Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ally Wharton

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.

Ally Wharton

Ally Wharton

is a rising sophomore history major and Appalachian Studies minor and currently resides in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. She sits on the board for Shepherd University’s Appalachian Studies program, and is on the committee for the Appalachian Heritage Writer-In-Residence (AHWIR). She has been selected to read at the AHWIR since 2015, is a three-year alumna of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, and served as an intern for the 2019 West Virginia Writers Conference. After graduating, she plans to pursue a masters and PhD in history, studying Appalachia and focusing on diaspora studies and labor and working class history. Her poetry and writing has appeared in various journals, including Maudlin House, Cheap Pop, and Five2One, and her micro-chapbook “Polarity” is forthcoming from Ghost City Press.

Twitter: @Ally_Wharton, https://twitter.com/ally_wharton
Instagram: @_angelheaded_hipster_ ,
https://www.instagram.com/_angelheaded_hipster_/?hl=en

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom tells stories all the time about when I was 18 months old and first learned how to read. I remember being a kid, still not really knowing how to “write,” per say, but my parents bought me a book kit for children when I was about five years old for Christmas, where you would write out the words to the story, had space to draw pictures, and then could send it away to have a bound hardback book made. To get the words of the story, my parents would listen to what I said and write down everything. From early on I was telling stories, and always had the complete support of my parents, which meant everything.

When I started middle school, I started writing what, at the time, I would have deemed seriously. I was learning to play guitar back then, and was dead set on eventually going to college for song writing, which in a sense is a form of poetry. I was bullied a bit in middle school, and writing helped me through it. It was in those middle school years that I first discovered Confessional poetry, which is what later on would give me the final push to start writing actual poetry.

My freshman year of high school, I dropped the song writing dreams and started writing flash fiction. It was this year that the most important moment of my writing career occurred. I wrote a simple short story for class, and my wonderful English teacher, Jennifer Nicholson, handed it back with the comment “Ally- do you even know how brilliant you are?” Words like that are a shock today still, let alone back as a shy fourteen year old. It still gives me chills to know that someone believes in me like that.

It was that summer that I first attended the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop and first met the woman who basically has become a sort of writing mentor and a wonderful friend over the years, Natalie Sypolt. I returned to that workshop the next year, as a sixteen year old with two publications already, and a new perspective on life.

Somewhere along the lines of high school stress, I broke down. The first spell of depression came about that time, and that is when I turned completely to Plath and Sexton. Writing had always been a part of my life, but I looked at these women who wrote so openly about their lives, and that is exactly what I wanted for myself. I realized at some point, that I didn’t want to hide my feelings under the guise of fiction anymore. I wanted my writing to be more raw and gritty and honest, and poetry has allowed me to do that.

This is a long timeline to get to how I first started writing poetry, but I think the writing background is something important to acknowledge when asked about my beginnings as a writer or just a poet in general. In my writing, as well as my life, there were times in which I thought that I wouldn’t make it. The people who have supported me are the ones I want to share my successes. As I continue in my writing to explore the darker sides of human nature and life, those same people have stayed by me. It’s easier to talk about the scary things if people are there to catch you if and when you fall back again.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I sort of stumbled into poetry on my own to some degree. While studying female poets, I very easily was able to discover the female confessional poets, as well as other significant female writers.

At the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, there are manuscript review sessions for participants that sign up, and my second year attending, I was paired with an absolutely outstanding poet, Bryce Berkowitz, who introduced me to the book Mayakovski’s Revolver and I was immediately obsessed with the style of writing in the book, and still am. The following year, I was paired with the now-director of the Workshop, poet Renée Nicholson, who gave me a full packet of work from poets that were necessary to know. Twitter has also been a great resource in finding modern poets and new journals to read and submit to.
I tend to gravitate towards poetry of the 50s and 60s and Appalachian poetry, while writing more experimental pieces. It’s wonderful to be a poet from West Virginia because between the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop as well as the West Virginia Writers Conference, I’m always being introduced to new poets. In the literary world, I’ve learned we never stop getting introduced to new poets, and it’s something I love about the genre as well as my home state and region.

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

I first started submitting poetry to publishers when I was fifteen years old, and naturally, I received many rejections before that first acceptance at sixteen. I definitely was aware of the presence of older poets and what that meant to be a new poet trying to break into the scene. I took my rejections lightly and moved on, but the one that stands out in particular is when I first started out and received a rejection email that simply stated that I was not old enough to be a good writer or to be well read.

