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.
is a poet, editor and scholar. Her work appears in newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian Review, Poetry Ireland Review and PN Review. She has received a Northern Writer’s Award (2016), the Mslexia magazine women’s poetry pamphlet prize (2017), a Hawthornden Fellowship (2017), a commendation in the National Poetry Competition, the Poetry Society’s inaugural Peggy Poole Award (2018), and first prize in Ambit’s poetry competition (2019). Her poetry pamphlet Spikenard is published in the Laureate’s Choice series. She is an editor at Magma and co-edited Issue 75 in 2019. Her latest book is Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by rhymes and stories when I was growing up – playground chants, school songs, tall tales. My parents read me Hiawatha, an epic poem, and The Hobbit, an epic containing plenty of poetry. I still have rhymes that I wrote while I was at primary school, complete with spelling mistakes!
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My English teacher at secondary school in Kuwait was a huge influence. She was wonderful. I can’t have been more than 9 or 10 when we read ‘The Early Purges’ by Seamus Heaney. It certainly made an impression on me! Much later, at university, Peter Manson and David Morley encouraged me to keep writing.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
As a teenager, I was very aware of the authors anthologised in Alvarez’s The New Poetry. My father had a copy of the revised edition, brimming with notes in his schoolboy scrawl. The poetry wasn’t particularly ‘new’, and Plath and Sexton were long dead by the time I read the anthology. My Dad also had the facsimile edition of Eliot’s drafts of The Waste Land, in which Ezra Pound writes what every poet fears their mentor will tell them: ‘B—ll—s.’
The only truly contemporary poet I read in detail at school was Carol Ann Duffy. Mean Time manages to be both philosophical and devastatingly witty, and I expect that a generation of women poets have found Duffy’s work enabling.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I normally write on the TransPennine Express, from my workplace in Preston to my home in Manchester. I’m getting better at setting aside dedicated writing time, and often write in the evenings.
5. What motivates you to write?
I’ll usually get started with a line, a title or an idea. Sometimes it’s the momentum of a long sequence. I spend a long time redrafting, and will do so in meticulous detail. I begin to feel stressed and out of sorts if I go for too long without writing – being creative does wonders for my wellbeing.
6. What is your work ethic?
Protestant on Sundays and non-existent on holiday.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Richard Adams’s Watership Down has a lot to answer for. I read it at primary school, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to read environmental writing. I published a book about Ted Hughes’s environmentalism two years ago, so The New Poetry can claim responsibility for a lasting interest!
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
That’s difficult, as there are so many I admire! Karen McCarthy Woolf’s collections are beautifully crafted – the balance between the personal and the universal is very carefully struck, and the formal devices she uses in Seasonal Disturbances have a virtuoso brilliance. Isabel Galleymore’s first collection contains highly distinctive environmental poetry, and I’ve just had the pleasure of reading her first academic book.
I always show my undergraduates work by Pascale Petit and Vahni Capildeo, who have remarkably perceptive ways of looking at animals. Sandeep Parmar and Fiona Benson interpret myths from fresh angles, making them stunningly contemporary – I like to share their poems with the students. When the undergraduates are studying the sonnet, they get Zaffar Kunial’s ‘The Lyric Eye’ and ‘The Swear Box’ by Michael Donaghy. I suppose the poetry I share with people is a good indicator of what I admire!
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I’m terrible at drawing and I don’t know how to make films!
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
First, read as much of the good stuff as you can lay your hands on. Then, find a writing group, a writing course, or some friends who write. They’ll be able to give you feedback and keep you motivated. If you want to be a poet, start sending work out to magazines, build up a track record, then see if you can get a pamphlet out… then maybe a collection…
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve just finished editing Magma’s 75th issue, on the theme of loss. I received thousands – literally thousands – of excellent poems, and I’m helping Magma to arrange readings for the poets published in the issue. I’ve been running writing workshops for people who have been bereaved, and will start some new ones at Lancashire’s NHS Recovery College in January.
I’m slowly pulling my poems together into sequences, and am trying to work with longer, more experimental forms. Climate change, and my ancestors’ work in fossil fuel industries from coal to oil, are huge preoccupations for me at the moment.
Magma – Loss Issue: