Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: David Hanlon

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 three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
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.

David Hanlon Spectrum

David Hanlon

is a confessional poet from Cardiff, now living in Cardiff, Wales. He is a Best of the Net nominee. You can find his work online in over 40 online magazines. His first chapbook Spectrum of Flight is available for purchase now at Animal Heart Press. You can follow him on twitter @DavidHanlon13

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

It was only four and a half years ago that I began to write poetry. I never really understood it in school and college. In a formal education setting I found it intimidating and impenetrable. Today, I feel incredibly different about poetry, I find it to be wondrous and healing. Poetry possesses a power like no other. My entry into poetry, then, and inspiration, came after I experienced a harrowing and debilitating depression in my late twenties. This experience was truly awful, but even the worst hardships can give us gifts we never expected. Finding poetry was one of these precious gifts I received. After coming out of my depression, I felt a strong desire to write about my experience to better understand and make sense of it. Also, to work through the feelings I was left with in the aftermath of this experience and in finding recovery. I was completely fascinated by the fact that I had somehow got through this unthinkable period of hardship, and that I had come out of it stronger and more resilient than I ever was. These facts still retain a lot of their mystery, and it is this mystery that compelled me to write, to try to solve and understand the workings of such extraordinary mystical truths. I began writing, not knowing these scribbles would turn into poems, and the words just seemed to hit the page in a poetic way. Short sentences and metaphors seemed to be the tools that brought me closer to my experience.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

At this stage I began researching poetry online and came across a contemporary poet: Andrew McMillan. I read a couple of his poems online and they really spoke to me. McMillan explores masculinity and sexuality in a bold and refreshing way. I was completely captivated by his voice. It made me think about my own experiences as a gay man and gave me the first glimpse of courage that I too could write about such personal material. I decided to attend a local open mic night to explore more of the poetry world and connect with local writers. At a small pub on Albany road in Cardiff, I saw the poet Christina Thatcher read from her debut collection More than you were. Christina absolutely blew me away. To see and hear Christina read her heartbreakingly raw and powerful poems about the death of her father to addiction was a moving and unforgettable experience. I had never heard someone talk about such painful experiences with such raw honesty and emotion in a public space. Seeing Christina read her poems gave me the confidence to further explore difficult topics in my own writing. I approached Christina and, to my delight, she agreed to be my mentor. I knew nothing about poetry at this moment in time. As I worked with Christina, she began to teach me about the craft of poetry and direct me to different poets’ work that would inspire, educate and enlighten me. She helped to uplift and hone my poetic voice. I am eternally grateful to Christina for introducing me to poetry, and for facilitating my growth and development as a writer.

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

I knew very little about poetry as I was so intimidated by it in school and college, and so to be completely honest I knew very little about any poets when I began writing. I remembered studying poets such as Dylan Thomas and Carol Ann Duffy in college. I had heard of William Blake and Keats, and I now own a book or two by both. I still need to explore more of the work of older poets. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know much about these dominant and defining figures of the past. As stated in the previous question, my entry point into poetry was through poets like Andrew McMillan and Christina Thatcher. I have continued to explore the work of contemporary poets. Poets are doing more and more amazing things these days, pushing the boundaries and redefining what poetry is. It is an exciting time to be a poet. However, we must not forget the roots of poetry. I have ignored these, and this question has re-reminded me to rectify this.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wouldn’t really say that I have a daily writing routine. I can go weeks, months even, without writing anything these days. I used to get terribly frustrated with this and force myself to write, but I’ve found this never works. I’ve learnt to trust the creative process and know that there will be times where I will write a lot and times when I won’t write anything at all. Sometimes other things are happening in my life which means there is no room for writing at that moment in time. This is ok. I guess I used to worry that I wouldn’t get that spark back, but I’ve learnt that it does always come back, and I’ve learnt to allow this to happen naturally. I read poetry nearly every day, so I make sure I am constantly engaging with poetry; this keeps me connected, and eventually that spark always returns. That spark will usually ignite from a small observation or a philosophical musing and a whole poem will bloom from this seedling of a thought.

5. What motivates you to write?

Writing has been one of the most healing and cathartic outlets I have ever known. It has helped me to grow and flourish as a human being. So many writers are using poetry to talk about so many important things, to increase awareness, and fight against social injustices, to break down the walls that stop us from being human and stop us from treating each other as human. My debut chapbook SPECTRUM OF FLIGHT uses my own experiences to explore such social issues as homophobia, bullying, toxic masculinity, depression and the stigma and shame that surround these issues and silence us. Poetry has given me a voice that was taken away from me when I was bullied for years and years for being gay. My hope is that my poetry can speak to others who’ve had their voices taken away too, and help them, in some way, to find and reclaim it, as I have mine. This is what motivates me to write.

6. What is your work ethic?

As mentioned previously, I don’t really have a work ethic. I am a huge scatterbrain and so I will just scribble down a thought or idea and then work from that. Sometimes that will happen instantaneously and the whole poem will flow out from my brain in some incredible way, other times it will percolate in my mind for days, even weeks, before it grows into a fully formed poem.

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

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t read poetry as a youngster. I did, however, read a lot of adventure tales and imaginative stories. I absolutely loved the books by Roald Dahl. Reading these stories inspired my imagination and began to nurture my creative mind.

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

As mentioned earlier, I deeply admire both Andrew McMillan and Christina Thatcher for their masterful skill, powerful voices and the courage and honesty that is at the heart of their work and informs every word. I wouldn’t be the poet I am today if it wasn’t for reading poetry by these two extraordinary authors. Their poetry instilled in me the confidence that I needed to write about my own pain and trauma. There are so many other incredible poets out there today who are writing such powerful and urgent poetry; too many to mention them all here, but I do have to mention Danez Smith. I own and have read two of their books: Don’t Call Us Dead and Homie. These works are monumental achievements. I urge any and every reader interested in contemporary poetry to explore this incredible, singular voice. I was gutted to miss them perform at the Lyra Poetry Festival in Bristol, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.

