Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Mat Riches

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.

Mat Riches

Mat Riches

is ITV’s poet-in-residence (They don’t know this). His work’s been in Dream Catcher, Firth, London Grip, Poetry Salzburg, Under The Radar, South, Orbis, Finished Creatures, Dreich, Fenland Poetry Journal, Atrium, And Other Poems and Obsessed With Pipework.

He co-runs the Rogue Strands poetry evenings and has a pamphlet due out from Red Squirrel Press in 2023.

He’s on Twitter as @matriches and blogs at Wear The Fox Hat. Both places are filled with bad puns and occasionally something useful will occur to him that will be posted

One of these facts is not true.

The Interview

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’d love to be able to say that it was as a result of some great flash of light, or that some lightbulb moment occurred above my cot when I was a child and that the ghosts of Byron, Milton, etc fell out of some cosmic phonebooth in a Bill and Ted-type moment to inspire me to become the world’s greatest poet.

My earliest ‘poetry’ memory would probably be writing song lyrics on the brushed tile floor of my gran’s outhouse…I can remember using pink ink (an early sign of a diseased mind) and an old Silverline notebook. I was writing lyrics about someone called ‘Bobby Bingo’. I think it may have been a song I’d heard somewhere, and I wrote more verses using rhymes like jingo, Ringo and Dingo (clever, no?)

I wish I’d held on to that book for my archives.

If I’m scraping the outside of the barrel for memories, there was also the ‘Come and Praise’ song book, especially ‘Autumn Days’ with its line about the silk inside a chestnut shell.

Come And Praise

It was very much this edition. My friend Simon castigates me for having almost no memories of events when we were at school, but this cover triggers off images of the school hall, classrooms, assemblies and carol concerts. It’s a heady set of memories.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’m sure I would have read some at Worstead Primary School, but it’s only getting to secondary school that I remember seeing any. I think it would have been Tim Phillips, my English teacher at North Walsham High School that first introduced me to the stuff. It was a copy of the Mersey Sound as well as the stuff we studied in English Lit lessons. I don’t really remember it, but I know The Mersey Sound stayed with me. Quite literally, as I nicked the copy from Tim’s classroom. Sorry, Tim.

I have to say thank you to my English teachers later in secondary school and at Sixth Form…Bamber de Tessier Prevost and Rob John. Bamber taught me at both levels and was just enormously encouraging. When I was doing my A Levels she agreed to read a few poems I’d bound together with a view to them becoming my first book – I’m fucking glad they didn’t…I’d typed them up on the college word processor – this was before laptops had been invented (NB may not be historically true, but they certainly weren’t common place in the home then). She handed the pages back to me and had said nice things—she was too kind. She mentioned she didn’t get the first poem as it was more abstract then any of the others. Reader, it was the contents page…

There are many others I’d like to thank, but I’m saving that for the first six pages of a collection.

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

I think the answer to this depends on when you’re talking about. At a general level I’m aware of it all the time.

However, I think I’m more aware of my ignorance of older poets rather than a dominating presence. I know there are many, many poets from the past that I’ve not read or not read closely enough. I did hear someone say once that they are there in latter day work of newer poets – the influences of these poets’ filters through, but in many cases, I’ve not gone back to the source – yet.

It can be like trying to get into Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, etc. The catalogue is so vast, where do you start? I think the answer is to dive in and swim about – you won’t go everywhere, but you’ll see some new sights or make sense of places you’ve been before.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have one. I have spent the last ten years or more setting my alarm for 6am to get up and write. It has happened about twice in that time. One day I’ll learn.

I want to be one of those poets that can go for a walk or a run and come back with an idea, or someone that channels ideas into notebooks on the go/chisels work out of freewriting and I just don’t think I am.

Perhaps, one day, when I retire to the country it will change, and I know many people have a routine that works, but I think I mainly just have to grab the time when I can. I try to make use of the spaces in between things in the day to write. I’ve tried using my daily commute, but I’ve never felt comfortable writing on trains without a table. I guess it’s possible, but I don’t enjoy it. I do try and make myself use my lunch break at work (when I get a chance to take one), but by the time I’ve eaten my lunch, etc I end up with about 30 minutes. It’s usually enough time to edit a line or a stanza. It’s never the right time to start a poem.

In practical terms, I try to work on one poem at a time until it’s finished. It goes back and forth between me and another poet. He’s very kind, in the sense that he looks at my work and feedbacks his thoughts. He can be brutal with things, especially in the early stages, but I like that. I want that and like that he doesn’t say change it to this but points out where stuff is flat or just plain shite.

