White Thorns – Brian Lewis

Excellent review


I wrote this a while ago, and always meant to come back to it. However, I have been defeated by time. Rather than keep this in a electronic in-tray in the sky, I am going to hit the ‘publish’ button! In short, I hope you get a chance to engage with White Thorns, or any of Brian Lewis’ other work before the Symposium.


Brian Lewis is the force behind Longbarrow Press. However, his own work is published through Gordian Projects. It is his own work I want to write about here. You can buy the pamphlet White Thorns here: https://gordianprojects.com/white-thorns/ The opening of the poem, is there, too.

I want to start by trying to put into words how brilliant it is to receive a Gordian Projects delivery or a Longbarrow Press book. I write this on a day when I have received a not-inexpensive collection from a…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ellie Rose McKee

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.


Ellie Rose McKee

has had a number of poems and short stories published, has been blogging for over ten years, and is currently seeking representation for her debut novel. She lives in Belfast with her husband, cat, and accidental chihuahua.

The Interview

1. When did you start writing, and why?

The technical answer is: I started writing way back in primary school when teachers would set small creative writing assignments in class or for homework, like a poem about your pet or a piece about your summer holiday. I guess what makes me different from most people is that, when I stopped getting these assignments, I kept on scribbling anyway. My early teens were filled with many dark, angsty poems and I wrote my first couple of “propper” short stories at maybe fourteen or fifteen. I attempted my first novel when I was eighteen or nineteen, and I started blogging around that time as well, when I should have been working on my degree.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Again, it goes back to my school days, studying it in English class. I really regret not keeping the poetry anthology I had for GCSE, because I fell in love with so many of the poems in it. Of course, that’s all ‘classic’ stuff. When it came to the more modern, free verse I was writing in my teens, I kind of found my own way. Although I suppose a lot of it was inspired by music.

2.1. Which poems did you fall in love with in your school poetry anthology, and why?

The poetry anthology, as far as I can remember, was focused on the themes of war and nature. The main one I vividly recall is Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. But I’m not even sure if it was the specific poems themselves or just having access to them in a more general sense. (Poetry – or any other kind of written medium – was not something my parents or siblings engaged with.) In class, we spent maybe an hour each week, for two years, unpicking them and it was a revelation to me. I’d never experienced poems in that way before, or to that degree. I think it blew my little teenage mind.

2.2. What music inspired you?

Pretty much anything on the ‘Kerrang’ and ‘Scuzz’ music channels in the early 2000’s but, in particular, Linkin Park. They are my all-time favourite band to this day. Their words resonated with me in a way I’d never experienced before. I was going through a very hard time, between bullying at school and having a terrible home life, and music and poetry were an escape from that. Listening to the tracks from Hybrid Theory (LP’s debut album) helped me tap into a lot of what I was feeling, and then turning to the page myself allowed me to release those feelings in a healthy way. Without that, it’s no exaggeration that I probably wouldn’t be here today.

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

Oh, that’s an interesting question! I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it. Do older people dominate poetry? Is that the perception, or have studies been done into it? Obviously if there are hard facts saying that, I can’t exactly argue, but if it’s just a perception… well, I’m not sure it matches my own way of viewing it. I think a lot of young people write poetry. But I suppose it’s not until one becomes older, or gets ‘established’, that they become well known (relatively speaking). I don’t think you need to be published to be a poet, you just need to write. A poet is a poet even if no one else ever sees their work. Because who’s to say when someone is published ‘enough.’ Being ‘established’, I think, is such a subjective thing. I’m not sure the literary ‘canon’ is as concrete as some people think it is.

4, What is your daily writing routine?

I work from home, devoting part of my time to writing, but also caring for my husband the rest of the time. He’s disabled, as I am myself (to a lesser degree). As such, we don’t really have a routine. It changes day-on-day depending on what else is going on. Some days I can’t write at all, and other days I end up doing quite a lot. What stays constant is that the words come at night. My peak creative period is from midnight to about five am.

5. What motivates you to write?

For me, it’s all about human connection. I love nothing better than reading books or watching shows that get to the core of what it is to be human, even if that means the show or book is incredibly sad. When it comes to my own writing, I want to emulate that. Literature should make you feel something.

Even though I’ve cut back on the angst, my poems are still incredibly personal. There are bits of myself and my own experience in them. That’s me reaching out to whoever reads them. Same goes for my short stories, really. As for a my longer fiction: my novels are all, in essence, character studies. By letting the reader experience the inner thoughts and feelings of this person, and what they’ve had to go though, I want to build empathy. That’s what motivates me.

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

The truth is, I didn’t read when I was young. Not really. Not beyond whatever school made me read. I always loved the IDEA of books, and I sometimes picked them up at school jumble sales but because the rest of my family didn’t read, or encourage reading, it didn’t get much further than that. I struggled with it and those struggles went ignored until, finally, I got diagnosed with dyslexia while at university. That’s when I properly got into reading: age eighteen or nineteen.

What I hadn’t realised before then (aside from the dyslexia thing) was that books had genres and that some of them would work for me and some wouldn’t. I was clueless about all that as a kid. I picked up the jumble sale books based on the covers and then wondered why the story inside didn’t grab me. (One of the books I remember buying was a huge James Herriot hardback because it had a sheepdog on the front. I didn’t know it was for adults, let alone the middle part of a series.)

At age fifteen or sixteen, I got Witch by Christopher Pike from my school library and absolutely devoured it. Next time there were school book tokens on the go, I asked my parents if I could use mine towards another one of his books. They took one look and dismissed the whole thing as evil (as they were in the habit of doing with anything they didn’t like or understand). That was that. I did get a free sampler with my token instead, but my enthusiasm had been successfully trampled.

I realise that’s a very long answer (more of a confession, probably) and I still haven’t got to the heart of your question. I apologise. How all this influenced me is that I now value reading and am even more adamant about the importance of children’s literature, in particular, having been denied it myself as a child. That’s probably one of the main reasons why my novels are for teens. They are for my younger self.

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

My favourite poet is probably Hollie McNish. Her words pop and always feel super fresh. I heard her perform live earlier in the year and it was fantastic. In terms of authors, I’m big fans of Rainbow Rowell, Malorie Blackman, John Green, Shirley-Anne McMillan, Becky Albertalli, and Adam Silvera: all fabulous YA novelists I want to emulate (and maybe someday rub shoulders with). What they all have in common is that their books pack an emotional punch. You come away from having read them changed for the better.

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

Anyone who puts one word in front of another is a writer. Start there. Start bad. Don’t expect yourself to have instant success. You put the words down, you read, you put more words down, and repeat. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

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

I always have a ton of projects on the go. In the short term, I’m trying to get more individual poems and short stories published as I work on a poetry pamphlet and short story collection I hope to get traditionally published. I’m also on the hunt for a literary agent for my novels. I’ve written a children’s picture book, and drafted part of a manuscript for a single release comic. I have a short play looking for a home, as well as a short screenplay. And that’s not even all of it! Basically lots of pieces looking for homes.

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Julene Tripp Weaver

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.

Julene Tripp Weaver

is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. She has three poetry books: truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDSNo Father Can Save Her, and a chapbook, Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues.

