Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Gary Barwin

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.

Gary Barwin

is a writer, composer, and multidisciplinary artist and the author of twenty-one books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His latest book is the poetry collection No TV for Woodpeckers (Wolsak & Wynn). His recent national bestselling novel Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada) won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour as well as the Canadian Jewish Literary Award (FIction) and the Hamilton Literary Award (Fiction). It was also a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His interactive writing installation using old typewriters and guitar processors was featured during 2016-2017 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Forthcoming books include, A Cemetery for Holes, a poetry collaboration with Tom Prime (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) and For It is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems, ed. Alessandro Porco (Wolsak and Wynn, 2019.)

A finalist for the National Magazine Awards (Poetry), he is a three-time recipient of Hamilton Poetry Book of the Year, has also received the Hamilton Arts Award for Literature and has co-won the bpNichol Chapbook Award and the K.M. Hunter Arts Award. He was one of the judges for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

 A PhD in music composition, Barwin has been Writer-in-Residence at Western University, McMaster University and the Hamilton Public Library, Hillfield Strathallan College, and Young Voices E-Writer-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library. He will be Edna Staebler writer-in-residence at Wilfrid Laurier University in Winter 2019. He has taught creative writing at a number of colleges and universities and currently teaches writing to at-risk youth in Hamilton through the ArtForms program. His writing has been published in hundreds of magazine and journals internationally—from Readers Digest to Granta and Poetry to the Walrus—and his writing, music, media works and visuals have been presented and broadcast internationally. Though born in Northern Ireland to South African parents of Ashenazi descent, Barwin lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He is married with three adult children and lives in Hamilton, Ontario and has never been Governor of Louisiana. garybarwin.com

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

The first poem I remember writing was written on filing cards. I was smitten by the way the cards seemed to belong in the world and how they fit in their little filing card box. I had heard of “rosewood.” My parents had furniture made of rosewood. I assumed, however, that rosewood meant the wood from a rose plant and so I found a small stub of dried rose vine and brought it to my bedroom. I was perhaps 8. I wrote an incantation for the rose wood. The wood seems druidical. Magic. Elemental. And so what I wrote was not English, but numinous, potent sounds. I remember writing it in Roman script but highly stylized and with diacritics. This idea of the immanence of things, of language as an invocation, as an object in itself, made of the elements of the world but rearranged into something different, something that allowed a deep engagement with thought, a sense of things, tactility, pataphysics and a sense of being a particular time and place while being highly conceptual was formative to me.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was introduced to poetry in waves. When I was young, I recall going to synagogue and hearing the chanted prayers in Hebrew which I didn’t understand but being captivated by its allusive and inscrutable beautiful. I remember Mr. Calvert, my P.5 teacher in Inch Marlo school in Northern Ireland reading us Robert Service. There were the often cosy and mythic words of hymns and Christmas carols. “Without a city wall.” Not not having a wall around the city, but outside. Then my parents had copies of Seamus Heaney in the house. And various poetry anthologies. And once I stole a complete Shakespeare from someone whose kids I was babysitting when I was 13. And then I went to an arts boarding school where my roommate, Jay Frost, would recite The Waste Land—from memory. And we had poetry workshops with guest writers, such as Robert Bly, Mark Strand and Etheridge Knight. I was surrounded by this poetry. And finally, I attended York University where my little Seamus Heaney-limited poetic world, my “eye clear as the bleb of icicle” was blown open by studying with bpNichol. Poetry as curiosity, as investigation, as an appreciation and exploration of the materials of language and their possibilities.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

“Dominating” is interesting. Just like a word doesn’t function as a word without other words, without past and current uses of words, I don’t think poems (or poets) can either. We write and read in the context of other work. So, I don’t think of being dominated, rather as existing in a poetic ecosystem. I came to writing and I have stayed here by experiencing other writing and also language. So reading and listening comes before writing. And in fact, writing is a form of reading and listening. In one eye or ear and out the fingers as writing. Some processing may be involved. Other writers have made me aware of what is possible, what ways language can be explored, how it can be taken apart and put together differently, how I can follow the myriad forces that it embodies, how it can be used as a tool to explore, a vehicle to ride. All of which helps me spelunk the human, the non-human, the world, the linguistic and the non-linguistic both.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

This changes depending on what I’m working on, however, distraction and diversion are a standard part of my routine. I often start by avoiding a project and instead creating a visual piece—lately, works exploring the ampersand—or a poem based perhaps on a whim or something I tumble onto on social media. I’ve been working on a novel for the last year and a half and so my goal for my daily minimum is 500 words. I write until I’ve written 500 words. Often this includes figuring out what is going to happen in those 500 words as I don’t write from a premeditated plan, except in a very general sense. In order to keep motivated, I keep a chart of words written compared to words projected (i.e. if I actually wrote 500 words five days a week vs. what I actually managed to write.) Sometimes I write more than the 500, sometimes less, or, more likely, I have something else to do that day and so don’t manage to work on the novel at all, except in my head. Some days, I schedule time to work on collaboration. These days, I’m writing a poem or two once a week with Tom Prime. We Skype each other and open up a Google doc. Then we write. I like the idea of writing as dialogue and so work often emerges from interactions on social media, riffing off an image, a phrase, a discussion, or some other writing that I encounter.

I like the energy of the impulse or the distraction. Sometimes it’s fuelled by nervousness or uncertainty about the project that I’m “supposed” to be working on. But I’m ok with channelling that into something else, knowing that I’m getting work out of it. Of course, at some point, I have to confront the procrastination, and buckle down and actually work on the main project, otherwise it won’t get done. The other good thing about distraction is that one can be surprised by a sudden confluence of ideas or inputs and connect things or write in a way that enables something unexpected to occur.

5. What motivates you to write?

This seems like a very simple question, however, it isn’t so easy to answer. Certainly, my writing comes from curiosity. I am intrigued to explore what is possible—what is possible in language, in writing. What it is possible to say. Where the language might guide me, what it might draw out of me, what it might draw out of itself through my engagement. There is something about communication. About connection or engaging with people (readers) — the impulse for interaction. There is something elemental, something fundamental, somatic, about the act of making. Writing is about exploring writing, but also about exploring the world and the act of writing. About exploring the writing self and the self writing. And also, I want to be so rich I can buy all the letters of the alphabet, bronze them in solid gold and then, when the sun is bright, signal to it with its own light.

