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.
Jenny Mitchell is joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize (Indigo Dreams) and joint third prize winner of the Ware Open Poetry Competition.
Her poems have been broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC2, and published in several magazines, including ‘The Rialto’ and ‘The New European’.
She also has eight poems in parallel translation in the Italian publication ‘Versodove’.
‘Her Lost Language’ is Jenny’s debut collection.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I write poetry because I love stories. When I was young, I spent a lot of time watching old black and white films. I used to lose myself in classic Hollywood remakes of books like Madame Bovary, Great Expectations and Jane Eyre. They led me to read widely, and from there I started to write stories.
I think poetry was the next step as I got a lot of praise and encouragement from teachers, which was a real spur.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I think I grew to love them because of English lessons at school. One of my teachers was married to George Hartley who published Philip Larkin’s first collection.
They took me under their wing as they knew I loved to write. They gave me poetry anthologies and really encouraged me to read widely.
I had another teacher called Ann Taylor who let me show her my poems on an almost daily basis. She was so enthusiastic about my work, I used to leave her office walking on air and keen to write more.
At sixteen, I was one of ten winners in a borough-wide competition for young people. It meant I had a bit of prize money and was published for the first time which was a great incentive to write. My school also paid for me to go to the Arvon Centre in Hebden Bridge for a week-long writing residential course. I was the youngest person there and it really spurred me on to be with so many other writers.
The cottage where I stayed once belonged to Ted Hughes. It felt very windswept and isolated to me as I lived in Kilburn at the time. I finished reading Jane Eyre in front of a roaring fire which added to the sense of romance around writing, and inspired me to do more.
I visited the nearby Bronte Parsonage Museum for the first time and loved the whole story of the sisters and their wayward brother.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I didn’t feel dominated by older poets on any level. I was more inspired by the song writing of Joni Mitchell because I heard a man say he felt intimidated by her ability to write with such clarity about relationships. I wanted to have the power this seemed to give her!
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I wake up at about six and send emails. Then I go into my poems – I aim to have a few to work on at one time. I go through them quite methodically, trying not to get stuck for too long with any one of them.
I take lots of breaks to read other peoples’ work and waste time – it’s all part of the process.
Then I go for a long walk, sometimes to an event/meeting, and hope to think of new poetry ideas along the way.
4. What motivates you to write?
I can’t imagine doing anything other than write. I spent a long time researching the legacies of British transatlantic enslavement. Coming out of that research, I’ve written two novels-in-progress about a Jamaican-English family that travels from the Caribbean and the UK.
It was only when I finished a good draft of the second novel that I started writing poetry again, and performing for the first time. That was two years ago and since then my life has really changed.
I won a poetry prize and now have a debut collection (see information below). I’ve also been invited to read at a book festival in northern Italy and at a prize-giving ceremony in France.
I’m co-organising a workshop and symposium at Birkbeck on Motherhood and Poetry, and working with a few other organisations/libraries to set up events for my collection.
It’s all really exciting after years of working alone. It also really encourages me to be more daring in my writing and to submit work to more competitions.
5. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The poem that sticks out is My Last Duchess by Robert Browning.
It may seem like an odd, old fashioned choice but I still think it’s amazing storytelling with a very modern (even feminist?) undercurrent.
It gave me chills as a teenage – the cruelty of the narrator and his arrogance.
6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I tend to love individual poems rather than all of the work of a poet. I think The Sea is History by Derek Walcott is magnificent.
I also love Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah by Patricia Smith.
There are lots of others from Franny Choi’s to the man who shouted…https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/56850/to-the-man-who-shouted-i-like-pork-fried-rice-at-me-on-the-street
to Deceptions by Philip Larkin: https://allpoetry.com/poem/8495693-Deceptions-by-Philip-Larkin
7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I don’t know if I would understand the question. It might be like asking ‘how do I become a human being?’ – you are or you’re not.
I would say that ‘owning’ the title writer is a good idea; writing something every day; going to as many workshops as possible (there are lots of free ones, especially in libraries/community spaces). Arvon offer subsidised places for anyone on a budget, and writing retreat can be great.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m currently promoting my debut collection Her Lost Language which was joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize (Indigo Dreams Publishers).
I’m also working on poems for either another collection or, more likely, a series of pamphlets. I’m also getting ready to perform in France and Italy which is extremely exciting. I’m even more excited because in Italy there will be parallel translations of my work which is a first for me.