She is widely published in journals and anthologies. A few online sites where her work can be found include: RiverbabbleRiver & South Review, The Seattle Review of Books, HIV Here & Now, Mad Swirl, Anti-Heroin Chic, Writing in a Woman’s Voice and in the Stonewall Legacy Anthology.

Find her online at http://www.julenetrippweaver.com/

or Twitter @trippweavepoet.

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

After my father’s death, before I turned twelve, I started to record my dreams and write in a journal. Writing helped during this difficult time, I was bereft. In my fantasy life poets were cool and I longed to be around people who were different. After my mother moved us to the city, I signed up for an evening poetry class at a local college in Queens. I was barely a teenager, and had to depend on my uncle to drive me. He had a bias against poets, the whole way there he yelled about beatniks sitting on floors, saying he worked hard to provide chairs for his family to sit on. I had a poem in my pocket and was terrified. The adult poets talked about poets I didn’t know. I felt like an outsider and realized I needed to understand more. Because of the lack of support, I didn’t go back to that group. Getting back to poetry took a long time, I had to move away from my family and become financially independent.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

When I was finally living on my own, I started investigating the writing world. Living in Manhattan I found classes at the Y and signed up. I read Peter Elbow’s books on writing. Finding other writers was helpful, I joined a group of women poets for feedback. Then I joined a local chapter of the Feminist Writers’ Guild; we brought in May Sarton to read, and they sponsored me to travel to a conference in Chicago where I gave my first public reading. Judy Grahn’s poetry inspired me, I wanted to write feminist poetry to change the world. Audre Lorde was well known and I learned she taught at Hunter College. I applied to CUNY so I could study with her and got a Bachelor degree with a double major of Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. I’d say Judy Grahn’s book, The Work of a Common Woman, had the most influence, she was such a strong lesbian feminist and I was in that community.

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

When I started my journey as a poet I was unaware of the cannon. Audre started us out with an e.e. cummings poem, but she didn’t teach the older poets. She had us writing and workshopping our poems, reading and going to readings and journaling our impressions. I’ve done much catch-up. A few of the older male poets I admire include William Carlos Williams, William Stafford, Charles Simic, James Tate, Russell Edison, Richard Hugo. A generation in between when poetry was already moving away from rhyme to free verse. And with some of these it is their books about writing poetry that I love. I’ve read Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare sonnets, and some of the older poets, but I’m not drawn to their work.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I do not have a routine. Writing means a lot of things; writing new work, editing work, sending out work, composing collections, writing about the work (as in this interview), taking time to do nothing, applying to programs, residencies, grants. There is so much it’s overwhelming. And I easily get overwhelmed. So I’ve learned to be not too hard on myself for what I could be doing at any given moment. I spend far too much time on social media. But I keep a journal that I then cull work from. Plus, I write other genres: memoir and essays, for a few years I wrote articles for a health corner column in a newsletter.

5. What motivates you to write?

It’s a drive to the page, there were periods I did not have that drive and I just existed, lived life, worked and had fun with friends or a partner. Then there are periods where my writing ramps up: I take a class, begin to focus on a particular project, get excited about a call or networking. The newest thing I’ve done with a friend is to start a reading series at a local café once a month. It’s been more stressful than I anticipated. When my last poetry book was published I dedicated over three years to promote it.

6. What is your work ethic?

My first career as a laboratory technician lasted fourteen years; I worked at one lab for over eight years. Then I went back to school and had odd jobs that included my own business cleaning apartments in New York City. After that I did secretarial work, moved to Seattle and went back to school for a Masters in counselling. With that degree I worked for twenty-one years in AIDS services, eighteen of those years for the same agency in different capacities. I work hard and steady. I write hard, too, when I write. Semi-retired now, I have a small private therapy practice and my goal is to devote more time to writing, but I’m also the president of my condo Board. Responsibility and service are a big part of my work ethic, as is doing work from love, which I did working in AIDS services for twenty-one years. When I worked where they had a union I was a rep, and I’ve been part of two union negotiations.

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

This is impossible to answer because I’m not sure how the books I loved as a child influenced my writing today. I read Heidi eight times, and all the Nancy Drew mystery novels.

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

There are so many excellent authors! I have to say two I’ve worked with:
Louise DeSalvo, I found her when I started Hunter College. She taught a different literature class each semester and I took every class of hers I could. She was a brilliant Virginia Wolf scholar with a PhD in the Deconstruction of Literature. Generous and supportive of her students she bestowed confidence. She constantly had new books coming out in different genres. Two of her books I keep ready at my fingertips: Writing as a Way of Healing : How Telling Our Stories Transforms our Lives, and The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. She also has several memoirs, academic books, fiction and an anthology she edited of Italian American women. She died in October 2018.
The other writer is Tom Spanbauer, he trademarked Dangerous Writing. I love his book The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, so when I heard he was in Portland teaching Dangerous Writing workshops I wanted to study with him. For a year I went back and forth to Portland for several workshops and love his way of teaching. He is open and vulnerable, providing a safe space to write dangerous things that are hard to get onto the page. I’ve read each of his novels, and from him learned even though I am not a fiction writer, what I write has value.
There are many other excellent poets and writers I admire.

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

Well I consider myself an artist, and have called myself a health artist. Of all the arts, writing is what I’ve spent the most time to develop. I’ve taken art classes and I practice movement work. I discovered Continuum in 1988 and it has changed my life several times. For ten years, from 1997 to 2007, I ran workshops that combined Continuum movement and writing after taking Emilie Conrad and Rebecca Mark’s Poetry in Motion Intensive. Emilie was the founder of Continuum Movement, she died in 2014. In my workshop we experimented with breath, audible breath and movement that perturbed our interior world, then listened and allowed hand-to-page exploration. From my first Poetry in Motion I started what became a large body of writing about my work in HIV/AIDS.

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

The best advice is to read a lot of poetry. There is so much good poetry available and you learn by the process of reading a wide range. Also, take classes and find a group where you get together and read your work out loud, then exchange feedback. Or find a group where  you use a prompt, write for a timed period then go around and read what was written, either with no feedback or only positive. You’ll begin to get more fluid putting pen to page. It’s best to read it right away without worrying or thinking about it too much. If you have good mentors along the way and the right support I don’t think an MFA is so important.

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

I’m working on a hybrid memoir and searching for publishers that will answer directly to an author as a first step. As a hybrid form it includes journal excerpts and dreams. I hope to have a my early health essays included in an addendum.

On my to-do list is to develop my next poetry manuscript and start sending it out. But first I need to form an arc from my many poems written in the past several years. Each book birth takes a lot of energy and my last book promotion has been slowly winding down; although I will be on a panel at AWP2020 in San Antonio related to that book reading my poetry.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Anthony Wilson

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.

Anthony Wilson


a lecturer, poet and writing tutor. He works in teacher and medical education at the University of Exeter. His anthology Lifesaving Poems, based on the blog of the same name, is available from Bloodaxe Books. Love for Now, his memoir of cancer, is published by Impress Books. Deck Shoes, a book of prose memoir and criticism, and The Afterlife, his fifth book of poems, are available now from Impress Books and Worple Press.

