Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Pam Thompson

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.

Pam Thompson

Pam Thompson

is a poet, lecturer, reviewer and writing tutor based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time, (Smith | Doorstop, 2006). Pam has a PhD in Creative Writing and her second collection, Strange Fashion, was recently published by Pindrop Press.

Web-site pamthompsonpoetry@wordpress.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Reading it. I always liked writing from a young age, stories mainly. At around the age of fourteen, I began to read poetry at school – Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas spring to mind. A little later I began to go to readings – one of the first must have been the Liverpool Poets. By now, I was writing – imitating other people at first, but that’s okay, it’s not a bad way to start. And, like many other people, I had one or two particularly encouraging teachers.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

See above really.

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

I didn’t think of it. I don’t think I had that kind of awareness then. I know that there is a particular ‘canon’ where older, male poets predominate but I’ve read around that for years. My tastes are pretty eclectic.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’d like to say I had one but I don’t. I write as and when, preferably first thing. I’m always planning to plan a routine but it never happens. Sometimes I write on my phone in the middle of the night – a very bad habit for an insomniac.

5. What motivates you to write?

Reading terrific poetry. I read to try to find out how poets create their poems. I can’t imagine not writing. I’m involved in organising spoken word event, Word!,at Attenborough Arts in Leicester and hearing the range of poems performed there is incredibly motivating. Writing course run by, for example, the Arvon Foundation, The Old Olive Press at Almasserra Vella and The Poetry Business. I’ve had some inspirational tutors.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m pretty driven. I completed a PhD in Creative Writing in 2016 – that included a poetry collection which still needs some revision and I’ll be working on that very soon I I was working full-time when I did it and it took seven years to complete. I look back and I still don’t know how I managed it. I had terrific, supportive supervisors.

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

It’s difficult to know. I’m not sure they do consciously but subconsciously, everything we ever read must be mulch for what we are writing now.

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

I can’t answer that because there are so many. Like I have said, I read a lot and am open to experiencing many different types of poetry.

9. Why do you write?

It keeps me sane. I can’t imagine not writing. To discover what I didn’t know. To create. To be part of a writing community. To carry on having discussions about writing and reading poetry with other writers.

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

I’d ask them if they were already writing. If the answer was yes, well, they are writers already. “How do you become a published writer?” is another question. The response would depend on how long they had been writing, how they viewed the writing they did and what they thought they might gain from being published. To either question I’d say read a wide range of poetry.

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

As I’ve mentioned above, revising my PhD Collection. I plan to do more collaborative work with talented writer, artist and musician, Ben Webb, also known as Jinwoo. Ben designed the cover of Strange Fashion.  He is also a member of a great up-and-coming contemporary folk band, Bird in the Belly. https://www.facebook.com/birdinthebelly/ I also intend to update my blog.

Wombwell Rainbow Book Review: Dark Hour by Nadia de Vries

Dark Hour

Dark Hour by Nadia de Vries


The Review

Darkness and time. The image of a single Swan’s wing outstretched on the book cover.

Turn the pages to see the words:

Remember when I was terrified?
Good me neither.

Forty-five pithy, playful, elusive references to Harry Potter (Defense Against the Dark Arts) vampires and angels.  First and last titles: “Cute as Hell”, “Now That I’m a Cursed Woman”.

Terror and cuteness appear again in her poem “Safe Word” which is worth quoting in full:

Everything about me is cute.
My trust issues are strawberry-scented.
I put out a saucer of milk for each monster.
My hatred is soft.
It barely exists.

I know God is real because persimmons exist.” Often known as “God’s Pear” the persimmon is seen as a fruit of enlightenment.

She says:

We meet in the darkness.
We point at the darkness.
We laugh at the darkness.


The Swan falls into the nettles.

She speaks usually from the “I”. She reimagines museums and art galleries internalising the effect they have on her.

It is an excellent read, in turns surprising and thought provoking.

Nadia’s The Wombwell Interview: https://thewombwellrainbow.com/2019/02/06/wombwell-rainbow-interviews-nadia-de-vries/

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Benjamin Brindise

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.

Benjamin Brindise

Benjamin Brindise

Just Buffalo teaching artist Benjamin Brindise is the author of the chapbook ROTTEN KID (Ghost City Press, 2017), the full length collection of poetry Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire (EMP Books, 2018), and the short fiction micro chap Secret Anniversaries (Ghost City Press, 2019).

He has represented Buffalo, NY in the National Poetry Slam in 2015, 2016, and 2018, helping Buffalo to place as high as 9th in the country. His poetry and fiction has been published widely online and in print including Maudlin House, Peach Mag, and The Marathon Literary Review.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I came to poetry in a search for an honest place. I’ve been writing fiction, telling stories, laying myself between the lines for as long as I can remember, but at twenty-five I was seeking a release from narrative. In college, I had written and studied poetry, but I felt I was stronger with prose and so never allowed myself the chance to consider verse a viable path. Six years ago I stumbled into the Pure Ink Poetry Slam in Buffalo, NY and was blown away by performance poetry. After that, I wanted to try it myself.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The earliest memory I have of poetry is from when my mom went back to college while she was working full-time. She took me to the library at the school and there was a poetry contest and she suggested I give it a try. I remember thinking, “Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be good at.” I got four lines down that didn’t mean anything, knew it was terrible, and decided to never try writing a poem again.

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

I’m not sure poetry lends to a dominating presence per se. There are people who’ve been around longer, people who have done more things, and published more places, but if they’re older, that’s not really a surprise. At some point they were young poets who hadn’t done anything, yet, too. Everyone has different goals, everyone wants different things out of writing. I think comparing yourself to other writers is a fools errand that wastes time you could use doing things that make you happy.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I used to put a lot of stock into a daily writing routine. I read On Writing and Faulkner’s The Art of Fiction No. 12 interview and became convinced the capitalist position that grinding away every day is the way to do it. If you are compelled to write, if you must write more than anything else, shouldn’t you feel the need to do it every day?

No. If you’re a well adjusted human being with a balanced life other things are bound to take your attention. Stephen King can sit there and tell us we should shoot for 2,000 words a day, and in the context of writing a novel, getting it out quickly and not losing the thread of a long story makes sense, but to try to hold yourself to some mythical standard someone said once is unrealistic, and in my opinion, counter productive.

Go at your own pace. Sometimes you’re just not ready to do your best work yet and that’s okay. If you don’t feel like writing, or you’re only writing poor quality stuff, it’s probably time to recharge the batteries. Write enough stuff you don’t like and eventually writing is no longer the thing you enjoy so much.

5. What motivates you to write?

I always wanted to tell stories. It is truly the one thing I feel right doing. If I didn’t do it at least some of the time, I wouldn’t be happy.

6. What is your work ethic?

Do the best you can with what you have while you have it.

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

I like to think there’s a shelf on every writer’s toolbox that’s full of tips and tricks they picked up from their influences. In the beginning, it’s what you loved about someone else’s writing, but as time goes on, it’s what you thought was missing; what you would have done differently.

I think influence is the beginning of a writer’s formation of their own taste. Whether for good, or for bad, the writers you spent a lot of time reading will determine what you think is good, and what you think is bad. I don’t think there’s a way to avoid that.

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

There are so many. In terms of ‘big name’ writers, I’ve really fallen for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I lived inside her book, Americanah, for much longer than I normally spend reading a book. I feel like I know those characters and that’s something special.

