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 from New Zealand / Aotearoa, who is obsessed with the sea, and the magic of the natural world and how it speaks to us, particularly to those who are damaged. He’s a survivor of various asylums, who probably learned more about poetry from the psychiatric kind than the university kind. He writes because he’s been unsuccessful hiding his lack of skin, so attempts to translate all those messy exposed nerve endings into words that other people might sometimes understand. He genuinely believes that narrative, the things we write into being, can change the world.
Ankh’s poetry has appeared in various publications, including Black Bough Poems, Burning House Press (Ice Floe Press takeover month), and Pixel Heart Magazine. He has upcoming publications in Moonchild Magazine, The Failure Baler, Rhythm & Bones ‘Defy Your Stars’ anthology (Tianna G. Hansen and Kristin Garth) and the ‘#Vss365’ anthology by Mark A. King.
He is also the editor of ‘The Silver Path’, a book of horror-fantasy-myth short stories by Caitlin Spice, and has edited innumerable short stories written by the same author (aka C.M Scandreth) for Reddit’s NoSleep and featured on the NoSleep Podcast.
You can follow him on Twitter @SeaGoatScreams, on Facebook @AnkhSpiceSeaGoatScreamsPoetry or find some of his poetry recordings on Soundcloud (SeaGoatScreamsPoetry : https://soundcloud.com/user-448322296). Links to published poems can be found on Linktree (https://linktr.ee/SeaGoatScreamsPoetry)
Ankh Spice performs his poetry at iambapoet.com
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
When I was about seven, I had a nature poem printed in the school paper. My specific memory of it is quite fractured (this is true in general, unfortunately). I do remember that it included the names of native trees (which won’t surprise anyone at all who reads my adult work). I don’t know how pivotal that was in inspiring me to keep writing poetry, but it is connected in my head with realising for the first time that there’s a difference between being good at something ‘for a child’ – and the praise we garner from people who are invested in caring about us – and being told you’re good at something in the wider world. It’s both interesting and a bit sad that I figured that out so young.
As a teenager, I wrote copiously. There was a lot going on to write about – so yes, I was *that* kid, the one who filled journal after journal with writing, and the majority was poetry. Probably because to me it was the form with the greatest freedom of expression, and it could be instilled with the rhythm and movement of an experience, not just the description.
I think in interviews it’s traditional to insert a ‘bad teen poetry’ joke at this point, but the difference with me was perhaps that I was under psychiatric care from the time I was eleven, and spent a lot of my teen years in and out of hospitals. My writing was my attempt to deal with that, and to figure out how and why the way I saw the world seemed to be so very different from what happened inside the brains around me. I’m not sure whether I’m more regretful or relieved that most of those notebooks are long-lost (I’ve discovered that several volumes were taken by a doctor writing a monograph on my treatment, but I’ve not yet been able to contact them).
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
To the heart of it, music; my mother sang to me all day long, even before I was born. She continued to do so from the second I arrived, and right through my childhood. My very earliest memories are the real magic of rhythm-and-words combined. I think that’s where the very guts of it is. She also read to me in great breadth, not just children’s stories, but myths, botanicals, poetry, anything she happened to have handy.
I’d also credit a children’s radio show in NZ which played very early on Saturday mornings. It included readings of Spike Milligan, Kipling, NZ-specific children’s writers like Margaret Mahy, and I remember it being a glowing treasure-trove of the same rhythmical-patterned language that was already food to me. A relative gave me a Margaret Mahy collection when I turned five – I still have it, and I can see how her highly poetic language infused itself into me.
To the actual formal skeleton of it; school. I remember a teacher reading us James K Baxter, who I confess didn’t excite me at all, and Denis Glover, who did. I think I was about eight when we read ‘The Magpie’, and I quardle oodle ardle wardle doodled people to distraction for weeks.
It’s probably a relief to everyone that I didn’t discover Janet Frame until I was an already-unwell 12 year old (thank you Mrs Ihimaera-Smiler at Wellington High School for seeing me so well, and for introducing me to her). Because her work dropped me into the real love affair with ‘real poetry’.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not wholly, but perhaps because I didn’t really understand what that meant. I think I was fortunate enough to escape some of it because of growing up in small-town Aotearoa. The school curriculum was already beginning to realise that the Literature of the Conquering Empire was not all there was to it, and that perhaps kids here deserved different fare – that there were unique and important voices coming from our own soil, too. I don’t remember huge emphasis on the Keats-Yeats-Wordsworth-Longfellow model, but maybe that’s more about what I was concentrating on. As I mentioned, I remember James K Baxter being front and central to what was taught as ‘proper poetry’, but there was also enough Hone Tuwhare and Fleur Adcock – ‘older’ poets, but still alive. As a result, the discovery of other poets I came to love came a fair bit later – and they’re a big messy mix of ‘older’ and ‘not quite really’, so I didn’t really categorise them that way, the likes of W.S Merwin, G.M Hopkins, E.A Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I write wherever and whenever I possibly can, I have no set schedule at all. I jot notes constantly as they come to me (smartphones are a huge blessing), and a lot of my process is internal rumination on those before I get to the full writing-down stage. My other love is long-distance running, which is very compatible with writing in this way – the physical flow state and the creative one are very linked for me. So I’ll jot some notes in my lunch break at work, then run in the evening and let the poem flow into life while I do. Sometimes I need to jot more notes while I warm down before they get lost, then write a bit more solidly in the evening.