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry

I began writing poems because I was asked to at school. I was thirteen or so. I suppose this happens to a lot of people, but with me, I just carried on. It was homework, over the weekend, on the not very original topic of ‘Black’. My teacher Mr Borton liked what I wrote but scribbled at the bottom of it that I had spoiled quite an original poem with a rather clunky and obvious ending. Part of me thinks I am still trying to impress him. Part of me still thinks that I carried on writing poems to prove to him that future poems would be an improvement. From then on, all the poetry I wrote in my teens and as a young adult was in secret. It took me a very long time to show it to anyone, by which time I was in the final stages of an undergraduate degree at university.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My teachers. The aforementioned Mr Borton, Mrs Hooper and Mr Vickery. I owe them everything. We looked at John Logan’s The Picnic, McGough’s 40 Love, Dulce et Decorum Est, Ted Hughes’s animal poems, Pike and so on. The first Hughes poem I remember seeing was The Retired Colonel. Where I grew up, Northwood, on the very edge of Greater London, seemed full of them. I had even been taught by a few. That poem really knocked me over. I guess what they were doing was presenting to us language that was alive and somehow contemporary. As Seamus Heaney says in one of his essays, this literary but also very natural language began at this point to merge with the more informal poetic speech of my early childhood: hymns and Bible readings in church, my father’s Sunday lunchtime stories about Jennifer and Peter, his father’s terrible jokes at Sunday teatime, the football results on Saturday evenings, pop music and so on. I do think you need both kinds of language to get you going. Heaney, again, his idea of a ‘linguistic hardcore’ on which you build as you start to read and stretch your wings. As you get older, of course, you realise the reading part will never be complete. But the bedrock of your experience, that never vanishes. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had those experiences in my early life, and to have met that amazing set of teachers when I did.

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

From the moment I encountered Hughes, McGough, and Dylan Thomas (it was a very male curriculum, I am afraid to say) and the others, all the way up to A level, where I met Sylvia Plath and Hopkins, the presence of older poets has always been a mesmerising factor in what I might call my development. First as a kind of set of rules by which you play, obsessively copying, imitating and following, then as a set of elderly relations you know you have to see each Christmas but about whom you suddenly feel embarrassed. Because by then you have encountered other poets, other voices, other models, and the same cycle of imitation, obsession and rejection begins all over again. I feel as though I have now got to the stage in my life where I am holding a kind of permanent open house to whoever wants to come in. Sometimes I see Ted in the hallway, or cooking a fry up, as Peter Sansom would have it. We nod at each other. Sometimes I find Marie Howe unpacking her suitcases all over the place. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. You never know who is going to turn up. Jaan Kaplinski was round the other day. We sat under the apple tree, then it started raining.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

My writing routine isn’t really one. I do morning pages, a la Julia Cameron, first thing in the morning while the bath runs, a couple of pages of nonsense, then on with the day. I carry a small notebook around with me, into which go lists, prompts, ideas, quotes and yet more lists. I seem to be in quite a list phase at the moment. I write poems and essays and blogs and other bits and pieces -I don’t really know what to call them- at the end of the day, when the emails and the other necessary business of teaching, meeting, visiting students and feeding back to them has been done. This will be in the second golden hour of the day, late afternoon, just before cooking needs to happen and my family come home from their days. I think of it as writing in the cracks, between other things. Ann Sansom once told me that tiredness is a great state to be writing in, as it cuts through your rational, editorial defences. You tend to go for the jugular more.

5. What motivates you to write?

Being a human being.

6. What is your work ethic?

I am really prolific and scandalously lazy at the same time. I sometimes go months without writing a word. Then splurge endlessly for several weeks.

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

As I say above, I like to think of myself being on nodding terms with them. Having said that, it has been a long time since Sylvia came round for a cup of tea, not to mention Eliot. I’ve been thinking of having another go at The Four Quartets again recently, perhaps I should? The problem of getting older and losing your first love of poetry, is that you can see the strategies that people use a little more clearly, and that can get repetitive, which can lead to cynicism. When you are young and have not encountered Theodore Roethke before you are just running round the house going Wow, look at this, isn’t that incredible, how did he do that? I liken it to being in a band (which I was, for several years, with my brother). You practise and practise and practise and gig and gig and gig and everything is all about gobbling up every experience that comes your way. Now I am in my dotage, I find I can generate just as much electricity on much less material. A line of Tranströmer here, a phrase of Janet Fisher there.

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

The thing is, some of these very early influences, some of whom are dead, feel very alive and ‘today’ to me more than writers who are actually with us. For personal reasons I have come off social media this year. The advantage of this is that I now have much larger headspace than I did previously, and this is good for reading and writing. The disadvantage is that I miss just about everything. I couldn’t tell you who has been shortlisted for this or that prize for the last five years. I am just not interested. I find it inimical to getting any proper work done. I make up for this by paying attention to my team. I think everyone has a team (they might not admit it, but they do), and for me these are people I know personally or have worked with and who still inform my practice. People like Christopher Southgate, what an amazing poet he is. And a great human being, so generous and kind. I am on first name terms with all of them. People I see once a century, like Jean Sprackland or Cliff Yates. They teach me so much. Peter Sansom. I last saw him five years ago, and am still meditating on what he told me each day over breakfast.

9. Why do you write?

I think I have to, really. I don’t think it is a choice. (Except, of course, it is.) I don’t go along with the idea of having something to say. I write to find out what I want to say. For me it is about discovery. Things occur to me which I want to say which I would not have said had I not started writing. William Stafford said that, and he was right.

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

Read. Everything. And forget about having a ‘career’. ‘You make the thing because you love the thing/ and you love the thing because someone else loved it/ enough to make you love it.’ Thomas Lux.

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

My big project at the moment is silence. Staying away from the news (you know what and you know who) enough to collect my thoughts together to be present enough to recognise and become aware of the promptings that might come my way. It is getting increasingly difficult to do this (see what I say above, about social media). Having just published two books I am determined not to spend the next three years moping and worrying about not having a project to work on. To counteract this, I have started several. Not all of them will come through. But that is not the point. The point is to keep going. That is how I judge success.

Anthony Wilson
October, 2019

The Afterlife

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Amy Shimshon-Santo

Wombwell Rainbow Interview

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.


Amy Shimshon-Santo

a writer, educator, and urbanist, believes the arts are “a powerful tool for transformation,” both socially and personally. She connects the arts, education, and urban planning in her work. Holding a PhD and MA in urban planning from UC Los Angeles, an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and a BA in Latin American studies from UC Santa Cruz. Amy is an associate professor at Claremont Graduate University where she heads the Master of Arts Management program. She has been recognized on the National Honor Roll for Service Learning. Amy lead the ArtsBridge program for UCLA Arts and her efforts provided the foundation for the University of California’s first visual and performing arts education degree in the state. Amy represented the State of California at the National Endowment of the Art’s Education Leadership Institute, where she was a founding member of Create CA. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in creative nonfiction and Best of the Net in poetry. Amy’s essays have appeared in Entropy, and have been published by SAGE. Her work has also been published by University of California Press and State University of New York Press, and can be found in Public, Teaching Artist Journal, Tiferet Journal, Critical Planning, Entropy, Yes, Poetry, Zócalo Public Square, and Lady/Liberty/Lit, and more. Her book of poems, Even the Milky Way is Undocumented, is forthcoming with Unsolicited Press in 2020. Amy is found on http://www.amyshimshon.com.

