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.
won the Michael Marks Award in 2013 for his pamphlet, Gaud (Flarestack), and was longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize for his collection Arc (Nine Arches Press, 2015). A further pamphlet, Scare Stories (V Press, 2017) was named a Poetry School book of the year. His second collection, The Europeans, was published in March 2019 by Nine Arches Press.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Reading poetry! I chanced on a number of writers when I was in my teens, more or less by accident, and reading them made me want to write. They were people like Sylvia Plath, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, John Betjeman, R.S. Thomas – basically, the kind of poets that used to fill the shelves in provincial libraries in the 1980s. Having said that, after writing in my teens and early twenties, I then stopped writing at all until my late 30s. It took me that long to work out that I really did want to be a poet.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I think I basically did it myself. Poetry wasn’t taught much in school and nobody I knew read it. I do remember a cool young English teacher running a poetry writing group for a little while, but I’m afraid I never had a mentor.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Writing starts with imitation and we imitate the poets we love. In fact, I’m persuaded by Jan Wagner’s thesis (in his 2017 Poetry Society lecture) that imitation may be the source of original creativity. To paraphrase him badly, originality is failed imitation.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I have a day job that is already very demanding, so my daily routine revolves around that. Writing gets done in short bursts of two or three hours at weekends or on train journeys.
5. What motivates you to write?
6. What is your work ethic?
As I said, I have another job that takes up a lot of my time. I find I need to focus my work ethic there and let poetry be something I do because I want to, not because I have to. If I intended to make a career of writing, that would have to change.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The people I admired then and still admire are the ones whose work has an unflinching quality to it. This is not to say they are heartless, but they have an honesty that refuses to look away from things that are uncomfortable. The German poet Gottfried Benn was someone I read in my early 20s and he remains an influence in that respect.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
That changes all the time. At the moment, I’d say Sean O’Brien.
9. Why do you write?
Poetry is one of my ways to respond to the world, whether as a reader or a writer. Arguably, poetry is the last response the world needs now, and it would be far better to use my time doing something to help change the way things are. But I suppose that’s where vanity comes into it.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read widely, share your work and learn to get the best from criticism, assuming you can find people generous enough to offer it. I’ve seen so many writers with the potential to create great poetry scuppered by their own inability to engage with constructive criticism.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My new poetry collection, The Europeans, was published Nine Arches Press in March 2019. It’s the result of two years of thinking and writing about what it means to be English and a European in the wake of the EU referendum campaign.