Weekends there’s a bit more time to consolidate everything – but also more time for longer runs!
5. What motivates you to write?
I cheat by not being able to stop. I’m lucky, because I ‘see’ poetry everywhere, like there are words overlaid on every experience, just vibrating away waiting to be picked up and translated into something that helps everyone else see them, too. And I suppose that’s the main motivation – I want to *share*. I want all those other brains to be dropped into whatever intense moment my brain has just gifted to me. It’s astounding, and meaningful in ways that the surface of the world often is not, and I think everyone deserves to be able to split open the shell and get at the goodness underneath. I know, now, that not everyone can do this (for a long time I thought everyone did) – but I also know that poetry can bring it right to them and slide it inside their senses. Feeling that *click* when someone reads your work and you know they’re right there with you – there’s nothing on earth quite that intoxicating.
6. What is your work ethic?
Roughly summed up as ‘Find the purpose in whatever it is you are able to do’.
My work ethic, my adherence to it, suffers from never having enough time. I will commit absolutely to something and lose hours and hours on it – but then there’s an acute awareness when I emerge from that creative fog that everything else I haven’t done has suffered. True multi-tasking is a difficult animal for me – my brain scatters its attention in a million directions at once all day long, and the actual act of working on a poem focuses all of that intensely. It’s all-or-nothing.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’ve already answered some of this, I think, but should probably give honourable mention to my peculiar early odd-bedfellow obsession with Victorian children’s writing and fairytale/myths/legends. Spending early years flicking between E. Nesbit, Hatupatu and the Birdwoman, Lloyd Alexander, L.M Montgomery, big volumes of Irish/Welsh/Scottish/English fairytales, Grimm/Andersen and Maui netting the sun does interesting things to a brain that’s already pretty convinced the world is magical and can literally talk to you. The Margaret Mahy approach to life as an intense and quirky feast for the senses runs deep through my work.
Discovering other writers later on, such as Janet Frame, who felt the same way but often for the darker and stickier bits of living, kept that magic well and truly alive, and now lets me explore every facet of what it means to continue to breathe despite the innate intensity of doing that.
Less poetically, writers such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman also capture this in great spirit, and I’m a long-term aficionado of both – the multiple-readings/quirk-as-deeper-investigation is huge in both of their work. I unashamedly read children’s and YA literature constantly. Terry Pratchett’s ‘Nation’ and Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ are two of my favourite books on earth, for both of those reasons.
In my own work, I think I owe all of them (and so many others) a debt for the gift of being able to seize a moment, capture it from many angles, strip it of familiarity and re-contextualise it – and not letting the rules of language be a restraint to that in any way.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire most and why?
Difficult question, there’s too many. I grieved for months after Terry Pratchett’s death – I’m glad he left behind such a huge raft of work, but I’m still sad we didn’t get to see where he would go next with it. As I mentioned, Neil Gaiman constantly re-frames the world in ways that I love. For non-fiction, I’d read a treatise on toilet paper if Bill Bryson wrote it.
In a more immediate and poet-y sense, I’m discovering a massive torrent of new poets and writers on Twitter. I can’t possibly name them all without leaving people out – but I’d strongly recommend remembering the hundred-odd names in Black Bough Poems recent ‘Lux Aeterna’ edition, and checking out Starling Magazine for young New Zealand writers who are quite astounding with their talent.
For those overseas, if you haven’t read Selina Tusitala Marsh (NZ’s current poet laureate), please do.
I’m also married to a very talented writer – Caitlin Spice – and am fortunate enough to be the editor for her short stories. She’s a fountain of ideas and creativity, and goddess of the condensed-form story, world-building, and ‘satisfyingly round’ plot, and I admire her greatly.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Because it hurts not to. Because of that sense of poetry-as-ultimate-sharing, which in turn gives me the validation I need as a human being. It gives me a sense of my purpose, and the feeling that I’m leaving something in the world beyond my own boundaries. And because being in love with language is contagious, – spreading such a beautiful malady is the gratitude-price for possessing it, and becomes a gift to myself as much as anyone else.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Make a commitment to really *feel*. Be aware that truly doing that often hurts. Throw yourself open to it, stop pretending all the things you’re pretending – none of us really have it together. Then go out into the messy old world. Throw yourself neck-deep into living, then open your eyes (or whatever sense you use to engage). Then open them again.
Translate that sense of being a wide-open conduit for the smallest of experiences, savour the real guts of it, and think about how you could wrap language around that – don’t think about the ‘right’ way to express it, think about what it is at its roots and how it deserves to be painted.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m pulling together my very first chapbook of poems, which is exciting and quite terrifying for an anxious poet. I’m extremely grateful to Matthew C Smith of Black Bough Poems for choosing me amongst the poets he’s currently working with as a mentor/editor. Without his encouragement, I suspect I wouldn’t be at this point yet. My little book will be overflowing with the sea, and the real life magic of exploring what seeps through from all our ‘underneaths’ – personal and all around us in nature and mythology. I don’t know its final form or where its publishing home will be yet – I’m just proud to be creating an actual collection. I’ve also just submitted a mini-chapbook of poems to a small press for consideration. I’m excited about that one, too – it’s themed around coastal environmental change from a very personal perspective.
Apart from that, I’m *always* writing new poems, and submitting as much as possible to various litmags and zines of all shapes and sizes (support small presses!).
Caitlin potentially has a new book deal coming up (something a bit different for her) so I also foresee some serious editing time on the horizon.