the Communist party which was idealistic and organized great partisan resistance in the world war. Oskar Davičo was one among them, a great poet. In the sixties and seventies new vanguardes emerged, for example Slovenian group OHO, Šalamun became world famous but there were other very special guys too, like Iztok Geister for exemple..

4.4. Why was Iztok Geister very special?

He revolutionized understanding of art in Slovenia with his introduction of concrete poetry and other vanguard techniques, he was a driven artist at a very young age and helped greatly with organizing the underground scene. Later, he turned to more conventional poetry, to ecology and to study of birds.

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

A Slovenian poet Miklavž Komelj is influential for me. London based Steven J. Fowler and Astra Papachristodolou have introduced me to a lot of inspiring young writers and encouraged me – with their own work too – to think about role of literature in our times and to experiment some more. I love Patrick Modiano. Alenka Jovanovski has published a powerful book recently. Augusto Monterosso has been dead for 15 years now but his writings inspired me to write flash fiction and experiment with shorter forms and he was a late discovery for me. There are a lot of friends, fellow writers doing new things at the moment and it would be hard to mention them all, I would certainly leave someone out and it would be unfair.

6.. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Mainly because I find myself being better at writing than doing anything else and I find it more fun than anything else.
I find it meaningful also, but there are other vocations that are meaningful too, maybe even more – doctors, teachers for example.

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

Be playful. Don’t be discouraged quickly. Take words with a grain of salt, they are not holy but respect them at the same time.
Think about who your ideal reader is and consider her in your writing.

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

My next poetry book is predicted to be published next year, all the poems are already written actually. I’m starting a poetry-music project with my friend, the words will probably be mostly English. I’m writing a book of essays on places I inhabit, people I know and experiences of immigrants. Slowly short short stories are being written and I will probably publish a collection of them in next few years.

Thank you for interviewing me, Paul!