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.

..day 15..

sonja benskin mesher

starts the day much like any other
spring time, unless you hear the news

now rationed to once or twice a day
with tea or knitting

just now am up to light the garden
fire before the neighbours rise as

we don’t wish to annoy no one with
leafy smoke

have thoughts of fumigation down there
still in my pyjamas for i don’t see the point
of wearing something clean for such a smelly


two geese fly over
slight formation

wood pecker in our lane
rattling if that is the word

the air is cold clean before the smoke
hits then quickly dispersed gefore the waking

i imagine one day will stay in bed late
with nothing to worry yet i have had that


or even several times

now enjoy the early days the changes
and hope for the best

folks are kind
those i hardly now

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Briony Collins

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.

Briony Collins

Briony Collins
is a writer, artist, and actor based in North Wales, represented by DHH Literary Agency. Her career began when she won the 2016 Exeter Novel Prize. Since then she has gone on to publish poems with Agenda Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Vociferous Press, and Creative Bangor. Last year, her short story ‘Citroen Sid’ was published by Retreat West to raise money for Indigo Volunteers, and her first play, For the Sake of the Jury was performed to packed audiences at the Victorian Christmas Festival in Beaumaris. She is currently the co-editor of Cape Magazine and co-host of the Altered Egos podcast. In addition to her writing, Briony enjoys directing and performing in plays. Most recently, she starred in Birdsong as Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford in a production for Bangor.
Twitter: @ri_collins
Instagram: @ri_collins96
Personal Website: https://brionycollins.co.uk/
Cape Magazine Website: https://capemagazineteam.wixsite.com/mysite

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Music has always played a huge part in my life. I grew up on just about anything I could get my hands on. When I was ten years old, I heard Queen for the first time and fell in love. I had feelings and reactions to their songs that I couldn’t explain or understand. How could words and melodies bring forth such potent and undeniable emotions in me? Why did the sound of another person’s sorrow make me cry? This was the first time I became aware of empathy and what it meant. From then on, I was fascinated with the idea. I had to know how it was done, how the power of words could be harnessed.

I wrote in school, but didn’t take it upon myself to write independently until I was about fourteen. Those initial, angst-ridden, pain-drenched scratchings in my journal were abysmal. I hope they never see the light of day! I began to hear something as I wrote though, which wouldn’t let me give up. I found that, when I write, I don’t hear words in my head; I hear music. It’s difficult to explain. I don’t experience this when writing prose or scripts. Something about the craft of poetry feels more like composing a melody to me, and this has only gets stronger with practise.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t know if I was ever “introduced” to poetry. It’s always been there. My father was a poet and had a piece he’d written framed on our living room wall. He was always working on projects. It has been a part of my life since the day I was born. However, I was certainly introduced to the notion that I could write it too. That happened in school. I took a lot of pride in my schoolwork even at a young age. I’ve always enjoyed learning. I wrote my first short story when I was eight, but it wasn’t until I was nine that I really began to try writing. That was a big year for me. My teachers would let me and my best friend, Nimah, leave classes to work on a project in the library. We were compiling a non-fiction book on sharks. My cousin was one-year-old then, and I used to write him his own comic book series – The Adventures of Disco Pig. I think I made the protagonist a pig because I couldn’t draw human faces very well at the time. I wrote a newspaper article with another friend, Oscar, about a ghost that was meant to be haunting the school bell-tower. Best of all, Oscar and I, along with a couple of other students, would write our own skit-shows and perform them to younger students. Everything that year just clicked for me. All I needed was for my teachers to tell me I could write my own things. As soon as I was told that, I never stopped.

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

Being a “young poet” is something older writers often refer to me as, but I don’t see it that way. I’m just a poet. The first time I experienced this was when I won the 2016 Exeter Novel Prize. I showed up with my grandparents and a few people actually thought my grandma was me because of how much younger I was than everyone else! I started writing that novel when I was nineteen and was twenty at the awards ceremony. I think being recognised for my age made the situation even more intimidating. I was so hyper-aware of how out of place I was that I felt extraordinarily awkward. Everyone there was lovely. I still deal with similar feelings at events, but I’m starting to be recognised as just another writer now, which is wonderful.