But everyone knows the ‘big name’ writers, don’t they? In Buffalo, we’ve had something of a writing renaissance over the last few years. These writers, the ones I hear at open mics, the ones I’ve heard drafts of while they’re still working on them, or the writers who’ve come in to the city to feature at various readings, these are the people that have impacted me the most. For poetry, I really admire June Gehringer’s word choice, Justin Karcher’s imagery, Rachelle Toarmino’s style, Jazz De Nero’s seemingly unending creativity, and Skyler Jaye Rutkowski’s uncompromising dive into the grit. For fiction, I really admire Matt Bookin’s story telling. I’m not sure there’s anyone who sounds like Bookin, and that’s pretty impressive in itself.

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

Stories were the first things I got lost in. They were my first friends. They took me away from the world and made me feel better. Writing is the only thing I feel right doing.

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

Read a lot. Take your time. Run after the ideas that start your brain on fire and let go of the ones that become a slog. Enjoy yourself. If you’re not, what’s the point?

For practical advice, google is your friend. Any question you have on “how do I publish?”, “how do I write a cover letter?”, “what should be in my bio?” etc, can be found through a quick google search. Don’t saddle other writers with the leg work you should do on your own. Most likely, they did their own leg work to have answers to those questions. You can do the same.

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

Secret Anniversaries, a micro chapbook of four short stories, came out recently through the Ghost City Press Summer Series and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of it. If people only read one thing I’ve ever written, I’d want it to be this project. You can find it for free (with a pay-what-you-can option) on their website (link: https://ghostcitypress.com/2019-summer-microchap-series-1/secret-anniversaries).

I’m currently at work on my second novel, Ketchum. It’s a really different direction for me. My first novel, A Bad Spot, was a work of horror that dove into the psyche of an aging generation of millenial’s and how we deal with the legacy left to us by previous generations (hey agents, I’m shopping that bad boy around right now, just saying), but Ketchum requires no such suspension of disbelief. It’s about people in a place and what happens to them. Sound simple? No one said good stories had to be complicated.

To find out more about upcoming projects, new releases, or if I ever sell a novel, you can find me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ben.brindise/), on Twitter @benbrindise, or on Instagram @benjaminbrindiseauthor


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Michael J. Whelan

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.

Rules Of Engagement

Michael J. Whelan

is a historian and soldier-poet living in South Dublin, Ireland. He deployed as a United Nations Peacekeeper with the Irish Defence Forces to the conflicts in Lebanon and Kosovo in the 1990s. He holds a Masters Degree in Modern History from NUI Maynooth and is keeper of the Air Corps Military Museum and collector of oral history for the Military Archives of Ireland Oral History Programme. His poems are published Australia, Paris, Mexico, USA, UK, South Africa and Ireland and included in ‘And Agamemnon Dead: An Anthology of Early Twenty First Century Irish Poetry, (Paris 2015) & ‘The Hundred Years War: Modern War Poems’ (Bloodaxe UK) 2014. He was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series and was 2nd Place Winner of the Patrick Kavanagh & 3rd in the Jonathan Swift Awards. He has featured on T.V. and radio and at literary festivals and his debut collection ‘Peacekeeper’ was published in 2016 by Doire Press. He is currently working towards his second collection ‘Rules of Engagement’ to be published in 2019.

For more information visit http://www.doirepress.com/writers/m_z/michael_whelan/

and www.michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com

The Interview


I had been interested in poetry to a certain level but always thought it was for other people not me. It came from my school days I think and reading the accounts of soldiers of the 19th and 20th century conflicts, their poems seemed to bring a clearer image of their lives and experiences that the history text books didn’t. My own studies for a history degree and later the Masters meant a widening of my historical research, which inevitably lead to a rediscovery of poetry, though I didn’t realise how much or what that would mean for a long time afterwards. But I really have to place my inspiration to write poetry with my mother and her passing. This was a difficult time for me as you can imagine, she had always told me to write down my experiences, the few I had shared with her after my return from active service tours of duty abroad as an Irish soldier with the United Nations in Lebanon and later in Kosovo. Her passing was quite an emotional period for me and at that time I remember there was an Irish band called The Script (from Dublin) who were doing well in the charts, their music and lyrics were all over the radio and TV and some of the lines they sang resonated with me, I kept repeating them and this I think helped with my emotional response to what I was feeling. Soon after this I wrote my first poem (a very bad one) about my mother and my feelings which was full of that grief that gets trapped with you. I have that poem framed in my home, it’s raw but it’s a reminder of when poetry started for me as an emotional release, when words really meant something and since then much of what I write in poems references my military experiences. So, in reality I am writing it down as she requested and this in a very real way was her parting gift to me.


As I mentioned previously I had read poetry when younger and then during my studies, also when soldiering you tend to try to educate yourself about the profession through the writing’s of earlier soldiers, historians and sometimes the poets. My mother in a very strange but real way led me to poetry. I was pretty bad in the beginning (some might say I haven’t improved) but a poet/writer has to learn the skills by learning from others. I read many poets including those of the Great War and WWII in order to figure out and explore my own experiences and who I was and what it means to be in this world at this time. More recent poets like Brian Turner put me into the modern context. It seems that I might be the first Irish soldier (Irish Defence Forces) to publish a collection of poems, the first in almost a hundred years, since Francis Ledwidge (who perished in WWI while serving with British Army) to write about soldiering and military service abroad in the Irish army context. This is unreal and I feel very inadequate at times but at the same time I know what I try to convey is important for me and my sense of who I am, and what I and other service members do and have done. I continue to read as much as I can from as wide a range as possible so in effect I am always being introduced to poetry by someone, living and dead, through their words.


When I began writing poetry I wasn’t really that aware of older poets, living or dead, but over the years I have discovered many of them and come to appreciate them. I read their works and am always learning from them and about myself. I have many older friends who write poetry and I appreciate their life experiences. Their encouragement and support to me is a powerful thing. I pay a lot of attention to the older/earlier poets of the Middle-East, Asia who are introduced to me sometimes by Irish writers and academics living in those areas. I learn from them too about older Irish poetry and poets, the long traditions and I hope someday I will fit in to this narrative somehow. Poetry has a way of introducing deep time to me and there are many voices in there, male and female. There are some female poets in Ireland who have been real mentors to me, one of them is Catalan.


The hope that my poems will be read, that someone somewhere will get something from the poems, the thing I’m trying to describe – the event, experience, moment. I think poetry/a poem can be a document of historical context too and sometimes that excites me. When I read my poems, the audience’s reaction and comment afterwards can be grounding, educational and sometimes powerful rewards for someone like me trying to figure it out.

Not all of my poetry references conflict but there is a lot that does at the moment. My understanding of the world changed after serving abroad on international peace support missions as an Irish United Nations Peacekeeper in the 1990s, so this has become part of me to a great extent, my life experience. I’m a lot older now but since returning home I’ve had a lot of time to think about what was going on in the world at that time, the geo-political landscapes I was operating in back then, and now, and how cruel humans can be and how ignorant we can be of others. And there’s my appreciation of history through studying and writing it, the places I had been, the mass graves, death, ethnic cleansing, violence, feeling afterwards that the help I thought I was there to provide really made me feel inept in the long run of things, scared and pawn shaped etc. I had to revaluate what my presence in those historic and seismic events had been? what it all meant?, did my being there actually mean anything? I think I am too sensitive a person at times and being a person such as that, prepared to serve, carrying a weapon to keep the peace (sometimes to enforce it) but feeling inadequate against the overwhelming tide of hurt in an area like Kosovo or South Lebanon, afterwards makes a person conscious of the potential disasters the world can pull itself into. I don’t want the world going into another global conflict, I have children of my own now, so I’m trying to show others through some of my writing, especially here at home, how close a thing that that is, especially in the current climate of political disaster. I have a disgust then at what humans have done and are still capable of inflicting on each other, the things that are going on right now, to the innocent especially. So in a very real way I’m trying to reconcile all this in my mind, not to glorify it or to glorify or war. I write to see myself.


