Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Julia Webb

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.

Threat Cover WEB

Julia Webb

graduated from UEA’s poetry MA in 2010. She lives in Norwich where she works for Gatehouse Press, is a poetry editor for Lighthouse and teaches creative writing. Her first collection, Bird Sisters, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016.  Her second collection, Threat, will be published by Nine Arches in May 2019. Her poem ‘We is in the bank” won the 2018 Battered Moons poetry competition. To find out more: http://juliawebb.org/ She blogs at: http://visual-poetics.blogspot.co.uk/ and tweets: @Julwe1

Read more about her new collection: http://ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/threat.html

The Interview 

Thank you so much for asking me to complete your questionnaire – it is always good to be made to think about what I do and why .

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

I began writing poetry in my teens – back then I wrote it for myself and it was (as you would expect) full of angst. I kept writing poetry on and off over the years – although for a while I concentrated on short stories – before coming to it more seriously when I was 40. I had started a degree in Creative Writing at Norwich School of Art and Design (now Norwich University of the Arts) thinking I would focus on prose but rediscovered my love for poetry – it’s conciseness, its ability to distil the essence of an idea and, more than anything its playfulness and the exciting things it can do with language.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

I had some poetry books as a child – mostly bought for me by my mum – The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse, The Golden Treasury of Poetry (edited by Louis Untermeyer) and Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry and her Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. I also had two books of poems by A.A. Milne and a lovely copy of The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear. All of these were books that I read and re-read countless times. I don’t remember much poetry at school – in fact I only remember studying Cargoes by John Masefield.

On the creative writing degree the poets George Szirtes, Andrea Holland and Helen Ivory were the tutors that re-awakened my love for both reading and writing poems.

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

I am guessing by that you mean poets of the past. The books I read as a child were mostly full of older poems – in fact it was not until I left home and started looking for poetry on my own that I discovered that there were interesting contemporary poets. The male female balance in those books I read as a child was definitely mostly male heavy and I was delighted as an adult to discover so many great (and often overlooked) female writers. I still read older poetry now but tend to read more contemporary work. I think it is important to read and be aware of both. If you study art history you need to learn what came before the modern art movements to be able to understand how they came about – it is the same with poetry.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a set routine. In fact I believe it is more important to set a reading routine than a writing one. Without reading poetry I don’t write much. I tend to write in flurries. There are times when I can’t stop writing and others (like now), which are a bit slower. For me writing is the easy bit – it is the typing up and editing that I have a resistance to.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I am driven to write – something sparks an idea and I am compelled to write it down – the spark could be a book, a poem, an article, something I have watched or a place I have visited.

I am interested in what makes us human (and therefore fallible) and how we relate to and act upon each other and the world around us – the nitty-gritty and the minutiae of the everyday. I am more interested in the grimy and dysfunctional side of life than the glitz.

I am also excited by the potential of language to challenge and excite us and to make us see the world in new ways. I love wordplay and breaking the rules – for example using verbs as nouns or messing up the punctuation.

Actually what I should have said earlier is reading that reading motivates me – reading other poets and reading widely is a huge motivator.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Keep writing. Stay true to the essence of the poem. If you are not scared of what the world will think then you are probably playing it too safe.

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

Alfred Noyes and Alfred Lord Tennyson taught me about sustained rhythms, I also love them for their tragedy, their romanticism and their ability to spin a tale. Lear, Beloc and nursery rhymes taught me to be fantastical – that things don’t always have to make sense. Milne I love for the pathos of the everyday, his humour and his ability to find a moment of joy amidst unhappiness (e.g. King John’s Christmas). Yeats and Thomas taught me to appreciate the beauty of language.

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

Gosh there are so many – where to begin?

I read very widely and am a huge fan of contemporary American poetry – some favourite Americans are C.D. Wright, Ross Gay, Claudia Rankine, Matthew Dickman, Michael Dickman, Lynn Emanuel, Joy Harjo, Dara Wier, Melissa Studdard, Rosemarie Waldrop, Natalie Diaz.

I love poetry that has a surreal twist – where people transform in some way or where the poet explores family or relationships between people in lots of different or unusual ways – people who do this really well are: Toon Tellegen, Anne Carson, Pascale Petit, Moniza Alvi, Helen Ivory, Hilda Sheehan, Stephen Daniels and Sarah Law.

Other poets whose work I love are: Carrie Etter, Andrew McMillan, Liz Berry, Alice Oswald, Denise Riley, Kei Miller, Jacqueline Saphra, Wayne Holloway Smith, Ágnes Lehóczky, Rebecca Tamas, Heidi Williamson, Esther Morgan, Angus Sinclair, Laura Elliott. These are all poets whose work excites and/or offers me new ways to view the world. There are lots of upcoming new poets whose work I admire too – too may to mention here.

  1. Why do you write?

Because I need to, to fulfil my creative needs and to help me make sense of the world.

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

I would start by reading – read lots, read widely, read journals and books, read modern stuff as well as older works. Write a lot too – but don’t be in a rush to put everything you commit to paper out into the world. A famous poet once told me that it takes ten years to become a mediocre poet! When you have established a writing practice consider going on some workshops with writers you admire. I still go to workshops – you never stop learning, it gives you new ideas, insights, ways of working – it keeps things fresh.

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

I have a new poetry collection Threat coming out with Nine Arches Press in May this year and I will hopefully be doing some readings from that later in the year.

Currently I am working on a sequence of poems about my mother and mothers in general and another sequence about writing that features a character called The Bishop. I have also recently finished a pamphlet length sequence of experimental sonnets called Enteric, I am not sure what I am going to do with that yet.

2 thoughts on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Julia Webb

  1. Hi, I enjoyed reading this interview with Julia Webb and look forward to reading her new book of poems, “Threat”. She gives a list of poets she admires so people can search these writers out for themselves. She is a great tutor, very inspiring and inspired and she could do with a secretary to do all the admin, creative writers should not have to be bothered with the Hum Drum of life! Thank you.

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