Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rafael Jesús González

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.

rafael

Rafael Jesús González

(rjgonzalez.blogspot.com) was born (October 10, 1935) and raised in the bicultural/bilingual environment of El Paso, Texas, U.S.A./Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico with family on both sides of the Río Grande. Just graduated from El Paso High School 1954, he joined the U.S. Navy in the hospital corps and served in the Marine Corps with the rank of Staff Sergeant. After military service, he attended the University of Texas, El Paso (then Texas Western College of the University of Texas) in pre-med taking time to attend the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México where he studied archaeology, Mexican literature, Mexican History, and Mexican philosophy.

During this time, he published his first poems and academic articles in English and Spanish. On receiving the bachelor’s he decided to dedicate himself to literary studies which he did under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a National Education Act Fellowship. He did his graduate studies at the University of Oregon.

As professor of literature and creative writing, he taught at the University of Oregon, Western State Collage of Colorado, Central Washington State University, the University of Texas, El Paso (as Visiting Professor of Philosophy), and at Laney College, Oakland, California where he founded the Department of Mexican and Latin-American Studies. His poetry and academic articles appear in reviews and anthologies in the U. S., Mexico, and abroad; his collection of poems El Hacedor De Juegos/The Maker of Games published by Casa Editorial, San Francisco (1977-78) went through two editions. A selection of his moon poems, La musa lunática/The Lunatic Muse was published by Pandemonium Press, Berkeley, California in 2009. He has been nominated thrice for a Pushcart price.

Also a visual artist, his work has been exhibited at such venues as the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, Galería de la Raza, the Oakland Museum of California, the Charles Ellis Art Museum, Milwaukee. In 1996, he was named Poet in Residence at the Oakland Museum of California and the Oakland Public Library under a ‘Writers on Site Award’ from Poets & Writers, Inc. and was chosen for the Annual Award for Literary Achievement by Dragonfly Press in 2002. In 2003, he was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and Annenberg CPB for his writing. He was named featured poet by the San José Poetry Center, San José, California the fall of 2005. In November of 2005, he was invited to read his poetry and present a paper at the World Congress of Poets in Tai’an, Province of Shandong, China. In July 2006 he was named Universal Ambassador of Peace, Universal Ambassador Peace Circle, Geneva, Switzerland. In Spring 2007 he presented a paper and read his poetry at the 8º Encuentro Literario Internacional aBrace in Montevideo, Uruguay and in Winter 2008 in Havana, Cuba. In 2012 he again received the Dragonfly Press Award for Outstanding Literary Achievement and in 2013 the César E. Chávez Lifetime Award. The City of Berkeley honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Berkeley Poetry Festival May 16, 2015. He was named the City of Berkeley’s first Poet Laureate in 2017. In 2018 he as invited to present a paper at the Proyecto Cultural Sur Congreso Internacional de las artes, Montevideo, Uruguay. He sat on the Advisory Board of the Oakland Museum of California from 1995 until its dissolution 2015; he sits on the Advisory Board of Dancing Earth, Contemporary Indigenous Dance Company. He resides in Berkeley, California.

The Interview

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

I can’t remember when I said my first poems, but I know that it was before I could write. My mom and dad wrote them down. And then when I began to write at the age of five or six I began to piece together words on the page (in Spanish of course.) And when I began school, I began to write in English. I knew what poetry was because I learned it before I could write; my mother and father had me learn poems by heart to recite at family gatherings. I began writing poetry because that’s what I had to do: play with meaning and sound, give words to the wonder about me and play, play, play with putting together words and wedding them to the feelings the Earth and the world inspired in me. I began writing poetry because I love to play, because writing poetry brought me joy and because it eased my pain when it was pain I felt.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mom and dad introduced me to poetry. The burble they spoke to me and the whir I overheard them speak to each other gave me the sound of speech, its rhythms that I would later break into units of meaning. Mom and dad were fond of reading to me and much of what they read was poetry. As I said, my mother and father had me learn poems by heart to recite at family gatherings, and that, with their reading poems to me, trained my ear to the rhythms of words. They taught me to love language, the music it made, the meanings it could carry — they introduced me to poetry.

