Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Don Beukes

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.

Don Beukes

(According to his Amazon author page)

was born in Athlone in Cape Town, South Africa. He spent his childhood in Elsies River and Belhar and graduated at the University of the Western Cape with a BA Degree in English and Geography in 1992 where he also studied Psychology. He then qualified as a teacher with a Higher Diploma in Education (Post-Graduate) in 1993.

He is a retired teacher of English and Geography and taught for Twenty years in both South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Don’s debut collection of poetry, ‘The Salamander Chronicles’, was published in December 2016 by Creative Talents Unleashed, dealing with a range of themes such as oppression, bullying, politics, globalism, sexism, abuse, birth, death, refugees, as well as racism, having been born, raised and educated during the last two decades of Apartheid.

His second book ‘Icarus Rising – Volume One’ is a collection of Ekphrastic poetry with most of the poems based on original artwork and close collaboration with artists from South Africa, America and the UK.

His South African publication debut of fourteen exclusive poems was published in August 2018 with three other prominent SA authors Bevan Boggenpoel, Leroy Abrahams and Selwyn Milborrow in a unique anthology ‘In Pursuit of Poetic Perfection’, which upon release went to number 1 in ‘African Literature’ on Amazon Kindle.


The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

My first experience of poetry actually was in my first language, Afrikaans both at school and visits to the local library. As a second language, English appealed to me as well and I found myself able to read and write efficiently in English inspired by my English teachers and family to do the best I could in both languages.

Towards the end of my secondary education, I started to write micro poems on pieces of paper and started giving these to close friends even when I started university studies. I guess it came naturally to me but it would be years later in 2009 when I started to keep a dedicated journal of poetry in both languages, dealing with my years in South Africa under Apartheid (1972-1994) and my professional career as a teacher in England. It felt natural to start archiving my writing  and it would all come to fruition in 2016 when my first collection, ‘The Salamander Chronicles’ was published by Creative Talents Unleashed (Raja Williams).

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My early experience of poetry was purely academic. We had a set list of poems to study in high school each year both in Afrikaans and English, so my teachers although in a formal way, guided me into the obvious and hidden magic of poetry.

At home, my much older sisters, Ruth and Joan, introduced me to their reading material, including poetry in both languages.

2.1. What poets you were introduced to showed you the obvious and hidden magic of poetry?

South Africa:

Adam Small
Breyten Breytenbach
Ingrid Jonker
Tatamkula Afrika
Zakes Mda

Chinua Achebe

Thomas Hardy
Wilfred Owen
John Donne
Dylan Thomas
Benjamin Zephaniah

Charles Bukowski
Laurence Ferlinghetti

2.2. What was that hidden magic?

Breytenbach’s free verse displaying a powerful visual imagination and richly eclectic use of metaphor, mixing references to zen with surrealistic images, idiomatic speech and recollections of the South African landscape as a dissident Afrikaans exiled poet ending up in Paris.

Adam Small’s persisted theme of depicting the lives of oppressed people, especially the so-called ‘coloured’ people classified as such by the racist divisive white South African Apartheid government, as well as the working class; using his writing as an existential weapon in the struggle for freedom.

Wilfred Owen’s use of half-rhyme gave his poetry a dissonant and provoking quality, which shadowed his recurrent themes. Also his use of assonance created a quiet tone and different sounds prevalent to war.

Benjamin Zephaniah’s battle for social justice through his writing incorporating humour, thereby highlighting the underlying seriousness of the struggle of black people and giving them a voice.

Charles Bukowski dabbling in conscious art and craft, mostly writing about ‘the sense of a desolate, abandoned world’ and well known for caustically indicting bourgeois society, whilst celebrating the desperate lives of alcoholics, prostitutes and other disreputable characters in and around L.A, USA.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s use of everyday language, which articulates his themes, offering a personal voice through his delivery of words. His figurative, honest and raw poetry presents things that are actually before us in the visual world, thereby presenting writing that could be understood by the average person on the street.

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

Currently I can mention poets like Alan Britt, Michael Johnson and Duanne Vorhees and Beau Blue.

My tertiary studies in English exposed me to the works of John Donne, Shakespeare and Chaucer.

As an English teacher in the UK I taught the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Agard, Simon Armitage and Gillian Clarke also Benjamin Zephaniah and Carol-Anne Duffy.

