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.
Paul Robert Mullen
Website: http://www.paulrobertmullen.com (not live yet!)
I’m a Sagittarius. I’ve always been extremely creative, whether it be writing stories, playing music, painting, drawing. My mind is instantly drawn to the creative process, which explains my lack of practical skills and, to some extent, common sense. At school I always excelled in literature and art, and I found myself keeping notebooks full of doodlings at an early age. I guess I find poetry as a way to connect with my emotions and express myself. It’s a secret and covert process, but ultimately rewarding when you are brave enough to share it and gage a response. It doesn’t feel like a waste if you have something at the end that other people can relate to and indulge in.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Like most people I first discovered poetry as a kid in school. I realised pretty young that the hymns we were singing in assemblies and the songs I was hearing on the radio were poetry of sorts. I found poetry in school a bit stiff. I didn’t like Seamus Heaney or Ted Hughes, although some of Maya Angelou’s stuff was uplifting. I got my first taste of Carol Ann Duffy in high school and realised I liked it because it felt modern. I could understand the sentiment and it made me feel something. At the age of fourteen I discovered Bob Dylan, and used to take myself off into town to hunt cheap second hand copies of his albums – I considered him an extraordinary poet from the first time I heard him, and took great pleasure as a teenager reading his lyrics from the booklets of his albums.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I have huge issues with the poetry world. It’s often a world of privilege, and a bit of a private club. I’ve realised that since writing and publishing myself. With hindsight I’m not surprised that there is, and will always be, a dominating presence of older poets. It is the establishment looking after its own. The poets that we are force fed at school are not the poets that speak to our generations with much relevance anymore, in my opinion. I’m thinking of Wordsworth, T.S Eliot, Tennyson et al – brilliant in their own way, but tough for a kid to inhale. I think Roger McGough, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope are much more accessible to a young mind, but they’re still on the inside, if you know what I mean. Part of the establishment. I’d like to see some newer faces from the streets and the coffee houses and the real world featured in syllabuses – poets that talk about contemporary issues with contemporary language.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I write poems every day. There is no specific time I do it, although I work best late at night with some nice music on and no hassle or distraction. I also like to get out into the world; sometimes I spend hours tucked away in the corners of coffee shops or pubs or cafes – places I can keep an eye on what is going on, and use what I see as inspiration. Every day I write at least a poem or two. I like to let them fester for a few days then revisit them at a different time, and with a new perspective. I suffer from intermittent spells of fiction or memoir writing too, but that muse goes more often than it comes, so I just wait and then collect as I go along. I’d say I spend around two hours a day editing, creating, crafting poems. I like to use travel time to write too – trains, planes, buses. I can do that. I’m comfortable writing in that environment, and feel a sense of achievement since my travel time hasn’t been idle. The single most important part of the process for me is reading. I read widely in the poetry world. Without reading I wouldn’t be able to be so prolific in terms of creating new work.
5. What motivates you to write?
This might sound very strange, but it’s a constant battle with the notion of mortality that makes me write. I’ve got ideas and stories that I feel like I need to share before I’m gone. I know that’s weird since I’m only mid-thirties, but I’m very sensitive to the fragility of life, and I get a lot of pleasure out of thinking I’ve created something that will outlive me and potentially connect with people in the future. Writing satisfies that part of my brain that nothing else can. I’m also paranoid about wasting time. When I’m creating I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. I’ve done all that going out and getting drunk and wallowing in my hangovers for days and getting absolutely nothing done, and to be honest I’m sick of it. My motivation is creating, sharing, achieving. I enjoy the Twitter writing community, and have found lots of wonderful opportunities to submit to new magazines, journals, e-zines and anthologies, and have found a lot of success this year with my submissions. I guess a further motivation is to broaden my readership, and keep interacting will fellow poets and writers. I’ve made new friends who have been interesting and helpful and inspiring.
