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.
Maxine Rose Munro
is a Shetlander adrift on the outskirts of Glasgow. After spending the first eighteen years of her life exclusively on the islands, without even a small break for the holidays, the culture shock experienced on eventually seeing the wider world rocked her to her core and is still rocking some decades later. However, as the end result appears to be poetry, she is fairly ok with this. She has been writing poetry in for a few years now and her work has been widely published both in print and online, including in Northwords Now; Glasgow Review of Books; Pushing Out the Boat; and The Eildon Tree. She also publishes in her native Shetland Scots, some of which can be found in Poetry Scotland and Three Drops from a Cauldron. Her work has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and shortlisted for the SMHAFF Award 2017. Find her here
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I loved poetry as a child and wrote a lot of it when I was at primary school. It just seems such a natural way to express yourself when you are a child and words are fairly new and exciting. Adults become jaded. I think they acquire too many words, and never need the leaps of imagination children must employ to describe the things they see and feel.
Unfortunately when I hit teen years poetry was killed for me. I couldn’t relate to Plath, Owen, Yeats and the like. And the teachers couldn’t relate to my attempts at poetry. I expect there was also a huge dose of ‘don’t you know who I am? I’m great at poetry’ going on. So I abandoned it.
In 2013 two things happened, I was bought a poetry anthology that changed my world, and I had a very bad experience.
Knowing I was poetically inclined, someone gave me a copy of “These Islands, We Sing” edited by Kevin MacNeil, and for the first time since childhood I heard my own voice in poetry. I suddenly saw my own words were good enough, I didn’t have to be Plath.
Reading this anthology and trying to get strong again after the hell me and my family had been through, I suddenly knew I had poetry I had to get out. And I had to get it out to the world. So I started submitting the very second I had some completed poems.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
It was always just there when I was growing up. My dad’s a big reader, especially of local poetry. Various Shetland journals were always lying around, and poetry was a strong part of them.
I take after him in that I read a lot, and I discovered Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear when still quite young. At about the same age I saved up and bought myself a Spike Milligan collection from the Puffin Book Club and I just loved it. I still rate him as my favourite poet, ever.
We had so many wonderful poetry books -“The Butterfly Ball” was another favourite of mine. But to be honest, no one introduced me to poetry. It was always there.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not at all. As I said, poetry died for me when I was presented with ‘great poetry’ in my higher English classes. It wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate it (or some of it), but that it all felt old, or clinical, or technical, or just plain baffling. I’m very plain spoken, very straight with my words when I write, and I only quake in awe in the presence of poets who do the same but better than I ever could.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a routine. I write on my phone, when a poem comes to me. I really don’t bother with the whole write something everyday thing. I think that’s more important if you are a novelist and need discipline and focus. But poetry starts in your subconscious and, for me at least, needs time to brew. The writing is the second, less important stage. I suppose instead I try to make sure that everyday I am feeding my subconscious by reading, walking, listening, experiencing. That’s where the poetry comes from.
5. What motivates you to write?
There are two things I look for in a poem. Either a brilliant story that just gives itself to the shortness of poetry. Or juxtaposition. By this I mean taking something small and tangible, and relating it to something huge and intangible. Or the other way round. Or variations thereof. So anytime I find this, I want to write about it.
6. What is your work ethic?
In the way life can bring you good things after bad, I am lucky enough to be able to not have to go out to work these days. But I know now that I have to balance everything, and that’s what comes first. My home, family, and sanity come first. Once that’s all dealt with, I fit in sewing and writing. But when it makes me unhappy I stop and go do something else.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Milligan, Lear, Carroll, and all the other poetry of my childhood influences me all the time, in every way. I don’t try to write like them, I think that much is obvious. But it was those poets and poems that taught me to look at the world in a certain way, to link things into interesting groups, to join up dots wherever I saw them, and then turn all that into words. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t for those early poets. I wouldn’t know how.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I tend to admire poems over poets. I’ve never found a poet yet that could put out amazing poem after amazing poem. But the books on my shelf that I pick up the most tend to be by Scottish or Scandinavian poets, and the thing they all have in common is ‘sparse’. By that I mean they specialise in saying the most with the least. In addition, they all write poetry that places emphasis on meaning. I dislike poetry that turns out to be a beautiful string of images and nothing more. Some poets I like are Kathleen Jamie, Ian Stephen, Helen Allison, Hans Børli, Olav H. Hauge.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Writing is my identity, but I need to do other stuff. It’s less that I write instead of doing something else, and more I do everything I do to feed the writing. Saying that, I am the introvert’s introvert and I don’t need to be swinging off treetop ropes getting migraines from sheer terror to find material ( I have swung from the tree tops, the experience has yet to make it into poetry!). I have a little hand-stitching business, in which I use tweed my father designs and weaves in Shetland. This takes up more time than poetry for much of the year. But what I have found is that while I rarely write while focusing on my sewing, as soon as I stop a huge rush of poems that have been brewing in the background come out. It’s quite exhilarating.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Well, despite me saying I don’t write everyday, you do have to write and write a lot. I don’t believe you have to take creative writing degrees or post grad studies. But a bit of guidance is helpful. Writers groups or online courses (there are a good few reputable ones out there) are useful. If you are able, and not a complete introvert like me, then open mic nights are a brilliant way to get your poetry skills honed. And if you are a complete introvert like me, accept you still have to do some readings occasionally. And submit. And listen to feedback. And submit again. And realise you are hooked and this will be your life forever now. Then you’ll you be a writer. Woohoo!
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Well, I have always been unsure where I am going, I just started and couldn’t stop. But, nearing the 100 poems published mark I am thinking it’s time to get a pamphlet or three out. So I’ll be getting my head down and writing. The hardest part will be not submitting poems when I am convinced they’re awesome and all I want to do is share them with the world.