3.1. Would you say they were a dominating presence?

Not all of them. Certainly Wilfred Owen, Chinua Achebe, Dylan Thomas, Adam Small, Breyten Breytenbach, Ingrid Jonker and Benjamin Zephaniah and Charles Bukowski

3.2. How were they dominating?

I refer You back to Q4 , highlighting the ‘hidden magic of the selected poets, specifically singling out their ‘dominance’ at the same time… Furthermore, any poets I was expected to teach, revealed their ‘dominance’ through the interpretation of each and every student who individually reacted in response not just to any exam question, but also challenged me as a teacher to judge them on their unique interpretation of poets they’ve never even heard of but bravely dived into their words and literary worlds…

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Catching up on current and breaking news, jotting down key words, ideas and associations. Any theme that makes me sit up and take notice morphs into a storyline, character development and alternatives but mostly I am inspired by art, photography and moving images. I might even research ideas from films, articles or any breaking story in the world for possible poems, Ekphrastic responses and short fiction.

5. What is your work ethic?

As a visual learner, I need to be moved by imagery, art or any visual stimulus to ignite my writing planning. Sometimes it takes me days to interpret a painting or image before a pattern or writing plan emerges. I then find myself spilling ink until I look up at what I’ve written and then astonish myself with what I’ve managed to write. If I am forced to limit myself to any structure limit, it challenges me to focus and be more creative than usual. If I don’t believe in what I’ve written, I would delete it and start all over again. Sometimes I just stop and pick up stalled writing when I’m ready to focus all my attention to it, without any interruptions.

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

Good question! Aside from poetry, my first Stephen King book I was introduced to as a teenager by an older neighbour,  was ‘It’. I was stunned by the page turning experience. It is King’s choice of characters however flawed, which made me start writing short fiction. My first published story was ‘The Trilogy of Em’ (Scarlet Leaf Review), a story of a genetically engineered girl who ends up in an institution for ‘the gifted&talented’, where she uncovers many secrets about her ‘creators’.
King also inspired me to think of creating characters with a flawed past, subdued memories and psychological problems.

My favourite teenage ‘horror’ go to read still remains ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert. He inspires me to tap into the darker side of my imagination and to push the boundaries.

Peter O’ Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ inspirés me to create exceptional resourceful female characters with dubious pasts and many talents.

As for a great South African poet, Adam Small inspired me to speak from the heart, not holding back in pointing the finger to autocratic racist governments, which I try to reflect in my resistance poetry and political articles dealing with race, culture and identity.

I know you have already mentioned Alan Britt, Michael Johnson and Duanne Vorhees and Beau Blue. Please can you expand on why you enjoy these writers and who else in today’s writers you admire, and why?

Michael Lee Johnson writes in a conversational.style, almost with familiar imagery and references; “I drink dated milk/sip Mogen David concord wine with diet 7Up/My neighbors’ parties/loud blast language” from ‘Missing of the Birds’.

Duanne Vorhees’ metaphorical poetry speaks directly to the reader; “Come find me in some brick and vinyl Inn/when your soul is frozen in hard winter” from ‘The Poet’. His galloping rhyming style of writing makes you willingly trot along, “history is the mystery of mud and bones/how many of me, me, me have died or grown since yesterday”, from ‘Mean Time’.

Beau Blue’s no-nonsense and straightforward, honest writing, using familiar scenes or situations; “And when I asked where they kept The Cummings and Pounds/she pointed lemon lips at me/Paperbound poets are on the backside of humor”, from ‘Reviewing the Bookstore Massacre’.

Although its becoming very author heavy at this point, I only want to give a special mention of two voices of these modern literary times, although quite uniquely different, they have become booming legendary poetic loudspeakers –

Scott Thomas Outlar for his ‘fluxing and flowing’ sweepingly honest and almost prophetic writing, commenting on the good, the bad and the ugliness of humanity, somehow sometimes making us uncomfortably shift in our seats when we admit to ourselves we actually know what he wants to remind us of and what he suggests we do about it.

Heath Brougher for his visionary and increasingly intergalactic premonitional utterings of literary galaxies we can only try to imagine. His spectral visions take us onto a far flung comet hurtling us to far flung stars not even born yet.

Both Scott and Heath for me epitomise contemporary written creativity and that’s just my honest opinion.

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

I would say you must have some inkling that you are able to write, be it in diary form or in a formal setting like a language exam at school, or writing a letter (in my younger days posting to pen friends).