As a nineteen year old, with a few publications now and a chapbook forthcoming, I still feel the pressure of older poets and writers. It’s always interesting to see how I’m treated at conferences especially. Peoples’ reactions to my own presence range from being thrilled to meet a young writer, to completely refusing to even look my way. The presence of ageism in the literary world is real, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really bother me. I am a person who loves feedback when it comes to writing, whether it is positive or not. It is my belief that as a writer, it is part of our job to better our craft and ourselves. I personally feel as though it is definitely not age that makes someone a good writer, but rather their willingness to listen to others and take their feedback to heart to try to improve. As a young writer, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative experiences of ageism in literature and poetry, but it’s much more important to focus on the genuine feedback and real, good connections and friendships that blossom through writing instead.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I could say I have more of a consistent routine than I do. The sadly dying art of journaling is where most of my poems begin. I like to just sit down at the end of a long day and aggressively free write for as long as I need depending on the events of the day. Sometimes I can pull good lines out for later. Sometimes I can’t. I think that through letting ideas flow freely from my mind to paper, I am able to get the most real lines out about what I am feeling. Those good lines I am able to use are important because those are the emotions I am able to build off of. If I had a bad day, I may be able to make something beautiful out of it. It’s a messy process, but I find it effective because even if I don’t get exactly what I’m looking for in a good poem, I at least get to blow off some steam.

5. What motivates you to write?

Lately a majority of my writing has centered on themes of mental health and West Virginia.
As far as mental health goes, in my first chapbook, “Polarity,” I wrote very directly about my personal struggles with bipolar disorder, and it’s terrifying. As a matter of fact, it’s weird even saying it now. But I think that’s why I do so. Mental illness is such a taboo subject even still today, and looking back at writers of both the past and present that lived with such illnesses and wrote and were successful, it’s something important to speak about. I strongly believe that the more open people are, the more understanding of a world we are able to create. Progress is important, and I want to be a part of that.

West Virginia is a topic also near and dear to my heart that motivates me to write. I am currently an Appalachian studies minor, sit on the board for my university’s program, serve this year as an editor of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers and judge of the West Virginia Fiction Competition. West Virginia is one of the few states that consistently lose population every year. The most impactful class I have been in thus far was a West Virginia history course.  One day during class, a student raised his hand and remarked that what West Virginia’s poor McDowall County is to our state West Virginia is to our country. Our final essay in the course was on industry in West Virginia and how to keep people from leaving. I got an A on the final. I didn’t come close to solving the problem.

I of course owe my commitment to the state of West Virginia to the director of Shepherd University’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt. Dr. Shurbutt is a person I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn from as her student, research with as a mentee in the field of Appalachian studies, and someone I am proud to be able to call a friend. I got involved in Shepherd University’s Appalachian Heritage Writer-In-Residence when I was fifteen years old, reading for Dr. Shurbutt and writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Wiley Cash, Charles Frazier, and Karen Zacharias over the years. Reading the works of these writers has made me understand just how much a writer can do for the culture of a region, as we work to combat nationwide stereotypes through our words alone. Labor activist Mother Jones is quoted to have said “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” and I want to be able to do this through writing.

6. What is your work ethic?

I oftentimes worry that my work ethic is too unconventional. I’m a procrastinator at heart, but once I get started on a project, it’s just in my nature to just jump in headfirst all the way. For me, I’m either all in a project, or wait around forever to complete it, and there’s no in between. I’m hoping that with age I’ll eventually learn time management, but as of now it’s not so promising…

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

As I mentioned before, I was big into song writing as a kid. I grew up listening to country music, Cash, Jennings, Williams. Old country. A little later I got into punk rock, and I like to think I have some of the fight of the punk bands of the 70s in my writing. The idea of art as a form of protest is an interesting concept to me, and social change through writing is something I think is really important. I also mentioned before that the confessional poets were major influences when I was pretty young to be reading them. I was also into the beat poets as a middle schooler. I used to carry Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems with me wherever I went. The classics were also on my radar pretty early on as a kid. I loved The Catcher in the Rye. Sometimes I still feel like Holden Caulfield. Sometimes I feel like a phony. I think that might just be the nature of writing.

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

This is a difficult question to answer since most of the writers I love write very different things. Silas House will always be a favorite. Southernmost is an absolutely brilliant novel written by a brilliant author. Karen Spears Zacharias is another excellent writer I had the pleasure of meeting, and so importantly portrays mental illness and how it is treated in Appalachia in her book Mother of Rain. Natalie Sypolt (The Sound of Holding Your Breath) and Renée Nicholson (Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center) are both outstanding writers I’ve looked up to for years. Through Natalie, I was introduced to poet Keegan Lester, whose book this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all I had so I drew it has become a favorite of mine, and is a book I find myself consistently going back to for inspiration. Another book I’ve been obsessed with since it’s release is Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, a necessary read for anyone who has read Vance’s problematic Hillbilly Elegy.