There have been a couple of instances where I’ve felt patronised or taken less seriously for being younger. It used to bother me, but I’m not upset about it anymore. I’ve got more grit because of it and that’s vital for any artist.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I get asked this all the time and I’m afraid my answer is a disappointing one! I don’t have a daily writing routine. I can go months without writing a single word and then hit about 20,000 over a single weekend. It doesn’t take me very long to physically write a poem either – perhaps half an hour for a solid draft – but it takes me quite a while to get in the right headspace for it. I know the general advice is to never wait for inspiration and to just get on with it, but I find that hard sometimes. I attribute that to being a full-time student. I spend so much time writing and reading for classes that a lot of my creativity gets sapped out of me.

5. What motivates you to write?

I had a tumultuous upbringing that really affected my work and the motivations behind it. My mother passed away, my father disowned me, and I live apart from my brothers, who are in the United States. I went to high school out there too, but moved back to the UK on my own when I turned 18. I had a single bag of clothes to my name, zero qualifications, and had to live with my grandparents for a few years. Seeing your entire life fit into one bag is an odd sensation. You feel really small, like you haven’t done anything with your life at all. I didn’t want to feel like that ever again. I use that as motivation to write and keep pushing myself.  I also want to make my brothers proud and let them know that moving away really was the best decision. I left behind my mom too (not my birth mother, but a parent in every way). I want her to feel like I’m doing something special. I don’t know if those are good motivations, but that’s an honest answer.

6. What is your work ethic?

Ultimately, what I value above all else in writing is honesty. I try to captivate this in my work, but particularly my poems. I want everything in my poetry to have a point. Each word, each piece of punctuation, must have a purpose. If there is ever a part of a poem that isn’t adding to it in some way, the poem isn’t finished. That’s why a lot of my poems are short. There’s a lot of cutting back. In fact, one of my first published pieces was only two lines.
I start with an idea or a feeling and I just free-write in my journal about it for a couple of pages, normally in prose. Then I go through with a pen and circle all the bits I like, and rewrite those parts down separately. I start playing with the language, seeing if any of those words prompt new ones. Normally this is when I also being to move the words around the page, seeing how they can physically fit together too. I like to have a fairly consistent structure throughout my poems. I rewrite it again and go through crossing out every word I don’t need. I examine the verbs and see if I can switch them to anything more powerful. I’ll toy with synonyms to see if I can develop any internal rhymes. I never worry about rhythm or metre – that happens naturally. When I have a piece that I think is about done, I make sure the punctuation is the way it needs to be. The last thing I do is give it a title. Only when all this is done do I type it up onto my computer. If it looks good on the screen too, it’s finished.

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

I would say that every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me in one way or another.  I learned to write by reading frequently and broadly.  As a child, my favourite authors were Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl. I don’t think there was a single book by either of them at that time that I hadn’t read. In particular, I adored Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World. It’s a magnificent book about a father who teaches his son how to poach pheasants. It brought to light many subjects I was familiar with as a child, such as working class issues, the loss of a parent, and the importance of friendship. There are many times now when I am writing on these subjects and my mind drifts back to Danny in his little Gypsy caravan.

The only other author I read when I was younger that comes to mind now is Terry Pratchett. His book Nation remains one of my favourite novels to date. I can say with absolute certainty that many of my works would not exist if it weren’t for the phenomenal tale of Mau, a young boy suddenly thrust into the position of chieftain after a tsunami wipes out the rest of his tribe. His iconic phrase, ‘DOES NOT HAPPEN,’ which he screams in the face of adversity, is one that I cannot forget. If I find myself struggling with a poem or a story, I feel the spirit of Mau raging through me. I have a blue hermit crab tattooed on my arm now too, just as he did.