If thoughts keep bubbling in your head and you need to pen it down in whichever form and you feel a surge of creativity and feel good afterwards, then you are a writer.

If reading inspires you and you are moved by words and the magic of language, which stirs a passion within you and flips your emotions, then you are a writer… You just have to believe and trust in your unknown destiny. Pour out your heart, frustrations and inner voice onto paper or a screen!

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

Well I have written a chapbook entitled ‘The Girl in the Stone/La Chica en la Piedra’, inspired by an image of the face of a girl in a stone from the Bronze age, which I found in my summer home in Spain, near a UNESCO world heritage mountain site. The poems deal with the surrounding people, the vineyards, the earth and the mountain, as well as folklore and the African migrant seasonal workers, as well as the surrounding areas. I hope to get it translated into Spanish. Know anyone perhaps?

My new full collection is entitled ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’/Thus Passes the Glory of the World with the book cover painted by Janine Pickett. It also contains a few short fiction pieces. Watch this space!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Zach Linge

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.

zach linge

Zach Linge

(pronouns: they/them/theirs) is the Editor-in-Chief of The Southeast Review and a PhD student in Poetry at Florida State University. Linge’s publications include poems in or scheduled for publication in The Journal, Poetry, Puerto del Sol, and Sonora Review, among others, and a refereed article in a special issue of African American Review on Percival Everett.



The Interview

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Poetry is a superpower and I’m a hungry ghost.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I remember the first two poems I learned, both in first grade. One I learned in church. It was “As the Deer.” The other my eldest sister taught me: “Life’s a bitch and then you die. So, fuck the world, let’s go get high!”

That’s a lie; I don’t remember which church song I memorized first.

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

I don’t understand the question and appreciate it.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Constantly changing. Right now, I have a pocket-sized notebook and a small pen that gather words, quotes, images throughout the day. Some nights I open it and string these together like webbing, give them armatures, things to cling on, ligaments. For months, I’d jot them down on the notes app in my phone, but that wasn’t wonderful. The words had no bodies, were all synthesis and binary. I’ve written too many poems while driving, with voice-to-text: my forgetter’s real good, so if I don’t write a thought down, it floats away with Billy and Pennywise! My partner doesn’t like this at all. He says, Get off your phone! And, Don’t text and drive! Then I rear-end him. True story. We didn’t report this, of course, to insurance. Plus, there’s something about motion that makes language happen. Hear the vowel sounds in that phrase? “Makes language happen.” The meter? If I were walking right now, that would be the spring in my step, would lead to another phrase, through the feet. Which is why I take to walking when I can afford time for health. For the rhythm. I walked four miles a day, at least, for the last couple months of summer. Lots of writing happened there, at the lake, in summer. But no one has time for health when school’s in session, what with grading, editing and producing literary journals, reading for prelims, teaching classes, going to meetings, having a lover. So, I have a pocket-sized notebook instead. In some ways, it’s better than health. I carry my words with me instead of looking for them.

5. What motivates you to write?

Early into emailing with my first poet-mentor, a man named Richard Siken, he said, “If you are serious, and obviously you are, you will have to look for images every day.” I kept images in a vase. On sticky notes. It became a habit, to change the world around me into language and back into objects again. On occasion, I’d spill these new objects, these things-as-stickies, on the floor. I’d cut them to pieces. Paste them on sheets with rubber cement. It became a habit, to take the things I’d see and stick them in my pocket. It disturbed me. It still does. What did I lose in doing this? What violence did I enact on these objects? Where did my pocket end? This might seem silly, but it felt serious, and this seriousness was compounded: there were so many other violences stacked on top: memories of my youth and addiction, for example, which I had to reconcile with in early sobriety; an awareness that the sky is literally burning; the fact of a century of unprecedented global genocides, and my birth toward the end orienting me somehow within these horrors, this time; 2016; then afternoons after missing my morning medicine, cycling quickly through feelings of epiphany, suicidality, homocidality; and, finally, the terror of falling in love and doing so very, very poorly… I’m overwhelmed by how ill equipped I am to live. So, I wanted to put this—all of this—in my pocket.

6. What is your work ethic?

Untenable and constant.

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

More and more, I see my pockets as processes, atomic palimpsests, and see myself the same way. Again, I can’t figure the space where pockets end—they just, sort of, open.