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

To quote a poet I’ve previously mentioned, Renée Nicholson, “words do save us.” I think it’s as simple as that.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Writing makes you a writer. That’s all there is to it.

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

I have quite a few projects I’m currently working on.  I’m a history major, and last semester I was in an introductory course to historic preservation taught by one of my favorite professors and people in general I’ve met while in college, Dr. Keith Alexander.  I absolutely fell in love with the subject, and because it had such an impact, I wanted to start a poetry project based on some of the subject matter I learned while in the class.  For my newest project, I am creating a chapbook of found poetry by taking lines from The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Found poetry has always been an interesting poetic concept that I’ve enjoyed playing around with for fun.  This project is much more serious, however, and I’m what I hope to achieve in the construction of these poems are pieces meant to reflect both the tragedy of deteriorating properties as well as a deteriorating mental state.  The work-in-progress is currently titled “Rehab,” and I’m about a forth of the way finished so far.

My second big project I’m working on is a collection of memoir essays. So far the most difficult part of this project is not the writing process itself, but rather dealing with peoples’ negative reactions when I tell them about these essays. I realize it is a bit strange for a nineteen year old to be writing her life story, but for me, that isn’t what memoir is all about. My memoir-in-progress is a collection of specific moments in my life that have shaped who I am, from my adoption from Romania, to growing up in West Virginia, and dealing with the side effects of medication, this project is a series of personal essays on specific moments and memories in my lifetime. It of course is not my whole life story, but it doesn’t have to be. A memoir is but a series of moments that help writers define who they are and focus on the memories that helped shape them. If nothing more, memoir writing is an exercise in wellness, and a way to make sense of life events as they quickly pass us by.

With the release of my chapbook, “Polarity” (Ghost City Press, 19 July, 2019), I’m also preparing for a book reading, which will happen in conjunction with the Anthology of Appalachian Writers at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on July 14. Big projects in the Appalachian Studies program are coming up as well, with our Writer-In-Residence series starting at the end of September, featuring writer Crystal Wilkinson, and the second year of a student storytelling series—Shepherd Speaks StoryCorps Project—I co-coordinate.

To find out more about Appalachian Studies at Shepherd University, you can go to: https://www.shepherd.edu/appalachian.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

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.

Youssef

Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

is an Arab-Latino, born in California. His mother is Colombiana. His father was Moroccan. The Alaoui-Fdilis are originally from Fez. His brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins are today mostly in Casablanca and Rabat. His family and heritage are an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, spiritual and carnal writings. He has an MFA in Poetics from New College of California. There, he studied Classical Arabic, Spanish Baroque and Contemporary Moroccan poetry. He is also well versed in the most dour and macabre literature of the 19th Century. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, 580 Split, Cherry Bleeds, Virgogray Press, Red Fez, Big Bridge, Dusie Press, Paris Lit Up, The Opiate, and nominated for a Pushcart at Full of Crow. Youssef is an original creator of the East Bay literary arts festival “Beast Crawl.” In 2012 he created Paper Press Books & Associates Publishing Company. This press offers several important books of poetry and one poetry and art compendium. Youssef also serves as an Associate Editor for Big Bridge Press.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I first started writing poems by accident. My grandfather had given me a typewriter in its own carrying case, a suitcase-like box. I rarely used it until I had a friend come over. We took it out of its box and slid some paper in it and began to interact with it as if the machine could answer our questions. We began writing little poems with it. My friend did not like me in the same way I liked her. She left, but she left me with my old typewriter. We became the best of friends. Writing is an invocational exercise, a reality-bending exercise, a self-affirming exercise.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My grandfather, indirectly; my friend, directly; and I would add to that my mentor, who handed me Trout Fishing in America when I was 16.

Are you familiar with the book?
Trout Fishing in America
A book “that has very little to do with trout fishing and a lot to do with the lamenting of a passing pastoral America . . . an instant cult classic” (Financial Times). Richard Brautigan was a literary idol of the 1960s and ’70s who came of age during the heyday of Haight-Ashbury and whose com…
books.google.com
2.1 I have heard of it but not read it. I have heard it was groundbreaking. There is such a thing as poetic prose.
Does “Trout Fishing…” even count as poetry? I’m not sure 🤔 but my takeaway was that anything goes in writing. surprisingly, I had already been labeled “the writer” or “the existentialist” by my friends. Before I had given it much thought.
Absolutely and so it was. I read the beats soon after. I became interested in books on meditation and spirituality at the same time. It’s difficult to remember everything that I first read.
2’2 What was it about the prose that got to you?
Hm. If i remember correctly, it was that metaphors could be mixed and matched in astounding ways, not necessarily surrealism, but also appreciating the way surrealist texts make my brain feel, by overriding my sense of perception and thus opening new layers of interpretation I hadn’t been previously aware of.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

