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.
was born in Lincolnshire and lives and works in London. Her debut collection, Never Never Never Come Back was rereleased by Salt in 2018. In 2017, she published an online serial, Love Carcass, detailing an erotic affair with a beast. She won the 2011 and 2017 Live Canon International Poetry Prizes, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and commended for the Forward Prize. Her poetry has been widely anthologised, translated into Russian and Spanish, and thrown out of a helicopter. http://www.kirstenirving.com @KoftheTriffids
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I’ve written in various forms since I was little, but poetry has always been the best fit for me, suiting my scattered, distracted, treasure-hunting brain. I was lucky growing up in the 80s/90s, in that I had the luxury of being bored, without access to the internet until I was in my mid-teens. I read voraciously: poets I liked included Allan Ahlberg, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl, but I devoured these alongside girls’ annuals from the 60s-80s, comics, fairytales, joke books, Victoria Wood scripts, music and cartoons. To discover later that I could integrate any of these things into poetry was pretty revelatory.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My parents kept poetry books in the house and were very encouraging, and my teachers taught poetry in primary school. My infants teacher put my poem on the door of the classroom and that was a huge deal to me. Later on – about 9 or 10 – we used to do handwriting exercises using a range of example poems – one would be The Eagle by Tennyson (which I still adore) and the next would be a poem by a 10-year-old boy about a dinosaur.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Early on, not so much. I just wrote and wrote in my own little bubble. It took until university before I felt even halfway daunted by famous poets. When I moved to London in 2006 after graduation, it was strange to meet people whose names you’d seen on books and have them just be normal people. The prize culture in poetry can be tiring and often it feels like the same names crop up again and again, which can be demotivating and intimidating. You have to keep recalibrating and remembering that you do this work because nobody does what you do.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I honestly don’t have one. My brain is like a browser with 50 tabs open at any one time. I keep reading and researching and then I write when I find some interesting stimulus. I have to write quickly, before the idea goes stale. Last year I tried to make myself write every day and I managed a fair amount, but this year I had to revert to my regular fragments – mental health glitches and life admin set me back somewhat. NaPoWriMo is my most productive period each year – writing 30 poems in a month usually turns up some gold among the pebbles.
5. What motivates you to write?
Fiction, non-fiction, folklore, visual art, anime, obsessions – anything except poetry. Poetry I like to read in one mode, but it doesn’t help me write – that’s a different mode altogether. I work part-time in a science library and that’s full of good reading on areas about which I know very little. I love a commission too – if someone sets me a writing challenge, I can rarely resist.
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m a freelance, so I’ve learned to turn up when I say I will, submit work on time, and communicate as well as I can. I believe in collaboration over competition (which doesn’t stop me experiencing as much professional jealousy as the next guy – maybe this is why I go to other artforms to feel motivated to write!) and that runs through to the books I publish with Jon through Sidekick. It’s all about artists coming together to create a whole – every contributor has their own patch.
Oh, and I’ve learned to listen. At least, it’s a work in progress (I get very enthusiastic and jabber), but one worth practising.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I actually got to read with Brian Patten, which was really cool! The writers I read when I was younger were quite weird and I love their sense of mischief. I do remember wanting to read out The Lesson by Roger McGough at Brownies (if you don’t know it, a fed-up teacher begins gunning down his students in a dark comedy) and my Dad (a teacher who found the poem hilarious) suggested it might not be a great idea. He was absolutely right, but that sense of comedic exaggerated violence and gallows-humour pops up now in my work all the time.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Mark Waldron’s work jumps into my skull and curls up there. When Mark performs, he holds the room with such a soft, compelling delivery, and his writing reflects that: it’s tender and intense and very strange – as if he’s sharing a bizarre scene he just witnessed, and asking you what you think. It’s very inviting, because it doesn’t feel like a pretence or persona – he really is that odd person who thinks about these scenarios, and that’s heartening.
Jon Stone, my co-editor at Sidekick, is a poet I trust wholeheartedly. He’s investigative, inventive and impish, and his brain is a font of interesting, boundary-blurring, flawed characters. He’s currently researching video games and poetry for his PhD, and has introduced me to so many stories and games that I’ve gone on to use in my own work. Jon’s work is by turns honest, playful, kind, acerbic and nimble.
Rebecca Wigmore is like my secret favourite band – the one I half-want the world to adore too, and half-want to keep to myself. The former instinct is winning here. She embraces technology in its joys and horrors, musical theatre, Louis Wain, stand-up and performance art. To give you a flavour of her style, she wrote a poem for our AI anthology No, Robot, No! on the algorithmic YouTube horrors of kids’ video Baby Shark. It was genuinely poignant.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I’ve always been a mild graphomaniac. Writing always came to me most naturally and I would hole up on family trips, filling notebook after notebook. I used to make comics for myself, but I was far too lazy to take drawing further and really get good at it. Writing is also the cheapest and most mobile form to work in, and I’ve always had access to the means to write, as opposed to the means to make films, photographs or games.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read and watch and play as much as possible in as many fields as possible. Be curious. Submit to magazines, try new modes and forms, meet new people and make yourself do scary things. Don’t think of a book deal or competition win as the endgame. Support other artists whose work you admire. Make art because it feels right.
Practically, after a lot of trial and error, I’ve been lucky enough to get a part-time job that’s fairly self-contained and pays the rent, and I recommend this arrangement where possible. Part-time work allows you free time to write and explore while giving you some financial security. I also do freelance copywriting, editing and voiceover. This has been tremendously helpful for my finances, mental health and practical skills, not to mention my overall confidence in negotiating, saying no to bad ideas, exploitative offers or over-committing, and approaching new people.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m currently planning a sci-fi poetry collaboration with illustrator and live artist Renee O’Drobinak which is set in Japan after a major disaster. The survivors use the old folklore of youkai (demons) to try and make sense of the changed world around them. I’m planning to visit Japan later this year for research and am excitedly studying the language.
I’m also planning a second collection, and developing my Battle Royale live show, RUN, into a full performance, in collaboration with Cuckoo Bang Theatre Company.