Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rachel Mann

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.

Rachel Mann

(According to her website)

Born in 1970, Rachel Mann grew up in Worcestershire before studying Philosophy at university. In the mid-nineties, whilst working on a PhD, she was Teaching Fellow in the Philosophy Department at Lancaster before a sense of vocation led to a move to inner-city Manchester in church-related community work. She’s been based in and around Manchester pretty much ever since. In addition to her philosophy training, she holds qualifications in Theology, Creative Writing, and English Literature, including a PhD on Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry and the Bible.

She began writing poetry, liturgy and short stories in the late nineties as a result of major ill-health. She has also written feminist liturgical theology, cultural history and has been a regular contributor to The Church Times. She has published seven full-length books, including Dazzling Darkness (Wild Goose) and Fierce Imaginings (D.L.T.), as well as contributing to many others.

In addition she writes on music, particularly prog, folk and metal. She was Metal/Rock reviewer for manchestermusic.co.uk. She works freelance for magazines like Prog Magazine and The Quietus.

Ordained into the Church of England in 2005, Rachel is Rector of St Nicholas Burnage. Between October 2009 and September 2017 she was Poet-in-Residence and Minor Canon at Manchester Cathedral. During this period she acted as lead person for the Cathedral’s International Religious Poetry Competition and also helped establish the annual ‘Manchester Sermon’, a collaboration between Manchester Literature Festival and the Cathedral. Appointed an Honorary Canon of Manchester Cathedral in 2017, her poetry has been widely published. Some of her poems have been published by Carcanet Press in April 2018 as part of the New Poetries VII anthology. Her debut full-length poetry collection, A Kingdom of Love, was published by Carcanet in September 2019.


The Interview

1. What and why did you start writing poetry?

I began writing poetry seriously in the shadow of trauma, specifically my experience of serious illness in my twenties. I have to say that most of my poems from that time were rather earnest and pretty dreadful.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My first memory of poetry is drawn from primary school, when we recited bits of poems at school concerts and Nativity services. I think it was the rhythmic possibilities which struck me. A crucial moment came, as a teenager, when a teacher introduced me to Auden and Larkin. Through their poetry, I began to appreciate how poetry might addressany subject. My first poetry love, however, was Shakespeare. I adored acting as a kid and was fortunate to be introduced to Shakespeare very early.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m very much an early-in-the-morning writer, especially when I have a major project in hand. I find my life is too often in perpetual motion, so there is something clarifying and astringent about early morning. It is the time when I feel fresh and there is a modicum of silence.

4. What motivates you to write?

I think I’m one of those people who need to write in order to discover what I think. Writing is a mode of surprise – it disrupts and expands the cosy paths which I’m inclined to follow. In the very least, it disrupts me when the writing is going well.

5. What is your work ethic?

I am someone who attempts to scribble something every day. Most of the time it’s rubbish, but I’ve become convinced that the only way to get beyond the rubbish
is through it. The discipline matters.

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

Oh my, I sometimes feel completely beholden to them. Indeed the older I become the more I’m dependent on them. So, for example, when I was a young undergrad and postgrad student I read enormous amounts of Wittgenstein and continental philosophy. I find their words and modes of speech appearing in my poems at the most unexpected moments.

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

Poetry: Far too many to mention, but I adore Mimi Khalvati, whose grip on form is extraordinary, as well as Michael Symmons Roberts, who dares to speak the ’Transcendent’.Fiction: Recently, I’ve very much enjoyed Ben Myers’ studies in creepy northern oddness. For sheer Dickensian sprawl I look out for Donna Tartt’s new books.
Non-Fiction: I’ve found Thomas Waters’ Cursed Britain a salutary read. Its study of witchcraft in Britain between 1800 and the present day is by turns erudite, weird and challenging/.

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

Well, I do do other things. I feel my first identity is as an Anglican priest. However, like a lot of Anglican priests before me, my ‘vocation’ to write flows from my priestly vocation.
Both ‘vocations’ require attentiveness, stillness and listening, and an alertness to the
tricksiness and joy of language. If I were offering a less high faluting account of why
I write I guess it would be that I enjoy making things. Poems, literature and so on,
are part of a material and creative culture too. I’m addicted to craft.

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

Read, read, and read some more; write, write and write some more. The dynamic between reading widely and intensively and writing well is not incidental, it is essential. When it comes to writing specifically, keep writing through the chaff that inevitably appears and take seriously the critical comments of colleagues, editors and friends (even if one needs to push-back occasionally).

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

I’m currently working – very slowly – on a new book of poems, as well as writing sketches for a novel. I have a new theology book coming together, which I hope to finish in the next six months. I’ve also just completed the manuscript for a second edition of my theological memoir, ‘Dazzling Darkness’.

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