6. What is your work ethic?
Life brings its challenges and disruptions, but I try my best to write at least six days a week. I think it is healthy to have a day off and go and refuel, but the other thing I’ve found is that if the muse is with you, you have to try and cash in. I suffer from writer’s block like everyone else, but my theory to combat this is to just read, read, read. Reading never fails to bring inspiration eventually. Writing has become part of my daily routine, which is healthy for developing, learning, and honing my craft. There is no such thing as a great-line-machine, or a perfect poem, so it is a constant journey uphill towards the peak – working on it every day can only bring me closer. That’s my attitude to writing these days. The more I write, the better I get at it.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
By the time I got to university I was reading a lot of poetry. People like Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creeley. I was wrapped up in that whole Beat Generation thing for a while, which was cool amongst millennial literary types. I liked e.e cummings too, and Sylvia Plath, although her stuff was too dark to read too much at once. The more I looked into the circles of influence the more I found; I love Lee Harwood’s work – intensely personal and ground breaking in terms of form. I found John Ashbery, Robert Shepphard, Wallace Stevens, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten. All poets that I enjoyed and drew from. Many of the above have influenced me in different ways – stylistically, thematically. I’ve always been drawn to the narrative form, or forms that experiment with the way things look. I like poetry that is jagged on the eye – where the passage across the page is a journey in itself.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are some really good poets around today. I try to keep my eye on the scene and buy new collections, for both the reasons of supporting new writers and also seeing where the market is going. I really enjoyed a collection called In Search Of Equilibrium by Theresa Lola – a profound exploration of grief and loss in a variety of fresh and interesting forms. I thought Andrew McMillan’s Physical was really brave and fascinating. There is a collection by Jo Bell called Kith, which I really enjoyed for its wit and mischief. My friend Kate Evans brought a collection out recently called Target, which is brutal and courageous and at times totally epic. I like anything that strikes a chord, without trying to be too lofty. I keep my eye on certain presses too. Nine Arches Press is a cracker – always innovative and captivating stuff published by them. I like Jonathan Cape too. Andrews McMeel, Salt, and Bloodaxe also put some interesting stuff out. There are some magazines that I follow too, since the stuff they put out is always edgy and provocative: Ghost City Press, Selcouth Station, Under The Radar, Ambit, Agenda, Butcher’s Dog, Heron Clan, Anti-Heroin Chic, Black Bough Poetry, Okay Donkey, Kissing Dynamite, Panning For Poems. There are so many great presses out there these days worthy of your time if you want to keep up with what’s going on.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I do lots of other stuff in my life aside from writing – I’m a very keen traveller, have played music in bands and various guises all my life, and also enjoy a game of cricket or squash, and occasionally 5-a-side football in my advancing years. I live an interesting and fulfilling existence, but writing is the most consistent thing that I do. It is natural for me to pull out the laptop, or a notebook, or a book to read and settle down to work on an almost daily basis, which is the difference between writing and the other things I do. Variety is definitely the spice of life, but creativity is my ultimate motivation.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
There isn’t a definitive answer to that. The circumstances surrounding my own passage to publication was quite bizarre – a lot of fate and luck were involved. I’d advise any young writer to read as much as possible. If you are a chef but you don’t try different foods you can’t be innovative in the kitchen. You have to read to learn. Reading widely inspires all sorts of new ideas and ventures. Also, keep up with the scene. I am a very active member of the writing community on Twitter, as I’ve previously mentioned, and as a new and unpublished writer you can find lots of opportunities on there for magazine submissions, competitions, hooking up with likeminded people to help you edit and share ideas, and keep up with the trends in your specific fields of interest. I submit my work to magazines all over the world on an almost daily basis, and keep an organised log of where I’ve sent things, dates, and records or acceptances or rejections. You need to be thick skinned and tough; rejections can be hard to swallow, but realistically they are going to arrive thick and fast. I’ve been published in 27 different publications already in 2019, but that is as a result of my persistence and refusal to be deflated by rejections. As a poet you need to build your name from the floorboards up, so each acceptance from a different magazine of repute is great for your CV. If you are serious about it, you’ll soon fall into good habits.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I released my first collection, curse this blue raincoat, in 2017, and my following two collections, testimony and 35 in 2018, on small American press, Coyote Creek Books. I have several complete manuscripts in the editing stage at the moment, but I have been concentrating more on publishing in literary magazines, e-zines, journals and anthologies of late, to try and broaden my readership (see below a list I have been published in). I envisage another collection towards the end of 2019, including many of my poems that have previously appeared in various publications. I am also ghost writing a memoir for a friend who has lived a fascinating decade, although that is moving slowly due to time restraints on both sides. I have been gradually documenting my Asian odyssey for the past year too, having spent over four years exploring that most remarkable part of the world. I would hope that I could have that completed and ready for publication sometime in 2020. I am also in the process of setting up a personal website completely dedicated to my writing. Occasionally I have time to sleep!
Magazines/E-zines/Journals/Anthologies published in:
Allegro, Anti-Heroin Chic, Bending Genres, Black Bough Poetry, Blossom In Winter, Bonnie’s Crew, Cephalo Press, Cleaning Up Glitter, Constellate, Crossways, Dodging The Rain, Dreamcatcher, Eunoia Review, Four X Four, Ghost City Press, Heron Clan, Light Through The Mist, Mojave Heart, Panning For Poems, Pendora, Selcouth Station, Silk & Smoke, The Canon’s Mouth, The Fiction Pool, The Foxglove Journal, The Interpreter’s House, The Journal, The Mark Literary Review, The Pangolin Review, Three Drops From A Cauldron, Words For The Wild