I don’t really write children’s fiction, but Dahl and Pratchett’s work certainly influenced me as a person, and changed my attitude towards writing.

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

Most of the writers I am currently influenced by are no longer alive, the most important to me being Kurt Vonnegut and Jim Morrison. However, of today’s writers I would be remiss if I didn’t name Forrest Gander or Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve had the very great pleasure of meeting them both and found that they are not only excellent poets, but examples of how poetry lives inside us.

I became acquainted with Gander’s work in a class on contemporary writing in my second year at Bangor University. His collection Be With was an attempt to articulate many of the emotions and experiences he went through after the loss of his wife. It was my first experience reading something that really represented my continuing grief at the passing of my mother. Gander does a lot of work with translations and it brought to my attention the way that the act of poetry is a type of translation; we are taking our most powerful emotions which should transcend language and finding a way to put them to paper. Be With is translation at its finest.

I was fortunate to be accepted onto the 2017 Spring Poetry Masterclass at Ty Newydd Creative Writing Centre, tutored by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. This was my first exposure to Duffy’s work and it left a permanent mark on me. Like Be With, I found her collection The Bees to express thoughts and feelings I had but could not yet put into words. The Bees explores the loss of Duffy’s mother, but there is so much tenderness and beauty between the lines of her pain that it changed me irrevocably as a writer and as a person. After reading it, I gave myself license to start writing about my own mother for the first time. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that changed my life. The relief and power that comes from an epiphany like that is unmatched.

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

I came to writing somewhat accidentally. It’s something I’ve always done – even as a toddler I’d try to tell my family stories in incoherent baby babble – so it never seemed special to me. I don’t even think I realised I was actually good at it until I was twenty. It was just second nature to me; it was just something I did from a young age, so I never paid any mind to it.

When I moved back to the UK from the US at age eighteen, I had to live in the country again for three year before I obtained any student finance. Without qualifications too, I knew I had to use this time to go to college so that I could get into university one day. I started my A-Levels at Rhyl Sixth later that year. When I finished two years later, I was accepted into Bangor University, but I had to defer my place another year because I still wasn’t eligible for financial help. I took some GCSEs to kill time, but also took both years of A-Level Creative Writing simultaneously. My teacher, Samantha Egelstaff-Thomas, had taught me for all three years and I think she saw something in me that I didn’t know was there.

One of my assignments for Creative Writing was to write the opening of a novel. It was supposed to be 4,000 words, but I couldn’t stop myself. I soon had 10,000. Sam urged me to enter the Exeter Novel Prize, which she’d heard about in Mslexia – a magazine for female writers. I was hesitant. The entry fee was more than I could really afford and I thought my work was abysmally average. I almost missed the deadline because I couldn’t decide what to do. Sam told me that if I didn’t invest in myself, nobody else would. That was the best advice I ever received. I was longlisted and then shortlisted, and was invited to the awards ceremony.

As I stood there I felt stupid and awkward. I was so young and had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about writing competitions, submissions, publishing… I didn’t even know what an agent was really. When they announced me as the winner, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Are you sure?’ They laughed and nodded. That was the moment it clicked for me. I couldn’t understand how so many people could see something in me that I didn’t pay any attention to. I haven’t been able to stop writing since that moment. It wasn’t a conscious choice to write as opposed to anything else initially, but now it’s all I want to do.

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

I would tell them to write. Next question!

In all seriousness, you start simply by starting. Read as much as you can. Consume art like it’s the air you breathe. Gravitate towards work that makes you feel something and then try to dissect why you feel that way. Writing isn’t something you can learn just by theory; it’s a practical skill.  Open yourself up to new experiences and opportunities even if they aren’t directly related to writing. Live a full and varied life. That’s how you find things to write about. Once you have that sussed out, just do it.