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

I am young. At least when compared to English. Or a rock. Or that obscure jarred thing in the back of my fridge. But I am always reminded of the elemental and preternatural power of language—and of poetry specifically—of its ability to be a trickster, a Rorschach test, a finger in a socket, a consoler, debunker, debater, songster, and seducer, and how, even though my knowledge was limited, I immediately got the sense of what might be possible. And so with the writers that I read in the past. From Spike Milligan and Ogden Nash to Wordsworth, Heaney, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Trakl and so on, to religious texts (the Jewish translations direct from Hebrew as well as King James and the others.) I have the sense, as I did with reading poets when I was young, that there was more just around the.corner: more confusion, more understanding, more meaning, less meaning, more technique, more chances.

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

The way your question is phrased is interesting. You ask about which “writers” I most admire rather what “writing” and so it leads me to think about what are qualities that I value in a writer. Passing over the issue of what happens when the work is good, but the writer is perhaps ethically or morally compromised in some way, I do think about what it is to be a writer in society, what it is to be a writer in community and (to paraphrase Sheila Heti) “How should a writer be?” and what does creativity look like.

I admire writers who mentor, support and build community. But I also admire those who are able to forge their own paths and remain true to their values both aesthetically and politically even if that leads them to pursue an individual path, perhaps one not comfortable with the prevailing fashion. Of course, this only makes sense to me if they are sensitive, thoughtful listeners who consider how large-scale historical, political and systemic issues shape aesthetics and the writer’s life and opinions and continually check in to ensure that they haven’t gone astray or been seduced by their own solipsism into thinking that their view is the only authentic one. And here I’m making a distinction between “fashion” and “developed contemporary understanding.”  A writer and their writing can’t exist outside of the systemic influences on them and the culture, whether legible to them or not, but they can write outside of the prevailing fashion or taste.

I also consider the kind of writer who is curious about everything and explores many creative avenues—perhaps different forms, media, aesthetics and so on. I tend to be like this, creating music, art, poetry and fiction, using digital and analogue means, exploring both more lyric as well as more experimental approaches, creating, performing, exhibiting, publishing in a wide variety of ways. The other type of writer is one who hones their craft to an almost laser-like concentration, working within one approach or aesthetic. Samuel Beckett was like this. He spent his life focussing his work more and more acutely, stripping away everything extraneous to the essential vision.

I’m hesitant to begin naming who I “most” admire. I resist hierarchies and ranking as too fraught. But since I had a conversation yesterday about her yesterday, I will say that I follow Kai Cheng Thom’s online presence with great respect. She is thoughtful, articulate, earnest, compassionate and willing to consider positions with great insight, even if they reevaluate what may appear to be the consensus opinion or approach.

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

For me, a writer is someone who writes. So, regardless of who you are, if you write, you are a writer. I believe everyone can be a writer. Everyone can have a particular and personal relationship to language, whether spoken or written. Becoming a good writer involves reading a lot, trying many things, really thinking through what you’ve written and what it is doing. Considering what assumptions you’ve made about what the writing should be, or things you haven’t considered? So, becoming a writer involves reading and thinking intently. Others’ work. One’s own.

One of the hardest things is to write what you actually want to write rather than what you think you should write. Well, that and seeing what is actually going on in the writing one is doing. And keeping going. Because becoming a writer involves keeping doing it. I feel that it is important to keep writing. That’s how one becomes a better writer. But it is important to keep pushing, to try to see more of what is possible, to try to learn to make one’s writing more resonant, or to contain more, if not multitudes then multivalences or multiverses. Tumult or mulch. Unless you’re a born genius like Rimbaud, I feel the difference between the path of someone who writes and someone who learns to make really good writing is that for the good writer it isn’t about being a writer, but about really trying to make the writing the best it can be, to learn to really read the work in front of you and edit or develop it so that it truly is the best it can be. For me, becoming a writer is about learning to really be attuned to your creative process, and also about really trusting the writing and, like a dowser, learning to see how it pulls you, learning to sense the subterranean before you, learning to be attuned to the language and where it wants to take you. And to keep learning to follow it more places, to be more keenly attuned to it. It is a kind of dance—the language leads you, sometimes without you even realizing it, and you follow it, waltzing or polkaing around the dance floor. I know this sounds like I’m Yoda, and I’m saying, “Follow the Force.” But I guess I am. Though I have more restrained ears and a better barber. And I’m (usually) less green.

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

I have many specific projects that I am working on, but I also relish the opportunity to explore a whim or particular inspiration and create something on the spur of the moment. Sometimes these get folded into a larger project and sometime they exist as confounding outliers. I am an advocate of allowing  the moment to suggest something to you. Often this results in creating something fresh and surprising, something which subverts your usual expectations of what it is that you do.

The main project that I’m working on is a novel, Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted. It is a Wild West Holocaust novel set in 1941 Lithuania. My protagonist is a Don Quixote-type middle-aged Litvak who imagines himself a cowboy. It makes connections between the Holocaust and North American Indigenous genocide via the Western novels of Karl May. Also, my protagonist is looking for his testicles which became frozen in a Swiss glacier after being shot off 20 years before. It’s scheduled to come out in 2021. I’m also writing a new book of collaborations with Tom Prime (we’ve just published our first one,  A Cemetery for Holes). A chapbook of prose poems with Kathryn Mockler will appear next year as will a collection of ekphrastic works I created with the artist Donna Szoke. I’m also working on a big public art piece about persecution and refugees with Tor Lukasik-Foss and Simon Frank for a park in Hamilton. (I’ve never worked in bronze before!) I’m working on a collection of my ampersand-based visual poems and finishing a book and recording with Gregory Betts and Lillian Allen. Greg and I are also part of the band TZT and will be releasing a recording of sound poetry and sound works we did with a variety of sound poets.(We’re hoping for vinyl!)  I’m also doing a collaboration with Shane Neilson involving hurricanes, naming and class photographs. I’m also working on a continuing poetic project of my own based on experimental translations of a variety of poems, from William Bronk and Rilke to Medieval poetry. It combines a kind of oblique lyricism with a variety of conceptual and experimental transformational practices. (Maybe that’s our life. Oblique lyricism and conceptual and experimental transformations.) Also, any minute now, my “New and Selected Poems” will come out with Wolsak & Wynn. And while writing this, I just got an email inviting me to create some visual poems out of scientific papers, something I’ve done before. It’s really intriguing to explore technical language and a very specific textual form (the scientific paper) about which I know nothing and is just on the border of intelligibility for me.

