Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: EM STRANG

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.

Em+Strang++Bird-Woman

EM STRANG

Em is a poet and Open Book lead reader. She also facilitates workshops in Embodied Poetry, looking at the relationship between psychology, somatic experience and creative practice. Her writing preoccupations are with ‘nature’, spirituality and the relationship between the human and nonhuman. Em’s work has been published widely in anthologies and journals, was shortlisted for the 2014 Bridport Prize and selected for the Forward Anthology 2017. Bird-Woman, her first full collection, was published by Shearsman in October 2016. Bird-Woman was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prize and won the 2017 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her second collection, Horse-Man, will be published in September 2019.

The Interview

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

I began writing poetry age 16. At least, that’s when I began writing ‘in earnest’, and oh boy, some of it was really earnest! At the time, it was a refuge for me; a way of processing stuff with words and images; and a means (along with other intoxicants) of escaping reality. It was also a gateway into the minds and lives of others – reading other poets’ work made me feel part of a community of people who thought and felt like I did. To the outside world, though, poetry was my own private realm. I almost never shared what I wrote – that wasn’t important to me at the time. I got hooked quickly and haven’t stopped making poems since.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

School teachers. In particular, an English teacher called Mr Craddock in secondary school. He lit the fire of poetry in me and then derided my attempts to write it. I’ve never forgotten the ascerbic remarks he made about my first batch of poems. It took me years to pluck up the courage to share my work after that.

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

When I began writing poetry, I suppose I was aware, in that I looked up to older (and dead) poets and admired their work. I remember feeling glad that they’d written such great poems and it inspired me to keep going. I did pedestal them, though, for sure, and sometimes I’d whine that there was no way I was ever going to write like them. Nowadays, I’m glad I don’t write like anyone else. I don’t experience older poets (or dead ones) as dominating; I’m just getting on and doing what I do. The comparison game is one of endless suffering.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a daily writing practice. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I write in my journal every morning, but it’s generally not poetry and it’s only for 5 minutes. The only daily practice I have which I’m incredibly disciplined about is meditation, prayer, journaling and yoga. If poems come, that’s a bonus.

However, not having a daily writing practice is a new development in my creative life: from about age twenty until my early forties, I got up at 6am every morning without fail and wrote for an hour and a half. Once children came along, that was sometimes interrupted, but I stuck to this routine like glue for more than two decades.

  1. What motivates you to write?
  • A desire to dig beneath the surface of everyday life.
  • An utter delight in the feel and sound and imagery of words.
  • A search for the sacred and the divine.
  • A poem’s ‘demand’ to be written down.
  1. What is your work ethic?

Never force a poem. Write when you’re inspired to write. Commit to your work wholeheartedly. Show up at the page when you know you have to. Never beat yourself up about ‘not writing enough’. Never over-congratulate yourself on producing multiple, award-winning tomes. Just write, but only if you love it, not because you’ve got tangled up in the identity trap of ‘I am a poet’. Having said that, I had to go through that, so maybe it’s a kind of rite of passage?

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

I think they influence me enormously. I still love the poets I loved as a young woman – Walt Whitman, R.S. Thomas, Tomas Tranströmer, Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bishop, Rumi – and I think their diverse mixture of pared back clarity, spiritual exuberance and psychological insight are all evident in my work.

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

Alice Oswald because her poems are alive in a somatic sense – I receive them bodily. I love her risk-taking and playfulness, her incredible ear and the way in which she uses myth to explore the human condition.

Mourid Barghouti because of the powerful simplicity, poignancy and directness of his writing, and the fact that he has never given up.

Nikola Madzirov because I adore the unmistakable flavour of Eastern European writing – a kind of pure, hardcore plum brandy. Again, it’s the ‘cleanness’ of the language that I’m drawn to; nothing is extraneous.

  1. Why do you write?

To thrive.

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

I’d say forget about ‘becoming a writer’ and become a human being who writes and reads a lot. I’d say read books that make you come alive and write stuff for fun. I’d say play and allow yourself to say whatever you want, no holds barred.

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

I’m currently in the final editing phase of my second poetry collection, Horse-Man, which is coming out with Shearsman in September 2019.

I’m also punting my first, very short novel, Quinn, around various publishing houses.

I’m working on a new, long, narrative poem about identity, which I think has quite a lot to do with the Divine Mother.

I’ve a non-fiction book on the backburner, The Contemplative Mind: Poetry in the Making, as I don’t have time for it at the moment.

 

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