Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ness Owen

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.

Ness Owen

lives on Ynys Môn off the North Wales coast. This is her first collection, and is partly bilingual. The poems journey widely from family and motherhood, to politics, place and belonging: an underlying connection to the earth of Ness’ home, that feeds a longing/desire/determination to write in the Mamiaith (Mother tongue) that she speaks, but did not learn to write fluently. The interplay of languages and the shifts of meaning from one to the other feed the musicality of the poems.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Writing felt like a release. A little emptying of my head.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Welsh and English poetry and storytelling were always there. Growing up on Ynys Mon in Cymru (Wales), we were also encouraged to compete in the Urdd Eisteddfod (an annual youth event) where we would learn poems and songs and recite them either individually or in small groups ‘Parti Adrodd’ (literally a reciting party). In primary school we were very much encouraged to be creative and to write.

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

In my formal education, I was very aware that majority of the poets we were studying were older, male and that we didn’t cover any Welsh poets writing in English. I didn’t even realise that R S Thomas went to the same school as me until I was in my late twenties so I either wasn’t listening (this is a possibility) or no one was celebrating it.

The small number of Welsh poets we studied in Welsh were all male, older (some 14th century poets) and many of the poems were in strict metres. I felt like my Welsh would never be worthy of writing poetry in.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a set routine as I write around my job and homelife on the farm but I’m usually working on something in my head whatever else I’m doing. I keep notes whenever I think of something or hear something that inspires me. I usually have a bag full of writing on scraps of paper. I work on poems when I walk reciting lines over to see what works. I read poetry most days.

5. What motivates you to write?

Lots of things motivate me to write: injustice, sharing stories and trying to make sense of things. Sometimes I see writing like a meditative practice. I like the idea that poetry can be seen as a vital recording how history feels. Reading and listening to other poets’ work often motivates me too as does being a member of local groups Cybi Poets and the Ucheldre Literary Society.

6. What is your work ethic?

I range from using every spare moment to improve, rewrite and work on a poem to being happy to wait for the lines to come.

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

As we read out a lot, I feel like the sounds of those writers are still in my ears. Most of the poems I read when I was younger were not out of choice so rather than whole poems, I remember words or phrases that would wake me up.

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

I admire anyone who has the courage to put their work out there. I enjoy reading a wide range of writers. The list is very long, and I wouldn’t like to leave anyone out! I really like poetry of the moment that responds to what’s happening in our world, so I like to go to open mic nights and hear poetry at a ‘grass roots’ level.  I also admire writers who can easily work in more than one language.

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

I love words and languages are a great part of my identity.

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

Read, write then rewrite. Never wait for perfection but realise everything you write will take you closer to the piece you really need to write so keep going.

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

My first collection ‘Mamiaith’ (Mother Tongue) was published in August by Arachne Press so I’ve been busy with that. I have a few poems coming out in anthologies and journals in the coming months. I’m also co-organising a winter solstice literary event as part of the Solstice Shorts Festival on December 21st which takes places in different venues and is live streamed.

12. What inspired Mamiaith?

Firstly, I say it was inspired by my love of words, languages and my yearning to write more in Welsh but it was also inspired by a mix of place, motherhood, family and politics. Mamiaith (Mother Tongue in English) ends with a poem about beginning  (thanks to my editor Cherry) and that’s what it feels like to me – permission to write in all of my languages.

13. There are a lot of poems in this collection about the struggle to have a voice, speak and make yourself heard.

Yes. I like poems or any other creative forms that give voice to the silenced, ignored or the denied. I hope some of my poems do give voice without shouting!

14, How important is the use of nature in your poetry? I am thinking of “Willows”, “Seaside Girl” and “Female Blackbird Sings”.

I live on a farm by the sea so this is my world (though I do write about other things too!) Living on a family farm ties you closer to the land and animals you are dependent on and reminds you that we’re a tiny (if not destructive) part of a system that is constantly fighting for survival and is totally inspiring. I’ve always lived a stone’s throw from the sea and marshland where willows thrive and hawthorn and other trees bend with the prevailing winds. They’ve always fascinated me. I recently read a quote that basically said we accept why a tree might be crooked and bent because of its environment and we allow it but we’re not so lenient when we judge ourselves and others. I’ve found that sometimes in nature we can find answers, if we stop and pay attention.

15. You directly address the reader, encourage them to “listen” or take notice.

I think that being quiet and listening is an underrated skill that takes practice! Something I didn’t learn the value of until I was a little older. One of my grandfathers tried to teach me to recognise all the different bird calls when I was younger and the sounds that the day was trying to tell us but at that time I wasn’t very good at sitting still and I wasn’t able to retain the sounds.  Now they’re so much clearer. My other grandfather taught me to be a socialist and told me to read widely and listen to what is happening politically around us.

It’s so easy to live in the bubbles of ourselves but we miss so much when we don’t stop and listen. I attended a workshop with the poet Sean Street years ago where were encouraged to experiment with listening before we open our eyes in the morning – to listen and feel for the weather before we see it. I try to open the window before I open my eyes (helps if you have a clear bedroom!). This has been the beginning of many poems.

16. Why do you think it is “mother tongue”, rather than “father tongue”, or “parent tongue”?

Hmm interesting thought.

It’s a fascinating area. I suppose it’s firstly ‘mother tongue’ as babies absorb languages when they are still in the womb and begin to recognise their mother’s voice. Language is of course so much more than words. It’s rhythm and intonation, the passing of a culture, a history, an opening to another world. It can be passed on or withheld. I would argue that teaching a language or ‘mother tongue’ to someone could be thought of as a form of nurturing or feeding whether you are the mother, father, grandparent, friend, teacher, neighbour you are ‘mothering’ regardless of gender. Then there’s the suggestion of ‘inherited language’. I could go on but I’ll stop there!

One thought on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ness Owen

  1. Pingback: Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ness Owen | Arachne Press

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