Twitter: @amyshimshon
IG: @shimshona

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Poetry was my first (written) language. I intuitively wrote with line breaks since I was a girl. I didn’t call it poetry, but it was how I wrote. A kind of birth mark.

What has changed in my relationship to poetry is how I read, and my entanglement with editing. Writing is natural. Editing is more like design, or how I imagine carpentry. My brother is a carpenter. My grandfather was too. I just build things with different materials and tools. Words instead of wood. Punctuation marks instead of nails. When I edit, I want the poems to look me in the eye, sound good on the tongue, and tell some kind of story.

Essays are another matter. I know precisely when that started. I had to write an essay to apply to college. It felt like ice skating in outer space. Complicated, maybe even impossible. Now, I’ve grown to appreciate the process of writing essays, and am almost always tinkering with one. They help me observe and think. Essays are architectural, 2D dwellings for bigger ideas and worlds. I see a light and run into them without a plan, get lost in the chaos of the experience, and finally figure out what wants to be said. I feel a sense of wonder and satisfaction when they are done.

I write poems every morning, and whether they are “good” or not, they’re my medicine for living. They are my thermometer for authentic living. They help me know myself, and seek freedom despite whatever may be limiting me in the material world.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The first poet I remember hearing was Maya Angelou. Listening to her wasn’t just witnessing a vocalist and spoken word master, it was witnessing a woman being phenomenal herself. That’s what I remember first and foremost — “Oh! Look, a woman! Maybe I can be one too!” Hearing her made me feel like it was a good thing to be a woman. She was tall, with a wide arm span, and a voice that commanded attention. She took up space, but trampled no one. She wrapped her hair in stamped cloth, and wore canvas cargo pants. Her poetry was music, a polyrhythmic bumpa-dee-bump-dance of living. She baked Quiche Lorraine. I went home and found a pair of canvas cargo pants my own size. She’s been a lifelong inspiration.

I studied in Nicaragua and Mexico in my twenties, and dove into works of César Vallejo, Nicolás Guillen, Pablo Neruda, Roque Dalton, Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegria, and Giaconda Belli. I read their poetry aloud to myself. That was how I developed an intimate relationship with Spanish, and, later, Portuguese via capoeira music. I was raised in California, and heard Spanish on the yard in school. Eventually, I picked it up, and poetry helped. The poet Francisco X. Alarcon welcomed me into his Spanish for Spanish Speakers class, and poetry came flooding in. Reading aloud, I loved the sound on my lips. Learning a language is a kind of love relationship. This happened to me in three languages (English, Spanish, and Portuguese).

My mother’s first language was Hebrew, but my dad was monolingual English. He lost his mother’s native Russian, and I lost my mother’s Hebrew and Yiddish. I wish I’d learned the languages of my own origins (Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian), but I picked up the ones that loved me back, the ones I lived with.

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

I don’t want to feel dominated by anything, even great poets. If anything, poetry is about freeing myself from all kind of domination. I don’t seek to dominate or be dominated. I seek equilibrium and honesty. I seek wonder and gratitude for living.I am grateful for the presence of older poets. Since I am getting older every day, even my silver hair is a flag to the aging process. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “I am of the nature to die.” I watch older poets to see how they navigate living, and, also, aging. How can we live and write well at every stage of life? How can we be creative at every stage? I read and listen to ancestral poets, and I embrace my relationship to the archive. I feel them as extended family — people who were whispered into, just like me. Adrienne Rich. Mary Oliver. Toni Morrison. Zora Neale Hurston. I don’t compare myself, I just feel related. Living well is not a competition. I’m not trying to achieve or prove anything, just take advantage of being alive.

Unlike Bob Kaufman, I don’t want to disappear when I die. That is not because of ego, it’s because I want to remain in relationship with other writers always, whether I am living or not. The archive has unfathomable dimensions.

Intersectional women deserve to be in there along with everybody else. I want to be a part of that, even if I am just one tiny blue-green thread, or a strand of red-tangerine.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

My knee jerk reaction to that question is, “If I told you I’d have to kill you.”
I guess I’m protective of the creative process. It’s a mysterious thing, not something you can just pick up in a supermarket by the dishwashing liquid. Although, maybe that could make a good grocery shopping poem.

I have daily and seasonal writing routines. As a working person, and head of household, I start my day early with writing and ashtanga before work. With limited time, I accumulate small pieces of writing throughout the academic year and rely on the slower summer months to piece mosaics together. I value my job, but my writing life needs time too. So, when other folks dream of summer vacations, I long for stretches of quiet time off the grid. Nine months a year belong to my students. The summers are mine, and I am loyal to them because writing is a necessity.

5. What motivates you to write?

I have a writing self that wants to be expressed. It is my duty to care for her by letting her write whatever she wants. I write to fumble around in the dark and pull out stories. I write to face these times, and shine some light on living in the 21st century. Writing satisfies my adventurous spirit, and helps me feel less powerless as a woman, as a single mom, as someone from an immigrant family where many of us have gone unnoticed, injured, or completely erased.
I write to be surprised. It’s the shake-shake-shake of a brown paper sack with something hidden inside. Once I was in Panama working on a popular education project. There was a carnival tradition that involved a pillow case. You fumbled your hand around inside, landed on an object, and pulled it out. Jumbled inside the sack were everyday items and things that were taboo (For example, an enormous blue dildo). Face the mystery. Take a risk. Laugh. Gasp. Weep. Feel something. Write.

6. What is your work ethic?

Fierce. I’ve been called a work horse, and I think that’s pretty accurate. Maybe a work centaur. I write every day, even if it’s just 20 minutes of jottings, so that I know how I am, and what I am thinking about on a deeper level. If I did not need a job-job, I would wake up, do yoga, write all day, and take a walking meditation at night. My idea of a good time. Throw in some dancing and we’re set. Because of writing, even if one “job” ends, I’ll just return to my real-forever-job which is stringing words together. Writing gave me my life back. Wouldn’t you work hard for something that gave you such a gift?

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

The books that I read to my children when they were young influenced me as much as those I read when I was a child. They gave me a second childhood, perhaps one I never had. I collect books and try to adopt their courage. The stacks are to get lost in. Find a stool and pull out a book. This also applies to music and dancing. This applies to visual art and film. This applies to ferris wheels and lagoons. It applies to public libraries and the internet.

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

I spent months this year in the clutch of Toni Morrison’s On Self Regard, before she passed. Her intellect is expansive. Just. Expansive. Among the living, I am enriched by the enthusiasm of local writers Adrian Ernesto Cepeda, Genevieve Kaplan, and Ikia Noel because they are great practitioners, advocates, and instigators of writing. Gayle Brandeis, Deena Metzger, and Dan Bellm are guides for me toward how to write and be an upstanding human. I delight in the work of Gloria Carrera, Natalia Toledo, Aracelis Girmay, Ross Gay, Tiana Clark, Natalie Diaz, Nikky Finney, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Yusef Komunyakaa. They crisscross different cultures and languages. Their sentences break things open. They inspire me.

