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.
The first poem Alan had published.
is a poet and playwright from Merseyside, England. He is an English Literature graduate and will train to teach high school English this coming academic year. Alan is a proud family man who has battled anxiety and depression for the whole of his adult life and finds writing to be a cathartic release. Alan enjoys gritty realism, open ends and work which is politically charged. He cites Jack Kerouac and Alan Bennett as inspiration. Alan has been published in Peach Velvet Magazine, The Literary Mark Review, Black Bough Poems and others.
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I never set out to be a poet, not explicitly. My poetry is a response to life. The main contributing factor behind my urge to write is most likely the soundtrack to my early years. I was raised to believe that song lyrics are as important, if not more so, than the music they accompany. That early appreciation for language, for verse, has never diminished. As a teenager, lacking in musical ability, I consoled myself in my ability to write poems and songs and it was around this time that I developed an interest in drama. Particularly the work of Shakespeare and Willy Russell. Unfortunately, I did not possess the maturity at that time to follow my passion through education and my writing sort of fell by the wayside. Only yeas later, after a drunken conversation with an old pal, did I decide to return to education. And it was as I studied towards my degree that the muse returned. Now, I find writing to be liberating. I find that with a little provocation, my life experience spills out of me.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Poetry has always just been there. I seem to remember how I spent hours listening to the work of A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl and Roger McGough as a young boy when sleeping over at my grandparent’s. And I have fond memories of holidaying in North Wales with family and of my Nan creasing with laughter as she read Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes to me, specifically the moment when Little Red Riding Hood ‘…whips a pistol from her knickers’. So, for me, poetry was a communal thing. Like storytelling, it was something to be shared. Later, my Dad introduced me to the work of Bob Dylan and The Specials via a cassette tape in his gold Ford Capri. Each time we popped out to the shop he would emphasise the instrumental force of their words. However, I don’t recall ever hiding myself away in my bedroom to read poetry, unless we’re counting the lyrics in the sleeves of Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti and Broadway the Hard Way. which were a little bit naughty for a boy of my tender years. Interestingly, I had my first beer with my Dad when I was quite young, about 14. He whisked me off to the local arts centre to see John Cooper Clarke perform and this had a major impact on me. In fact, we went two years running and I was lucky enough to meet him the second time. I had never seen anybody ooze cool like that and I could not wait to share the experience with my teachers and anybody else who cared to listen. All of this reinforces this idea of sharing.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
Quite honestly, I never truly interacted with the work of the older poets until university. Doubtlessly, I had heard of them. We covered some of their texts at school, but I hadn’t been particularly engaged. Of course, there is an age old debate which rages over the elite and the popular and much of the literary canon has endured because it has a sort of protected status. Although, I would say that by the time I hit high school in the nineties, things had shifted some. I recall reading more modern poets than we did the classics.. It was at this point that I was introduced to diasporic writers such as John Agard and it was this that resonated with me. I would argue that good quality poetry needs to speak us readers, to be immediate, to make us feel and possibly even alter our world views and/or actions. Poetry need not be difficult or challenging. My study of the older poets certainly intensified as I studied towards my degree and I subsequently developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the work of Shelley and Blake et al. However, I believe that those who lack a deeper understanding and experience of this more challenging material may feel alienated and/or overwhelmed by the archaic language, form and imagery. Therefore, I think it is the job of writers, educators and academics to change this; to see the value in more popular and accessible literature and revise the canon accordingly.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I get something down every day. I cannot stress the importance of forming this habit. As aforementioned, I had let this slip, but this is now my one rule. It need not be on paper either, though this is my preference. I also use an app on my phone (which often causes fellow writers to recoil in horror) and my laptop. Not everything I write is a fully formed poem, or line even. Sometimes all that comes is a phrase, or a series of unrelated words. Still, I record everything and let nothing go. I write lists and play word games regularly and revisit my old notebooks all the time. I carry a bunch of them about in my bag along with a couple of poetry collections everywhere I go. Most often while I am reading I have a notebook beside me and a pen behind my ear, ready, coiled. I work full time in an office and am a family man, so I make a creative use of my commute and lunch breaks. Most often, a scene will present itself to me and I try to work with it, detailing what I see in my mind’s eye. I liken it to the way a portrait artist will take photographs and draw initial sketches of their subject. Everything I write has some worth, if not in its initial form, then on revision. I believe that reading encourages us to concentrate our attention. This is but one of the wider benefits of being well read.
