Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
is a poet, visual artist and curator living and working in south-east London. She has had poetry published in various publications including Poetry London, Ambit, The Rialto, Poetry Daily, POEM, and the Moth among others. Her debut pamphlet Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity is out with Goldsmiths Press (available via Burley Fisher Books). Ella was shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize 2017.
Ella is a trustee and editor for Magma Poetry. She was awarded a fully funded scholarship for the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway University 2016 and was awarded a place on the prestigious Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme.
In 2014, she was shortlisted for Young Poet Laureate for London with Spread the Word. She was also shortlisted twice for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize from Cambridge University and for the Bridport Poetry Prize 2015.
Ella has completed residencies for the National Trust, Tate Britain, SPUD (the Observatory) and most recently was poet in residence at Royal Holloway University physics department writing about the Cassini Space Mission for which she curated a multi-media ‘funeral’ event at Bold Tendencies, Peckham, on the night the spacecraft tumbled out of orbit (15th Sept 2017).
In April 2017, Ella curated an eight-day exhibition at Newlyn Art Gallery: RESISTANCE – A Short Guide to Self-Improvement as part of their Palace of Culture season which, alongside works commissioned from female filmmakers and poets, included a programme of live events, readings, workshops and talks.
She performs regularly across London and further afield including Kings Place, the Free Word Centre and the RSL. Ella was also guest speaker/poet on a panel at WoW (Women of the World) Festival at the South Bank Centre. She guest lectures at Falmouth University and University East London in Fine Art, and Creative Writing.
Her collaborative installation with artist Ben Sanderson, The Six Pillars of Modernism, was on show at Tate St.Ives, Oct 2017 – July 2018. She is currently one of four poets shortlisted for an Arts Foundation Fellowship 2019.
- What inspired you to write poetry?
In my second year of my BA at Goldsmiths we had to choose between poetry and prose. I chose poetry. The class was taught by Eva Salzman who swore a lot, was passionate and fierce. She showed us lots of brilliant poems by contemporary poets then beat us at pool in the pub after. We wrote strange, raw (probably not very good) poems that year and I fell in love with it.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
My parents were never that interested in poetry, but they did get me to memorise the Jabberwocky aged 4 (it’s still the only poem I can recite). I had a very bad English teacher in secondary school who almost turned me off language entirely. At sixth form college however the teaching was great. Our A level English Lit teacher, Jackie, read us Plath’s ‘Daddy’ at the beginning of every class – she was brilliant.
- How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement from older poets. I never felt shut out or intimidated – although I’m aware that’s not the case for everyone. Grants, scholarships and mentoring were so vital while I was waitressing full time – they helped me keep writing. With the poetry community being so small, you end up meeting – or at least being in the same room as – your heroes quite early on. I only have positive feelings about these encounters.
- What is your daily writing routine?
I’m self employed and work from home so it’s a bit erratic. I don’t tend to get dressed – it feels like a waste of clothes. I’m pretty sure my neighbours/postman think I’m either depressed or a prostitute – maybe both. I drink a lot of tea.
I read until I feel ready to write. On good writing days I’ll write through lunch until the evening without stopping. On bad days I’ll tidy, make elaborate lunches that take ages to prepare and scroll endlessly through twitter.
If I’m working on a particular project or residency things tend to get a bit chaotic about a week before the deadline. I have to remember to leave the house occasionally.
- What motivates you to write?
I guess I feel compelled to write and I’m not totally sure why. I’m less good at finishing poems though – so I need regular deadlines to motivate me to finish.
- What is your work ethic?
I enjoy my work. I also need a certain amount of projects, residencies etc to make rent. So I work hard and sometimes it feels great and sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle. Mostly I love it.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I was deeply affected by the women writers I read when I was younger – Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Jean Rhys… I think there were ideas or phrases that stuck in my head and that reappear in my work again and again in various guises.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many! I’m really excited by the things being written today. If I listed as many as I could now, I’d almost certainly miss someone vital, so I wont. But contemporary poetry is in a great place at the moment with more marginalised voices being recognised and celebrated than before- and that’s never a bad thing. More of that please!
I also edit Magma Poetry magazine so I get to see a lot of work by new, often unpublished writers all the time. There’s so, so much good stuff going on.
- Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I’m also a visual artist – although my visual arts practice often involves text.
I don’t know why writing is my thing – maybe it won’t always be. Right now, I love it.
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m just finishing a year-long project with Tate St Ives writing poems about the St Ives Modernists (Hepworth, Nicholson, Heron, et al.). They’ll be on display in the galleries this year.
I’m also writing some poems and planning an event about Cornish Path Moss (an at risk species endemic to Cornwall) for conservation organisation Back from the Brink.
There’s an exciting project in its early stages with Photographer Toby Glanville, who I worked with last year during a residency for K6 Gallery in Southampton.
I’m co-editing the current issue of Magma (on the theme of ‘Changeling’) with brilliant poet Richard Scott which will be launched in March/April this year.
And alongside these, very slowly, I’m finishing my first collection.