This kind of disorganized multidirectional chaos—this whole mess of projects—seems to work for me. Because, as they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: L. Austen Johnston

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.

Lausten.jpg

L. Austen Johnston

a debut poet from Virginia and counts herself lucky to be from the lovers’ state. She studied English, Archaeology, and Astronomy in university, which may explain her love for stargazing and time traveling.

She’s an avid reader, a sometimes writer, and an attempter of various art projects. When she’s not in class, you can find her searching for animals to pet, singing off-key in the shower, and learning the art of making the perfect cup of tea.

Website: https://laustenjohnson.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laustenjohnson/

Instagram: @girlfriendofbath

Tumblr: @laustenjohnson

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17578375.L_Austen_Johnson

Twitter: @laustenjohnson (but I don’t use it much

Link to book: https://www.amazon.com/Burning-Bacon-L-Austen-Johnson-ebook/dp/B07B6RDZ9G

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I started writing when I was in middle school and had no care for whether it was good. (May we all aspire to have a 12-year-old’s confidence in pursuing art.) I continued to write because I felt that I had to. Looking around the world and living in it seems to require some type of reflection. For me, poetry was the place where I could be overly dramatic, process emotion, take on a new character, or even just churn over a turn of phrase or two. I was not and am not always successful, but it’s fun to create images out of words and it’s heart-breaking and exciting and nerve-racking to read other people’s poetry as well.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I think the first time I actively tried to write poems, not just scribbling phrases and song lyrics in my diary, was in eighth grade after a teacher gave my class the freedom to do so. We read and wrote and read some more.

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

I ended up getting a Master’s in poetics, so now I definitely have an awareness of the Byrons, Wordworths, and Charles Wrights of the poetry world. I guess it would depend on what you mean by “dominating” and “older.” In academic settings, we’re usually studying writers who are dead—or maybe that’s just my course of study. In high school, I read Dickinson and Eliot, for example. But I think in daily life for most casual poetry readers, those types of authors are not that dominating. When I think “dominating” poets, I think Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace. I think of young women with a certain type of fanbase dominating book sales and charts and Instagram. I think I find the overabundance of both frustrating. I love me some old dead poetry: I’ve spent days reading Chaucer and Keats and the Brownings. But I recognize that they don’t represent everyone. Maybe people want less aristocracy and easier-to-read diction. Hence “pop poetry.” But now it’s kind of like unless you’re super academic or super relatable to the point of basically just writing good quotes, then you’re not a poetry that’s going to be liked. Maybe we could have something accessible and wordy? Something easy to read by not so easy that readers feel it’s all surface?

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Recently I haven’t been writing poetry as much. When I do, it’s usually a phrase that haunts me when I’m trying to fall asleep that I then have to jot down in Evernote before my brain will be quiet. Other times I just take a pen out and see what happens. Unfortunately, I’m not very routine. I admire those NaNoWriMo types who can set daily word limits, but that’s not what I’ve been doing.

5. What motivates you to write?

I once read “Atlantis: The Lost Sonnet” by Eavan Boland in high school, and my understanding of poetry changed. I started to try to unite the mythic, grandiose poetry (what I saw to be “official” and “historical”) with the personal (what I had been writing but saw to be only “modern” and “immature”). For me, I write to try to find a connection between personal experience and humanity’s experiences. I like using tiny details that should alienate a scene to actually make it feel closer to the reader. And finding how that all interacts is, I think, at the basis of why I write.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m not quite sure how to answer this. In general? For writing specifically? I have many ideas and don’t always commit myself to bringing them to fruition. But, on the other hand, I have many interests that I dabble in and commit to, like designing book covers and doing marketing consulting and writing lyrics. If something interests me, I will work my very hardest on it. And if I commit to something, I’ll make sure I get it done.

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

That one poem by Eavan Boland certainly influences me even though I read it at 15 or 16. I am still quite young (22), so I’m still being influenced. Some authors I read as a college student that influences me are Gwendolyn Brooks, Swinburne, and Yeats. Like many young writers, I had a stage where the confessionalists blew my mind. For me, the days of Plath and (not so much) Bukowski were late high school. I remember reading Plath and being shocked at the closeness and aggression in her poems. One poet I read around that same time was Clementine von Radics, who is a confessionalist, but one I prefer to Bukowski. Her work showed me how to write short, sweet, and to the point while still making it sound nice to the ear and without being too bare of rhetoric. I tried to write like her for a bit at 18 before coming more into my own voice.

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

I admire writers who can be direct and relatable while still being traditionally poetic. To that end, I really enjoyed Home and Other Place I’ve Yet to See by Daniel J Flore, III. And I’ve liked some of Neil Hilborn’s recent collections/performances, though I tend to enjoy written more than spoken pieces better (I can come back to them and digest them visually).

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

Write. That’s a cheeky comment, but really, if you write and it’s a defining part about you, you’re a writer. Now, to become a published writer, you have to write, edit, edit some more, think about how you want to arrange your pieces into a whole, and then submit to a publisher (or you can do it yourself, but that can be harder). The most important part to transition from being someone who writes for themselves and someone who writes for a (potential) reader to me is editing. Take it from Wordsworth, not me: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” To get it good for an audience, you’ve got to master that “recollected in tranquility” part.

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

I’ve been trying my hand at prose. I’m in the middle of writing a young adult fantasy book based on a Polish folk story called “Unburied Man.” It promises gods, gothic elements, and love. I’ve also started a screenplay about a girl with an ostomy bag navigating the trials and tribulations of high school. As someone with an invisible illness, I think it’s really important to think about how disability can present itself. Chronic illnesses can also change the stakes of some of what we deal with as young adults. Some of the tropes + themes that are normal in media for teens take on increased meaning (think pool parties, finding independence, feeling unsure in your own body). You can follow some updates on these on my tumblr or Instagram.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Karen Jane Cannon

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.

Karen Jane Cannon

is a UK poet and author. Her poetry has been published widely in literary journals and anthologies in the UK and USA, including Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia, Orbis, Obsessed with Pipework, The Interpreter’s House, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and Popshot. She was a 2017 finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition and was commended for the Flambard Poetry Prize in 2014. Emergency Mints, her debut poetry pamphlet, was published in Spring 2018, by Paper Swans Press

Her novel Powder Monkey (as Karen Sainsbury) was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2002 and Phoenix in 2003.