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

I used to be a dancer and choreographer. Dancing required having a big open space, limber bodies, music, costumes, lighting, gels, sound equipment, a van, crates of costumes props and instruments. I needed 30 minutes to an hour just to warm up, and then hours for rehearsal.

Writing is a creative practice that is accessible to me at this stage of my life. All I need is a pen and notebook. With those two things, I can go anywhere.

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

Write. Read. Observe. Express. Welcome the sound of your voice. Listen attentively to the world. Truth is a good pair of shoes. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there. Leap.

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

My debut poetry collection EVEN THE MILKYWAY IS UNDOCUMENTED will be coming out in 2020 with Unsolicited Press. My son and I just recorded an audio book version and I’m excited about that. Recording that was memorable. I sat down at the microphone with him at the console. Yikes. Then I realized what I was about to do and what he was about to hear.
“I am sorry. Some of this is hard,” I said.
“I am honored,” he said.
Just wow.
Spoken word is a very particular kind of conjuring that I enjoy. Not enjoy. Adore. I don’t sing, but I will seduce the fuck out of the world with a sentence. It’s good fun. Serious magic.

I completed a collection of essays that is under review, have a new essay in the brain-que-que, and a collaborative poetry book on the horizon. I don’t want to say more until they are fully formed, but I’m really glad that writing keeps coming. That’s the whole point of completing things — make space for what wants to come next.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Liz Brownlee

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.

Liz Brownlee

is a National Poetry Day Ambassador, a School Patron of Reading, and does readings and workshops in schools, performs at literary festivals and libraries etc., and organises poetry events.

Her other books are Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, , Macmillan, The Same inside, Poems About Empathy and Friendship, , Macmillan, Apes to Zebras, An A-Z of Animal Shape Poems, Bloomsbury, and Be the Change, Macmillan.


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’d been writing stories for my local primary school, and a friend suggested I should go on a writing course. I can’t drive, and when some time later she said she had to go on a creative writing course and would I like to go with her, I accepted. Then, when someone else we got to know there turned out to live near enough to give me a lift, she dropped out. Her creative writing enthusiasm was really a ruse to get me there (I have some very good friends).

The (luckily) excellent tutor said the first thing I wrote showed I was a poet. Subsequent writing did seem to confirm this, and I enjoyed it. I wrote my first children’s poem there about my son, who stuffed his pockets full of all sorts of things, which ended up in the washing machine.

Then the second friend asked me if I’d like to accompany her to Bath Uni for a course and gave me the list of courses to choose from. One was for children’s poets, run by children’s poet Mike Johnson, serendipitously on the same day and at the same time as the course she was doing. He sent off some of my course poems with his to poet anthologists and I was published (thanks, Mike!). In fact, that first poem I wrote was my second to be published. When my first poem was published, my mum gave me a box from her attic – it was called ‘Lizzy’s kiddy drawings and poems.’ I’d forgotten all about my earlier efforts!

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Poetry was everywhere when we were little. There were always children’s pages in all the newspapers, with puzzles, cartoons, crosswords and poems. My first poetry book was called Jolly Jingles, read to my brother and I often by my mum and dad, and I still have it. Children’s annuals always contained poetry – Treasure Annual introduced me to Edward Lear’s The Pobble Who Had No Toes, who drank lavender water tinged with pink, and who lost all his toes swimming in the Bristol Channel – very glamorous and slightly unsettling to a child who was born in Bristol. R L Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage was wonderful to charge around quoting – who could not fall in love with the rhythm of Faster than fairies, faster than witches/Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches! AND – my favourite poem read in childhood, Overheard on a Saltmarsh by Harold Munro, which still sends shivers up and down my arms.

At Grammar School, we had a wonderful English teacher (who is still alive), who read us delights to tingle spines and make us breathless, such as The Listeners by Walter De la Mare, and Tarantella by Hillaire Belloc. Other poets were introduced by the O and A Level curriculum.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I get up. Have breakfast. Do some Tweeting and any blog work that needs done, and round about 11 when I have finally woken up after a coffee I start researching, or writing, depending what stage I’m at. It takes a while to get into the writing. Lots of false starts. Lots of deleting and starting again in a different form or style or pace or angle. If I’m deeply into a project of writing I will start that straight away and carry on, my husband comes home around 7, and I’m still at it, and I often continue through the evening, because once I have got going, I find it hard to stop. The final poem may not be the final poem. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months of tweaking. Sometimes you just know that is it.

4. What motivates you to write?


5. What is your work ethic?

Write the truth.

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

I loved animals and read a lot of animal books, Gerald Durrell, James Herriot, and lots of non-fiction facts about animals. I write a lot of animal poetry. But I also read a LOT of fiction, very eclectically, favourites being Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, all Brontës, Jane Austen, John Wyndham, Franz Kafka, Heinrich Böll, J R Tolkein, Stephen King, Harper Lee, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, Enid Blyton, J Meade Faulkner, Marjorie Rawlings (never read the Yearling again, too sad!), E Nesbitt, Alan Garner, C S Lewis … my parents did not censor anything. I made no distinction between adult or children’s books and read them both, and have done ever since. I think everything you read influences you and feeds into the rhythms in your mind that you can source to create.

7. Which writers do you admire the most and why?

I don’t admire anyone the most. How can you? People are so different, writers are so different, you read them all for different experiences. I can tell you my favourite books – To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (we read this at school, and my teacher let me keep my copy as she could see I was having hard time handing it back!), Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall, Cancer Ward, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Time Must Have a Stop, Aldous Huxley, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, The Chrysalids, John Wyndham, Helen Dunmore and Bill Bryson always, and anything by Paul Auster, Tim Winton and Raymond Chandler, those spare prose styles I find delicious, I Robot, Isaac Asimov, oh, I can’t write them all – anything that makes me laugh.

Poets? Let’s just say I try and read everything I can get my hands on. Particular favourites, Ted Hughes, Stevie Smith, Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda. Children’s poets? I read them ALL. Lots are my friends. I have my favourites but I’m not saying.

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

I write because I was led to it as you can see from the answer above, but also, I am not allowed to drive, due to my habit of becoming unconscious fairly often. Which of course makes having a job fairly tricky. I have, since my writing career started, become much better, as I now have an assistance dog who lets me know when my blood sugar is falling, which it does frequently, quickly and without warning. I also have a blood glucose sensor implanted as well. This has revolutionised my life. I write poetry because my brain flits and poetry fits.

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

Read a lot. Write a lot. Go to a writing class. Never expect to finish learning how to write.

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

My newest book, just out, is Be the Change, Poems to Help You Save the World. I was noticing and reading that children are worried about the continuous feed of worrying information about the climate crisis. They are powerless, and that makes them feel more scared. The poems in the book, which I’ve written with Matt Goodfellow and Roger Stevens, address most of the 17 UN sustainability goals, and each poem has little tips at the end, which give a child small ways of helping the climate themselves. Having something constructive to do helps with anxiety. And I believe that if we all pull together, we can save the world. Here is the last poem in the book:


Swirling slowly
in lilting flight,
as cold as stars,
the soundless white

of drifting feathers
spreading wings,
to sing the songs
that snowflakes sing,

of how small gifts
of peace and light
can change the world
in just one night.

>© Liz Brownlee

I’ve also just handed in a book of shape poems about people who have shaped the world – this is an anthology and my first project as an editor. I thoroughly enjoyed this process!