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

It depended on the older poet, Some folk take a lot of space and dominate it whether they’re chefs, baseball players, mariachis, compadres, aunts — or poets. One is always aware of them, after all, their intent is to dominate our attention. Now as a certified member of the order of older poets, I try to be aware that I be not dominating, but I think that I’ve always tried to do that, even in teaching (though I may not have always been successful.) In truth, I like the attention; well, the admiration, the deference; hell, the love, given me by my friends, students, colleagues and acquaintances. I have a lot of ideas, and a good bit of knowledge, and experience, not to mention memories and opinions so that I have much to say and must be aware that I don’t take up too much space and dominate it and pontificate.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t think that I have a routine. I like to write in bed when I wake up in the morning, usually something that I went to sleep with and percolated in dreams, and the words come. I keep a notebook by my bed (if truth be told, on my bed so that I sleep with it) in which to write the first draft (actually I have gone through four, five previous ones in my head) in pencil, often so scribbled that I have trouble reading it when I come to typing it into my computer for easier editing. When the muses (I have two, one speaks Spanish and the other English) are generous, the poem needs little further editing. When they are stingy, many drafts and versions follow. I do not think that poetry and routine are compatible, at least for me.

5. What motivates you to write?

What motivates me to breath? The being alive, having fun, playing with language. And the simple urgency to give expression to and explore the sometimes bright, sometimes dark labyrinths of feeling and thought. There is also the need to respond to the exigencies of confronting the threats and evils that govern us. Along with poetry and writing, my mom and dad imbued me with a keen sense of justice and a need to respond when I see it violated. Much of my writing is political; I am outraged at the violation of all-holy Earth, of justice, of peace. And given the gift of language, my love of life and of my brothers and sisters, and the other animals, and the trees and grasses, and the stones and soil, I must speak for them who have no voice. But truly, I resent having to write political poetry. I have motivation enough in celebration — of the Earth, of life, of art, of love. I would prefer to write poetry of celebration and of love. And I do — I remind my family, friends, colleagues, of holidays to be marked, of the full moons, of the turnings of the seasons with poetry more often than not.

6. What is your work ethic?

I don’t like work. And I don’t know that I am particularly ethical about it. I have been so blessed that more often than not, the boundaries between work and play have blurred. The very term “work ethic” has such a drab, puritanical, joyless quality about it that I find it distasteful. It is defined as: the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. It brings to mind factory drudges, office lackeys. I find nothing intrinsically virtuous about hard work though certainly work should be rewarded. Work is necessary, we must all work to put food in our mouths, clothes on our bodies, a roof over our heads, medicine when we need it, but ethic? If ethic there be, it is in justly rewarding (such a patriarchal concept), justly compensating work, and work should be made as easy as possible. If ethic there be in my work-play of writing, it is to speak truth, honestly, to put my writing in service to the Earth, to justice, to peace. I much prefer my play ethic: Play (easy or hard, if you like) is intrinsically virtuous and the pleasure it brings is its own reward.

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

How do they not? The first writers I read wrote nursery rhymes and fairy tales; they set the images and cadence of language that became the foundation of my writing. A bit later I came to wonderful books with such wondrous titles as Gay Neck (I still love city pigeons) and The Boy Knight of Reims (confirmed in my young mind the primacy of art and made the middle ages fascinating) and Platero y yo (celebrated the closeness between me and my brothers and sisters the other animals.) And then the marvels of “adult” literature, the battles with giant windmills and white whales, the tensions between war and peace, the trials of the miserable, shipwreck and sprites, all the joys and miseries and heroics and villainies that make us human seen through the lenses of acute observation, of finely turned sensibilities, rich imaginations, and graceful command of language. They taught me to refine my seeing and hearing and thinking and feeling through language. And still do.

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

I admire so many, and so many are my friends. You don’t tell friends who among them you most admire. Even with acquaintances one does not do that. I could pick among writers who are not my friends or acquaintances, but what would it tell you about me and them? References to send you to your library or local bookstore (I hope not to Amazon)? Look, dear readers, for your own writers to admire. I can tell you what it is that calls forth my admiration: honesty, truth-telling, keenly honed senses and sensibilities, a way of looking at things that surprises me, images that come alive in my head, language that sings the thought it conveys, a fundamental love and compassion for the Earth and the life it bears, an elemental kindness. Beauty.

9. Why do you write?

Why do I breathe? Because writing is an integral part of my life, of who I am. Because I need to. Because it brings me pleasure. Because I must celebrate in words. Because, like with Cyrano, it is the instrument of my courting. Because it is my weapon in defence of the Earth, against injustice, for peace.