Karen is also an award-winning radio playwright. She has an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, where she lectured for three years. She is a PhD Candidate at the University of Southampton. Karen is creator of Silent Voices: found poetry of lost women (https://silentvoicespoetry.wordpress.com/)

Welcome

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I started writing poetry when I was very small and was encouraged enormously by various teachers. I entered competitions and read lots of poetry ‘how to’ guides. When I was studying English as an undergraduate, I suddenly became frustrated and frightened by poetry, lost the unselfconscious way of writing I’d had as a teenager—for two decades I didn’t have anything to do with poetry, became totally poetry-phobic. After having several articles published, I started writing radio plays and then a novel, but I felt I wasn’t really a storyteller—fiction seemed too contrived and unreal. I entered quite a bad depression. Felt I had lost my way as a writer and the only way out for me was through rediscovering poetry. I remember picking up Ted Hughes’ Moortown Diary and thinking poetry could be real and earthy and alive. I decided to try and be the thing that terrified me most—a poet! Or at least conquer my fear of it. Orbis published my first poem a year later. In 2017 I was delighted at being a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition. This has really boosted my confidence.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’m not sure. Maybe, I found out by myself, at the library when I was at primary school searching out Walter de la Mare and Kipling. Taking my MA in Creative Writing I was inspired by the work of Philip Gross who taught me for a semester—I really connected with The Wasting Game, but was still suspicious of poetry. Another tutor, Tracy Brain reintroduced me to Sylvia Plath via The Bell Jar, and her love for all things Plath was very contagious.

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

Writing poetry, you are always aware of walking in the footsteps of others. It’s normal for a poet to think, how do I get my voice heard? Why is my voice relevant? I think it’s either huge ego or that persuasive fluttering muse that makes you think your contribution is worthy. As a writer, you have to develop a thick skin and learn to do what makes you happy. Rejection is a healthy part of the writing process—the biggest thing that will make you stop and re-evaluate your work and seek to improve it. The Poetry World is hugely competitive.

Studying English at degree level, I became frustrated by the study of poetry—not being able to get a poem to immediately yield all its secrets. I remember very simplistically thinking, for example, why can’t a poem be just about blackberries?! Why does there have to be a whole subtext behind it?  I was too immature to understand that this is the challenge of any piece of art. Every time you re-examine a text, you read something new into it—that’s what makes a reader return to it years later, why it stays in the head. Every text means something different to every reader. That’s the power and joy of poetry.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I write daily, every morning, either on new work, editing or submitting. Creativity isn’t something you can control—new poems can magically pop up at any time and need writing down before they vanish. I am very organised when it comes to writing or studying. The rest of my life is somewhat haphazard.

5. What motivates you to write?

Above anything, I am a writer of place. From my first articles, to my plays, novel and poetry, I write landscape, both physical and emotional. That is what motivates me to write. I have always chosen to live in strange and fascinating places, from the second highest village in Scotland, to a village on the edge of Longleat Safari park, going to sleep each night to the sound of roaring lions and howling wolves. I was brought up a mile from the sea in Worthing, West Sussex, and spent much of my childhood either on the beach or on the beautiful South Downs. The sea, its dynamic movement and power, is a great source of inspiration for me. My first pamphlet, Emergency Mints (Paper Swans Press, 2017), is set on the south coast. Now I live in the magical New Forest National Park, a surprising wilderness in the heart of the south of England. The main themes running through my work are loss and motherhood—the two ends of the circle. I am fascinated by maps and boundaries—both real and imaginary—and the industrial footprint left in the landscape. These things all motivate me creatively, but I am motivated also by success and becoming a better poet.

6. What is your work ethic?

I have a hugely strong work ethic when it comes to creativity. I am a perpetual student—it’s important to me to improve and grow as a writer, to hopefully reach my potential. I am in the 2nd year of a part time PhD at the University of Southampton, researching poetry and place. It is a very stretching and rewarding experience. I am very focused. I don’t go on holidays—I go on research trips! My husband is very supportive—on our last ‘holiday’ we ended up down a stone quarry, because I wanted to write about it!

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

That’s difficult to gauge. I write about the effects of industry on the landscape and its inhabitants and I wonder if Blake’s Songs of Experience—and the whole Romantic movement— influenced this. I remember being moved by these poems when I was a young teenager, the hopelessness and inevitability of change. Even childhood reading like Enid Blyton has shaped my connection to the countryside. I was obsessed with the War Poets when I was sixteen—maybe they influenced the themes of loss that always run through my work, the long connection between war and poetry is fascinating and paradoxical.

In reality, it was growing up in the 1970s that has influenced my writing more than anything else. The Seventies were a dismal decade to be a child—a time of dissatisfaction and misery. This was represented across popular culture—even sitcoms such as The Likely Lads and Butterflies portrayed an adult world of frustration and yearning. The lingering after-effects of the war, sexual revolution and political turmoil were frightening and unsettling. Nothing was stable—not even the concept of family—no one was happy. Everyone trapped by something—sex, class, respectability.  But, ironically, it was all these things that made me become a writer. I rejected the restraints and limitations of the previous generation and chose my own path.

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

I have spent the last twelve months immersing myself in books on place—from Dorothy Wordsworth’s wonderfully rich journals and Nan Shepherd’s beautiful The Living Mountain, to Roger Deakin’s Waterlog and Wildwood. And of course, Alexandra Harris, Luke Turner, Richard Mabey, Philip Hoare and everything Robert MacFarlane writes! Groundwork, edited by Tim Dee, is an excellent introduction to the genre. These writers share the ability to conjure a place from the page with their knowledge and love for it. They create value.  ‘Local’ doesn’t mean parochial, it reflects the whole. I am also interested in how different genders approach the writing of place.

I have also been reading a lot of ecopoetry—one approach to ecopoetry is of the close observation of place proposed by Linda Russo. This genre needs careful handling as it involves writing with intent, which is problematic. The Ground Aslant, edited by Harriet Tarlo, is an excellent example of how to get it right.