I try to read poetry every day, even one poem before I head out the door to work in the morning. I always carry notebooks to write down a line or ideas that come to me. I write a lot from my back garden but I don’t write everyday and sometimes I feel a bit guilty about this and when I do write I feel really great and on a buzz. I love writing, I love trying to be a good poet frustrating as that is at times. A line might be just something I see and want to write it down as I see it, to try capture a scene as if a photograph, which I might use in a poem later. I feel alive when I see nature up close, it’s a cliché I know to say this but I feel like there’s whole universes in the back garden.


As I mentioned I read the poets of the Great War and always had an interest in that conflict and WWII because they helped shaped the world we live in today. As a soldier who has served in conflict zones myself these poets resonate with me, so as a result I have endeavoured to visit the Western Front, (the Somme, Flanders etc), Gallipoli and much of the area of Ireland associated with the long struggle for independence and civil war in the early part of the 20th Century Modern Ireland was born as a result of those turbulent and violent years and all this occurred against the back drop of the Great War. I have walked the battlefields and cemeteries and visited the graves of many of the writers including Wilfred Owen, Francis Ledwidge, Isaac Rosenberg etc. I have seen the memorials which keep the names of Tomas Kettle and others both there and here in Ireland like the executed leaders who were poets too (Pearce, McDonagh, Plunkett etc). This is because I am a historian but also it because of the connection I feel with that time and the poets through their words, their lines so to speak. They perished but they also wrote about it, the things that motivated them and what they experienced, which today gives us a better understanding. I am a historian who uses the poets and their poetry to help students understand the periods. I hope someday someone might do the same with my work. The world we live in is a mess and the battlefield cemeteries are emotive landscapes, they should be seen as reminders of what we humans are capable of.


I admire any writer and poet who is endeavouring to craft their writing in today’s world. I have been lucky enough to meet many and to have been encouraged by many and I am privileged to have made friends among them both here and abroad, too many to mention. I love reading new and very recent translations of older poets produced by Irish writers in Turkey and other places around the world. I think the Irish female poets have taught me an awful lot but seem to have been left out of the historical and literary narrative to a great extent, especially those of the 19th and early 29th centuries and I am still discovering them because of the sterling work of others who are doing their best to keep their works relevant and seen.


I write to try figure out the world I think and my place in it. I write to live, to see myself – to exist in and outside my own head. I write to be relevant I suppose, to belong to the future and the past as well as the present I write to try educate people, I write because I don’t think anything else, besides my family, is as important to me. I write because it is the most difficult thing to do to and the easiest. I write because that is what I do and it took a long time for me to discover that fact. I do a lot of things, am involved in a lot of projects, running an aviation museum, being a historian, educator, a father and husband etc but writing poetry is my form of expression, of communication with the world and mostly with myself. In the beginning a writer wants to write afterwards comes the need.


I would say that I am still trying to achieve that status and will probably always feel that way even if I achieve success, that a writer at some level is always trying to become a writer, even a better one, always learning, always afraid of not being good enough. I would also say that the important thing is to read, always read as often as possible, to write down the little bits, the ideas that come into your head. If you have an idea for a chapter or a poem, write it down without worrying if it works, it’s better to have the words written than floating in your head, it’s a product then that you can work with. Write down what you see, the universe is in your back garden, the insect walking along the leaf on the bushes has so much depth in it, if you can understand that then you can conceptualise great things and possibilities. Write something every day even a sentence, a diary entry, words in the end are powerful.


At the moment I have just finished the final editing and am working on the front cover of my new collection of poems Rules of Engagement with my publisher, which is due out in October this year (Doire Press). This will be my second collection and continues in part from my first which is titled Peacekeeper (2016)

see https://www.doirepress.com/writers/m_z/michael_whelan/ which focussed on the experience of Irish Peacekeepers, myself included, in Lebanon and Kosovo. Historically there is a low level of appreciation and understanding among the public of what Irish soldiers do especially when on active duty abroad and also of their families, so I was very happy when Doire Press acknowledged this part of Irish society and took me on board to put the poems out in to the world, they are the first publisher to do this. The new collection includes references to the war poets, active service abroad, the Irish military and also personal and historical based pieces back dropped of course by the current world we are navigating. I’m still writing poems and attending readings and although I think I will always write about the military experiences I am concentrating on other subjects, to greater degree, now.

Michael J. Whelan


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rus Khomutoff

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.


Rus Khomutoff

is a neo surrealist language poet based in Brooklyn, NY. His poetry has appeared in Erbacce, Occulum, Poethead, Former People Journal and Burning House Press. In 2016 he released his debut ebook Immaculate Days. He is on twitter @rusdaboss

Radia (chapbook), available at https://voidfrontpress.org

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I come from a family of artists. My mother is an artist and my father is a former poet. I am what you call a late bloomer in my pursuit of poetry.In college I studied filmmaking, I only started thinking about poetry seriously a few years ago when I had a traumatic near death experience. You won’t believe this but after I came back from the hospital, a voice urged me to start writing. It was prophetic!

2. What inspired you to write Radia?

I believe that the path is the destination. Writing Radia was a spontaneous combustion! I didn’t realize this until later but my poetry seems to come from a place Osho called the ‘no mind’. The poems in Radia come from this particular place. My writing is very instinctual, I write with a loose approach similar to automatic writing. In general my views on poetry have evolved since my first book, Immaculate Days. I have met some extraordinary poets along the way who have opened my eyes to the rich possibilities of poetry, poets like Felino A. Soriano, Ric Carfagna, John Pursch and Michael Lee Rattigan.

These poets enunciate the emergency of being.

2.1. What do you mean by “enunciate the emergency of being”?

David Lerner wrote “The future task of language is to burn itself down in prayer and invent a new code for beauty“. These words are impossible to interpret because they exude the impossible.Georges Bataille said “All profound life is heavy with the impossible”

Radia is a work heavy with the impossible. I’ve tried to infuse Radia with magical, phenomenal texture, I hope the readers find this enjoyable!

2.2. How does “magical, phenomenal texture” manifest itself?

Like I said earlier my writing is primarily instinctual….
I pay attention to social media, newspapers and music.
I have a poem in Radia I dedicated to singer Scott Weiland,
who passed away not long ago. That poem means a lot to me!
I also have a poem in Radia dedicated to the great french director
Jean Luc Godard. It is inspired by his latest film, The Image Book, which I loved!
Another poem in Radia is dedicated to an obscure french poet Stanislas Rodanski.
Jim Morrison has been a huge influence on my work, and I have a poem in Radia dedicated to him

3. What daily writing routine led to Radia?

Most of the poems in Radia were written at night, they reflect an element of nocturnal stillness.