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

Live, breath, smell, taste, touch, see — and hear as keenly as completely as you can. Fall in love with language. Listen and read a lot. Those writers who make the hairs at the back of your neck to bristle, your nails itch — look at, listen to them closely and try to learn the magic behind their tricks. The magic is their perception, their tricks are how they convey it to you. Poetry is not so much a mode of expression as it is a mode of perception. Observe, contemplate, think. Read, read, read. And write, write, write, play with writing, work with writing if you must. Just simply, you become a writer by writing. There is no other way. Your goal should be not simply to become a writer, but a writer worth the reading.

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

To write my poem to the next full moon. And one for the upcoming holiday. And one for when the season turns. Write for a journal the promised narrative on how I became a writer. (I don’t know whether you’d call it a writing project, but to select the poems for a proposed enlarged new edition of my La musa lunática/The Lunatic Muse.) Revise, rework, edit the penciled drafts in my notebook. And write, write, write down the demanding gifts that the largesse of my muses bestow on me. And when my muses ignore me, write anyway what I need to write.

Rafael Jesús González

Poet Laureate, City of Berkeley

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kathryn Hummel

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.

Kathryn Hummel

is a cross-genre writer, mixed-media artist and multidisciplinary researcher. Her fifth book of poems, Lamentville, is forthcoming with Math Paper Press and her sixth and seventh, A Few Franks for Dearest Dominic and splashback, with Prote(s)xt Books. Uncollected, Kathryn’s creative and scholarly works have been published/presented/translated/anthologised worldwide. Credits include: Six Seasons Review (Bangladesh); talking about strawberries all of the time (Canada); Tuli & Savu and Nokturno (Finland); How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? (Hong Kong); Muse India, Newslaundry and RIC Journal (India); Utsanga (Italy); La.Lit (Nepal); Geometry and Blackmail Press (New Zealand); Paper Monster Press (Philippines); Gulf Times (Qatar); Softblow Journal (Singapore); The Letters Page, Burning House Press and Waymaking (UK), and E·ratio, Okay Donkey, Prelude, PopMatters, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Empty Mirror (USA). Within Australia, Kathryn’s writing has appeared in Cordite, Westerly, foam:e, Plumwood Mountain, Overland, Meanjin, Tincture Journal, un. Magazine and Rabbit. Recipient of the NEC/Meanjin Essay Writing Competition prize and the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Dorothy Porter Award, Kathryn’s writing has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, among others. A widely-travelled performance poet and artist-in-residence, Kathryn holds a PhD in Social Sciences and edits non-fiction and travel writing for Australian creative arts journal Verity La.

(Forthcoming) A Few Franks for Dearest Dominic. 2019. London: Prote(s)xt Books.

(Forthcoming) splashback. 2nd/print edition. 2019. London: Prote(s)xt Books.

(Forthcoming) Lamentville. 2019. Singapore: Math Paper Press.

splashback. 2017. Sydney: Stale Objects dePress.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CIMlJVINDBXzO2fK5x3xmWKOpWhqTELq/view

The Body That Holds. 2017. Adelaide: Little Windows Press.

http://littlewindowspress.com/index.php/kathryn-hummel/

The Bangalore Set. 2015. Bangalore: Kena Artists’ Initiative.

https://www.amazon.com.au/Bangalore-Set-Kathryn-Hummel-ebook/dp/B018QZAXLQ

Poems From Here. 2014. Hobart: Walleah Press.

https://walleahpress.com.au/bookshop-Hummel.html

Her website/social media links are:

https://twitter.com/katscratchez

www.kathrynhummel.com

The Interview

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Idleness gave birth to my ‘serious’ poetry writing. In 2007, I was staying in Bangladesh as part of the Australian equivalent of the Peace Corps, appointed to an NGO that didn’t have much interest in or use for my particular skills. This afforded me the opportunity to get to know people on an un-official level; turned me into a flâneuse of Dhaka; allowed me to see and think deeper about the continuing impact of colonisation in the region, and gave me time to write. Back then, I was a regular columnist for PopMatters and if I wrote for myself, it was prose. While exploring my neighbourhood I came across a bookshop and bought a copy of Kaiser Haq’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser_Haq) collected poems. I was captivated by his dry sense of humour and observations of the city that reflected what I sometimes saw, even as an outsider and newcomer. I was able to contact Kaiser, who kindly agreed to be interviewed for my column; soon after, I began to take tentative steps towards writing poetry for fun. I’d only ever written poems occasionally at school or university, where I studied literature and gender studies; never writing theory or composition. Having a group of encouraging readers was vital: I’d send my drafts out to a small email list of friends, who’d read them and write back. Kaiser was also very supportive of these early efforts. Many of the poems I wrote at that time ended up, years later, in my first collection Poems from Here (https://walleahpress.com.au/bookshop-Hummel.html)