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

I have had ideas about doing other things, but I am only driven to write. I have other useable skills—ones that would pay better—but I have no heart for them. I think I may be quite lazy. As I said above, I have had plays produced and a book published. Poetry uses the least words! What I love about poetry is the journey it takes you on. I read a lot of fiction and I find so many authors only have the one brilliant book in them. Poets by contrast keep growing and expanding.  That’s a huge draw to me. It’s rewarding.

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

I would say, to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. To paraphrase Reynolds on art, you gather the pollen to create your own honey. Experiment. Be flexible—you may start off thinking you want to be a poet, but may discover you are an amazing playwright. See where writing takes you. Write with your heart and not with your head. And if you want to improve, get critical feedback. You are unlikely to get this from friends or family. They will either tell you your work is brilliant, or that it’s not their cup of tea! Constructive criticism is invaluable. The Poetry School offers fantastic courses for all levels. And, really importantly, read contemporary work if you want to see your work published—styles change!

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

I am just finishing my second pamphlet, based around my experience of living 1400 feet up in the Lowther hills of Southern Scotland without electricity in an old leadminer’s cottage. I am working on two full collections—one set on the South coast and its industrial footprint, and a second more experimental work centred around the New Forest, which is part of my PhD. I am loving the writing of all of these book

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Heidi Seaborn

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.

Give a Girl Chaos_front cover

Heidi Seaborn

is Editorial Director for The Adroit Journal, the author of the award-winning debut book of poetry Give a Girl Chaos {see what she can do} (C&R Press/Mastodon Books, 2019) and a New York University MFA candidate. Since Heidi started writing in 2016, she’s won or been shortlisted for over two dozen awards and published by numerous journals and anthologies such as The Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Penn Review and Tar River. She’s also the author of the chapbook Finding My Way Home (FLP, 2018) and a political poetry pamphlet Body Politic (Mount Analogue Press, 2017). She graduated from Stanford University and is on the Tupelo Press board. http://heidiseabornpoet.com/

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I really have no idea where the original inspiration came from. I wrote as a child, a teenager and then didn’t write for decades. When I returned to poetry a few years ago, it was as a dare to myself: would I be able to write anything at all after all these years?

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’m sure it was my mother who read to us every night, mostly stories, but sometimes poems.

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

When I was young and wrote, I found older poets quite helpful until I attended University. That was when I encountered an older poet in the form of my advisor who was so unsupportive of me that I ended up giving up poetry altogether. Now I am an older poet who spends a huge percentage of my time encouraging younger poets through my role as Editorial Director at The Adroit Journal (young staff and young contributors) and within my MFA program where my cohort is generally the age of my children!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I answer emails, do any of my paid consulting work and then either read, revise, write, edit, submit or market my readings, book, etc. Generally, I spend at least 5 hours a/day on something poetry related.

5. What motivates you to write?

I don’t know if I would describe it as motivation, more inspiration. I find my inspiration everywhere. And then it just needs to land on the page. I am not a journal writer or adhere to a daily schedule. When I need to write, and it does feel urgent, I make the space for it. It is just such a joy, that it doesn’t ever require some sort of trick or motivation ploy.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I’ve brought that to my work as a poet. It’s the kind of job that is never really done so for me, I really need to step away and do other things to keep my mind fresh.

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

Well, given that I took a long break from poetry, I feel that I am still in that mode (especially through my MFA) of reading the important writers and feeling the influence of so many poets. That said, when I was a teenager, I read a lot of Richard Hugo. He was a Pacific Northwest Poet that was very much alive and writing at that time. I admired how he could deftly create a detailed sense of place and people yet hold his language to its simplest form.  It was so intimate. I also adored T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore for their use of collagist form and layered gesturing.

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

Oh, so many. I’m quite taken with Terrance Hayes for his use of form, and Ocean Vuoung’s beautiful brevity, and yet I simply adore Maggie Nelson’s complexity and density. I really could go on for pages.

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

I’ve done other things. I worked as a global communications executive running sizeable organisations and living all over the world. I enjoyed it but once I started writing poetry in 2016, I knew there was no turning back. This is who I am now and what I do.

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

Well that’s easy. Read and write and repeat that combination forever.

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

I have two streams of work that I am writing currently. I am working on a series of persona poems based on an iconic historical figure. I expect this work will form my thesis for next spring and my second collection. Alongside that project, I have been writing poems that reflect on the experience of being a woman aging. And then of course there is whatever else pops to mind. Today it was a political lament!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Travis Lau

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 Bone Setter

Travis Lau

Travis currently resides in Austin and regularly flies to Atlanta to see his family. Outside of his academic work, he enjoys writing poetry, discovering local food, and traveling. He has a rescued grey tabby named (Freddie) Mercury. He has been practicing taiko drumming since 2008 and has played with San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Atlanta Taiko Project, and Philadelphia’s Kyo Daiko.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

In all honesty, I only began writing poetry in my early 20s when I became increasingly exhausted with prose fiction, which I had spent most of my middle and high school days writing. I had been obsessed with high fantasy as a long-time gamer and fiction seemed to be the best place to tell my own stories. But when I arrived in Los Angeles for my undergraduate studies, I found myself more unmoored than I had ever felt in my life. Learning about and coming to terms with my identities—sometimes intersecting, sometimes in tension—involved a great feeling of fracture. Loose, free-verse poems, particularly lyrical fragments, felt like the right form to capture my own sense of dissolution and to begin writing my way toward a new sense of self as it was coming into being. My scoliosis-related disability also began to worsen rapidly around this time, and poetry was not so much a solace as it was a mode of description—of witnessing with intense detail the strange experience of being embodied. If my conditions were chronic and my spinal curvature uncurable (or at great cost), I could better understand them on their own terms and in their own time.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I never really grew up reading poetry, but I attribute a lot of my appreciation of what poetry can do to a few unexpected yet formative influences.
My late paternal grandfather (whom I never met) was a polymath—a lawyer by trade but also an English teacher and apothecary—and used to hold a weekly writing group for his friends. Rather than a workshop, this group was structured like a contest: a weekly theme would be selected and each writer would produce a shih (詩) poem, an older Chinese form that involved 5- and 7- character lines with strict tonal limitations. Over the years, my grandfather collected his handwritten poems into a bound volume, which I later discovered in my teens. With my broken Chinese, I still can’t fully appreciate these poems but they represent to me a form of kinship with my grandfather even though we never had the opportunity to meet.