4. What motivates you to write?

This is a good question…Honestly life presents so many glorious moments that it’s hard to say. I’ve always been drawn to the mysterious, unexplained and occult. Writing Radia was revelatory, I discovered things about myself I didn’t know.

I would say that writing to me is like flying, you always want to soar higher.

5. How would you describe your poetry?

Mercurial, capricious, arbitrarious

6. Who of today’s writers do you most admire, and why?

This year I discovered a brilliant writer. Louis Armand, I read Armand’s book Menudo and loved it. Armand’s writing is unclassifiable, it’s metadata.
The conceptual elements of Armand’s writing are at once postmodern and lyrical.
I have a poem in Radia dedicated to Armand.

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

Writing is an experiment…the best writing occurs when the mind is tranquil and unhurried. I believe each person has their own rhythm and follow through.

Writing is an adventure, the road of discovery is endless.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Matt Mitchell

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.

Mitchell Cover[40361]-1

Matt Mitchell

is an intersex poet from Warren, Ohio. He thinks that the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” is the quintessential pop banger. He’s been trying to make his writing as beautiful as Vince Carter’s 360-Windmill in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. His mother is a teacher and his father is an auto parts salesman. He’s gluten-free, and he accepts your apology in advance. Currently, he is at Hiram College in Ohio studying creative writing and dating the choicest woman in the world. He is the self-elected Poet Laureate of Vanilla Coke drinkers. He’s got the best hair in poetry.

He has poems forthcoming from Glass Poetry, COUNTERCLOCK, BARNHOUSE, Drunk Monkeys, and more. His debut micro-chapbook, you & me & the pink moon & these portraits, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press in late August.


The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started seriously writing poetry in the spring of 2017. When I began my first semester at Hiram College in 2016, I wanted to be a fiction writer, but that dream faded after I was introduced to Hanif Abdurraqib’s first collection The Crown Ain’t Worth Much. Dan Campbell from the band The Wonder Years had posted a photo of the book on his Instagram and, after one thing led to another, I owned the book as well. It was there that I had my first glimpse into what modern poetry looked like. I was enamored. After spending all of high school looking at poetry through the narrow scope of Whitman, Poe, etc., I felt liberated from that.

Why I write poetry is a lot more complicated in some ways. I write poetry as a means of escape, as cliche as that sounds. It was through poetry that I was able to project my queerness into written word, even though most of those pieces have not been published yet. I’m taking my time with those poems. I only started putting my identity into my poetry a handful of months ago. There’s a poem in my new chapbook, “ode to eliot ness, ending in aphasia,” where I finally speak about the complex relationship I have with myself and my father, specifically, and how I’ve yet to really talk about my identity with him. The poem was inspired by sam sax’s “LISP,” which I found great inspiration in and attempted to model my own story after. I write poetry because I have trouble speaking to others about things that are important to me in a casual tone. I hope that my writing can have the conversations I often struggle having.

1.1. Why did you feel liberated?

Mostly because I was reading their works and not understanding or relating to any of it. I’ve never felt the urge to chant “O, Captain, My Captain” from the top of a desk. In high school, my English teachers tried programming it into my brain that this is how poetry must be written. To learn that poetry truly can’t be compartmentalized like that completely reshaped my worldview, for the better.

2, How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Completely aware. Maybe not so much seven years ago. What comes with maturity in the writing community is understanding how the work of older poets, even those as modern as the Beat poets, has truly influenced newer work. I just had no idea, way back when, that poets were out here doing such experimental and jaw-dropping work. One thing we did in high school was read Shakespeare’s sonnets. Discovering Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin opened my eyes to the way current poets, those who aren’t much older than I am, are taking these old methods and making them new. I had always seen the old methods as endgame, and that turned me away from poetry at one time, but now I see something that was once liberating to still be liberating, but, at the same, influential. For example, I’m currently trying to compile a manuscript of basketball sonnets with off-rhymes. I would have scoffed at that idea when I was a teenager.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I’ve meandered through various routines, but my current one is late-night writing. Since it’s summer, and I’m not doing much, I start writing around 10 or 11 PM and keep at it until 2 or 3 in the morning. I’m not necessarily churning out five or six poems a night, but, instead, spending more time with each poem. When I was first introduced to Submittable and getting pieces published, I was writing poems and sending them out same day. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve learned to put a lot of care into each piece as I write it.

4. What motivates you to write?

Ohio motivates me to write. So many fantastic poets living in this state, like Hanif Abdurraqib, Ruth Awad, Mary Quade, Jason Harris, and Maggie Smith, have created this movement that no one’s screaming from rooftops about. However, Ohio, Cleveland and Columbus specifically, are busting out at the seams with writing talent. I pride myself on being from Ohio and being in company with these folks. I was born twenty minutes from the GM plant in Lordstown, I grew up in the same town my entire family has lived in for three generations, I go to college at one of the oldest Ohio colleges. Nothing on this planet gives me more inspiration and determination than the state I come from.

There are organizations, like Literary Cleveland, making poetry cool again in a place where the arts have been given the cold shoulder. In high school, no one cared that I wanted to study writing and have a career in that. Everyone was more interested in becoming engineers or beginning a law school track. When I got to Hiram College, I realized that writing is cool, that there are so many others out there doing what I’m doing, and that’s just so neat. I love the community here, and I love that it just keeps growing and growing.

I’ve been inspired by other states to write poetry. Like North Carolina, which is where my poem “ben gibbard composes a song for diebenkorn’s ocean horizon, oil on canvas, 1959,” forthcoming from Glass Poetry, takes place, but it’s still rooted in Ohio. All signs lead back home. I’m a place-based poet, or I try to be, at least. If I hadn’t been born here, in the wondrous Rust Belt, I have no idea where my writing career would be.

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

I often find myself always returning to Stephen King’s On Writing. Not only are there a lot of tremendous and witty and heartbreaking anecdotes in there, but it’s filled with good lessons on how to make a career out of writing. There’s a moment where King writes: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” I’m the kind of writer that walks around with a few lines in their head for days before actually writing it down. I’ll go over it again and again before actually getting it out into a poem. Sometimes I’ll tell my partner the line and she’ll respond with something like “I have no idea what the context of this is, so it doesn’t make sense.” I love those moments, because I usually have no clue what it’s supposed to mean, either.

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

I’ve mentioned Hanif Abdurraqib a few times already. His work really is what influenced me first. I owe a lot of gratitude to him for his words. Growing up, I was a sports fanatic. Still am, to be honest. I had never read any kind of poetry where sports are so casually and powerfully used to drive a message forward. He does that with music, too. I call myself a music and sports poet, and without Hanif’s work, I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to start writing about those things, too. I’ve moved away from seeing him as a celebrity figure to understanding that we are in the same line of work and wanting to have my work compliment his. His poem series “How Can Black People Write About Flowers At a Time Like This” is the best batch of poems in the world right now.

My partner introduced me to Keegan Lester’s work in 2017 when she let me borrow his book, this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all I had so I drew it, and I was completely enamored by his style and rhythm. Him being a West Virginia poet was so appealing to me, too, because my family is from there, and I was able to read his work and step into his shoes.

Alexia Kemerling is another writer I draw a lot of inspiration from. Her prose is stupendous and sticks with you. She has an essay about a super-interesting man from her hometown, and the way she can seamlessly weave through a narrative without any sudden stops is something I aspire to do with my own work.