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My parents, I reckon. I grew up in a working-class household that emphasised reading, or being read to, and regular visits to the library. Poetry must have been in the mix. Then there was the 80s TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables that features quotes from Lord Tennyson and a recitation of ‘The Highwayman’—my sister and I drank it in. One poem stands out from my primary school years: Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s ‘We Are Going’. Although the politics went a bit over my head at the time, the poem gave me so many feels that I kept the version I’d copied down in my exercise book; I think I still have it. After that, a few standalone poems pop up: ‘Eve’ by Kate Llewellyn; a poem whose name and author I don’t remember but it was about the narrator’s aunt, an artist who stopped up her talent to care for her sick mother; ‘Wolfe Faerie’, posted on an early interweb Wicca site, and ‘Marriage’ by Gregory Corso. I mostly came across poems outside the institution, through my own reading adventures. At university, I avoided poetry after a first year course on the Romantics—an elective, but one I was conditioned by high school to choose, not yet having discovered how to think for myself. But a kernel of interest in poetry was present that developed much later.

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

Older poets were only represented through books and I didn’t read much of their work or ideas, so if I was aware of them at all, they weren’t particularly dominating. I remember going to a reading put on by a local poetry organisation after a rare poem I’d written in high school was commended in a competition. My sister drove me to the venue and ended up reading the poem for me. I wasn’t in awe because the members were all older than me and wrote poetry, but because I was shy and under-confident around everyone. Looking back, the vibe of the group was off-putting. Pretension, self-importance, parochialism, elitism, competitiveness and a lack of diversity I find distasteful in any literary or artistic community, regardless of the age of its members—not because these things are intimidating, but because they’re all to be avoided for a pleasurable life.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I can’t say I have a routine, only I’ve noticed that I work best in the morning, second-best in the evening and should definitely take rest in the afternoon, when my concentration wanes. Like most people involved in creative practice, my writing benefits from a varied combination of stimulus and downtime, which generally goes by feel or opportunity, not by plan. Often I start a piece with written notes before I start typing: transferring the same piece to different media helps me gain perspective. Any writer’s process is necessarily individual and sooner or later everyone figures out what works for them.

5. What motivates you to write?

The intellectual and artistic challenge; memorialising or communicating issues and experiences; a passion for literature and reading; an interest in the range and flexibility of language; a desire to be stimulated and moved by profound emotion, and the possibility of coming across a few good eggs.

6. What is your work ethic?

Writing is almost a compulsion; the basic drive to put words together in your head should be inherent. The more complicated practice of getting words out and into the world requires a more disciplined and determined approach to writing as work. The inherent motivation isn’t always exhilarating or therapeutic but neither does it stop, even if ‘outputs’ like publishing do. I go through periods where I can barely stand to look at a book or screen or even write a text message, but my thinking about writing never really drops off, despite whatever else is going on in my life, and this is the basis for what I manage to do—the slow-burning work ethic that drives the public result at an irregular tempo.

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

The writers I can remember from my reading history are the ones who’ve probably influenced my work—not many of them are poets. Louisa May Alcott made me pay attention to semi-colons (seriously), vibrant characterisation and a warm, spirited style. Reading C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia taught me about allegory and symbolism. Lyricists like Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin demonstrated sly wit, irony and rhythm. In high school, reading Margaret Atwood, the Beat poets and Oscar Wilde stands out; in my early university days, deeply into writing from the 1920s and 30s, I was sated by Evelyn Waugh and Rosamond Lehmann. Novels by Jean Rhys, Olive Schreiner, Mary McCarthy, Angela Carter and Christina Stead I remember vividly from the same time.

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

All good writers are good in different ways but they’re all measured by the same standard—goodness. Because of this I look to appreciate them for qualities beyond the requisite writing ability. I admire Margaret Atwood for her longevity and willingness to recalibrate her practice. I admire the late Nissim Ezekial for never selling out; I admire living poets like Laurie Anderson, Uyen Hua and Saeed Jones for their blazingly unique approaches. I admire Sally Jenkinson, Jeanine Leanne, Tishani Doshi, Kent McCarter and Mark Gwynne Jones for being lovely, generous human beings as well as committed poets. I admire Ghassan Hage for nailing it every time he writes anything to do with the world in which we live. I admire writers like Elena Ferrante and Han Kang who use their own languages to great effect within an Anglocentric literary scene; I admire dedicated translators for the difficulty and necessity of the work they do, as well as their general breadth of mind. I’m yet to meet a fascist literary translator.