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

I have a few projects on the go right now. I’m in my last year of university at the moment, so I have my dissertation. It’s a self-illustrated memoir-in-verse called Blame It On Me, and will feature poetry that articulates my ongoing journey through the grief of my mother’s passing. I’m currently developing my third novel, Simulacrum, which is a quirky and amusing sci-fi that explores the reliability of memories. It’s also quite metafictional. Think Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions for a comparison. My second novel, Ambergris, is currently with my agent.

I recently launched Cape Magazine with my dear friend and fellow writer Aaron Farrell. We’re a digital publication seeking poetry, prose, and visual art, especially if they’re experimental! We’re hoping to launch our podcast, Altered Egos, in tandem with Cape.

Social Distancing, Phoenix-style

The Petrified Muse

Of all bizarre creatures in that imaginary space that is Greco-Roman myth, Phoenix, the fabled, long-lived, cyclically re-born bird who knows how to go out (and come back in) with a bang, has to be one of the most remarkable and mysterious ones.

F. J. Bertuch: Phoenix

The late antique poet Claudian gives a delightful version of the myth in one of his shorter poems (see here for the Latin text and an English translation).

Turns out, the majestic creature was a bit of a recluse, who practised social distancing long before it was cool, and thus managed to avoid the threats of contagious diseases (Claudian. carm. min. 27, transl. M. Platnauer):

haec fortunatus nimium Titanius ales
regna colit solusque plaga defensus iniqua
possidet intactas aegris animalibus oras
saeva nec humani patitur contagia mundi.

This is the kingdom of the blessèd bird of the sun where it dwells…

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..day 14 isolation..

sonja benskin mesher

is all quiet in the garden

no one to be seen only

the birds and insects

& one green caterpillar

when we viewed the house i agreed

yet wished to for more isolation

he says no we need to be near

town and a main road with

a bus route

when he was gone & i got my

pass i saw the sense in that yet

still wanted more seclusion

so i made the garden come in

a way that sheltered me

now corona came

and i am rather


14 days with more to come

is all quiet in the garden

no one to be seen only

the birds and insects

& one green caterpillar


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Danny Was 31 – A Photo-Text Hybrid by Paul Hawkins

IceFloe Press

Paul Hawkins @haulpawkins works mainly in poetry, visual art & performance. They co-run Hesterglock Press & its Prote(s)xt imprint with Sarer Scotthorne. They also curate events, run creative writing workshops, collaborate with & support SJ Fowler’s Poem Brut project as a performer, artist & publisher. They’ve written a number of books, some collaborative, some not. The most recent is Go Sift Omen (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2019). Their work has been exhibited widely. KF&S Press will publish EACHWHAT , a collection of their visual work; text art, poem brut & collage later this year. For more info: hesterglock.net  and

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: gary lundy

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.

Gary Lundy

gary lundy

is the author of five chapbooks, including: when voice detach themselves (is a rose press, 2013), and at | with (Locofo Chaps, 2017); and two full-length collections: heartbreak elopes into a kind of forgiving (is a rose press, 2016), and each room echoes absence (FootHills Publishing, 2018). His poems have appeared most recently in Ethel, The Collidescope, The McKinley Review, Filling Station, Shark Reef, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Fence. gary is a retired English professor and queer living in Missoula, Montana.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I enjoy this question; however, I’m not sure I know the answer. Initially, as a youngster, I loved language, the words. I was always a reader. As a child I would hide under the covers after I was supposed to be sleeping, and with a flashlight I’d read until at some point I’d fall asleep. There was, for me, a sense of sanctuary. A sense of being in other places, etc.

My first writings were little stories. Somewhere in one of my boxes of memories I’ve a small journal with five or six of these stories. I must have still been in elementary school.

While I have no idea now what drove me to poetry, my first efforts at writing poetry happened in high school. I have no idea what writers were informing me, except I’m sure they were in anthologies. A dear high school friend, and editor of the school newspaper, actually published a couple of my efforts. Long lost now.