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

I mean, this is limitless. There are SO many truly brilliant writers living and producing work right now. I’m stupefied even thinking about this question. This week, I heard Justin Phillip Reed read from his forthcoming book, The Malevolent Volume, and I couldn’t speak after. The entire reading was excellent, and there were moments in his reading, in his poems, that were a pinnacle. These moments felt unpassable. The weekend prior, I spent time in Indianapolis visiting friends and poets Paige Lewis and Kaveh Akbar—who both deeply inspire me, both I admire—and while in the area attended two readings put on by Purdue MFAs, and two readings by contemporary poets outside the academy… and, you know? Constant magic.

I could write a list of names, but lists are always a disservice. If anyone’s looking for admirable writers, they won’t need to look far. While I’m at it, though, I have to commend the incredible editors I work with at The Southeast Review. Karen Tucker, our fiction editor; Dyan Neary, our nonfiction editor; Jayme Ringleb and Dorsey Craft, our poetry editors—each of these editors cultivates from the depths of their expertise and HEARTS, and it shows in what we publish. Check us out. We publish new work for free every week on SERTWO: http://www.southeastreview.org/two

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

I write while doing everything else. Again, I’m insatiable.

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

You read and write.

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

This isn’t something I’ll believe by the time I’ve finished writing this sentence, but I have a working draft of a first manuscript that I’m editing and sending out.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sue Hardy-Dawson

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.

Sue Hardy Dawson

is a poet & illustrator. Her debut collection, ‘Where Zebras Go’, was shortlisted for the 2018 CLiPPA prize. Sue’s poems and teaching resources can be found on the CLPE website. Her second, ‘Apes to Zebras’ co-written with poetry ambassadors, Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee won the North Somerset Teachers Book Awards. Sue has a First Class Honours Degree. Sue loves to visit schools and he has worked with the Prince of Wales Foundation, ‘Children and the Arts. As a dyslexic poet, she loves encouraging reluctant readers and writers.  Her new solo collection, If I Were Other Than Myself is due out with Troika, February 2020.
Look for her on Twitter @SueHardyDawson,
Facebook, Poet Sue Hardy-Dawson https://www.facebook.com/poetsinschools
Book her with Authors Abroad https://www.authorsabroad.com/search-authors/sue-hardy-dawson

The Interview

1. What and who inspired you to write poetry?

When I was a small girl my father used to march around the bedroom reciting poetry. He grew up during the infancy of accessible radio and most people had, a party piece back then. He actually had a rather wonderful singing voice as well, but he had a way of sort of acting out the poems. He was a great fan of AA Milne and would do The Kings Breakfast and The Dormouse and the Doctor. He knew by heart great long stretches of Hiawatha and the rhythms and repetition, exquisitely crafted language I loved. He would do The Highway Man, The Green Eye Of The Yellow God, Night Mail and the now somewhat none PC Cargoes with its cargo of ivory. However I loved to listen to his voice and his enthusiasm was infectious. Of course I didn’t understand all of the words but I was mesmerised by them. I wrote a kind of tribute to Auden’s Night Mail, you can find it in Where Zebras Go.

Like myself my father was dyslexic, though I didn’t know until after I was diagnosed aged 16. He was an extremely well read man but deeply embarrassed by what he couldn’t do. I didn’t particularly enjoy school either, though like my dad an avid reader, I struggled to spell legibly and had terrible handwriting. Dyslexia was largely unheard of and little understood then. I enjoyed art though and had a vivid imagination. When I was about 8 faced with the dreaded task of writing holiday postcards I wrote a little poem. It seemed to please everyone and was something I seemed to be quite good at. When my Nana died many years later, she still had that poem in her bedside drawer.

But in the meanwhile I became disillusioned, fearful even of writing, the sheer effort of it and when I left school I didn’t write for many years. Then fate intervened I had children and I started writing poems and stories just for them. Next one of them was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia and kicked off big style, they didn’t want to be stupid like me. Computers were in fact my saviours, when I first saw one it had to be filled with binary codes, not very dyslexia friendly, but suddenly I was helping a reception class and four-year-olds were using them. I learned and went on to do a degree and yes began to send poems out.  I went to a library event and Nick Toczek put two of my poems into a Macmillan Collection, Toothpaste Trouble, 2002, my first step. It would be 14 years before I got my first collection accepted. Poetry lists for children died and came back again during that time and it was essentially an apprenticeship. Yet I don’t regret it, I think my poems grew as did my family. It was the right time for me.