I am particularly thankful to one of my undergraduate mentors, Aaron Gorelik, who first introduced me to LGBTQ poetry in my first year at UCLA. Reading Paul Monette and Timothy Liu, alongside Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Frank O’Hara, became some of my first intimate encounters with queer history and the AIDS era. I was drawn to the unique gravity of these sickbed and erotic poems, their affective and political force born out of a difficult grappling with the pleasures and limits of the body. I realized I wanted to write the flesh, my own flesh, in this way: tender, honest, and vulnerable.

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

Because of my limited childhood exposure and my rejection from poetry workshops during college, I never received formal training in poetry beyond the literary studies classroom. With my major’s requirements overwhelming skewed toward canonical white male writers, I think I understood the “dominating presence of older poets” more as the weight of the canon as a deeply political set of choices surrounding what gets to be called literature and what gets to be read and studied. As I try to make up for lost time now by reading the work of older poets to educate myself about the craft, I’ve felt less and less the anxiety of influence but more the possibility of reclaiming and revisiting the supposed territory of older poets—their forms, their approaches, their metaphors. Poetic tradition is an inheritance, and while that inheritance may be deeply problematic as a result of canonicity, I try to think about what we’ve been given and what can be done with and even beyond convention. Also, I think it is equally mistaken to think that movements toward inclusion and diversity within poetry itself have eliminated the problem of certain voices being privileged over others. I’ve tried to think of my own poetic method as one of conversation rather than supersession or outdoing.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

As someone with chronic pain and brain fog, I’ve struggled for years to develop a sustainable writing practice. During graduate school, I turned to mentors and guidebooks for advice, but as many disability scholars have shown, much of the strategies revolve around time management. In graduate school, I also learned about the concept of crip time, which Margaret Price, Alison Kafer, and Ellen Samuels have variously described as a non-normative relationship to linear time, which in the academy, tends toward hyperproductivity. Forcing myself to keep up with the “publish or perish” model was extremely detrimental to my health, and I think even notions of “daily writing routine” can fall into similar traps of ableist expectations that all bodyminds can be trained to comply with timelines that may be harmful to them. While it is often impossible to refuse the demands and deadlines of teaching, research, and service, I’ve also tried to redefine for myself what constitutes “writing” and “productivity” beyond simply word counts or publications, which we are constantly encouraged (especially by social media) to see as the only measures of success. I “write” daily in various forms: informal conversations with students, peers, and friends; reading and annotating sources or related research; sketching out mindmaps and outlines; revisiting and revising old material; collaborating with colleagues. If writing is an accretive process, these are all contributions to that process that ultimately become the final work.

5. What motivates you to write?

In our turbulent political climate, I’ve found a great urgency for poets to write back to power and write for our communities that feel increasingly under threat. I am always surprised to hear some poets describe their work as “apolitical” or outside of politics when the very act itself and the conditions that shape that writing are political. If we are currently what people have described as a “golden age of poetry,” I think it is because voices we haven’t heard are coming to the fore and rewriting narratives we think we know about ourselves, our nation, our future. I’m also extremely grateful to be among the many disabled writers (much love to the #criplit community) who are finally being published and who are being taken seriously for their interventions and innovations in a field still in many ways resistant to taking disability seriously as an identity and an experience.

6. What is your work ethic?

Growing up in an immigrant household made me self-sufficient and driven at a really young age. This helped me succeed in a highly competitive academic environment where I went to school and also made me unafraid of working hard for the things I wanted for myself and my future. But I quickly realized I was becoming a workaholic because of the momentum it created: there was always another thing to pursue, to prepare for, to reach for. I believed for the longest time that to be satisfied with where I was, to stop for any reason would be to become complacent. This would become one of the most toxic and dangerous ideologies that I subscribed to in my early 20s. By keeping myself so busy, I didn’t grapple with the real emotional, physical, and mental costs of maintaining this pace that seemed less and less like it was set by me. I started to feel like I was on everyone else’s time but my own, and when my bodymind finally began to refuse, I realized this was no longer sustainable. I was working against myself, working to avoid having to confront the seismic changes happening to my self-image and my self-worth. I define work ethic quite simply now: it should never be at the expense of your wellbeing.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, enabled me to find home when I otherwise didn’t feel like I had one. Having lived abroad most of my childhood, I wanted a place to anchor myself, but because I frequently had to pack up my things and say goodbye to friends almost every year, I found comfort in heroes who made something of their journeys. These characters taught me that home is never a place; rather, it is a complex set of feelings that you can put fold up and put away in your back pocket. These novels also showed me the power of the speculative—that we can imagine better or different futures for ourselves, that these imagined futures can tell us about the limits of our present. If anything, I saw that conditions could change, people could change, worlds could change.

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

As someone arriving late to poetry, I’m discovering so many living poets who have empowered me to embrace my own limited knowledge, to write from my embodied lived experience as a disabled, queer, person of color. I cannot even begin to list the writers who have impacted my work, but a few that I return to consistently are Rafael Campo and Carl Phillips (both taught me how to write about desire and the body), Chen Chen and Jane Hirshfield (both taught me how to write about the quotidian, the joyful), as well as Alexander Chee and Jordy Rosenberg (both taught me how poetic prose can be). All of them taught me how to be generous, how to imagine boldly.

I am also deeply grateful to fellow writers who have taken a chance on my work like Caseyrenée Lopez, Raymond Luczak, Chael Needle, Jay Besemer, Kristina Darling, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Brighde Moffat, Denise Nichole Andrews, Jill Khoury, Jim Ferris, and Nadia Gerassimenko. Also, my co-writer and colleague, Jason Farr, who taught me the incredible joy and potential of collaboration.

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

As a scholar, teacher, and mentor to students, I simply don’t see my writing as separate from these related endeavors of community building and pedagogy. If writing is not just communication but the means by which we exchange ideas, it already feels misguided to see it as an independent act. For a time, I tried to cordon off my poetic practice as a safe space untouched by the other facets of my life. This was brought on by my exhaustion and frustration with the argumentative mood of literary criticism—always about overturning old ideas, forcefully arguing new ones, and performing the role of a disembodied and detached critic. But as I’ve come to understand my own investments and the way other poets have used their work toward larger, more collective aims, I realized that it was actually harming my work not to allow questions I was already asking in my scholarship and teaching to take new forms in my poetry. Poetry offers a unique space for me to speculate and for that speculation to be itself a viable and valuable act. Instead of necessarily having a coherent and clear answer to everything, I can practice living with uncertainty, with gestures toward possibilities that may not yet exist or may not feel real to me yet.