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

Well, I write at the same time as I do other things—performance, visual art and fiddling around with sound. But writing is my most enduring form of creative expression and the one I return to because it’s what I feel most comfortable with; what I’ve practiced the longest, and what I’ve learned, through the osmotic practice of reading, the most about.

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

My short answer would be: ‘Why would you if you had a choice?’ But as to the how, I’d say: read, listen and observe; try to ignore the people who seek to put you off your game, and keep your writing in healthy perspective (i.e. don’t be a twat about it).

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

This year is full of exciting projects for me, writing-wise. I’ve three books of poems coming out: Lamentville, a full length collection with Singapore’s Math Paper Press (https://www.booksactuallyshop.com/collections/math-paper-press) (April/May 2019), as well as the chaps A Few Franks for Dearest Dominic (http://www.hesterglock.net/p-011-kathryn-hummel.html (July 2019) and splashback (http://www.hesterglock.net/p-012-kathryn-hummel.html) (September 2019) with Prote(s)xt Books, (http://www.hesterglock.net/protesxt-books.html) an imprint of London’s Hesterglock Press. Stale Objects (de)Press in Sydney first published splashback as a digital chapbook (http://staleobjectsdepress.tumblr.com/post/168078185300/kathryn-hummel-splashback) in 2017: it’s basically one madly long word association poem referencing socio-political and environmental issues, digital media (its gets quite meta at one point) and a host of other subjects. Lamentville comments on the way humans interact in climates overrun by virtual hyperactivity and digital technology, whereas Dominic could best be described as a series of poems that form a narrative of romantic love, blending fantasy and reality. I feel fortunate to have books coming out with these publishers, especially since they’re entertaining an unknown kid—part of my motivation in approaching them was to see whether my poetry had game outside my known territory. But mostly, I just like their style and their respective publishing philosophies which seem closely linked to their approach to life, work and politics. Both publishers also turn out cunningly designed, interesting and clever books and are headed by energetic, creative people.

In the northern hemisphere’s autumn/fall, I’ll be participating in a three week digital poetry residency (https://nokturno.fi/ajankohtaista/vuoden-2019-digitaalisten-residenssien-runoilijat-ovat-niina-oisalo-ja-kathryn-hummel)  with the experimental poetry journal Nokturno (https://nokturno.f), based in Finland. My project is called ‘Sunset Cento’ and will focus on creating community through a digital platform and multi-media poetry, by gathering impressions of the wondrous, everyday phenomenon of sunset throughout the world. Finally, I’ll be trying out the role of associate editor with Australian creative arts journal Verity La (https://verityla.com/) While I regularly edit ‘Travel. Write. Translation’ (https://verityla.com/submission-guidelines/travel-write-travel/) (travel writing) and ‘Rogue State’ (bold non-fiction) (https://verityla.com/submission-guidelines/rogue-state/) I’ll be doing more work behind the scenes and will hopefully take part in rolling out some of the plans Michele Seminara, the Managing Editor, has for the future of the journal.

On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Michael Grotsky

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 fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Spinning

Michael Grotsky
Having lived in many places, and traveled extensively for both work and pleasure – and still not having found the difference between the two – Michael Grotsky now lives in Montreal, where  he takes pleasure in the natural wisdom of his toddler daughter.
His work has appeared in the Berkeley Fiction Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, and online at Fictionville. He wrote the introduction to DAH’s Something Else’s Thoughts, which appeared in 2018. Currently, Michael is working on his first collection of short stories.
The Interview

1. What inspired you to write fiction?

Reading and travel at an early age. I was lucky: I took several trips with my mother, including one, through Spain and Portugal when I was seven, that so impressed me, even at that age, that I wrote (with a pencil of course) about the castles, the desert landscapes, the fishermen, the black-clad women on the beach. The seed had been planted.

2. Who introduced you to fiction?

Like many people, my parents first exposed me when they read me bedtime stories – all those fairy tales that we’ve never forgotten. Later I was fortunate enough to have passionate English teachers who passed on their love of storytelling to impressionable students like me.