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

I write because I can see that words do help people. I wanted to be a professional drawer at one point, but I fell in love with writing. There was one instance in my life where I wanted to be a rock star. I’d make my own CDs with my own cover art and track listings, even though I never wrote most of the songs. I’d like to think I’m good at writing, though, because I’m not good at much else, in terms of things that would lead to a professional career. I always wanted to be an NBA player growing up, but I think my chances of getting a draft invite are gone because I had a broken left kneecap and never went to therapy to get it rehabbed. There also aren’t many jobs tailored to being able to list the 1967 MLB Home Run Leaders in order.

Sometimes the right job/hobby/whatever sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Other times, you know from a young age what your professional destiny is. I’m still trying to figure out what mine is, honestly. For now, writing feels right. I hope I can do it for a long time, and most can. It’s like golf, which is a game you can play until you’re well into your seventies, eighties, and so on.

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

I would say: “Just write.” I think there are a lot of discouraging folks out there who think you can measure success by publications and book numbers. I don’t see it like that. If you want to write four-line poems and you’re proud of that, then you’re a writer. It’s such a loose term and too many folks are trying to exclude certain circumstances. Writing is all subjective, too. No one should let the personal tastes of others dictate whether or not the things they write are good or bad. Just go write and make the most of it.

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

I’m going through a couple of projects right now, including two poetry manuscripts, but one I’m about to get started on is a long-form essay about the 1977-1979 Chalker High School basketball teams. I graduated from there, and, growing up, I was continuously learning from my grandmother about that team’s legacy. The school has always been about 400-600 kids K-12, so the fact that the late-70s teams almost went to the state championship and the team still wonders what could’ve been has stuck with me. I’m looking to dissect those years and get an understanding of how such a small feat, in the grand scheme of life accomplishments, can impact such a small town. I’ve been sitting on that idea for a while, and now I’m finally moving forward with it. Those three years were also a weird time in America. There was the rise and sudden fall of disco, the Carter years, the Iranian hostage situation, the beginning of the evolution towards the 1980s. It’s a small blip in history with so much to talk about. I’d like to use the basketball teams as sort of vehicles to develop a better idea of what the Rust Belt in the 1970s looked like, especially for a town of 3,000 people.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Isabel del Rio

Wombwell Rainbow Interview

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.

Isabel del Rio

is a bilingual writer and linguist.  She was born in Madrid but has spent most of her life in London.  She has published fiction and poetry in both English and Spanish. Her books include La duda, shortlisted for two literary awards, and the bilingual Zero Negative–Cero negativo.  Her latest collections of short stories are Paradise & Hell and Una muerte incidental.  Among her poetry books are The Moon at the End of my Street and Ataraxy.  Her novels include Dissent, part of the trilogy Planet in Peril and El tiempo que falta.  She has worked as a full-time journalist and broadcaster for the BBC World Service, and as a full-time linguist for a UN agency in London.  Her poems have appeared in printed and online magazines, and her short stories have been translated.  She regularly takes part in poetry/prose readings and is an established performance and visual poet.  She is the co-founder of a new independent publishing venture, Friends of Alice Publishing.  Her website is:  http://www.isabeldelrio.com (it includes a selection of stories and poems in English and Spanish under the dropdowns ‘Stories’ and ‘Poetry’)

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I started reading and writing at an early age.  I was especially encouraged when I realised what the purpose of writing was:  to be read.  My parents would read us all these wonderful tales when we were children −my father sometimes made stories up on the spot, something which I would later do with my own children.   I was also good at drawing, so I would write little stories and illustrate them.

My first serious poem was dedicated to my mother after her death.  I was barely an adolescent, and what I wrote was unbearably long and terribly sad.  Love lost, nostalgia, remembrance, darkness, tragedy were my subjects back then… and I suppose they still are now.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was exposed to poetry in two languages, English and Spanish, and I could not help but continuously compare the two.  I was always trying to establish the difference between what was poetic in English and what was poetic in Spanish, and would think about the different  rhythms, the distinctive subjects in each language, and so on.  As children, our mother would make us recite poetry and plays (mostly from the Golden Age of Spanish literature, i.e. 17th century).  Also, my grandmother knew many popular poems and songs and she would recite or sing them to us.  And then there were nursery rhymes at school, as well as reciting and singing with friends.

But I also loved to listen to people’s stories, which I found to be even more impactful because they were for real.  Most don’t realise that they sometimes say rather poetic things, and I was always on the look-out for an exciting line or a good story.  I remember when I was a young child and we went to visit a beautiful lake.  It was a group of parents and children.  We were standing in front of the lake, contemplating its beauty, and it suddenly became very quiet.  There was absolutely no sound coming from anywhere, the water was perfectly still, and no birds or insects could be heard.  And one of parents said: “Can you hear the silence?”  In my child’s mind I found that question to be both perplexing and beautiful, and I was entranced.  That sense of wonderment is most probably the source of all poetry, and we must never lose that sense.

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

I do not consider older poets dominating literature so much as dominating language itself.  If you are to write, start at the beginning −find out how language was used by those who had no other medium but the written page to give expression to their thoughts and ideas.  In the case of contemporary poets, we have to be very familiar with the language of today:  social media, online publications, blogs and wikis, as well as all the visual incentives to express our views.  Technology has changed how we do it, yet we are not that different from poets and writers from long ago in what we do.  The sentiments are the same as those from centuries back.  Indeed, we have more words, more concepts, more innovations.  But back then, the richness of language, the complexity of expressions, the long and detailed descriptions were all unique, and young writers should resort to the classics to find out how it was done.  Recently I re-read two “classics” to refresh my memory (reading the classics truly puts you in your place!):  Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, with descriptions that stir universes as nothing today can;  and Frankenstein, in which despite its narrative flaws (let’s not forget that Mary Shelley was but 20 when she wrote it, though possibly aided by Shelley himself) the intricacies of the language are matchless.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

As a full-time writer, I normally work 3-4 hours in the morning and 4-5 hours in the afternoon.  I have been known to write late into the night, but I avoid that sort of thing because I need regularity for my sleep.  I wake up very early, at around 5 a.m., and read online papers (I am a news junkie!) and begin to get my ideas in order, or come up a few ideas for further development.  If I am in the middle of a story (which is usually the case), I think of speech or descriptions that I will type into Notes on my iPhone, or simply write on a post-it.

When I was working full-time as a linguist (for decades and until only a few years ago), I only had evenings and weekends and holidays to write, and yet I managed to do it regularly and produce a considerable amount of work.  Throughout the day I would send emails to my private email address if I had any ideas worth saving.  Even with a full-time job I was able to write.  You must want to write above all else!

But writing is not only about putting pen to paper.  Writers are involved in so many activities nowadays: readings, performances, presentations, launches, keeping up with their social media presence, and so on.  As a writer in two languages, I am also involved in Spanish-speaking literary groups, so I am extremely busy.  I translate literature as well, mostly poetry.  And I also run a small publishing company.  And let’s not forget that certain hours of the day have to be dedicated to living!

5. What motivates you to write?

I am motivated by a love of words, and the feats you can achieve solely with words.  But I am also pushed by the need to say what has to be said, especially at such volatile and uncertain times.  In a way, my life has been dedicated to words, and  I consider myself a language practitioner as I have worked in most language-related fields: broadcasting and journalism; writing, scriptwriting and screenwriting; literary and technical translation; lexicography and terminology; tutoring in writing and translation.

