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.
(@Dom_Conlon) is a poet and author. His collection Astro Poetica (illustrated by Jools Wilson (@JoolsAWilson) ) was praised as being ‘Insightful, thought-provoking and fun’. Dom is available to hire for school visits, as well as a copywriter for advertising and social media. His writing has brought him to the attention of BBC Radio where he is a regular guest, discussing science and poetry. Troika Books, a renowned publisher of children’s poetry, are releasing This Rock That Rock, a collection of fifty poems illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (@VivSchwarz). Dom has no cats, three pens, and a freezer full of ice cream. You can read more about him, including lots of poems and stories, at www.domconlon.com
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I am constantly inspired to write poetry. I listen to the pulse of daily life, watch the tiny seasons passing through each minute, and feel the turn of the earth in my step. How could I not write poetry with all of this flooding through?
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
There is no ‘who’ but there are many ‘whats’. Like the Moon, and music, and time, and my son, and so on. But I have been fortunate to be able to talk about poetry with people. My high school English teacher, my A-Level teacher, the lecturers and students at university. And of course everyone in my life today. We all introduce each other to poetry. It’s a constant process, renewing itself with every conversation so that it always remains fresh and vibrant. It’s a duty, I think, we have to one another in life.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I first began reading poetry and writing it, every poet was older. I wouldn’t use the word ‘dominating’. I’d say ‘guiding’.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I listen. Some days I do not physically write but every day I listen. There are things I heard years ago which will make it into poems when the time is right. Some days I have to write though. Some days I’m on a deadline to deliver a poem. That’s when I sit down and remember what I heard. I’ll put words onto my laptop or phone or notepad until I sense a shape of something. Then I’ll take that shape and guide it through drafts until I understand what I wanted to say. Sometimes I’ll know quickly, other times it takes a while.
5. What motivates you to write?
An itch. It might be a word or a phrase or a line or just a rhythm. But I have to respond to it. Sometimes I will have been asked to write something and (if I’m very lucky) sometimes someone will be paying me to write. All of these things are great motivators but really, I just have to write.
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m good at turning on the tap. I have always been faced with deadlines and so I know how long it will take me to write something. It’s better for me to take more time to write but I don’t always have that luxury. When I do I don’t always make the best use of the time though.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
They are always beside me. One book I loved when I was in my teens was Moon Whales, by Ted Hughes. I still have the book and was so pleased to get it signed by the illustrator, Chris Riddell. Both the words and the illustrations guide me when I’m thinking about poetry. The same is true of other poets I adore: E E Cummings, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Wisława Szymborska, and many other more recent poets.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
None of them. They are all rubbish except me. I’m joking, of course. I admire so many: George Szirtes, Nicola Davies, Brian Moses, Joe Coelho, James Carter, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Tony Walsh, Rachel Rooney, Liz Brownlee, Chitra Soundar, Matt Goodfellow…I feel as though I’m listing friends and I am! So basically I love the poets today who I know and who have been kind enough to call me friend. And in addition there are so many because poetry is an endless and open forum for beauty.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I write because I can. And because I can I want to become better at it.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Write. Just write. I imagine this is a common answer but it’s no less true because of that. It’s the answer I give to children who say they want to write. There is nothing stopping you from becoming a writer. You don’t need permission to be one any more than you need permission to breathe. Write. If you are asking “How do I sell my writing, or make a living from it” then that answer is much harder but still begins with “write”. The better you become, the more you write, the greater the chance there is of earning some money from your work. It’s difficult and there are no fixed paths to earning a living as a writer but the one thing that is guaranteed to prevent you is not writing. So write.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve just finished a collection of poems called This Rock That Rock which is due out at the beginning of March (2020). I did that with the incredible artistic talent of Viviane Schwarz and I want everyone to buy a copy. I really do. I’m so proud of it and feel it is a good thing to put out into the world. I’ve also got another book out this year but I can’t say anything about that here. And of course, I’m writing more. More poetry, more stories, more things which delight me.
12. I love how the poems work in tandem with the illustrations.
That’s ALL thanks to Viviane Schwarz. The process of illustrating the book was extraordinary. Viviane has the most remarkable ability to shapeshift into the words, inhabiting them in a manner that makes it difficult to see where the two sides of this book start and end. It’s no longer as easy to say there are poems and pictures because the pictures are poems and vice versa. Viviane even helped the word parts of the poems to change, as I found myself wanting to re-write in response to her insights and style choices.
13. In that sense the poem and picture together become a poster that can be copied from the book and put on a wall.
I began to create a series of postcards to help promote the book and as I did I saw how this book could be accessed in different ways. It took me back to how Viviane made a box and put each poem in it on its own piece of paper. She would reach in, take a single poem out, and carry that in her day until she knew what needed to be done.
14. In your introduction you spend as much time extolling the delights of poetry as you do the moon.
Isn’t reality incredible? The Moon, a river, a laugh. It’s all a delight. Poetry is the only way I know to show my incredulity and joy in a way that intensifies it.
15. How do you find the form to suit the poem? I’m thinking of the first poem which is like an Anglo-Saxon riddle.
It is an Anglo-Saxon riddle! That is made using kennings, one of my favourite poetry tools.
Sometimes the rhythm of a phrase dictates the form. Sometimes I know I want to represent ideas in a formal way (so I might choose a sonnet for that). I like to see where the idea takes me and usually that helps me find the form. There is a ghazal in the book which is a very old form of Arabic poetry. It took a great deal of research and I was grateful to an archaeologist called Rizwan Safir who told me about Ahmad Ibn Majid, a medieval navigator. Ibn Majid wrote about the relationship between Muslims and an understanding of the Moon—particularly when it comes to celebrating Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha which rely on the sighting of a new moon (that’s when the moon is dark). Rizwan’s patience helped me to gain a small insight into the rich heritage of Arabic science and I tried to represent that through the ghazal.
16. How did the moon help you cope with the mysteries of the human heart, like grief?
The Moon is meditative. It’s a focus away from anything happening down on this planet and by looking up I am lifting myself away. I don’t need to think about grief or worries because the Moon helps me to reach a state of calm in which my unconscious brain does all the heavy lifting. Try it. Slip behind your curtains at night and look, or pause in the street and look up at the Moon during the day. It’s the full stop before the next sentence, the light at the end of the tunnel.