Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Clare Pollard

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.

Clare Pollard

has published five collections of poetry with Bloodaxe, most recently Incarnation. Her play, The Weather (Faber) premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. Her translations include Ovid’s Heroines, which she toured as a one-woman show, and a co-translation of Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf’s The Sea-Migrations with Mohamed Xasan ‘Alto’ & Said Jama Hussein, which was The Sunday Times Poetry Book of the Year in 2017. She edits Modern Poetry in Translation. Her latest books are a non-fiction title, Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books (Fig Tree) and a pamphlet with Bad Betty Press, The Lives of the Female Poets. www.clarepollard.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve always written, but it would have probably been novels without Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, and the lyrics of Tori Amos and PJ Harvey.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I did Plath at A-Level, at the same time I was very into indie music and trying to write my own song lyrics, and the lyrics started turning into poems. Plath just exploded my mind really. My first book, The Heavy-Petting Zoo, is basically a reimagining of Sylvia Plath as a 17-year old in Bolton.

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

Oh, not really at all. I didn’t know anything. I subscribed to Poetry Review once I got interested, and that was about it. Poetry Review published me early on, but I had no idea how lucky that was. And then Neil Astley from Bloodaxe just wrote to me asking if I had a manuscript. I mean, that almost never happens, but I didn’t know my luck. I knew about Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage because we went on a school trip to see them, and I came across some Selima Hill and liked her, but I was blithely unaware of older poets really.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a routine. I write in fierce bursts. Collections often come over an intense six months; I did first drafts of my play The Weather and my translation Ovid’s Heroines in about a month each. I’ve been busy the last couple of years as an RLF fellow and editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, along with having two small children, and then I was distracted by my non-fiction book Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books, which required a lot of research. I didn’t write any poems at all for two years. But a couple of months ago a long poem just appeared entire over about two days, The Lives of the Female Poets, which is coming out with Bad Betty Press this month.

Too be honest, the last thing people need is me having a daily routine, I’m over-productive enough anyway! There are already an awful lot of Clare Pollard books out there. When I do write though, it’s usually at my kitchen table with a laptop and a large pot of coffee and I like a couple of clear hours to get in the zone.

5. What motivates you to write?

I can’t help myself. It’s how I process the world. When my dad died, I found myself composing a poem in my head on the drive home, just hours later. ‘Cordelia at the Service Stop’. It almost sounds cold but it’s how I cope – it’s the only way I know how to get some kind of control over bad things. To make something beautiful out of something ugly and difficult.

I’m political too, and I know I have a platform, so I feel a sort of responsibility to use it. To articulate things that matter.

6. What is your work ethic?

I work very, very hard at literature. But it’s not all my own. I might be reading or translating or judging or editing or blurbing or reviewing or chairing a panel or teaching or mentoring or tweeting, but most hours of my life I’m thinking very hard about books and poems, and hopefully giving a platform to good writers and helping get more poems to more people. It’s hard to make a living when all your payments are piecemeal, a hundred pounds here, two hundred there, so I’ve never been very good at saying no. I work ridiculously hard for MPT, just the admin side is insanely demanding, but I’m at least quite efficient. I have epic to-do lists. Juggling literature and motherhood means I spend a lot of time furiously emailing on playpark benches, and can knock up 500 words in a naptime.

Housework, on the other hand, I do the absolute minimum.

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

My book Fierce Bad Rabbits is actually about how picture books influenced the course of my life! I think the earliest stories you read shape your character in profound ways.

But in poetry terms, though I still love my teen idols – Sexton, Plath, Donne, Angelou – it’s new books that influence me most. I love reading something thrilling by a peer. It brings out my competitive spirit. I’ve always been interested in the zeitgeist, when I read a book that catches the moment we’re in I start trying to work out how I can do it myself. This year: Jay Bernard’s Surge; Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.

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

Anne Carson’s cool isn’t she? I’d like to be Anne Carson when I grow up.

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

It’s my superpower.

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

Well, aside from the obvious answers of reading and writing, you’ve just got to put yourself out there. You have to attend readings, buy books, submit, go to open mics, ask magazines if they need reviewers, set up your own webzines or presses or evenings, enter competitions, workshop your peers, get involved. It’s a DIY scene and there’s barely any money involved, everyone does it for love.  You can’t expect people to want to read your poems if you don’t read theirs. If you throw yourself into it and are generous, poetry will pay you back.

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

Well Fierce Bad Rabbits has only just come out, and I have a pamphlet with Bad Betty Press out this month called The Lives of the Female Poets, so I’m not in a hurry to write anything else for a while, but I am working on a translation of my Hungarian friend Anna Szabo’s Selected Poems, for Arc in 2020.

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