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

It’s impossible not to be impressed, influenced, and inspired by those you read. They get in your head. I grew up on the rock and roll poets – Dylan, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison – who added to the passion of words with their music. I’ve always been aware of the influence of all sorts of writing, from literature to pulp novels, to graffiti and billboards. Godard made this point brilliantly. So I was always aware of writers and the presence of writing of all kinds.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Well, Paul, first off, I procrastinate as long as possible. Facing the blank page is a daunting task for me. I’ve always preferred writing at night, from around 9 pm to 2 am, more or less. Things become quiet, the atmosphere is lighter, my mind is more able to take flight, and I find that that’s when I’m best able to tap in to what I need to say. I had my chart done once and all my planets were grouped into the houses that correspond to 10 – 2 on a clock. That gave me pause.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve always loved the magic of words, of the pleasure of stringing words together into phrases and paragraphs, and in so doing, discovering what is brewing inside. When all goes well, I see without looking. I write without the impediment of thought. Often I’m surprised by what is expressed, and it seems to me that these ideas move through me from some primal, unconscious source. When I’m able to tap into that realm the writing is much better than anything I could produce consciously.

6. What is your work ethic?

I write pretty much every day, except for fallow periods, which may seem threatening but which serve to replenish and restore the creative process. Writing for me takes time, and I do a lot of editing, a process akin to sculpting as far as I am concerned: removing the excess to get to the essential. There’s a rhythm necessary to expressing an idea well, a kind of music that’s very important in carrying the text along. Sometimes it comes fast, other times it takes a lot of work before the words stop tripping over each other.

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

I’ve forgotten so much of what I read, yet ideas, scenes, phrases come to mind unbidden. Of course, unconsciously they create a fertile ground that influences me whether I know it or not, much like everything that has come before us influences us. Jung calls this the Anima Mundi and suggests that it is always available to us. I’m quite certain that we are composed of all things past, and quite possibly by what is not yet revealed as future.

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

For me Dylan is truly transcendent and continues to express my life through his words. He deserved that prize. Kerouac’s poetic evocation of rebellion, and his portrait of his time is remarkable. William Burroughs modernist styling and satirical genius (Naked Lunch is both satire and documentary) is an influence I have had to get past. The Cuban Pedro Juan Gutierrez’ books about Havana in the nineties inspire me. Murakami’s surrealism attracts me, George Saunders is dark but beautiful, and in terms of poetry, I am constantly surprised by the remarkable styling of DAH’s work, and how prolific he is.

9. Why do you write?

John Lee Hooker said it very simply: “It’s in and it got to come out.” To me, writing is a calling, not a choice. Ideas, phrases, scenarios, are constantly popping into my mind and demanding their due. If I try to ignore them, they wake me in the night or ambush me when I’m doing something else. Through writing we preserve the past, and understand it better. For me, writing makes tangible, and gives form to the chaotic stream of my life. It’s a conversation we hold with ourselves, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, with others.

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

Well, Paul, as I said, it’s not always a choice. But however you come at writing, if you’re interested you’re bound to do what’s best: read a lot, write a lot, and don’t judge yourself too harshly – others will do that for you. And don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s important to maintain the pleasure of just writing, letting the words pile up until some kind of beauty emerges. It’s that process of discovery that keeps me going because writing itself is hard work, both mentally and physically. Some have called it a dangerous sport.

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

My focus right now is on a manuscript of short fiction that I am collecting together under the title, Spinning the Sensualist. I’m also working on a novel about expats set in Paris in the late 20th century. It’s a kind of romantic, surrealist, thriller.

Writing and the Beginner’s Mind: Taking A Zen Approach to Creativity

Well worth a read.

WendyPratt

pink and white lotus flower Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few”

Shunryu Suzuki

This quote is taken from Shunryu Suzuki’s book on Zen meditation and practice, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Although Shunryu Suzuki is talking about the approach to practicing Zen Buddhism in this quote, it’s possible to apply this philosophy to the practice of creative writing.

Do you remember your first experience of creative writing? It’s likely to have been at primary school, or even before. Do you remember the joy you felt when you completed that poem about leaves or trees or dogs and cats? Do you remember the pleasure in rhyme, in the sounds of words, in the meanings tucked in behind the vowels and consonants? How does it compare to how you feel now?

What about when you came back to creative writing as an adult?

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jean Atkin

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.

