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 and short story writer from Dublin. He was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2013 and shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2014 and 2015. His first poetry collection After The Fall was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017. His poem “Birthday” won the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. His novel for children The Rising Son was published in December 2015.
He was shortlisted twice for Hennessy Awards for fiction. Recent stories have appeared in The Lonely Crowd and online at Willesden Herald New Short Fiction, Fictive Dream and Cold Coffee Stand. His story Festival was longlisted for the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2017/8. His short fiction chapbook It’s Not Me, It’s You won the inaugural Southword Fiction Chapbook Competition and will be published in autumn 2019. He blogs at www.briankirkwriter.com.
- What inspired you to write poetry?
I enjoyed poetry at school but didn’t actually begin to write until I had left school at nineteen. A lot of friends were in bands then and, as I was not musical, writing seemed to me to be my obvious artistic outlet. At the start I wrote easily, without much revision or too much thought. When you’re young you know no fear in many respects. It was only later when I studied English Literature in London at Birkbeck College that I became aware of the enormity of the undertaking and how much responsibility there is in being a poet or a writer. To say I was daunted is an understatement. I stopped writing altogether for a number of years after I graduated.
- Who introduced you to poetry?
It wasn’t any one individual. I think within my family there was always an interest in books and music particularly, and in nature also. I was the youngest of ten children, so I picked and chose from my older siblings’ interests. Aside from fables, Irish Myths and the Bible Old Testament stories, there was Enid Blyton of course. When I was older, I read the Beats and Kerouac, Kafka and Flann O’Brien as hand-me-downs from my older brother, Ciarán. Patrick Kavanagh was the main poetic influence at first. His voice seemed real and authentic, and he was also a poet who had only just died when I was young, so he was very much alive in the minds of people at the time. My father was station master in Inniskeen in the late 1950’s and would have known Kavanagh as he travelled between Dublin and his home town on many occasions. My mother didn’t like him much; she found him coarse. But she later admitted to admiring his poetry. I think I was impressed that my family had a connection to a poet, however slight that connection was.
In secondary school I had a very good English teacher, Larry McGuinness, who helped keep my interest in poetry alive. I remember enjoying Hopkins, Shelley, Keats and Donne as well as Kavanagh and my favourite, Yeats. At that stage I knew nothing at all about contemporary poets. That came later.
- How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
As I said, the English syllabus at school was dominated by older and mainly dead poets. At the time I thought that was not unusual. I suppose I wasn’t thinking in terms of poets writing at the time. As I got older I became aware of Heaney, Muldoon, Durcan, Boland, and it was refreshing to learn that poetry was not simply a museum piece, but an ongoing journey, undertaken by new minds in each new generation. When I started writing I was only vaguely aware of the work of these Irish writers and was probably more influenced by American writers of the 50s and 60s or English writers like Betjeman and Larkin. I discovered Blake’s work via Yeats and the Beats, and he remains a favourite.
At college I read a large volume of poetry from Old English right up to the moderns. The highlights for me were Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. I loved, and still love the narrative capability of poetry, as much as its lyric qualities. I have always enjoy reading and writing formal poetry.
- What is your daily writing routine?
I work a three-day week to pay the bills so on my writing days I try to be as productive as possible. I also write short stories and novels so a lot depends on what my current project is. Poetry in recent years has been a main priority as I prepared my first collection, After The Fall, which was published by Salmon Poetry in November 2017. In the year before that I was writing new poems and working on compiling and editing the collection. I am a member of the Hibernian Poetry Workshop in Dublin and we meet once a month. There are some excellent poets and critics among our group, so I was able to try out new work with them before submitting to journals or competitions. I also have a regular reader in the poet, John Murphy, and he was instrumental in helping me decide on which poems to include in the collection. We swap work regularly for comment and his advice has helped shape my work over the years.
So, my routine is made up of a certain amount of new writing, new poems or stories, and a large amount of editing. I like to try to make room in my day for reading too, usually at the end of the day. I also tend to read a lot of poetry and stories and essays on my commute to and from work – smart phones have their uses. Some days are more productive than others, but I’ve learned to be easier on myself over the years. I do, however, get a bit anxious if a number of days pass by and I don’t get any new work done.
- What motivates you to write?
I think writers just write. Even though it can be very frustrating at times, there is a huge sense of achievement when a poem you’ve been working on comes together. There is that sense – after all the effort and revision – that the poem has just manifested itself. It’s peculiar and sometimes a little disconcerting. In my experience, every time I write the experience is slightly different, or I engage differently with the work. It makes me feel as if I’m the slowest learner in the world at times.