But I remember them filled with teenage angst. At that time, the Vietnam War was the backdrop for everything. Like many boys my age, I was sure I’d get drafted and die. I’d probably not reach twenty-five. I suppose I wrote to express my fears, sadness, loneliness, all that. I do remember reading Gandhi during those years. I did end up serving in the Navy, on a destroyer, two tours off coast of Vietnam shore bombing.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I suspect I’ve answered this earlier. I do remember one moment as a senior in high school. I wasn’t a particularly driven student. But as a joke I shared one of my poems with my English teacher. I’ll not name her here. I was in college prep English. I shared the poem because I knew she’d hate it. It also had ‘fuck’ in it.

And I was right. She called me to her desk after class, and immediately told me that what I’d written wasn’t a poem, that I had no talent for poetry, and that I should stop trying to write it. She went on to tell me I didn’t have what it took to go to college, that I should go to a tech school, meet a nice girl, get married, and have a happy life.

I hadn’t expected that second part. After all, college was one way to forestall the draft.

Yet, I couldn’t stop writing poetry. Not out of stubbornness, but out of some youthful need to get to my feelings and world.

After the navy, and enrolled at Long Beach City College in California I began studying poetry, mostly on my own. Basho and other Japanese poets. Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island spoke to me,  and many of the beats. But if I’m honest, A.R. Ammons was the one who truly introduced me to poetry. His book Corsons Inlet changed my understanding of what language could do.

When I returned to Denver to pursue my bachelor’s degree I took my first poetry workshop. It was so enlightening. I was checking out books from the campus library, frequenting Tattered Cover bookstore, and reading poetry.  While I had no ambition to write poetry, or to be a poet, if you will, I couldn’t stop writing it.

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

I knew about Whitman, Dickinson, Pound, Elliot, etc. Later I discovered William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, and the others in the objectivist school. Naturally, I learned about the tradition of American Poetry when I entered graduate school. What a joy.

However, with a few exceptions this tradition was comprised of men. A few women were introduced, but nearly always as an afterthought. My education in poetry really took off once I’d completed my Ph.D. and began teaching.

It was while teaching in Oswego, New York that I experienced a real epiphany, if you will. A dear colleague, a woman, introduced me to feminist theory. At about the same time I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole Brossard. Her talks and reading, and her little book Lovhers changed my life. I hadn’t realized how bound I was in an unexamined sense of identity. And the consequent sense of poetry. During this time I was forced to examine my sense of poetry, along with my sense of queerness. I was slowly coming out of the closet.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

For years now I hang out at the local coffee shop, what used to be coffee house, and read, take notes, and, when given, write. My writing at this point seems to focus on the prose poem, or a mixture of prose and verse, if you will. As those who live here in Missoula can attest, I am at Butterfly Herbs every morning and afternoon. Usually I have my earbuds in, listening to classical or jazz, reading and writing. My writing practice is pretty isolating to be honest. While many sit visiting and enjoying the company of friends, I sit alone observing and listening to what the words that arrive have to say, and where they want to lead.

5. What motivates you to write?

I think as always to get to a saying that I feel compelled to say, if you will. I paraphrase Williams here. In his poem “The Desert Music,” when asked why he writes poetry, his response is “To get said what must be said.” I think, too, writing pushes me to investigate what remains hidden and probably unexamined in my life and consciousness. Sometimes my writing returns me to those now dead, or those lost through moves, etc. Loneliness certainly has a place in this, as does isolation. And the simple pleasure I derive in discovering how language dances, surprises, etc.

Also, I’ve learned that writing, once written, reveals insights into my life that I otherwise would remain blind to. As an example: when my first full length book, heartbreak elopes into a kind of forgiving (is a rose press, 2016), was released, as I was preparing for the first public reading, as I was selecting poems to read, I discovered so many warnings about what at the time of their writing was a decision on my part to retire early and move east to be with a man I was deeply in love with. In so many passages, fragments, etc., I saw how what I’d written was warning against the move. Of course, at the time of the writing I missed these completely. But this illustrates how what we presume to know, and what we write out of that knowing, is only a starting place. What is written can teach us if we are open to listening, instead of insisting upon our intentions.