I certainly consider words to be sacred and they must not be taken lightly.  I use them sparingly and carefully, both in my writing and in everyday life.  There is also an element of plasticity in words: not only must words say exactly what you mean, but they must look good on the page.  Words are ultimately an art form.

6. What is your work ethic?

Persistence, dedication, commitment, sacrifice, keeping at it and never looking back despite setbacks, defying adversity, dealing with rejection (it took me a year to recover from my first rejection!), coping with the lack of interest by others.

As a writer you are always an outsider, and even fellow poets and writers do not always provide the support you need.  As to non-writers, many are not remotely interested in what poets have to go through nor in the sensitivity poets require in order to feel what is happening around them and not only see it.

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

As both a poet and a fiction writer, my first serious fiction readings were of Guy de Maupassant’s stories, and in poetry I very much admired (and still do) Antonio Machado.  The list of writers that influenced me when young would be too long to mention.   When I write, I always have in my heart the first writers I ever read, and I must not forget that they were also my first teachers.

Also, I think one ultimately never changes.  Or let’s rephrase that, your sensitivity, largely responsible for your poetry, never changes.  As an example, I still consider my best poems to be those I wrote when very young.

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

Again, it would be an endless list, and it would depend on the subject, genre, historical period and so on.  Let me just mention one poet: Don Paterson.   I find his aphorisms, for example, quite magnificent, the formal effortlessness concealing reflective complexity.   And one fiction writer:  Jorge Luis Borges, the master of short stories, as well as an exceptional poet.  In both cases, the philosophical content of the writing is as fundamental as the stories or the poems themselves.

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

It has chosen me, I suppose.  Would I have chosen writing?  I probably would, but that’s because I can somehow and stubbornly deal with the struggles that come with the job −at least most of the time!

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

You need a good toolkit.  Words are your bricks, grammar is your mortar, you require a decent floor plan to know where you are going, and any embellishments will come from reading anything you can get your hands on.  And of course, you need an idea to write about.  And where do ideas come from?  Well, that remains a mystery, for they can crop up any time from places unknown.

And remember that  there is no such thing as inspiration, only hard work (and the sweat and tears that come with it!).

Writing is a simple enough recipe:  sit and write; then get up and walk around; then sit again and read what you have written;  do this twice, three times, or as many times as necessary until you get the required taste, look and feel;  stir and serve especially cold.

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

I am working on an autobiographical book of poems.  A bilingual memoir.  A spy novella.  And as always, lots and lots of short stories.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ally Wharton

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.

Ally Wharton

Ally Wharton

is a rising sophomore history major and Appalachian Studies minor and currently resides in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. She sits on the board for Shepherd University’s Appalachian Studies program, and is on the committee for the Appalachian Heritage Writer-In-Residence (AHWIR). She has been selected to read at the AHWIR since 2015, is a three-year alumna of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, and served as an intern for the 2019 West Virginia Writers Conference. After graduating, she plans to pursue a masters and PhD in history, studying Appalachia and focusing on diaspora studies and labor and working class history. Her poetry and writing has appeared in various journals, including Maudlin House, Cheap Pop, and Five2One, and her micro-chapbook “Polarity” is forthcoming from Ghost City Press.

Twitter: @Ally_Wharton, https://twitter.com/ally_wharton
Instagram: @_angelheaded_hipster_ ,

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom tells stories all the time about when I was 18 months old and first learned how to read. I remember being a kid, still not really knowing how to “write,” per say, but my parents bought me a book kit for children when I was about five years old for Christmas, where you would write out the words to the story, had space to draw pictures, and then could send it away to have a bound hardback book made. To get the words of the story, my parents would listen to what I said and write down everything. From early on I was telling stories, and always had the complete support of my parents, which meant everything.

When I started middle school, I started writing what, at the time, I would have deemed seriously. I was learning to play guitar back then, and was dead set on eventually going to college for song writing, which in a sense is a form of poetry. I was bullied a bit in middle school, and writing helped me through it. It was in those middle school years that I first discovered Confessional poetry, which is what later on would give me the final push to start writing actual poetry.

My freshman year of high school, I dropped the song writing dreams and started writing flash fiction. It was this year that the most important moment of my writing career occurred. I wrote a simple short story for class, and my wonderful English teacher, Jennifer Nicholson, handed it back with the comment “Ally- do you even know how brilliant you are?” Words like that are a shock today still, let alone back as a shy fourteen year old. It still gives me chills to know that someone believes in me like that.

It was that summer that I first attended the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop and first met the woman who basically has become a sort of writing mentor and a wonderful friend over the years, Natalie Sypolt. I returned to that workshop the next year, as a sixteen year old with two publications already, and a new perspective on life.

Somewhere along the lines of high school stress, I broke down. The first spell of depression came about that time, and that is when I turned completely to Plath and Sexton. Writing had always been a part of my life, but I looked at these women who wrote so openly about their lives, and that is exactly what I wanted for myself. I realized at some point, that I didn’t want to hide my feelings under the guise of fiction anymore. I wanted my writing to be more raw and gritty and honest, and poetry has allowed me to do that.

This is a long timeline to get to how I first started writing poetry, but I think the writing background is something important to acknowledge when asked about my beginnings as a writer or just a poet in general. In my writing, as well as my life, there were times in which I thought that I wouldn’t make it. The people who have supported me are the ones I want to share my successes. As I continue in my writing to explore the darker sides of human nature and life, those same people have stayed by me. It’s easier to talk about the scary things if people are there to catch you if and when you fall back again.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I sort of stumbled into poetry on my own to some degree. While studying female poets, I very easily was able to discover the female confessional poets, as well as other significant female writers.

At the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, there are manuscript review sessions for participants that sign up, and my second year attending, I was paired with an absolutely outstanding poet, Bryce Berkowitz, who introduced me to the book Mayakovski’s Revolver and I was immediately obsessed with the style of writing in the book, and still am. The following year, I was paired with the now-director of the Workshop, poet Renée Nicholson, who gave me a full packet of work from poets that were necessary to know. Twitter has also been a great resource in finding modern poets and new journals to read and submit to.
I tend to gravitate towards poetry of the 50s and 60s and Appalachian poetry, while writing more experimental pieces. It’s wonderful to be a poet from West Virginia because between the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop as well as the West Virginia Writers Conference, I’m always being introduced to new poets. In the literary world, I’ve learned we never stop getting introduced to new poets, and it’s something I love about the genre as well as my home state and region.

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

I first started submitting poetry to publishers when I was fifteen years old, and naturally, I received many rejections before that first acceptance at sixteen. I definitely was aware of the presence of older poets and what that meant to be a new poet trying to break into the scene. I took my rejections lightly and moved on, but the one that stands out in particular is when I first started out and received a rejection email that simply stated that I was not old enough to be a good writer or to be well read.