How Time is in Fields MATT 2 ALTERNATIVE 72[31097]

Jean Atkin

Jean Atkin’s new collection ‘How Time is in Fields‘ is forthcoming from IDP in 2019. Previous publications include ‘Not Lost Since Last Time’ (Oversteps Books). Her poetry has been commissioned for Radio 4, and featured on ‘Best Scottish Poems’ by the Scottish Poetry Library. Recent work appears in The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Lighthouse, Agenda and Ambit. She works as a poet in education and community and is currently Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival. http://www.jeanatkin.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

As far back as I can remember, I loved words. I loved the look of them and the sound of them, and I noticed as a small child that many words have, for me, a physical-aural-visual quality which makes them uniquely themselves.  I used to ponder on the bristliness of ‘brush’ and how it held onto dust.  How ‘snow’ is slow, and deep.  Even the word sounds muffled.  That sort of thing.  Voracious public library visiting and reading led to writing, and by the age of eight I was making small books about all sorts of stuff.  My parents valued academic success higher than artistic, however, so I wrote poetry on my own, never mentioned it, and had no idea I might seek publication. But I was lit up by reading Seamus Heaney, Christina Rossetti, Ted Hughes, Wilfred Owen and others.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother liked to read poetry, and I grew up among rhymes and the older, more traditional poets on the bookshelves.  But another thing my mother did was to show me how to read landscape, which has had a strong influence on my own poetry.

Later, much later, in my 40s (there was a long gap during which I worked as a classroom teacher, and reared young children) I at last joined a creative writing group in Scotland, and was immensely encouraged by Hugh McMillan, Hugh Bryden (Roncadora Press), Vivien Jones, Jackie Galley and Andrew Forster.

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

Oh yes!  An early revelation that something else was going on was buying a copy of Grace Nicholls’ poems, and ‘In The Pink’, the brilliant 1980s anthology from The Raving Beauties.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

To be truthful, I don’t have one.  My work as a poet in education and projects and my own poetry fray into one another.  I usually have a poem or two on the go, and I go in and tweak them at rather random moments.  Or carry a poem I’m working on around with me, and stare at it now and then.  Then tweak it.  I always start writing a poem in pencil, though, in a plain notebook.

5. What motivates you to write?

It’s the thrill of making something I didn’t know was there.

6. What is your work ethic?

Strong! I’ve been self-employed for ten years – but you mean about the poetry?  I still work hard.  I always just want to be better, to keep learning.  I get so excited when I read someone’s work that fires me up, because then it’s showing me something new.  And I love working with people who don’t think of themselves as poets or writers, because they surprise themselves, and delight me, with what they do. I firmly believe we are a musical, word-loving species.

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

Writers like Shelley, Keats, Drinkwater and Swinburne amazed and intoxicated me with words, rhyme and rhythm.  I still love strange new words, and foreign words, and that sense of exact and absolute inevitability in a good poem.

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

The poets I go back to are Gillian Allnutt, Jen Hadfield, Imtiaz Dharker, David Morley, Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante, Les Murray, Roy McFarlane, Pauline Stainer, Helen Mort, Tom Pow, John Glenday, Stewart Conn, Jackie Kay, Hugh McMillan, Penelope Shuttle, John Greening, Philip Gross, and more.

Just now I’m so taken with ‘At or Below Sea Level’ by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough.  Elisabeth’s poems about the Fens feel truly haunted, and are so beautifully made.   Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Joy’ is an amazing collection.  The title poem is utterly engrossing, how central love is to living.  A really rich book.

9. Why do you write?

For me, writing is an essential way to process thought and feeling.  That is, it helps me find out what I think and feel.  Then the challenge and pleasure of crafting something that expresses it as perfectly as I can.  To start with, I never quite know what is coming, there is a mystery involved.  Once you’ve captured the creature, you begin to make it, in a way and at a pace that suits both you and it.  It’s like horse-breaking (which I have written about!).  You learn on the job, which is never quite the same twice.  It’s fascinating, and feels central to who I am.

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

I work a lot in schools, and with young people, and they do ask me this.  I say, “Believe you can do it.  Read a lot, then write, it will make you better.  Persistence will take you a long way.  Expect disappointment and that you won’t make money!  Find your writing community, treasure it, help it along, enjoy it.  Once you can give something back, then do it.”

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

I’m currently Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival.  This is a lovely project devised by Ledbury Poetry Festival and Malvern Hills AONB.   I’ve already done some schools work, taking local children into the woods under the Malverns to make poetry – and there are more walks and workshops coming up before Ledbury Poetry Festival in July. Plus – you are all invited to join in with the Troubadour project by uploading your own poem about hills (any hills!) to Ledbury Poetry Festival’s website – link here.(https://www.poetry-festival.co.uk/the-malvern-hills/)

