Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gerry Stewart

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.

Gerry Maxwell

Gerry Stewart

is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. In Scotland she was Editor of Grimalkin Press from 2005-2011 which published books connected with the creative writing and local history groups she worked with. She was part of the Composition Artist Collective from 2004-2006 with poet Nalini Paul and artist Frances Robertson which ran writing and art workshops and produced a collection Leaf Fall: Seeing by Touch of their work. She was Writer in Residence for North Ayr in 2001-2 and Assistant Editor at Chapman Publishing from 1997-2001.

She has recently won Hedgehog Press’ ‘Neglected or Selected Collection Competition’ and will hopefully publishing the collection with them in 2020. Her first poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK in 2008. In 2005 she received a Scottish Arts Council New Writer’s Bursary for her unpublished novel Talking Italian in my Sleep which has been long-listed for Linen Press’s First Chapter Competition in 2015 and Cinnamon Press’s Debut Novel Competition in 2017.

Her poetry has been widely published in the UK, Europe and United States since 1997, including Black Mountain Review, Cencrastus, Crannog, From Glasgow to Saturn, Hanging Loose, Hidden City Anthology, Iota, Island, Orbis, Poetry Quarterly, Poetry Salzburg Review, Pushing Out the Boat, Scrittura, Skylight 47, Southlight, The London Magazine and zvonainari.hr.

Born in the US, she has lived in Europe for over 25 years in Norway, Greece, Scotland and now Finland. Her writing blog can be found at http:/thistlewren.blogspot.fi/ and she is @grimalkingerry on Twitter.

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

I was always writing something as a child; complicated family epics, little poems, diaries. In 7th grade we had a Writer-in-Residence visit my class, encouraging us to write poems. I wrote several that were accepted in the little booklet he produced, featuring work from children from all over town. He made a point of singling me out in class to praise my work and to say I was a real poet. I was teased by the kids in class afterwards, but it really was an eye-opening moment for me, that I was good at something and that it was possible to do something with that skill. Writing started out as a hobby, but being a poet was always connected in my mind with encouraging others as a creative writing teacher, though I never seriously considered it as a job until much later.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Probably my mother, she was always telling stories about history and our genealogy. She also liked physical, onomatopoetic poems, chanting ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ by Longfellow and ‘Boots’ by Kipling at my brother and I when we were young. It drove us nuts, but it must have sunk in.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I really wasn’t until I started working at a small publishing company in Edinburgh that was very involved with the Scottish writing scene, especially the older poets like Norman MacCaig, Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean and Tom Leonard. I loved working there and learning about their writing and lives, seeing them at events. My editor also introduced me to women writers like Liz Lochhead, Janet Paisley and Magi Gibson who have all brought such a new spirit into Scottish writing.

When I tried to get published, I didn’t feel excluded or belittled by all these ‘names’ around me as I got to see all their hard work from another side; writers getting rejections, struggling to meet deadlines, facing financial and personal difficulties.

Overall, working in publishing taught me that it’s all just opinions and making an effort. One editor’s opinion doesn’t have to make or break you. Just keep writing and pushing on until you find someone who sees your potential. That doesn’t mean you don’t continue to strive, to grow and learn as a writer. I soaked up as much as I could in the background and I hope it has benefited my writing.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I try to write daily. I’ve recently taken online writing courses that offer a daily prompt to get you started and it really has changed how I write. I use one of their prompts or make up one of my own and write for about a half hour, just free-form. If a poem starts to develop, I’ll play with it for a bit and then leave it to work on editing older poems. I’m always tinkering with poems or my collections. Or I do admin, there’s always poems to submit to magazines or research to do.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve always had the overwhelming desire to write even if it’s just in my journals which I’ve been keeping for over 35 years. I used to be a great letter writer, I now blog as a way of sharing. I have this build-up of stories I want to tell, moments I want to capture and remember, to relive them again. My poetry comes from that place.

6. What is your work ethic?

It’s good now, but for the past decade I’ve been raising four kids, so they took up my entire focus for a while. Now I just put my bum to my seat, fingers to my keyboard or pen to paper and just do it. I keep writing new poems, submitting to magazines and applying for various opportunities in the hope that I’ll succeed. And over the past few years, I have seen small rewards. Because I live in Finland and do not write in Finnish, I am limited with what I can achieve here, so I feel I need to work harder to find an audience and outlets for my work. I get frustrated at times, but I just keep working at it.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

After I got out of the romantic teenage phase, I read a lot of Elisabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo, Anna Akhmatova and other writers I discovered in university. I’ve recently found a few of those poetry collections so I’m dipping into them, revisiting times when I read and wrote, not to be published, but just because I loved the sound of words. I’m trying to get back to that more, while still being more aware of what I want that language to do.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I love Anne Michael’s precise use of language and I’m painfully jealous of my friend Jen Hadfield’s ability to dive into a place, its history and language and find the joy of it. When she writes, she plays with the shape of language, its physicality. You can feel what she does with words in your mouth, your gut. I’d love to be able to do that more.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I am tone-deaf, I have no artistic skills, I’m too impatient to craft. I read a lot, constantly before kids, so it just seemed a natural progression.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read, submerge yourself in the beauty of language, written and spoken. And then write. Every day if possible. Good or bad put the words down. Say what you want to say, need to say. Share them, burn them or forget them, but rejoice in the fact that you’ve written them. Read and write. Rinse and repeat. Then find a good writers’ group to connect with and share your work.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have two collections I’m seeking a publisher for, so I’m mainly just trying to increase my visibility. I’ve just won Hedgehog Press’s ‘Neglected or Selected Competition’ so hopefully they will publish a small version of one of the collections next year. I hope to organise some readings after publication in Finland and the UK.

One thought on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gerry Stewart

  1. Great to see Gerry featured here. I attended one of her poetry classes in Glasgow. So good to know that she’s doing fine, mum of four and busy writing in Finland! She’s a great poet. I have one of her collections signed by her.

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