I’m busy writing for another few books, but it’s too soon to mention those – but it is true that I am never happier than when ‘ping’ I suddenly ‘get’ how to shape the words I want into a poem, or how to shape the words I’ve already written into a shape poem, or when I’m shaping poems into a book.

12. Do you do anything other than write children’s poetry?

I used to draw a lot. If I’m not writing I have strong urges to do something else creative – draw, sew, make something! But if I’m not writing, and even when I am writing, I run several websites and Twitter accounts. I have my own blog which I add to fairly often (http://www,lizbrownleepoet.com), and Poetry Roundabout (http://www.poetryroundabout.com), a website on which I post anything and everything to do with children’s poetry. It includes an A-Z of current children’s poets, a series of famous children’s poets and their favourite children’s poetry books at the minute, and I also post reviews, information for poets and people who love poetry, poetry news and competitions etc. I believe supporting children’s poets and poetry helps us all. Then there’s my Twitter – https://twitter.com/Lizpoet
I also post the blogs on the Children’s Poetry Summit blog (https://childrenspoetrysummit.com/) and run that Twitter account, https://twitter.com/kidspoetsummit
And last but not least, I walk my assistance dog, Lola.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Neal Zetter

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.

Neal Zetter

Neal is an award-winning comedy performance poet, children’s author, and entertainer with a 25-year background in communication management and mentoring. He uses his interactive rhythmic, rhyming poetry to to develop literacy, confidence, creativity and communications skills in 3-103 yr olds, making words and language accessible for the least engaged whilst streeeeeeetching the most able.

Workshops & Performing

Most days Neal is found performing or running fun poetry writing or performance workshops in schools and libraries with children, teens, adults or families. He has worked in all 33 London Boroughs and many, many other UK cities. More challenging poetry projects have involved workshops for people with brain injury, mental health, drug and alcohol problems, offenders, those with learning difficulties, homeless, other special needs including not having English as a first language.

Neal also produces adult comedy performance poetry and has nearly 30 years of experience appearing at e.g. West End comedy clubs, the Royal Festival Hall, various festivals, in the centre circle of a League 2 football pitch (!) and even a funeral (!!). He ran his own spoken word-based comedy club (Word Down Walthamstow) 2009-13. Neal has compiled and hosted/compered shows with the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Attila the Stockbroker, Michael Rosen and shared bills with Harry Hill, Phil Jupitus, Mark Lamaar, Omid Djalili and more.


Neal children’s comedy poetry books, all published by Troika, include:

For 6-13 year olds:

  • Gorilla Ballerina (A Book of Bonkers Animal Poems) – a collection of wacky poems about weird animals
  • Invasion of the Supervillains (Raps and Rhymes to Worry the Galaxy) – evil companion book to ‘Superheroes’ (below)
  • Yuck & Yum (A Feast of Funny Food Poems), with poetry pal Joshua Seigal
  • Here Comes the Superheroes (Raps and Rhymes to Save the Galaxy) – in the Reading Agency’s top 15 children’s poetry books
  • It’s Not Fine to Sit on a Porcupine – in BookTrust’s top 20 children’s poetry books
  • Bees in My Bananas – a Wishing Shelf Award winner

For 2-6 year olds:

  • SSSSNAP! Mister Shark
  • Odd Socks!

Due Sept 2020 and Sept 2021 for 6-13 year olds

  • When the Bell Goes (A Rapping Rhyming Trip through Childhood) – a semi-autobiographical poetry collection on the theme of childhood covering growing up, school and family life
  • Scared? (Poems from the Darker Side) – a collection of funny, and maybe a few more serious ones, about many aspects of fear

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I wrote my first poem when I was six – a limerick which now appears in the intro to my first book, Bees in My Bananas. I always enjoyed making people laugh and have had an inbuilt sense of rhythm and rhyming for as long as I can remember. So I began writing poetry as naturally as some people learn a new language – there was no grand plan but I have never stopped writing poems since I was a tender year 2 student. And the poem?

There was an old lady from Hull
And she bumped into a bull
The bull said ‘Ow!”
Bashed into a cow
And the cow crashed into the wall!

Not a classic but Love Me Do was hardly the best Beatles song, just a fab start!

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My Dad used to read to me in bed at night before I was able too. I especially liked the poems he read, the main two that stuck in my head were the classic Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss and The Train to Timbuctoo from Margaret Wise Brown (Google it – it’s a great single-poem book as is the aforementioned ‘Cat’). Both were beautifully rhythmic with strong rhyming and contained many new and exciting fun words, some made up and some that made no sense to me at all – but that’s the joy of poetry and reading!

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

Great question! Let me answer it in parts. When I I was  a primary school child I wasn’t really aware of poets apart from Dr Seuss as mentioned in my earlier reply. I knew poems, but not so aware who wrote them.

In secondary school I studied Eng Lit to A Level and regularly had rows with my teacher over my frustration at studying Wordsworth, Coleridge, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Keats etc. I absolutely see they were fine poets but they didn’t speak to ME a teenager in 1970s London into punk rock, footy and left-wing politics. I needed to hear poems about those topics and the other things in my life. Of course she never agreed with me 😎.

(So, as I was musically inept, despite my love of it, I started to write song lyrics and worked with tune writers to construct songs In a (completely naff) local band (but we thought we were superstars). Bernie Taupin was my role model but I loved the Stones’ land Clash lyrics and Webber/Rice musicals.)

In my very late teens and beyond I started to write poems prolifically but I still could not name any poets of renown. My home-produced books (6) sold in less than three figures and that wasn’t enough as I needed to share my work, after all every poet is a communicator. I saw adverts in Time Out magazine for performance poetry clubs and comedy clubs in the West End and that’s where it all REALLY began for me. It was a scene and for the first time I got to meet and mix with other poets and learn how to produce the right kind of poems to entertain and engage an audience, as well as make them laugh. So, no longer in a vacuum, I compered for and performed with the likes of John Cooper Clarke (the Godfather of performance poetry!), Attila the Stockbroker, Porky the Poet (AKA Phil Jupitus) etc.

Nearly all the poets I’d met or read since my school days were older and, in 1989 when my performance career really started, I was very aware of their presence and influence – I looked up to them. Now I guess, 60 next week, I try to affect younger poets and those starting out in the same way: advising, encouraging and mentoring. And that’s something I really enjoy doing.

Maybe in 50 yrs time or less, my poetry will be as irrelevant to people then as the poets I studied at A Level were to me. And there will be nothing wrong with that. I get it!

