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.
Says on her website ” My second pamphlet with the Emma Press, Elastic Glue, was published in February 2019. This follows Goose Fair Night which was published in March 2016, reprinted in 2017. I’ve been published in magazines including Magma, Mslexia, Brittle Star, The North,Poem, Under the Radar, Morning Star, Fenland Reed and South Bank Poetry and in anthologies, including Second Place Rosette (ed. Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright); Vaster then Empires (ed. Joy Howard); One For the Road (ed. Helen Mort); Urban Myths and Legends (ed. Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright) and Best Friends Forever (ed. Amy Key). On-line, I’m on The Stare’s Nest . And Other Poems and Proletarian Poet.
You can read interviews with me on Pam Johnson’s blog site Words Unlimited, in Nottingham’s ace independent newspaper Left Lion and on the TCS Network site (on being a late-starter poet).
I am currently a member of poetry workshop groups led by Mimi Khalvati and Richard Price.
I was born and raised in Nottingham but have spent my adult life in London, the last 35 or so years in the Seven Dials corner of Covent Garden, home of the broadsheet and the ballad. I’ve been a social worker and community activist, worked on a political and financial risk journal, in arts television and artist development. I currently earn my living as the administrator of a charitable trust which undertakes community-led public realm projects. I have grandchildren. I make a lot of jam.”
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I grew up surrounded by chatty people and playful language: intricately and wittily rhyming songs from the music halls and big screen musicals; mysterious family dialect words, aphorisms and catchphrases; children’s books, nursery rhymes, linguistic challenges from my auto-didactic salesman father – sell me this pencil, six words that mean big. Language was a playground. I was obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology and so got a feel for the meaning and power of metaphor quite early on. And then, oddly, around 10 years old, I saw a tv documentary about Jackie Kennedy which featured, and extravagantly praised, some poems she’d written as a child and I thought, I can do better than that.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I can’t pinpoint one person, it was just always there. Some of the first poetry I came across was probably the Rupert Bear cartoon in the Daily Express which featured a narrative in both prose and in verse. At junior school we would learn by heart and illustrate well-known children’s poems – Eleanor Farjeon, Percy Ilott, John Masefield are some I still remember almost 60 years on. At home we had an LP of the actor Robert Donat reading, which included Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Kipling among others. By the time I went to my academic secondary school and did Eng. Lit, I’d decided – unilaterally it should be said – that I was ‘good at poetry’ so was very happy to soak up the usual canon as well as making my own forays into the contemporary poetry of the technicolour, class-busting 1960s.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Almost all the poets I willingly studied were dead men. But as well as the taught canon, in my case, from Chaucer through to the Georgians and Eliot, The Mersey Sound was a huge presence. And musicians and songwriters like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, who were not old then, talked about poets, opening the door to contemporary American and, to some extent, to European poetry. I think I was more aware of the dominating presence of MALE poets. I found it harder to uncover contemporary women poets in the 1960s. Perhaps I should say here that I dropped out of poetry writing and reading for many years and only really re-entered when I was in my fifties. I am an older poet. Nowadays I would say that I sometimes feel disheartened by the dominance of young poets but mostly I don’t have any sense of being in competition with anyone. I just write what I write as well as I can, learning from whoever I can – old, young, dead or alive – and hope that someone will enjoy reading it.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t write daily as I have a job and family commitments (and a lot of telly and social media to keep an eye on). In theory I set aside a couple of mornings a week for poetry – that might be writing from scratch and /or editing or it might be poetry ‘admin’, like submissions or homework tasks or reading. If I’m writing new work or editing, I can usually keep at it for four hours or so at a stretch, interspersed with putting on another load of washing or a quick hoover round – dedicated writing time is an excellent spur to doing housework. I write new work in bursts – starting by hand and then moving to the screen once I’ve built up momentum, a certain hard-to-define weight. I keep a poetry diary where I write, last thing at night, about readings I’ve been to, the two poetry workshopping groups I’m part of, what I’ve been reading, what acceptances or rejections I’ve had and my notional plans – this sometimes turns into proto first drafts as does my sporadic non-poetry diary in which I moan about life, work and people. And I aim to read some poetry every day, leaving books and magazines lying around to ambush and encourage me.
5. What motivates you to write?
I think it keeps me sane, keeps me afloat. I think without it I would be in danger of vanishing. I want to make my children and grandchildren proud of me as a person in my own right/write. I want to document my own disappearing world.
6. What is your work ethic?
Very poor indeed. I work for money to pay the rent etc. I don’t see poetry as work, though often it’s very hard. I like to have a lot of fallow brain time. I think it’s important – as is being bored. I need to noodle.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I have a great weakness, which I caught from that John Keats, for sonically sexy, luxurious poetry. I have to rein myself in. I admire the joyfully deft, witty rhyming and rhythms of the great songwriters – Cole Porter takes a lot of beating. I love the sardonic restraint containing despair and fear of Jane Austen. The Mersey poets gave me – young, provincial, working class – permission.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many contemporary collections and individual poems, feted and obscure, that I love and admire but the writers that I admire most are those who contribute to poetry beyond their own (admirable) poems. I’m thinking of poets like Josephine Corcoran and her And Other Poems website – sadly just closed, but archived; Kate Clanchy and her phenomenal work with young refugees and migrants, resulting in Poems from a School; and Jacqueline Saphra who stirs our consciences to march and raise funds. But top of my list is Mimi Khalvati who is simply the best teacher there is – rigorous, passionate and steeped in poetry, only interested in ensuring that a poem is the best poem it can be. Working with her is exhilarating.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I do lots of other things. I make large quantities of jam. I manage public realm projects. I have family from 90 to seven as well as long-standing vital friendships to be maintained – all creative activities. I don’t paint or make music or shot-put because I have no native talent for these disciplines. I do have some facility and confidence with language, enough, inherently, to encourage me to look to get better at it through practise and study. And I love the doing of it. The psychologist Csíkszentmihályi, writing about his theory of ‘Flow’ expresses it like this “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Of course, it’s not like that even a quarter of the time, but when it is like that, it’s unbeatable.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I don’t think you should concern yourself with becoming ‘a writer’. Just pick up that pen or turn on the laptop and confront the empty space. To become better at it, you have to keep doing it, read, read and read, share your work with generous, like-minded people who are also reading and writing, keep an open mind, be rigorous with yourself and accept that a lot of what you write might not be worth keeping but is worth writing through to get to the good bit.
Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My second pamphlet, Elastic Glue, came out in February from The Emma Press. The poems are drawn from two specific places – the much commodified Seven Dials and Covent Garden, where I live, and an allotment site. They are ‘about’ change over time, what’s lost and what remains, quite angry but, I hope, leavened by humour. The poems I’m writing now are more personal, about ageing and experience. I will probably try for a collection this year, but I do like a pamphlet – so manageable both as a writer and as a reader, and usually a quicker process.