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

This is already cliché and predictable, but I think it is as simple as calling yourself one. Having been in the academy, I’ve seen how work becomes powerfully intertwined with identity. The idea that you are your work has a powerful effect in creating the illusion that true writers are those who embody fully the work that they produce and are bound to it as an extension of who they are. This may be true, but I also know some writers have stopped writing because they were told they weren’t capable of it or that they didn’t deserve to do it. I’ve also seen writers become so wrapped up in trying to “be a writer” or at least convey the image of a successful writer that it has inhibited them from doing the work they want to do or worse made them do work that they are uninvested in or even antithetical to who they are. That’s not to say you must write what you know or write what you are in every situation. I mean here that the question should not be turned outward. Instead of asking how someone else becomes a writer, it is far more valuable to ask yourself what you yourself need and want as a writer. And that may involve having more questions than answers, but I think that’s where writing comes in: you write your way towards them.

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

In terms of academic scholarship, I am currently working on a book-length study of the British literary and cultural history of vaccination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries entitled Insecure Immunity: Inoculation and Anti-Vaccination in Britain, 1720-1898. I have a tentative second project called A Cripistemology of Pain, which turns to eighteenth- and nineteenth- century literary and philosophical engagements with pain to think about new models of care and interdependency that might intervene in our current opioid crisis.

I am currently trying to find homes for two chapbook manuscripts while working on poems for a third. The first chapbook, Vagaries, is a poetic response to Elaine Scarry’s 1985 The Body in Pain, which famously made the claim that pain destroys language. Building upon my first chaplet, The Bone Setter (Damaged Goods Press, 2019), which focuses on my chiropractic treatment for my scoliosis-related disability, I ask whether or not pain has a form and how pain itself is a language rather than antithetical to it. The second, Parings, is a return to my earlier interests in queer lyric and poems of intimacy. The newest project is actually one of my oldest that I am returning to after many years. Listening to Incense explores how depression shaped and continues to shape my family, particularly the lives of the men.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Stephen Lightbown

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.

Only Air

Stephen Lightbown

Stephen is a Blackburn born, Bristol based poet and disability rights champion. In 1996, aged 16, he experienced a life-changing accident whilst sledging in the snow and is now paralysed from below the waist. Stephen writes extensively but not exclusively about life as a wheelchair user.  His debut poetry collection, Only Air, was published in 2019 with Burning Eye Books.

Website: www.stephenlightbown.com

Social media: @spokeandpencil

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

The first poem I wrote was strangely enough on a friend’s stag do in Devon in 2012. They had gone kayaking and I wasn’t able to do that so I sat on the beach and wrote a pretty terrible poem about the sea and waves coming to shore like tiny snow capped mountains. It really wasn’t good. I then on and off carried putting things into the note book as they came into my head but didn’t really intend to do anything with it. Then around a year later in 2013 a perfect storm of events happened in my own life. My marriage ended, my step father passed away suddenly and I was in a particularly stressful environment at work. So with plenty of new time on my hands I signed up for a 10 week poetry course through City Lit with Malika Booker in London. It was a beginner’s course but I was probably starting even at a more basic level than that. I didn’t really read poetry at the time, I couldn’t have told you who were contemporary poets and I had no idea about the difference between page and performance poetry. But I wanted to write and I realised I had things I had to say. Over those 10 weeks it became incredibly cathartic and Malika was superb, encouraging us to share poems and I started to realise I was enjoying the experience of reading my poems to an audience even if they were terrible. On the course we were asked to write a letter poem and I chose to write one to my legs. I don’t know why and it was the first time I had written about my spinal injury and my relationship with my body. From that moment I couldn’t stop and here I am six years later with my first collection just published and many book shelves stacked with poetry.

1.1. Why choose poetry to say what you wanted to say?

There was something about the format that appealed. The shorter format rather than writing longer prose interested me as it really concentrated my mind about what it was I wanted to get across. Playing around with imagery, metaphor and surreal language also gave me an outlet to really go beyond what maybe I had originally thought and probe my own preconceived ideas. For instance I’ve written a poem about living in London and feeling angry about how inaccessible it is and my anger is represented by a bear who walks alongside me and just lashes out at random people and objects. Talking about my anger like that helped me to think was I carrying this anger around, was it frustrations at my disability or just these were easy outlets for me to be angry at rather than trying to understand what I could do to move away from these feelings. I was also drawn to confessional poetry and was mesmerised by the way poets like Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds have been able to tackle issues such as death and loss but through such beautiful language. The challenge of trying to write in that way, even getting anywhere near the way those wonderful poets articulated themselves was something I was really keen to try.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mum. My parents separated when I was a child and me and my two brothers lived with mum. She was brilliant and a wonderful influence. She was able to tap into what each of us needed and would spend time with us on our own helping us to express ourselves. She had seen that I was creative and loved telling stories and reading so around the age of eight she took me with her to see Roger McGough read from one of his new collections in Accrington, Lancashire. I can still remember the feelings I had now being allowed into this magical world, sitting entranced looking over the tops of a room full of adult’s heads listening to this man with a wonderful accent and a ponytail. I didn’t really understand what he was saying but he made my mum laugh and I hadn’t seen that much since dad left and I knew this man at the front of the room was something special.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

