Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Bel Schenk

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.

Bel Schenk

Bel Schenk

has published three books of poetry – Every Time You Close Your Eyes (Wakefield Press, 2014), Ambulances & Dreamers (Wakefield Press, 2008), and Urban Squeeze (Ginninderra Press, 2003), and has had fiction and poetry published in various journals both in Australia and overseas. She lives in Melbourne with her partner Rachel and daughter Lola and works at Welcoming Australia, a non profit organisation that cultivates a culture of welcome and belonging.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

A little bit of everything I suppose. When I was young it was rainbows and lollipops. Later it was secret crushes (almost always disguised) and adolescent heartbreak.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

My year five teacher Mrs Jenkins who was one of those inspiring older ladies who had a genuine love for words. She also taught the recorder, which I never took much to, so it was definitely all about the words for me. She published my poem in the school magazine – it was about drinking hot chocolate by the fire in winter. I remember her enthusiasm well and I believe that I needed validation at that time (and probably still do).

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

When I first started reading my work in Adelaide I was terrified of those older, published poets who exuded confidence. Some wonderful young writers and I started a poetry group – this was in the early 2000s and we performed all around the place, but I still had this thought that we were young and hadn’t really made a mark in the publishing world and for me back then that seemed to be the mark of success. It’s only when I look back critically that I can see how good we were and how having fun and being nervous can bring such an energy to a performance and how performance can be the thing that captures it. Not all poems need to be published in a traditional print format.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t really have one at the moment – snippets of time when I’m not at other day job and my daughter is at school. I admire the people who make themselves write, but sadly I’ve never been one of them. My books came out in 2003, 2008 and 2014 – it takes me about 5 years to finish a collection of poems.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I think the answer has changed over the years – when I first started to write seriously, I think I was motivated by the rush of success which is not an easy thing to admit. I mean, it should have been about the urge to get the words on paper and that came through more and more as I experienced life. I recall running home so I wouldn’t lose a line of a poem, or an idea of structure. I’m writing prose now, so that’s a different motivation – firstly I wanted to see if I could do it (I don’t know the answer) and secondly, I wanted to make a point about male entitlement particularly through football.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Loose. Look, it’s not ideal. Writing is still very much a privilege that I do when I have spare time or inspiration.

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

At Uni I was the kid with the beret with a poetry collection in my bag – Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes (the clichés). Mostly Adrienne Rich. She taught me to be true to my feelings which is just about the most corny thing I’ve ever said.

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

In prose I admire the way Ian McEwan writes detail. I’ve read Saturday three times and could read it tomorrow if I made the time. It’s set over one day, but the way he details feelings and back story was a revelation for me. I would die proud if I wrote a character half as good as Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Possibly not surprising that I am drawn to poetic writers of prose.

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

I truly enjoy the process most of the time. The editing is harder – knowing what to cut and what to expand and why.

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

Write, write and write some more. experiment with different styles. I used to be the Artistic Director of Express Media and you could tell the people who wanted to be writers without actually writing. When you’re ready, share widely, whether that’s at open mic events, through socials, or by sending out to journals and don’t be put off by the inevitable rejection. But you can only become a writer if you write.

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

Just one which is the prose I mentioned before. It’s been in many ways, an enjoyable journey and refreshing to get into a certain level of detail which I can’t get to in poetry. I haven’t written a poem in a few years. It will be interesting to see how my technique has changed when I get back into it.

12. Your images are very cinematic and very noir cinema. How has cinema influenced your poetry?

In Every Time You Close Your Eyes I approached each poem as a scene and because it’s a narrative verse novel, those individual scenes made up the central story. Apart from the obvious movies – Superman and Summer of Sam, (both movies that influenced the non-fiction characters in the story – Superman and David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam) I was influenced by Magnolia, particularly the narrator’s voice in the opening monologue. During the writing of all of my books I saw a heck of a lot of movies, something that I don’t do a lot of now because simply there are not as many that I want to see. It’s interesting that you mention noir cinema – now that I think of it, I wanted that menacing aspect to the story and I hope the mood creates a feeling of noir.  There’s not much colour, especially in Part 1, so I see it in black and white.

13. Why did you decide on a verse novel, rather than a prose?

I was fascinated by the verse novel as a form and the opportunities it gave  for experimentation. I’m sure that level of experimentation could be done through prose but I felt more comfortable and confident to write poetry.





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