3.1. What is the right kind of poem to engage and entertain?

One with a repetitive rhythm, strong rhyme and a chorus/repeated word/line. This works well with my children’s poetry (in class and on assemblies) and adult poetry (in clubs, at arts events etc). We call them ‘call and response’ poems in the trade or often I refer to them as ‘interactive’ and I should add the poems must be about a topic people can relate to in a voice and with words that speak to them.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I try to write at different times of the day, on different days of the week and in as many different places as possible. Doing that means there are no times I feel I am unable to write and that must be a good thing. I guess indie cafes are my favourite places but, as I don’t drive and travel by public transport, I do loads of writing on trains, tubes and buses. Other regular haunts are the British Library, Foyle’s Bookshop in Charing X Road and home of course

5. What motivates you to write?

I am very self-motivated when it comes to writing. I always feel I have something to say about things that other people will find interesting too. I am never stuck for ideas, have never experienced writers’ block and keep a long list of topics for future poems. I have written my next three books due out the next three Septembers am already planning more. And the ideas themselves come from keeping my ears and eyes constantly open and writing about what’s around me and my experiences e.g. people I meet, places I go to, things I hear on the news etc

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

My influences are threefold:

The aforementioned Dr Seuss and Mary Wise Brown books inspired my rhythmic, rhyming and comedy poems. Other poets like Edward Lear and Spike Milligan did the same.

I have always had a love of music too as I explained so, as I used to write song lyrics it’s not surprising that my poems, as well as being very rhythmic and containing strong rhymes also have choruses and a strong use of repetition.

Finally, since before I could even read, I have had a love of superhero comics, especially Marvel. I used to look at the pictures when my brother collected them and when old enough to read myself I started avidly buying and collecting them myself and have never really stopped. In fact I bought this month’s new Marvel Avengers comic today. These streeeeetched my imagination, developed my vocab and taught me a lot about what was going on in the world around me e.g. politics, Vietnam Nam War, life/death, relationships, history, space and science etc. And of course this love of comics also inspired both my Superheroes and Supervillains poetry books. Keen comic fans will immediately spot some of the styles and influences from the 1960/70 Marvel and DC comics in particular. Without any doubt at all, if I never read these comics I would not have become a poet and author.

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

As I read mainly Biggs, auto-biogs, social history, popular science and other non-fiction my book choices are theme-led rather than author-led so I have not got too many favourites. However I especially like Bill Bryson, Mark Kermode, Jon Ronson and Malcolm Gladwell as they all have a fantastic writing style and a passion for their subject. The last four books I read are Van Gogh’s Ear, The Radium Girls, Chernobyl and A History of the World in 21 Women with many Marvel comics squeezed in between.

The poets I especially admire are the ones that have been on the scene for many years like Michael Rosen, Brian Moses, John Cooper Clarke and Benjamin Zephaniah – you have to take your hat off to them for the quality and quantity of their output. I hope I achieve at least equal longevity as I certainly want to continue what I do until I leave this planet.

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

I write because I must. A poet is what I am not what I do. So, while I might be able to lose interest In other hobbies, jobs and pastimes, I can never give up being a poet.

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

Read, write, read, write, read, write adI infinitum. Like anything you wish to do well, the more you practise and immerse yourself in it the better you will get.
And write from the heart about what you love, like, dislike and hate – about what you feel and what matters to you – and you will produce your best work.

9.1. Why write children’s books?

I write poetry for children, teens and adults but, to date, have only produced children’s books. This is because I make my living performing and running workshops in schools virtually every day so the book buyers are there in front of me. Most days end with a book sale with children I have worked with wanting a memento of the day, signed and dedicated. Given the above my writing is certainly weighted to the younger market especially as, sadly, not many teens or adults want to buy poetry books, even if they enjoy listening to poems for their age group.

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

In my biog you will see details of the next two books I have due in Sept 2020 and 2021, both written. I am working on my 2022 poetry book now (the title is a secret!) and am looking at both an anthology of mixed poems and an EY/KS1 book for the near future.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Anne Tannam

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.

Anne Tannam

is a Dublin poet with two collections- Take This Life (Wordonthestreet 2011) and Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor (Salmon Poetry 2017). Her third collection is forthcoming with Salmon Poetry in summer 2020. Anne’s work has been widely published in literary magazines, journals and anthologies and has been featured in The Irish Times, RTE, UCD’s Irish Poetry Reading Archives and The Poetry Jukebox.
A spoken word artist, Anne has performed at festivals and events around Ireland and abroad including Electric Picnic, Lingo, The Craw Festival in Berlin and the International Poetry Festival in Kosovo. Anne co-founded the weekly Dublin Writers’ Forum in 2011, which provides a welcoming and inclusive space for writers of all genres, styles and levels of experience. Anne also offers practical and effective support for writers through her business Creative Coaching www.creativecoaching.ie.



The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Though I enjoyed poetry in school and really enjoyed it in college (despite the fact that at the time we had very little opportunity to study female poets as the canon was so heavily weighed in the other gender direction), I never dreamt I could actually write the stuff myself! Song lyrics had a big influence on me too, as I was raised on a diet of music from an older brother. I think it was my best friend who inspired me to write, when she gifted me the anthology ‘Poem For The Day’ edited by Nicholas Albe. From that moment I began to daily read poetry so that when eventually I plucked up in the courage to write when I turned forty, poetry was the natural choice for me.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I remember one professor in college who really opened me up to what poetry could achieve in such a short amount of time and space. I’d always sensed there was a magic to it, but he allowed me to see behind the curtain.

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

I came from a background of readers but absolutely no writers. The idea that I could actually myself, that it was within my power to take up a pen, or click on the keyboard and create a poem, was beyond the powers of my imagination. At the time, I wasn’t aware there were wonderful Irish female poets like Eavan Boland and Paula Meehan blazing the trail for me.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m writing now for thirteen years and my routine has changed many times over those years. Like nearly all poets I also work to pay the rent so writing has always been a part-time activity. In my first year of writing I religiously wrote for an hour every day first thing in the morning, but now I write for half an hour a few times a week and try and give over Sunday morning to it. I also co-run a weekly writers’ forum on a Thursday evening so the writing gets to go dancing on a weekday night!

5. What motivates you to write?

The joy of playing with language and articulating what I need to say. There is nothing like the feeling of capturing complex emotional experiences in a few short lines. When the work is shared with others I’m hugely encouraged and motivated when people tell me that a particular poem names their emotional truth, and that they feel somehow heard too. It’s the universality of the emotional truth behind our very personal experiences that poetry captures so beautifully.

6. What is your work ethic?

Some weeks I’m very industrious and others not so but looking at it over a longer period of time I can say that I always turn-up in some form or other to the writing, and I’ve been faithful to my craft since I began. I’m always learning more about myself as a writer and learning from other poets who are masters of their craft.

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

The poet that influenced me the most growing up was Patrick Kavanagh and his work still resonates with me, but there are so many amazing modern poets now clamouring for my attention, that I don’t pay too much attention any more to the poets I grew up with, apart from regarding them fondly when I come across them again.

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

That’s too hard a question to answer! I read across a wide range of genres, though of course poetry is always in the mix. I’ll cheat by sharing the last three writers I’ve read and why I admire them.

Helen Tookey ‘City of Departure’ (Poetry) – such a confident and accomplished writer and how easily she moves from a complex idea, to how that idea plays out in our ordinary lives.

Kevin Barry – ‘Night Boat to Tangier’ (Novel) – his incredible mastery of language which he uses like a keg a dynamite.

Lucy Sweeney Byrne – ‘Paris Syndrome’ (Short Stories) – a debut collection that I wish I could have read when I was young. Brilliantly written, it unflinchingly describes what it means to navigate the world when you’re not tied down with notions of ‘nice’.