Last year I set myself the task of writing a post every week, and so far, I’ve stuck to it (pretty much). I like the task of finding something to write about. I try and keep it poetry related. I also include, for free, a title giveaway. Any ideas I have during the week where something sounds like a good title for a poem, I note down and give them away on my blog. So far there are 243 titles there – take your pick, do what you want with them. I may use some myself but, given the glacial pace I move at, it will likely be a while.

5. What motivates you to write?

What doesn’t? What motivates me to actually write it down is a different thing, and I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think I want to know.

6. What is your work ethic?

Pretty awful, really. I know it’s important to show up and I do when I can, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it when I don’t. It’s only poetry. However, I think that when you do show up you should make the most of the time you have. I get easily distracted…

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

I’m still young, cheeky sod. My manager at work (same age as me, also called Mat, also has a beard – although it’s not white like mine) never gets tired of telling the story of when we were travelling on the Central Line together, probably to a meeting of some description. We’d just alighted at the start of the journey and a young man offered me a seat. Mat just about stopped laughing in time to attend the meeting several stops and a short walk later.

Anyhoo, I digress. The writers I read when I was a younger man were The Liverpool Poets. I spent a long time trying to get away from writing McGough like things, running words together, etc…Or trying not to be Brian Patten and writing intense things about nature and doomed love affairs, etc, or like Adrian Henri with artists creating giant canvases of the UK, etc. Obviously, there is more to all three and I still love them, but I still have to look back sometimes and stop myself from mimicking them.

I think as I got older and read a little more widely, getting into magazines and the like I think the influences got wider – just in the sense of generating a hunger to read more…Poetry Review introduced me to the New Gen Poets of Duffy, Armitage, Paterson, Greenlaw and Donaghy and the like. They then introduced me to the idea (if not actually followed up on until later) the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Hughes, Akhamatova, etc. In short, to keep reading, to keep learning.

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

There are too many to mention and it would be unfair not to mention those I will inevitably forget. I will say, however, that anyone that is writing and finding a way to carve out time and a space for themselves is to be admired. Not always listened to, but certainly admired,

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

It’s something I enjoy, it’s something I think I’m starting to get close to be ok at. I can’t paint, I can’t sing or play more than 4 chords on a guitar. My DIY skills are appalling (although I like to try), I am inept at all forms of sport* (again, I have tried) and I love writing, A good novel, a poem or non-fiction can change your breathing pattern, pause your heart or put steam in your strides. If I can get within a light year of achieving that then I’m going to keep trying.

* One day I’ll tell you the story about being a goalkeeper with one foot in plaster.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Fancy a pint? And then to pick up a pen and a piece of paper, a voice recorder, a twig on a beach, a blanket and send smoke signals, a sparkler and write your name for a few seconds…anything will do. You’re there. You’ve started. The rest comes later.

After that, it’s the obvious stuff like “Fancy another?” aka read, read, read, buy as much as you can by other writers, read it, learn from it. Go to readings to watch and to join in if you can. If you go to an open mic and the rules say 3 minutes, stick to three fucking minutes. No, you don’t have time for one more.

Submit to mags (Read them first – do you like the poems in there? Do you think yours will fit? NB: This second bit takes a while to remove your ego from the decision making)

Keep records of where you’ve submitted.

Do you want to go to another pub?

Find someone that might have been doing it for a smidge longer than you, listen to them. Really listen and don’t think you know it all. Send stuff out. Get knock backs, learn from them. Put stuff in a drawer for a while and then come back to it. Don’t stop.

Remember it’s ok to not be writing. If it’s not coming out don’t worry. It will – it may take ten years, or 1 day, but it will come.

Margaret Atwood said “There’s a lot of burnt toast in the lives of poets” – it’s ok to be staring out of the window for a month, literally or metaphorically.

Make sure you learn some craft – you can’t learn when to ignore it or break the rules if you’ve not paid them the courtesy of learning the exist. You can’t say you don’t like a food until you’ve tried it; the craft and the building blocks are the same thing. I wish I’d got to grips with them sooner. There is so much out there to learn from don’t feel overwhelmed by it.

Spend more time with people that aren’t writers.

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

I don’t think I really have projects. Although, I guess, each poem is a project in itself. I am a project as well – I want to improve and keep growing as a writer. I want to get better as a reader of my work in public. I’d like to keep getting better as a reader of poems, a close reader. The reviewing helps with that, so I’ll keep doing that.

Given what’s happening in the world now, who knows if it will happen at all, but I have a pamphlet coming out with Red Squirrel Press in 2023. I don’t know what will be in it yet. I don’t think I need to yet either. I have an idea what poems I’d put in now if I were being published this year, but who knows what will be in the “finished” pile in a couple of years.

I’m not going to worry about it for a while, but I think about it every day.

One thought on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Mat Riches

  1. Pingback: Biddy Baxter’s Bacchanalian Bidet… – Wear The Fox Hat

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