5. What motivates you to write?
I write about survival, memories and the minutiae of daily life. I am motivated to do so by the years I spent recovering from illness. For too long I was unable to live due to a debilitating mental health problem. But now I am done wasting time. I want to record my experiences for my children. I often write about thorny and cumbersome topics. But by documenting my thoughts and musings on them I have given us a family, the opportunity to go back and revisit them together when the children are older. They will get the chance then to know me. I must also say that Twitter is a fantastic tool for bringing writers together, people across the worldwide writing community. If you know where to look there is a thriving body of writers supporting each other, sharing, advising and enjoying each other’s work This in itself is inspiration to continue contributing.
4. What is your work ethic?
I always have a number of plates spinning. I believe that I am making up for lost time and find it difficult to say no to any project. I spent a decade unable to work and every minute of it stung. I am determined to be as productive as I possibly can from here on in. If I am finding creative writing difficult, which of course all writers do on occasion, I turn to writing content for Planet Slop. Slop is a pop culture website based in Liverpool where there is a real hub of creative talent and a plethora of live events to attend. I try to cover as much as I possibly can for them and particularly enjoy how they have embraced the marginalised from the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities. Alternatively I pick up my guitar, or a good book. Given that I am trying my hand at writing drama for stage and screen I even see the value in binge watching television series and films. I want to develop through experience and it helps to keep your finger on the pulse in this way.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Many of the artists I encountered as a young man served to highlight to me that it need not matter what your background is, it is still possible to be good and successful. I find that I most enjoy the work of the creatives who challenged the idea that a small minority, who it was argued, better understood art and got to tell us what was worthy. So, much of my favourite art comes from the middle to late twentieth century. Those minds experimented with form and structure, with language and themes, sounds and ideas. Previously there had been a deference to the established order of things. The cultural critics and creative artists of the period began to experiment and the work that was produced around this time had a profound impact upon me both directly and indirectly. I’m thinking about the beat poetry movement, Jackson Pollock, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Monty Python, George Carlin, Alan Bennett, Charles Bukowski and more. I like art that is politically charged but is firmly rooted in the real.
8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I have been fortunate enough to share the pages of several journals and reviews with so many talented writers, both established and/or like me just finding their way. These publications are brimming with real quality and I have been allowed to forge relationships with some of these people. I think people should be looking towards Mari Elis Dunning if they are looking for exciting contemporary poetry. Her collection Salacia (from Parthian Books) is exceptional full of sadness and strength. I have also enjoyed working with some fine editors and poets and feel a real connection with and affinity for what the team at Black Bough Poems in particular are doing. Their editor, Matthew M C Smith is doing some very fine work there alongside his guest readers driven by a shared love of imagism. Another name is that of old school friend who is really pulling up trees on the scene at the minute, Paul Robert Mullen has put out three top quality books in very quick succession as well as finding himself published in journals in every corner of the world. I’m sure there is more to come from him too. What I like about Paul is his honesty and blurring of the fantastic/real.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I have found writing in this way to be cathartic, it has allowed me to delve into my past and achieve a level of closure. Some of my work has given extended life to people I have come into contact with. Because of this, much of my work is intensely personal. I hope that the intimate nature of my work allows readers to feel a connection with some of the issues I deal with, i.e. loss, depression, love and hope. I feel that it is important for marginalised voices to be given a platform and I support this cause and advocate opportunities for disabled writers. I know that my work is informed by personal experience and that of others who have dealt with similar issues. Maybe my writing can reach people and encourage them start a dialogue or find release through their own expression. Writing is not the only thing I want to do with my life though. I am returning to study this year to train to teach. I want to pass on my passion for language and teach young minds about its instrumental force.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I think there is only one route to becoming a writer. You have to be prepared to take risks. You have to seek out opportunities as they will not come looking for you. It is important that you devour literature too, being widely read is only going improve you. You also have to be in the game. You have to be writing. So form habits, explore opportunities, network, read, do not fear rejection, share your work and evaluate your work and listen to feedback. If you want to be a writer and don’t do these things your chances of success are pretty much non-existent. I write regularly, submit regularly and am rejected regularly. My persistence and perseverance are my strongest attributes.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Right now I am working on two major projects, primarily I am revising my first complete poetry manuscript and exploring opportunities for its publication. And although this is the end goal I am working towards, I see the value in submitting to literary journals, magazines, e-zines the world over. While it is pleasing to see my work in print, I am aware of the broader benefits of digital publication so this is an avenue I am trying to get the most out of at the moment. I have had moderate success in the last six months or so, having seen my work published semi-regularly since I picked up the ball and ran with it last autumn, there is more to come on this front. The second project which continues to run in the background is a play that I have written. It began life as a four hundred word monologue about four years ago, but in the last few months it has been under consideration for performance by a Liverpool based production company. I am still waiting to see if this will come to fruition. It certainly is an exciting time. This text is complete as a short monologue, but I continue to work on developing it into a full length play. I want to see just how much I can achieve prior to returning to study when time is sure to be even more limited.