Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
is a poet and creative writing facilitator from Co Down. She has published eight collections of poetry including a Selected Poems and most recently, Carnivorous, from Doire Press. Her awards include the Women’s National Poetry Competition, The Allingham Award, Cuirt New Writing Award, North West Words Poetry Award and the Belfast Year of the Writer Award. She has received four awards from ACNI, including the ACES award in its inaugural year.
Also widely published in magazines, journals and anthologies in both Europe, Australia and the USA. Her poems have featured on BBC Radio and television and on American national radio and television and she has read at festivals in Europe, Canada and America.
Other projects include a collaboration with photographic artist Victoria J Dean resulting in an exhibition and the publication Abridged 0 -36 Dis-Ease, and a collaboration with Wexford artist Paddy Lennon, Blood Horses, culminating in a limited edition publication of artworks and poems.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?/Who introduced you to poetry?
I was introduced to poetry in the same way that I think most of us are, by the nursery rhymes my mother sang and recited to me as a child. Then, from an early age I was sent to verse speaking classes. This gave me a great appreciation for the sound and rhythm of poetry. I loved learning poems off by heart and being able to speak them aloud. My teacher was Miss Drummond, a formidable but splendid woman, graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I learnt so much from her and kept up her classes into my late teens. So I grew up with a love of poetry, the music of it as well as how it speaks to the heart. It was my love for poetry that inspired me to try to write poems, I wanted to be able to speak to people in the way that poets spoke to me.
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?
I grew up at a time when most of the poetry that was taught in school had been written by male poets and as I got older I became aware of a lack of female voices. When I went to university the canon seemed to be almost entirely male. This really knocked my confidence and had the effect of making me feel my voice was in some way invalid. At that time, women in NI didn’t have much of a voice in any aspect of society – and poetry was no different. I struggled to find any contemporary Irish female writers. I have spoken about this before, the influence of absences, and have found that it has been a common experience for women. Thankfully times are changing and female voices are increasingly present. In Ireland, Fired; The Woman’s Cannon movement has done much recently to address the idea that no women were writing and being published; they were – it was just that they were being ignored. So for me, when I began writing, the dominating presence was male.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
When I was younger and working full time in a job that had no connection to writing, and also raising children and coping with all the other things that life brings along, I would do most of my writing late at night when the house was quiet. There was no routine as such, I just grabbed bits of time when they became available. I also found the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland absolutely invaluable. Through Support for the Individual Artist awards, I was able to ‘buy’ time off work and have stretches of a few months where I could concentrate on writing. Now that I’m retired, in theory I have lots more time, but in fact I have no more of a routine than I ever had! I write when I have something to write about, either when an idea compels me, or I have a commission or deadline of some kind.
4. What motivates you to write?
I have always wanted to write. Even when I was at primary school I wrote stories and poems. I suppose I sensed, even then, the power of words and stories. I loved reading and I wanted to be part of that world, to speak to others, entertain them and weave my own magic. That urge has stayed with me. Even though my experience at university silenced me for a while, the desire was still there and I couldn’t not return to it. If I examine my motivation now, it’s more complex. Sometimes I feel as if I do it simply because it is who I am.
5. What is your work ethic?
I don’t know if I have a work ethic! Whilst thinking about this question I looked up the meaning of ‘work ethic’ and found it is defined as – the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. I suppose over the years I have just kept on writing and producing work, and that persistence is something that I am proud of, but I don’t know that it is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. I do think that you have to be able to stick at things in order to improve, in order to have a chance of being any good at whatever it is that you are trying to do. All of my life I have been involved with horses and around people who compete in eventing and show jumping. I am in awe of the dedication and sheer hard slog that it takes to excel at this sport (and I’m sure all sports are the same). It’s not enough to be talented, you have to put in the hours as well.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
When I get a little jaded I find myself returning to the poets and poetry that I loved as I was growing up. I still can remember some of the poetry I learnt by heart and it is the musicality, rhythm and sensuousness of the language that I love. The sound of the poem, as much as the meaning. I am still influenced by that. Ballads, sonnets, the lusciousness of the language of the Romantics, the wit and intelligence of the Metaphysical poets – these are the roots of my love of poetry.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
The poets I admire the most are those who write with heart as well as intellect. Poets where it is possible to sense in their work a deep engagement with what it means to be human. Just recently I’ve been re-reading Jane Hirshfield and Naomi Shihab Nye. I was blown away by Ocean Vuong’s first collection. I love Mark Doty’s work too. I find myself reading a lot of American poets. There are so many local poets that I also deeply admire, Damian Smyth, Jean Bleakney, Paul Maddern, Maria McManus, Ruth Carr – the list could go on and on – we have so many wonderful writers in NI.
8. Why do you write as opposed to doing anything else?
Sometimes I think I write because I can’t sing! Also, I don’t feel defined by my writing. I do lots of other things too, and sometimes I like to do nothing at all. I think that leads to a healthier relationship with the job of being a poet.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you ‘How do you become a writer’?
On one level, this is a very simple question. You become a writer by writing. All the usual instructions apply – read a lot, practice your craft, develop your skills and voice. On another level, I feel it is a lot more complex. If you want to be actually recognised as a writer, a lot of other things come into play – a willingness and ability to promote yourself; fashion; privilege; fashion; determination; the zeitgeist. So many variables, including a slice of luck.
10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment
My new collection, Carnivorous, has just been published by Doire Press. It was recently launched at the Belfast Book Festival and I have been lucky enough to have quite a few readings lined up for the book.
Last year my big project was Blood Horses, a collaboration with Wexford artist Paddy Lennon. I had been writing poems about horses, centred on the stories of three Arab stallions, the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb. These three stallions, imported to England in the eighteenth century, were the founding fathers of the Thoroughbred horse, and in fact every Thoroughbred alive today can have its lineage traced back to one of these stallions. When I was working on these poems, I came across Paddy’s wonderful, atmospheric paintings of horses. I got in touch with him and the outcome was an exhibition and limited edition book containing both paintings and poems. This is a rolling project which we are taking to a number of venues, including racecourses.
I am also currently working on a commission from Big Telly Theatre Company. I have worked with them before and love their innovative approach to theatre, so it’s very exciting to have this commission from them.
I find that after a new book is completed, there tends to be a bit of a fallow period, but I am just starting to get a few ideas popping into my head for poems, so I’m looking forward to having time to develop those.