As a nineteen year old, with a few publications now and a chapbook forthcoming, I still feel the pressure of older poets and writers. It’s always interesting to see how I’m treated at conferences especially. Peoples’ reactions to my own presence range from being thrilled to meet a young writer, to completely refusing to even look my way. The presence of ageism in the literary world is real, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really bother me. I am a person who loves feedback when it comes to writing, whether it is positive or not. It is my belief that as a writer, it is part of our job to better our craft and ourselves. I personally feel as though it is definitely not age that makes someone a good writer, but rather their willingness to listen to others and take their feedback to heart to try to improve. As a young writer, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative experiences of ageism in literature and poetry, but it’s much more important to focus on the genuine feedback and real, good connections and friendships that blossom through writing instead.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I could say I have more of a consistent routine than I do. The sadly dying art of journaling is where most of my poems begin. I like to just sit down at the end of a long day and aggressively free write for as long as I need depending on the events of the day. Sometimes I can pull good lines out for later. Sometimes I can’t. I think that through letting ideas flow freely from my mind to paper, I am able to get the most real lines out about what I am feeling. Those good lines I am able to use are important because those are the emotions I am able to build off of. If I had a bad day, I may be able to make something beautiful out of it. It’s a messy process, but I find it effective because even if I don’t get exactly what I’m looking for in a good poem, I at least get to blow off some steam.

5. What motivates you to write?

Lately a majority of my writing has centered on themes of mental health and West Virginia.
As far as mental health goes, in my first chapbook, “Polarity,” I wrote very directly about my personal struggles with bipolar disorder, and it’s terrifying. As a matter of fact, it’s weird even saying it now. But I think that’s why I do so. Mental illness is such a taboo subject even still today, and looking back at writers of both the past and present that lived with such illnesses and wrote and were successful, it’s something important to speak about. I strongly believe that the more open people are, the more understanding of a world we are able to create. Progress is important, and I want to be a part of that.

West Virginia is a topic also near and dear to my heart that motivates me to write. I am currently an Appalachian studies minor, sit on the board for my university’s program, serve this year as an editor of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers and judge of the West Virginia Fiction Competition. West Virginia is one of the few states that consistently lose population every year. The most impactful class I have been in thus far was a West Virginia history course.  One day during class, a student raised his hand and remarked that what West Virginia’s poor McDowall County is to our state West Virginia is to our country. Our final essay in the course was on industry in West Virginia and how to keep people from leaving. I got an A on the final. I didn’t come close to solving the problem.

I of course owe my commitment to the state of West Virginia to the director of Shepherd University’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt. Dr. Shurbutt is a person I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn from as her student, research with as a mentee in the field of Appalachian studies, and someone I am proud to be able to call a friend. I got involved in Shepherd University’s Appalachian Heritage Writer-In-Residence when I was fifteen years old, reading for Dr. Shurbutt and writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Wiley Cash, Charles Frazier, and Karen Zacharias over the years. Reading the works of these writers has made me understand just how much a writer can do for the culture of a region, as we work to combat nationwide stereotypes through our words alone. Labor activist Mother Jones is quoted to have said “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” and I want to be able to do this through writing.

6. What is your work ethic?

I oftentimes worry that my work ethic is too unconventional. I’m a procrastinator at heart, but once I get started on a project, it’s just in my nature to just jump in headfirst all the way. For me, I’m either all in a project, or wait around forever to complete it, and there’s no in between. I’m hoping that with age I’ll eventually learn time management, but as of now it’s not so promising…

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

As I mentioned before, I was big into song writing as a kid. I grew up listening to country music, Cash, Jennings, Williams. Old country. A little later I got into punk rock, and I like to think I have some of the fight of the punk bands of the 70s in my writing. The idea of art as a form of protest is an interesting concept to me, and social change through writing is something I think is really important. I also mentioned before that the confessional poets were major influences when I was pretty young to be reading them. I was also into the beat poets as a middle schooler. I used to carry Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems with me wherever I went. The classics were also on my radar pretty early on as a kid. I loved The Catcher in the Rye. Sometimes I still feel like Holden Caulfield. Sometimes I feel like a phony. I think that might just be the nature of writing.

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

This is a difficult question to answer since most of the writers I love write very different things. Silas House will always be a favorite. Southernmost is an absolutely brilliant novel written by a brilliant author. Karen Spears Zacharias is another excellent writer I had the pleasure of meeting, and so importantly portrays mental illness and how it is treated in Appalachia in her book Mother of Rain. Natalie Sypolt (The Sound of Holding Your Breath) and Renée Nicholson (Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center) are both outstanding writers I’ve looked up to for years. Through Natalie, I was introduced to poet Keegan Lester, whose book this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all I had so I drew it has become a favorite of mine, and is a book I find myself consistently going back to for inspiration. Another book I’ve been obsessed with since it’s release is Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, a necessary read for anyone who has read Vance’s problematic Hillbilly Elegy.

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

To quote a poet I’ve previously mentioned, Renée Nicholson, “words do save us.” I think it’s as simple as that.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Writing makes you a writer. That’s all there is to it.

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

I have quite a few projects I’m currently working on.  I’m a history major, and last semester I was in an introductory course to historic preservation taught by one of my favorite professors and people in general I’ve met while in college, Dr. Keith Alexander.  I absolutely fell in love with the subject, and because it had such an impact, I wanted to start a poetry project based on some of the subject matter I learned while in the class.  For my newest project, I am creating a chapbook of found poetry by taking lines from The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Found poetry has always been an interesting poetic concept that I’ve enjoyed playing around with for fun.  This project is much more serious, however, and I’m what I hope to achieve in the construction of these poems are pieces meant to reflect both the tragedy of deteriorating properties as well as a deteriorating mental state.  The work-in-progress is currently titled “Rehab,” and I’m about a forth of the way finished so far.

My second big project I’m working on is a collection of memoir essays. So far the most difficult part of this project is not the writing process itself, but rather dealing with peoples’ negative reactions when I tell them about these essays. I realize it is a bit strange for a nineteen year old to be writing her life story, but for me, that isn’t what memoir is all about. My memoir-in-progress is a collection of specific moments in my life that have shaped who I am, from my adoption from Romania, to growing up in West Virginia, and dealing with the side effects of medication, this project is a series of personal essays on specific moments and memories in my lifetime. It of course is not my whole life story, but it doesn’t have to be. A memoir is but a series of moments that help writers define who they are and focus on the memories that helped shape them. If nothing more, memoir writing is an exercise in wellness, and a way to make sense of life events as they quickly pass us by.

With the release of my chapbook, “Polarity” (Ghost City Press, 19 July, 2019), I’m also preparing for a book reading, which will happen in conjunction with the Anthology of Appalachian Writers at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on July 14. Big projects in the Appalachian Studies program are coming up as well, with our Writer-In-Residence series starting at the end of September, featuring writer Crystal Wilkinson, and the second year of a student storytelling series—Shepherd Speaks StoryCorps Project—I co-coordinate.

To find out more about Appalachian Studies at Shepherd University, you can go to: https://www.shepherd.edu/appalachian.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

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.


Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

is an Arab-Latino, born in California. His mother is Colombiana. His father was Moroccan. The Alaoui-Fdilis are originally from Fez. His brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins are today mostly in Casablanca and Rabat. His family and heritage are an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, spiritual and carnal writings. He has an MFA in Poetics from New College of California. There, he studied Classical Arabic, Spanish Baroque and Contemporary Moroccan poetry. He is also well versed in the most dour and macabre literature of the 19th Century. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, 580 Split, Cherry Bleeds, Virgogray Press, Red Fez, Big Bridge, Dusie Press, Paris Lit Up, The Opiate, and nominated for a Pushcart at Full of Crow. Youssef is an original creator of the East Bay literary arts festival “Beast Crawl.” In 2012 he created Paper Press Books & Associates Publishing Company. This press offers several important books of poetry and one poetry and art compendium. Youssef also serves as an Associate Editor for Big Bridge Press.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I first started writing poems by accident. My grandfather had given me a typewriter in its own carrying case, a suitcase-like box. I rarely used it until I had a friend come over. We took it out of its box and slid some paper in it and began to interact with it as if the machine could answer our questions. We began writing little poems with it. My friend did not like me in the same way I liked her. She left, but she left me with my old typewriter. We became the best of friends. Writing is an invocational exercise, a reality-bending exercise, a self-affirming exercise.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My grandfather, indirectly; my friend, directly; and I would add to that my mentor, who handed me Trout Fishing in America when I was 16.