6. What is your work ethic?

I believe I’ve probably covered this. However, I will say that I still write in a journal. I transpose what I’ve written the next morning into my computer where the writing languishes for a few weeks to a few months. I return to it once its had time to sit, and I’ve had time to continue writing new entries. Once I return to it I listen carefully to what it has to say, and follow the writing’s lead. I stopped writing with intention years ago.

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

I’m sure they influence simply be making up a portion of my development as a writer. I return to Williams, and especially Paterson and “The Desert Music.”  I return to Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. Langston Hughes. Gwendolyn Brooks. Pablo Neruda. Ammons of course. There are, naturally, so many others; however, it’s mostly more contemporary writers who influence me now.

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

Rosmarie Waldrop, Lisa Robertson, Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, Bhanu Kapil, Claudia Rankin, Etel Adnan, Melissa Buzzeo, Thalia Field, Maggie Nelson, Laura Moriarty, Erin Moure, others of course.

Each of these writers first and foremost give me permission to explore the terrain of my life and experience. Each opens the field of what is possible in poetry. And each redefines a sense of form, in contradistinction to the kind of formality I was raised to believe the scope of poetic explication.

Naturally, each of these writers offer me a ground upon which to examine my privilege, and my queerness. They all in their individual way critique the binary structure of patriarchy, and, thus, enable me to engage in a critique of heteronormativity. For much of my life I have struggled to find where and how I fit. In this struggle I continue to uncover new areas of self-censure and self-hatred. I suppose, too, each of these writers afford a sense of comfort in my experience of discomfort.

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

Simply put, writing has been what I’ve been given to do. Not that I haven’t done many other things; but, writing is where I find a curious sense of home, of place. Even when that sense of home or place is strange and disconnected–filled with fragmentation and frequently confusion.

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

Not to sound flippant. But, seriously, write. Not for accolades or degrees or approval. But write out of what your world and sense of language afford. Along with this, and as the opportunity arises, read. Not just those books privileged as “great,” but those books that engage your imagination and intellect; those books that educate, surprise, and compel. And after all of that. Keep writing. Don’t let others or your sense of self-worth dictate the writing practice. Write on, as some might say.

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

At this precise moment I’m going through a group of pieces I wrote toward the end of 2019. I’ve proofed them, which means I’ve corrected spelling errors, etc. Now I’m in the process of listening to what form they want to take–whether broken lines and stanzas, or prose poems. These particular poems are informed by the political turmoil we are immersed in, along with the issues of aging, of solitude, all that. We’ll see how they develop.

I’m also busy submitting to magazines, the occasional press. That sort of constant activity.

..day 14..

sonja benskin mesher

..day 14..

took the longer route again and walked the verge
to distance from the boy and the dog. we shouted
across the main road punctuated by the dust of
essential lorries
and some domestics
flouting the rules

we must walk directly from home
not take the car to exercise
in a prettier place

i cannot get much prettier than here


supplies were delivered and each thing held
high for me to see at the upsairs window


many to explain
some things i never had before

yoghurt corners, softest bread bought especially
and chocolates so divine that i shall smooth the
wrappers to keep as memory

long life is rare now a luxury

he should not have come
he said he would use
the word vulnerable for me
if stopped

he wanted to share the food as he had plenty

later i cleared more leaves and had a…

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.day 13.

sonja benskin mesher

.day 13.

we are power walking each day
looking ridiculous with jeans rolled
stopping to look here and there
at all the new things
with spring

stopping while sweating to remove
some layers
chatting to myself

and so i answer while things fly
round my head in the sunlight

saw no one yesterday

yet know today that those out camping
in their vans will be sent
back to

stay at home

a nightly routine
is shopping

perhaps at 2am. it is quiet then the
website don’t stick with it all

day 13
i may have a visit at a distance

the postie says he will post urgent
letters and use his own stamps for
wearing his blue medical gloves

sometime i weep



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