However, all that said, I seem to always find a way to write, no matter what my circumstances. When I studied English Literature in the late 80s early 90s, I used it as an excuse to avoid writing creatively for a time, and afterwards I was so overwhelmed by the canon that I stopped writing for a while altogether. But even then I knew I couldn’t stay away, although it took me some years after that to go back to writing. It was prose at first until I did a creative writing workshop with the poet and novelist, Dermot Bolger, about 15 years ago. Coming out of that I published my first poem. It just felt right and since then I’ve kept working, kept writing.
- What is your work ethic?
Over time I’ve learned to take my work seriously. When I took a decision some years back to move to a three-day week I did so knowing that I was in a privileged position in that I could give more time to writing. I therefore realised I had to take it seriously. I think it was on Jo Bell’s blog where I read how she kept a record of all the poems she sent out, where they were published or where rejected. This appealed to the administrator in me and I’ve been doing this for years now. I send poems to journals and anthologies and I also enter competitions and have had good success over the years. You learn to know what certain editors want and you learn to understand how your own work might fit with the thematic and formal concerns of certain journals.
I’m a firm believer in entering competitions. Generally these are judged blind, and if you manage to get on a longlist or shortlist it’s a good indicator that your work is of a high standard. I also believe in sending work out as much as possible. Once you get over the swathe of rejections that inevitably come back, you get good validation from regular publication and you also build up a reputation as a published poet. Both of these things are important when you go looking for a publisher for your collection.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Poets like Kavanagh, Yeats and Ginsberg still influence me today in many ways. Each new poet you read generally brings something new to you as a writer. Yeats political phase has stayed with me as has Kavanagh’s use of nature and the everyday world. Ginsberg teaches the young poet to be fearless in how they approach poetry. I love the quality of argument in Donne still, the narrative scale of Milton, Hopkin’s delight in language and sound. Elliott, when I read him at college, became a huge influence also. I think as poets we’re learning all the time, from the canon, from other art forms, and from our peers. I think my love of formal poetry dates back to my early reading also.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
This list could be quite long. Paul Muldoon for his linguistic brilliance, Don Paterson for his formal dexterity, Ailbhe Darcy for her imaginative and technical ability. Also, Simon Armitage, Theo Dorgan, Sinead Morrissey, Eavan Boland, Michael Longley, Enda Wyley, Paula Meehan, Joshua Mehigan, Luke Kennard, Ben Mazer, John Murphy, Michael O’Loughlin and Peter Sirr. There are a crop of Irish poets writing at the moment in many different styles (including my fellow Hibernian Poets) who I’ve read in recent years and whose influence on me is also very strong. If I was to name one, I’d have to name them all.
- Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I think I have no choice really. That might give the impression that it’s a chore or something I’m compelled to do. On the contrary, writing has become something much more than a thing that I happen to do for a certain number of hours each week. It has become my life. Everything I experience is experienced through the prism of creative composition. Memory and imagination are the twin engines of my poetic approach at the moment. I think I will always be writing something, poems, stories, plays, novels.
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I can only answer that from my own experience and I’m sure there are other, and probably more direct, routes to becoming a writer than the one I’ve taken. I spent a lot of time avoiding writing when I was in my twenties and early thirties. My best advice is to just write, maybe join a group which will give you some structure and a supportive audience. Be prepared for criticism and learn how to take it in the right manner. Be prepared for rejection too. A lot of rejection. It’s part of being a published writer that you have to submit your work to editors or judges. Inevitably, at the start of your career, you will get a lot of rejections, but over time these will decrease as your work improves. As I said earlier, I’m a slow learner, but I can see improvement in my poetry over the years and that’s gratifying. You need to appreciate that for most of us success (for want of a better word) in writing is a long game, so you keep on working on your latest project or poem and let the ones you sent out either come back or find a home. When I was starting out there were some great online resources to help me as a writer: the poet, Kate Dempsey’s blog, Emerging Writer, was brilliant for giving up to date information on submission opportunities. Angela Carr’s blog, A Dreaming Skin, is an excellent resource for writers. She has recently posted a superb piece aimed at beginners on submitting to journals and competitions which includes all you need to know on the subject right now.
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Having taken a short break from writing poems after the publication of my first collection in late 2017, I’m happy to say I’m writing new poems again and working towards a second collection. I’m also preparing a collection of short stories with my mentor, Dermot Bolger, which should be ready later this year when I’ll be seeking a publisher. My chapbook featuring three of the stories, It’s Not Me, It’s You was a winner of the Southword Fiction Chapbook Competition this year and will be published in Autumn 2019. I also have two novels underway, but both are at an early stage of development. So, plenty of work to keep me going over the next couple of years!