This is a really interesting question and one that I think could be answered in a number of ways. When I was younger being taught poetry at school the poets would be the usual suspects. At that age though I wasn’t aware of the likes of Byron or Browning being dominating it was just who I thought wrote poetry. Yes I knew it was old but still interesting and beautiful. Yet I also knew it was different to the other kinds of poetry I enjoyed at that age by Michael Rosen or Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes. As I’ve grown older I can definitely look back and see that the poems I was taught or consumed were by white male poets and my early influences of poetry would obviously have been swayed by that. For many years whilst I may have read poetry on and off it was only if someone bought it for me and again as I got older these would have been collections by Roger McGough as already mentioned, John Hegley and John Cooper Clarke. Becoming more contemporary yes but still white and male. If I try and think why this might be I wonder if it is because in the main high street book shops are not stacking shelves with different voices. Is this because this is what people want to buy or is it that people are only buying these because that is what is on offer? I’m aware this is a generalisation and it’s a question I’m not sure I yet have the answer to. As I have consumed more poetry through reading, studying and watching I have been delighted to watch my book shelves grow with many more varied voices of all genders, backgrounds and ages different to mine. I would encourage anyone interested in poetry to look beyond what is offered on high street book shelves and search out independent publishers, smaller book shops, people self publishing and poets reading at open mics who might not yet have had anything in print. You’ll be so glad you did. You might not like it all, but you’ll definitely hear something worth listening to. I also feel this would be a good place to consider the lack of disabled poets both in print and heard at poetry events. As a disabled poet myself I definitely feel there is and should be a space for deaf and disability poetry but our voices are being crowded out and there isn’t an active movement to discover new voices in this area. Some of the reasons may be the subject matter may be considered niche, venues may not have adequate access or poets may not be prolific enough to have material for a full book due to energy levels or managing illness or ill health. But more can definitely be done to give disability poetry the platform it deserves. Yes poets such as Raymond Antrobus and Ilya Kaminsky are getting mainstream attention and rightly so because they are magnificent but there are many many more deaf and disabled poets both from the UK and internationally who poetry lovers should know about.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I had one. I work most days in the NHS and am out of the house by 7.30am and some days not home again until 7pm. So unfortunately my daily writing routine is answering emails! I do try and read poetry every day though and will always have a collection in my bag and a pile by the side of the bed so I can read at least one poem before I go to sleep. Doing this helps keep my mind active and will always spark an idea or two and they often end up in my phone or a notebook along with all sorts of random musings. If I have the energy when home in the evening I will see if I can write something and some of my favourite things recently have just been to write without over thinking and see what comes out. If I don’t feel like writing something new then I can be in an old poem editing and again that helps to feel like I’m doing something productive. I’ve recently dropped to four days a week and so Friday to Sunday is when I will try and write. If I am short of inspiration then maybe I’ll just write a prompt at the top of a page, set my phone for ten minutes and free write. I’m a big fan of this as often I’ll get to seven or eight minutes in and something will appear that I’ll enjoy and play around with. I much prefer writing in a notebook rather than straight into my phone and on a Friday I just enjoy finding somewhere to sit and writing down observations and then seeing if I can turn them into something. When I do write I prefer to write somewhere quiet, I’m not great with loads of stimulus as am easily distracted. I’ve also loads of things around the house to help act as prompts such as newspaper articles I’ve kept because I liked the words used, fridge magnet words which I might try and jumble up and see what comes out, books with writing prompts and an old dictionaries I’ll randomly flick through and see what jump out. I’m in between projects at the minute so the other thing I’m doing to keep acting is finding open submissions on a theme and then writing to those. This has p-roved quite fruitful and I’ve been lucky this year and have had a number of poems selected for anthologies with themes ranging from nature to running.

5. What motivates you to write?

With my first collection I took the decision I wanted to write about my experiences of being a wheelchair user. Hopefully through my writing I can help to change a few perceptions about what it is like to live a normal life with a disability. In the book I talk about travel, relationships, working, having a family, the strange things people to say to someone with a disability and the frustrations of many places being inaccessible. In many ways it is a celebration of the mundane and this is a conscious thing to have done because I don’t believe this is something that is talked of enough when it comes to disability. So far the response has been great and after every reading someone will come up to me and say I’d made them think about how they perceive people with disabilities in a different way. If I can keep doing that I will be happy.

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

One of the biggest things I realised has influenced me is using place and where you are from in your writing. Writers such as the Mersey Beat poets have a very strong connection to Liverpool in their writing. Even though I live in the south now staying connected to the north and my hometown in how I not only write but keeping my accent and staying true to my roots has been really important.

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

There are so many to choose from but I’d like to give a special mention to poets who identify as D/deaf or disabled. I was fortunate enough back in May to travel to San Antonio in Texas to attend Zoeglossia, a new community and conference the celebrates disabled poetry. Writing alongside my fellow attendees was magnificent and I was genuinely moved to be on the other side of the Atlantic but connected by our shared experiences. Following the conference a new anthology, called ‘We Are Not Your Metaphor’ was published with contributions from all the attendees. So I’d like to mention Viktoria Valenzuela, Gaia Celeste Thomas, Elizabeth Theriot, Zoe Stoller, Jessica Suzanne Stokes, Margaret Ricketts, Naomi Ortiz, Raymond Luczak, Stephanie Heit, and Genevieve Arlie. I’d also encourage anyone to find a copy of Stairs and Whispers published by Nine Arches Press. This is a magnificent collection of essays, poems and writings from D/deaf and disabled poets. I wouldn’t want to single any of the contributors out specifically other than just to say I would implore people to search out work from all of these writers.

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

Just write. Buy yourself a notepad and a pen and write down anything that comes into your head. Find somewhere to sit, buy a cup of coffee and write down your observations and then try and arrange them into something. If you want to write, then do so and with freedom. Don’t feel restricted by form or content, or by wanting to get published or whether anything is any good. Just write because you want to and write for enjoyment. Write on your own, with other people, inside, outside, in the morning, last thing at night. Mix it up and see what happens. After a while you’ll start to see things in your writing that become familiar or themes might start to emerge or ideas and if they do, explore them, play with them and be excited by the results. The other thing I would say is if you want to write, then also read. Read as much as you can. If you read something and you enjoy it ask yourself why? And again, if something moves you, challenges you, makes you angry or you don’t like it, ask yourself why? Then start to incorporate some of these answers into your writing and see what happens.

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

With the book coming out in March a lot of my focus has been on promoting that and getting out and about doing readings, which I have really enjoyed. However, having a disability has meant I have to manage my energy levels a bit more and so writing new material has taken a little back seat for the time being. However, I’m looking forward to getting back to it and have a few ideas I’d like to play around with. One is expanding some of the themes in the book and seeing if I can write a one person play. I like the idea of having a bit more space to stretch out some of my thinking that I’ve started to explore with poetry. The other idea I have is for a follow up to the book but set in a near future and again exploring some of what is in the book but imagining life with a disability set in a dystopian time. I’ve been enjoying reading near future poetry but haven’t seen disability explored as a theme and what it would be like to survive and exist when things have started to crumble around us. At the moment I’m just reading as much as I can and hoping to start putting something on the page soon.