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

When I was 14 in an English lesson I first discovered Ted Hughes, his poems were quite different to the ballad style poems my dad recited. I was struck particularly by ‘The Thought Fox’, it was as if he saw into my head. The best poetry, however simple or complex reaches out to a common experience and shows it in a different way. I think then was the first time I had actually thought about poets being people who wrote, that I might write poems. It changed my view of what a poem was and I felt I need to read as much of it as I could, to experience its constantly evolving form. From Hughes and those before him right back to 16 century and forward to the Mersey Sound, Kay, Duffy and too many to mention I absorbed them.

Many years and two collections later, I found to my delight that I was in an anthology called A Poem For Every Night of the Year,  with Ted Hughes’s Thought Fox, still one of the most exciting things I have ever achieved.

Here also I owe a great debt older wiser poets, children’s poets, well at least those I have had the pleasure of knowing, are wonderfully kind and generous people. I have had lots of support and encouragement. I met Roger Stevens some years back and through him, Liz Brownlee, Gerard and Cathy Benson, Rachel Rooney, Jan Dean, Michaela Morgan and many, many other wonderful poets. I feel so very lucky and at first was more than a bit star-struck, poets whom I had read for years, I felt like a child at a grownups’ party. But though we span the country the internet means we can stay in touch, because writing is essentially a lonely business.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

On a writing day I like the first few quiet hours, I will take those thoughts once formed out for a dog walk, do admin on my return. Then late at night when the house quietens again I will work on until I feel my brain is too sleepy. I find that things become clearer if you put them away for a few days. So I’m always on with multiple things. If I get a block I read through old notebooks until something comes. A deadline has a great capacity to focus the mind. Essentiality, though, a good idea can arrive at any time, so I have paper pens, phone, notebook, Dictaphone always. I have a bad memory so if I lose the first line it’s lost forever. But if I scribble that even on my hand the rest will return.

4. What motivates you to write?

Everything and anything, I need to write or I feel quite lost, even if it’s not working out as I’d hoped I need to try every day. Sometimes though the best days something flies into your head and you just feel it has wings, it might obsess you for days and that for me is the best feeling, the constant surprise of not knowing quite where you are going but that it is worth the search.

5. What is your work ethic?

I write something every day, even if I don’t think it’s good, because without words on the page you have nothing to craft to work on. Sometimes a line is just shorthand for where you are going so it’s a case of don’t think too hard about good or bad just write. I will spend days, weeks or even occasionally years crafting and changing bits, for me that is the joy, the shaping and smoothing.

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

I think immensely, first you must know what has been before so you don’t write it again, or at least provide a new way of looking at it. I think whatever you write you must read because there is no substitute for reading if you are a writer. I read once for pleasure and closer to see why it is wonderful or in some cases terrible. I unpick why and that informs my writing process. Not that I think about any of this when I’m actually writing. Writing is a bit like diving into a pool, you can control the way you leave the ground, but how you land and the bit in the middle is free falling.

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

I have very diverse tastes in writing, for poetry, apart from all of the above I love, Pie Corbett, Philip Gross, John Foster, Joseph Coelho, Roger McGough and not exclusively Billy Collins. Literature, David Almond, Andrea Levy, Lucy Waters I could go on for pages.

Why I like writing that transports me, I love poetic prose, essentially if I read something and aspire not to recreate it but to write as well then I love it with a passion.

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

Well, because I can’t stop, in a way. I do have other things that I do but nothing that fulfils me in quite the same way. I also paint and illustrate though so I have times when those things take over, but even so I have to stop every couple of days just to write something or it gnaws at me and I can’t concentrate.

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

I would say that we are all writers, but write what is inside yourself. Read as much as you can and not just what you think you like, writing that is bad can tell you as much about process as good writing. Write something every day even when you feel like you don’t have anything to say. Read what you write to others, draft and redraft, keep going. Write for the pleasure it gives you and because you can’t help it. If it gives you no pleasure you probably should do something else. Being a writer is a tough life because inevitably you need a thick skin. I thought when I got my first book out how wonderful, then a second later what if no one likes it? It’s not easy but if you try and keep going it’s possible even for someone like me who finds manual writing difficult.

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

Well some things are still top secret, however, I have a new book due out February 2020 with Troika Books, ‘If I were Other Than Myself’, I have done all of the illustrations and I am very excited about it.