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

Thomas Hardy wrote: “Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.” I think this captures the reason that I write. Poetry is a way for me to make better sense of my emotions. Emotions can be disorientating and complex. When I mark words on a page, rearrange and form them into poetic verse, it helps me to dissect and distil the emotions involved. The very process of writing is therapeutic, it has the power to help us grow and develop and better understand ourselves and the inner workings of our hearts and minds. When we open up to ourselves in this way, we gain the courage to do the same with others. Writing is a way of connecting with others from our most human core.

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

I would say “just go for it”, literally. Try not to worry if what you are writing is good or bad. Don’t start with a critical eye, simply write from your heart, let the words flow out of you. I knew nothing about poetry when I started writing, I was simply trying to put my experiences into words, and now, here I am, four years later, with many published poems and a debut collection. As I said before, the true gifts of writing are its extraordinary power to heal and to bring us closer together. These are the true rewards that matter: that sense of belonging, of community, of support, not if a poem gets picked up by some amazing journal. Yes, this is great, and go you! But I’ve learned that the rewards are so much more than this.

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

At the moment I’m looking for a publisher for a second chapbook, provisionally entitled ‘Headroom’, that looks deeper at my depression. My debut collection SPECTRUM OF FLIGHT explored this to some extent, but largely focused on my experiences of bullying and homophobia that contributed to the onset of this period of significant hardship, rather than looking at the time itself and how it was for me going through this experience. I’ve also got another collection about lost love, and how to find comfort in memory, which I’m working with a press to edit ready for publication. I’m enthusiastic to engage in a collaborative project, so should any writers or artists reading this be interested in doing so, please do get in touch!

12. Looking at poems “a taste of showmanship” and “moonmasked self” how important is white space to you?

On white space, the Poet Li-Young Lee writes, in The Alabaster Jar, “I think we use language to inflect silence so we can hear it better…. Inflected silence could be explained by the way everything seems quieter after you hear a bell ring. It’s almost as if we’re using language, but the real subject is silence.”

I think Lee brilliantly captures what is so effective about using white space. It literally frames and compresses words/sentences, and the space between these gives added meaning.

In my poem ‘A taste of showmanship‘ I use white space to further enhance the scrutinizing voices that drive the poem. White space is a tool I use to dissect the language used by this comedian and draw attention to his choice of words to highlight their offensiveness.

White space creates a dialogue within a poem. As Lee points out: “…everything seems quieter after you hear a bell ring”. White space is that silence following the sound of language. It creates space for the reader to pause and reflect on the words they have just read. It harnesses the reader’s focus. In ‘Moon as masked self‘ I use white space to create two columns which the poem oscillates between. This poem is about two selves. The person with the mask on and the person behind the mask. The use of white space communicates the dialogue between them to the reader both visually and auditorily.

13. A running theme throughout is water in various guises.

It is. In fact a working title for the book was ‘Reflecting light’, as both water and light feature prominently throughout the collection and are woven deeply into the overarching narrative of the book. Water first appears in the second poem ‘Swimming lessons‘. In this poem water, in the form of a river, is a place of trauma, but also one that possesses the conditions needed to cultivate strength. An environment in which one can sink or swim. Water, in this form, was the perfect metaphor for my precarious existence.

14. And you explore the relationship between hardness and softness, as the pebble skims the water

Yes. Three consecutive poems in Spectrum of Flight have ‘stone’ in the title. I like to call this the ‘stone triptych’ of the collection. Stone is first introduced in the poem ‘After reading gay sex will be punishable by stoning to death in Brunei‘. Stone is a weapon to inflict inhumane pain and punishment. In the following poem ‘If only my body was made of stone‘, stone is something I desire that my body be made of, to repress my sexuality and eradict it, much like the ruling to stone gay people aims to. This links the poems. In the third poem ‘Stone carving‘ I begin to grow more comfortable in my sexuality, learning that it doesn’t have to leave me isolated and alone, but that I can embrace it and be close with others through this growing acceptance. This journey to acceptance was a long and difficult one that, to some extent, is forever ongoing. There’s still some hardness there, but I’ve managed to shrink, soften and lighten that resistance, thus the ‘carving’ of my stone-body and the shaping it into a pebble.

15. All the elements transform. It is a tale of becoming.

They do. The book is brimming with the pain of coming of age and the hardships I endured, but there is relief. There are slivers of hope that cling to these poems, they are its lifeline. I take the reader through all this suffering, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Ultimately, the message is one of hope and resilience. I’m still fascinated by the fact that I came out of a debilitating depression (one the hardest experiences I’ve ever been through) stronger than I had ever been before it. I felt an overwhelming urge to share this truth, in the hope that it might be a lifeline for others who are going through times of unthinkable pain and suffering. This is my greatest hope.

16: What do you wish the reader to leave with once they have read “Spectrum of Flight“?

I hope the reader will leave with a real sense of how damaging homophobic bullying is, how damaging any bullying is. I hope that Spectrum of Flight communicates this with power and urgency.

I also hope the reader leaves with some belief that we humans have the ability to overcome the most difficult hardships, and that we can come out of them stronger. That life’s challenges, as cruel and tough as they can be, can also be catalysts for life-changing personal learning, growth and healing.

This book is about finding my voice after feeling silenced for so long. I hope that sharing my experience can help others who’ve also felt silenced in any way to find and reclaim their own voices. This is what I hope above all else.

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