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 an Irish poet. His latest collection is Open Season on the Moon, published by Salmon. He has published seven previous poetry collections since 1991, as well as a novel and three volumes of stories. His other work includes a short film, television for children, and audio dramas for Doctor Who and Dan Dare. He produced B7’s dramatisation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for BBC Radio 4. With Dimitra Xidous he edits The Pickled Body.
Link to Open Season on the Moon at Salmon Poetry:
Link to Anhedonia at BlazeVOX Books:
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
The facile answer is that I started writing poetry because I thought it would take less time than fiction. Also, I was attracted to poetry in school. Kubla Khan made me dream. The fact that it was interrupted, gave it the quality of a fragment from some widescreen adventure. A poem was a window into a larger world. Shelly’s withered statue in the desert, too. That one felt like a movie.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Poetry was on the school curriculum of course, but our teacher went off-piste to teach us basic form – metre, rhyming, types of sonnet. As well as introducing the poems of Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Kinsella, Dickinson, per the schedule, he read to us The Ballad of Reading Gaol simply because he thought we should hear it. When I asked him why Oscar had been imprisoned, he replied “tax reasons”. In the quasi-theocratic Ireland of the day, some things were more unspeakable than others, not to mention illegal. That teacher also read us Edmund’s ‘bastards’ speech, which had been excised from our texts of King Lear. A few years later at Eavan Boland’s workshop in Dublin, I discovered Life Studies. That was a turning point.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not at all. I never wanted to be the next Kavanagh, as that job had been taken. Besides, it didn’t seem to be the thing to try and work in anyone’s shadow. Neil Jordan, when he published Night in Tunisia, was asked how he avoided the influence of Joyce. His reply that he’d “never read him” is a legitimate response, even if it sounds like Jordan was kidding. There’s everything to be learned from what has gone before but growing your own voice is what matters.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a daily writing routine. Poetry happens when it happens. That can mean slipping away for a moment to note some new thought, or it might mean stealing hours from a perfectly good afternoon, especially when there’s a book on the go. In olden times, I used to compose for days on end; I’d write until I dropped. Nowadays that sort of epic self-harm is neither possible nor polite.
5. What motivates you to write?
Anxiety plus an idea. That usually does it. Even without an idea, when the urge to write comes, I get tense if I don’t act on it. At the moment, after this last book, my poetry has entered a latency period. If I never write another poem, that would be fine. If I do, I hope it will be fine.
6. What is your work ethic?
My work ethic is to write when I’m writing but not to bang my head against a wall, so to speak, if a poem is frustrating me. Martin Amis’s advice seems good: walk away if a piece is not working, come back to it later. When you return, your subconscious will probably have solved the problem. To me, every poem I receive is a windfall for which I’m grateful; at its best the process is playful and possessive of my consciousness. When I’m working, it seems that the trick is to chisel away at the letters until all that’s left is a poem. The other trick is to know when that has happened.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Early influences that still resonate: J. G. Ballard gave me an outsider’s perspective on humanity. Douglas Adams taught me the value of absurdity. Bishop, Moore and Lowell showed how poetry could be personal as well as political. Eavan Boland revealed the domestic and the intimate as proper subjects for poems. E. E. Cummings opened my thinking on messing about with form and flow. Rilke, in Stephen Mitchell’s translation, has stayed with me. To anyone starting out, I’d recommend his Letters to a Young Poet.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Aside from those with whom I’ve worked, or who have reviewed my stuff… I admire Bret Easton Ellis for American Psycho. What a book, hilarious and still relevant. Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory and The Bridge are favourites. Julian Barnes I admire for his non-fiction as much as his novels. Levels of Life is humane and beautifully written. Doireann Ní Ghríofa is an outstanding poet in Ireland. Her collection, Clasp, is recommended. I enjoyed Tara Bergin’s This is Yarrow. Kate Clanchy’s Newborn is raw and powerful.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
It seems to have always been with me.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Remember the Field of Dreams principle. “If you build it…” My main advice would be to show up, give yourself permission to write, and know that early drafts are supposed to be bad. Perfection is a mirage. Messy is good. Consider how a cake is made versus how it is served. Look up John Cleese’s theory of the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ mode. Find where the words are and be there. Woolf’s ‘money and a room of one’s own’ would be ideal but not everyone has that luxury, so do what you can to get time, space and energy to write. Your library is your friend. In an ideal world, a writing space can be like a Quaker meeting for one.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Late last year BlazeVOX published my collection of stories, Anhedonia. That was the original title for Annie Hall. My new poetry collection, Open Season on the Moon, is just out from Salmon. It skates into the arena of concrete but is very readable. It’s about love and pornography (the old stuff); space travel and death; religion and politics. All the subjects you shouldn’t bring up in company unless you have a napkin to hand.