There are some great poems up there already.  I’ve also written my first commissioned poem for the project.  It’s based on a 7 mile circular walk, which you can plot on the map by following the poem.  Then, wonderfully, Radio 4’s Ramblings programme picked up the project, and asked me to take a walk with Clare Balding, on a beautiful day in January.  The programme, ‘Walking a Poem on the Malverns’ aired in March, and is still available to listen to – link here.(https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006xrr2/episodes/player)

For the last 18 months I’ve been working with Shropshire-based eclectic folk band, Whalebone, writing a group of poems to explore the new lore of the county – the stories just within – and just outside of – living memory.   Whalebone have composed music to weave through the poems. This is a performance project we’ve called ‘Understories’, and it has now attracted Arts Council funding.  Whalebone have published a CD and pamphlet containing the poems, and we are now touring the show around ten of Shropshire’s libraries (thank you ACE), until July.  Part of the project is gathering new ‘understories’ from the audiences.  This is going wonderfully (eg. the Telford maggot farm – ‘Johnny’s Cooking Tonight’; The rabbit-skinner of Woore etc) – and we will be using them to write further new material.  Links are here (https://www.whalebone-music.com/understories/) on Whalebone’s site, and here (https://jeanatkin.com/2019/03/06/understories-with-whalebone/) on my blog http://www.jeanatkin.com

And my second full collection, ‘How Time is in Fields’ is published by Indigo Dreams Press in May 2019 and launched at Cheltenham Poetry Festival.  In this collection, I have explored the way place contains all times, as well as traces of our recognisable predecessors.  There’s a lot of walking in this book, a lot of being close to the ground and of sharing space with other creatures, other lives, other centuries.  The round of the year is divided into the Old English months, reflecting shifts of folklore, season and state of mind.

I’m in the throes of seeking readings for ‘How Time is in Fields’, so please do ask me!

The Contours of Joy, a poem … and your next Wednesday Writing Prompt

Great prompt

THE POET BY DAY

FullSizeRender. . . . . .

“The ego gets what it wants with words. The soul finds what it needs in silence.” Richard Rohr



Rest. . .

In that place where endless sky meets ocean wave
Where plump blue berry meets thin green leaf,
Where clarity gifts a kaleidoscope of joy.

. . . . . Breath and breath and never mind

The house begging for repair, the tree wanting a trim.
Never mind the floors awaiting the broom
The accounts begging for their balance . . .

. . . . . . Observe the contours joy …

From the quiet mind and the stilled pen,
Joy! dancing on sunbeams and resting
On the limb of a moon-lighted tree . . .

© 2019, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

Are we frail humans able to embrace the light, forgo the mundane for the miraculous? Maybe? Maybe not? Maybe sometimes?…

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Strength, achievement, and token gestures

Always worth a gander

The Petrified Muse

Phaedrus, a writer of fables in the style of Aesop in the first century A. D., tells the following tale (Phaedrus 4.17, transl. B. E. Perry):

De capris barbatis

Barbam capellae cum impetrassent ab Iove,
hirci maerentes indignari coeperunt
quod dignitatem feminae aequassent suam.
“Sinite,” inquit, “illas gloria vana frui
et usurpare vestri ornatum muneris,
pares dum non sint vestrae fortitudini.”
Hoc argumentum monet ut sustineas tibi
habitu esse similes qui sunt virtute impares

The Bearded She-Goats

When the she-goats had obtained, by application to Jupiter, the favour of a beard, the male goats were very unhappy about it and began to express their indignation that women had attained unto a dignity equal with their own. “Let them,” said Jupiter, “enjoy their empty glory and usurp your badge of service, so long as they are not your peers in stoutheartedness.”

This example teaches you to endure it with patience…

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Reading: February-March 2019

Stunning reading choices to add to my own. Thankyou, Thom.

Thom Sullivan

PSX_20190319_222320A few of the books I’ve enjoyed reading, or returning to, in February and March 2019:

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family: Book I of the sixMy Struggle(MinKamp) novels (autobiographical novel: Vintage, 2009).
  • Ada Limón’s The Carrying: A follow-up to 2015’s acclaimed Bright Dead Things (poetry: Corsair, 2018).
  • JL Carr’s A Month in the Country: Published by Penguin as a ‘Classic’, and the source of a 1987 film starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, in their third and second film roles respectively (short novel: Penguin, 1980).
  • WS Merwin’s Garden Time (poetry: Copper Canyon, 2016).
  • Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency(poetry: Grove, 1957).
  • Alejandra Pizarnik’s The Galloping Hour: French Poems: Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander’s translations of the French poems of Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who died in 1972 (poetry: New Directions, 2018).
  • Forrest Gander’s Be With(poetry:…

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