Are you familiar with the book?
Trout Fishing in America
A book “that has very little to do with trout fishing and a lot to do with the lamenting of a passing pastoral America . . . an instant cult classic” (Financial Times). Richard Brautigan was a literary idol of the 1960s and ’70s who came of age during the heyday of Haight-Ashbury and whose com…
2.1 I have heard of it but not read it. I have heard it was groundbreaking. There is such a thing as poetic prose.
Does “Trout Fishing…” even count as poetry? I’m not sure 🤔 but my takeaway was that anything goes in writing. surprisingly, I had already been labeled “the writer” or “the existentialist” by my friends. Before I had given it much thought.
Absolutely and so it was. I read the beats soon after. I became interested in books on meditation and spirituality at the same time. It’s difficult to remember everything that I first read.
2’2 What was it about the prose that got to you?
Hm. If i remember correctly, it was that metaphors could be mixed and matched in astounding ways, not necessarily surrealism, but also appreciating the way surrealist texts make my brain feel, by overriding my sense of perception and thus opening new layers of interpretation I hadn’t been previously aware of.

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

When I was starting out, nothing meant anything. Then, yes. I understood that there was a “white” sound that I did and do not possess and that’s why i felt a little “outside” of the poetry written in college and grad school. In college, i graduated with a degree in “French”. I should back up real quick to say that I was an English major as an undergrad. one foreign language was required for this degree track. i had grown up with Spanish, but i was interested in French for some reason
So I took French. then I took a program abroad that stretched into a few years of living in Paris. That experience introduced me to my Moroccan identity. I discovered myself in Paris. Then I travelled to morocco, got lost, turned around and went back. My experiences in France and Morocco left me with enough background and knowledge of French to instead change my degree to “French” with a minor in English lit.
So I studied a bit of Moliere as an undergrad, but I was mostly interested in poetry and prose from Cameroon, and Senegal. So I took “French” which led me directly to Africa and African thought.
3.1 Cameroon and Senegal?
mariama ba, camara laye, yes
as a graduate student, I opted for as much independent study as possible and discovered the huge family tree of pre Islamic epic Arabic poetry, the silk road, the troubadours, the Spaniards (monks), and then Moroccan poetry… all the way into the seventies.
3.2 What is it about “African thought”?
The novels and poetry i read told of brilliant peoples who had been colonized and controlled by the French. there was French Africa, British Africa, Belgian Africa, Spanish Africa, Portuguese … the Europeans had come down and sliced Africa into chunks which they could profiteer.
Animism was prominent in the imagery and metaphor. so was repression. so was the bliss of unconquerable personal space and resolve.
I guess I threw the white man canon away long ago, although I read Ashberry, Lux, Gunn. ummmm stuff like that. There are invisible doors to this day.
It’s annoying.
read means past tense.
I did like the English romantics! Keats and Shelley and his young wife who wrote the modern Prometheus.
4. What is your daily writing routine?

I make notes. I wake up out of bed, I stop the car, I stand still, I pine out the cafe window and i make notes into my phone. From there, a note might meet some other notes in a word document. That word document is then fleshed out and refined over weeks.
In  a day’s work I might only shift two words, or I might think all day about a single word
but it depends on what’s going on. Other times I binge write.

There is no regular daily calisthenic or quota. Fiction writers can wake up at a certain time and crank out 5k words at a time, but really, my work is all in revision and speaking the lines aloud, over and over. They’re songs. I’m a songwriter. I’m also actually a songwriter.

5. What motivates you to write?

Life motivates me to write. i can’t help myself! Iwill say that if someone forbade me to write, I would be very unhealthy, as if i was told that I could no longer sneeze or yawn.

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

I write because it is a function of my brain. The writers I read when I was young influence my lines quite a lot. In my verse I call it “collision of metaphor”.
I won’t point to specific lines and say, “that right there is Kerouac. this is Hesse. this is Brautigan!” because it is and it isn’t. It’s also hamidou Kane. It’s also mariama Baa. It’s also mohammed ben Talha
I read whites first when I was younger because that’s what was easiest to get my hands on
    1. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Egads any list of “who and whom” will be insufficient! must they be alive today? exclusively 21st century writers? Exclusively poetry? What counts as poetry? So many questions!
Salma Khadra Jayyusi compiled a fabulous anthology of Modern American Poetry. Excellent translations! ISBN 0231052723
While in Morocco last, I discovered a young woman, Rachida Madani who wrote Ce qui aurait pu demurer silence ISBN 9791090836457
My mind is blown by Alice Notley! She blends prose and poetry
She shows me that nothing is forbidden, everything is fair game. she bends the concept of line and line cuts. Her volume is vast and she plunders moments of life and love we never knew we had, which brings Philip Whalen to mind as well. same reasons so impressive for me in Jayyusi’s anthology was ‘Abd al-Wahhah al-Bayyati.
N sure if he is living Iraqi poet.
May I share some lines?

Ah, tomorrow, sweat
tickles, the soul, ardent

Craves flight. My clothes carry
the stain, I wish my soul as pure.

You who drill with your pain the well-hole,
Leaving your mercy in the water,

Making of my words a mouth
To shout in a night without friends,

Drill deeper, your black pain
Will end tomorrow.

Your bread poisoned, eat what your soul
Desires, and may your life be long.”

Just some lines showing the tenderness of soul and repugnance against those who see the land as a product to be bought and sold. Of course I love the poetry of my peers. this is why I began a press. Well I was encouraged to do it, because so many other small presses are shoddy in production and design. i do both, or rather I do it all, including editing

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

Either you are or you are not. There is no “becoming,” inasmuch as there is no transitional stage. Non-writers do write. Writers do not all write all the time. Not all poets are writers. Not every writer is a poet. I would say to this person “you must be a writer because you are pontificating about writing without actually writing your pontifications. sounds like you ought to write your thoughts.”
how do you become a good writer?
my lovely friend who is an amazing writer told me (i never asked her, she just doles out counsel at any point she deems fit but she’s always extremely cogent) “read every line out loud. if you have trouble reading it, so will your readers.”
how to become a good writer is a good question

how to become a writer is maybe not a very necessary question. just do it, or don’t. you can’t help it if you are or are not actually a writer

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

I am currently writing a handful of poems and two short stories to be sent out into the world. check my instagram for updates on readings, two of them in SF in August… bound to be lots of fun. My aphorisms from Fiercer Monsters were filmed last year in NYC. This year the film was accepted to the Peekskill NY film fest in the Hudson River Valley. The screening is at the end of July. UMMM my novella is still looking for representation or a publisher. Not sure if I can talk about it, but it is very loving and sad and beautiful and takes place 100 years in the future in a mining operation on Autonoe, a tiny Jovian moon. For now, please check out Fiercer Monsters, my book of short fictions on Nomadic Press in Oakland, CA and Critics of Mystery Marvel, my first full length book of poetry, published by 2Leaf Press, NYC