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

Because I can’t draw! Seriously, I so admire artists who can express what it means to be human through visual art. I write because I discovered late in life that I could. I write because when the words are flowing, I feel aligned and there is no other feeling in the world like it.

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

It’s a cliché, but I’d simply say you become a writer by writing. Ignore the voice in your head that is holding you back and write.  Find your own voice by writing your way to where it’s been hiding. Write regularly and read all the time.

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

I’m currently working on the second draft of my third collection ’26 Letters of a New Alphabet’ which will be coming out next summer.  I’m also working on a ten-month community project in Dublin called ‘Cabbage Quarter Conversations’ where I’ll be pulling together a series of poems which will be based on the fantastic stories I’m hearing from residents.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Judith Brice

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.

Judith Brice

is a retired psychiatrist who has written poetry for over thirty years. She graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1971. Much of her inspiration in her writing derives from her work with her patients, her own experiences with illness, her love for nature, and her strong feelings about the political world. Her work has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the City Paper (of Pittsburgh), the Paterson Literary Review, Poesia, and The Lyric, among others. One of her poems is housed in the permanent archives of the Farmington Hills, MI Holocaust Memorial Center. Brice’s poems have also been anthologized in several successive years of Voices from the Attic, of Bear River Review, and in Before There Was Nowhere To Stand, a poetry collection focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Her two most recent publications are Renditions In A Palette, and Overhead From Longing.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

Of Bones, Boredom, and Butterflies
206 in all! I couldn’t learn them,
those bones in the body—
my nerves wrought, tangled
eyes awry, mind in summersaults:
mnemonics to memorize, to remember.
the cranium, its size, shape,
its foramina, the arteries.
the sacrum, its nerves, their actions.
On Old Olympus Towering Top, A Finn
And German Viewed A Hop…
This, the mnemonic for the Cranial Nerves,
in full triumphant order from I to XII:  beginning with
Olfactory nerve, proceeding then to Optic— its escorts, the
Oculomotor, Trochlear, Abducens, and Facial nerves,
followed finally by Glossopharyngeal,
then Vagus nerves, (each with their vagaries)
until lastly the Accessory and Hypoglossal
to complete the dozen!
For a second I’d made it!
S-two, three, four keeps your rectum off the floor…
My rectum, your rectum, whose rectum?
Without ‘em, do you wreck ‘em,
these sacred, sacral nerves of the back?
Memory for facts failed
during those indecorous, infinite, hours.
Anatomy and workings of mind, my interest—
but to be a doctor, I had to bear
such tedium of body, limbs, and organs—
the shattering solipsism of study, its boredom.
Bone names blurred to Latin then back,
as my dense library head stooped low,
felt its eyes wandering, cross over scraggly notes.
Desperate, I was, for the tiniest pause
from books askew in stuffy stalls.
So much reading, so much studying, so little learned
that one day my stubborn
feet began to shuffle,
saunter the fall leaves— the path to home,
a promised reprieve of tidied room,
my quiet desk, its smooth surface.
Out of my bag, I fetched Gray’s Anatomy, a pen,
red pencil and clean note pad. The book
opened fast to “The Bones of the Hand.”
Truth had finally faced down my fate:
being a doctor— that mastery— only came
with meticulous torsions of mind.
My fingers grabbed the pen, wrote a word, two,
then my very first poetic line:
The venerable grief requests your company…
And so it was, that one sonnet later, two poems
in quick pursuit, followed by a full career taking care
of patients, slowly betrayed that beneath
a rough chrysalis of medical training
and a lonely fall day
were butterflies of poems waiting to fly.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My Sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Sheldon, read poems to us in the ten-minute break before lunch to “quiet us” in the transition from our previous activity. I loved it! Poetry mystified me, captivated me, the words, their blending jumble, their meaning. It was only when years later in school I read Sound and Sense, that I knew how truly enticed I was by how words bumped into each other, blended together, clashed, then rhymed together, sang stories together. I write of this in my poem, On the Grace of Poetry’s Arrival.

On the Grace of Poetry’s Arrival
That solstice night,
new words floated down,
like scintillant crystals,
delicate and magic petals of snow—
their cold to sizzle the ground
with sylvan sounds of enthralling warmth—
as each word-flake blended, fused to one
a single blanket to embrace us all
with a tenderness of heart—
winter’s shawl of song.
And in a second, from our moonlit sky,
crisp and curious letters
diamonds of stars
pierced the dark—a frisson
of frozen sparks to jolt the air,
to announce one quick skirring
of ideas—their skein of thoughts—
as clouds opened, transformed
my mind, sang loud of Neruda,
his loves, their chirrs, his beckoning.
Before that winter evening
I never knew the purity of poems
or stark whiteness of snow—
could never guess their deep,
their gentle kindness.

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

I am always, with each word I write, aware of previous writers—their use of rhyme, meter, metaphor. Their skill in slipping from one subject to another yet holding fast to an image, a metaphor, a meaning. Such skill I love!

4-6 What is your daily writing routine? What motivates you to write? What is your work ethic?

I have no daily routine. Living with a chronic illness has denuded my life of “daily”, so I write when I can. I have no work ethic. I cheat time around its edges and sneak in my writing when I feel good. Writing is a gem I treasure.

I collect words, prompts, and lines from other poets and writers, from newspaper articles, from random thoughts and situations. And then when I am moved by something, I start writing. In fact, as I see how long it took me to write these answers, I realize that unconsciously I took these questions as prompts, and then just had to write the three enclosed poems in response, had to, there was no other way!

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

I think back to many of the writers I read when I was younger, and sometimes will enclose a line of theirs, an odd word, the use of that word, into a poem. I have included lines or words from Emily Dickinson, E.E.Cummings, Robert Frost, for example and more modern writers as well such as W.S. Merwin, and Barbara Crooker

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

My favorite poet is Barbara Crooker. I love her wonderful use of nature, her images, her ability to use words creatively and understandably and to slide easily from one metaphor to another, all the while creating one incredible packet of meaning and sound at the end of a poem. Amazing to me! I also love W.S. Merwin for his sparse use of words within a line, his ever-so meaningful use of lines within a poem often completely without punctuation. Maria Maziotti Gillan is another poet I admire tremendously for her down-home writing, which takes you right into a scene and evokes feeling within a poem in a deep and unique way.

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

I write because I have to write. I write because I love to write. I write because I love to express my feelings with these gems that people call words.

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

I would say, “read my first poem about Bones and Boredom”. I would say, read my third poem, “Ars Poetica: An Invitation”.

Ars Poetica: An Invitation
Grab your pen.
Check the hemlock branch
beyond the window ledge,
the squirrels chasing shades—
chasing seconds
after weeks of rain—
as they scamper through
the birch, its leaves,
laced close beside the fence.
Watch— you’ll catch the gentle
weave of light,
rays bending smooth,
to refract through
bark and branch, the needles,
their harlequin neighbor fronds.
Then, after scud of storm
has blown, has blustered by—
its rainbow, its dew drops
will be yours
to rescue in your hands,
savor safe in your grasp,
as you sit beside me,
settle your mind, and lift
your delicate wrist,
your fragile pen,
to write.

Read my second poem about Poetry Arriving—all written to the prompts of these questions, and then sit down, pen in hand, and write about what you are thinking about, really thinking about. You will be on your way.