When I was starting out, nothing meant anything. Then, yes. I understood that there was a “white” sound that I did and do not possess and that’s why i felt a little “outside” of the poetry written in college and grad school. In college, i graduated with a degree in “French”. I should back up real quick to say that I was an English major as an undergrad. one foreign language was required for this degree track. i had grown up with Spanish, but i was interested in French for some reason
So I took French. then I took a program abroad that stretched into a few years of living in Paris. That experience introduced me to my Moroccan identity. I discovered myself in Paris. Then I travelled to morocco, got lost, turned around and went back. My experiences in France and Morocco left me with enough background and knowledge of French to instead change my degree to “French” with a minor in English lit.
So I studied a bit of Moliere as an undergrad, but I was mostly interested in poetry and prose from Cameroon, and Senegal. So I took “French” which led me directly to Africa and African thought.
3.1 Cameroon and Senegal?
mariama ba, camara laye, yes
as a graduate student, I opted for as much independent study as possible and discovered the huge family tree of pre Islamic epic Arabic poetry, the silk road, the troubadours, the Spaniards (monks), and then Moroccan poetry… all the way into the seventies.
3.2 What is it about “African thought”?
The novels and poetry i read told of brilliant peoples who had been colonized and controlled by the French. there was French Africa, British Africa, Belgian Africa, Spanish Africa, Portuguese … the Europeans had come down and sliced Africa into chunks which they could profiteer.
Animism was prominent in the imagery and metaphor. so was repression. so was the bliss of unconquerable personal space and resolve.
I guess I threw the white man canon away long ago, although I read Ashberry, Lux, Gunn. ummmm stuff like that. There are invisible doors to this day.
It’s annoying.
read means past tense.
I did like the English romantics! Keats and Shelley and his young wife who wrote the modern Prometheus.
4. What is your daily writing routine?

I make notes. I wake up out of bed, I stop the car, I stand still, I pine out the cafe window and i make notes into my phone. From there, a note might meet some other notes in a word document. That word document is then fleshed out and refined over weeks.
In  a day’s work I might only shift two words, or I might think all day about a single word
but it depends on what’s going on. Other times I binge write.

There is no regular daily calisthenic or quota. Fiction writers can wake up at a certain time and crank out 5k words at a time, but really, my work is all in revision and speaking the lines aloud, over and over. They’re songs. I’m a songwriter. I’m also actually a songwriter.

5. What motivates you to write?

Life motivates me to write. i can’t help myself! Iwill say that if someone forbade me to write, I would be very unhealthy, as if i was told that I could no longer sneeze or yawn.

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

I write because it is a function of my brain. The writers I read when I was young influence my lines quite a lot. In my verse I call it “collision of metaphor”.
I won’t point to specific lines and say, “that right there is Kerouac. this is Hesse. this is Brautigan!” because it is and it isn’t. It’s also hamidou Kane. It’s also mariama Baa. It’s also mohammed ben Talha
I read whites first when I was younger because that’s what was easiest to get my hands on
    1. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Egads any list of “who and whom” will be insufficient! must they be alive today? exclusively 21st century writers? Exclusively poetry? What counts as poetry? So many questions!
Salma Khadra Jayyusi compiled a fabulous anthology of Modern American Poetry. Excellent translations! ISBN 0231052723
While in Morocco last, I discovered a young woman, Rachida Madani who wrote Ce qui aurait pu demurer silence ISBN 9791090836457
My mind is blown by Alice Notley! She blends prose and poetry
She shows me that nothing is forbidden, everything is fair game. she bends the concept of line and line cuts. Her volume is vast and she plunders moments of life and love we never knew we had, which brings Philip Whalen to mind as well. same reasons so impressive for me in Jayyusi’s anthology was ‘Abd al-Wahhah al-Bayyati.
N sure if he is living Iraqi poet.
May I share some lines?
“LUZUMIYYA

Ah, tomorrow, sweat
tickles, the soul, ardent

Craves flight. My clothes carry
the stain, I wish my soul as pure.

You who drill with your pain the well-hole,
Leaving your mercy in the water,

Making of my words a mouth
To shout in a night without friends,

Drill deeper, your black pain
Will end tomorrow.

Your bread poisoned, eat what your soul
Desires, and may your life be long.”

Just some lines showing the tenderness of soul and repugnance against those who see the land as a product to be bought and sold. Of course I love the poetry of my peers. this is why I began a press. Well I was encouraged to do it, because so many other small presses are shoddy in production and design. i do both, or rather I do it all, including editing
paperpressbooks.org

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

Either you are or you are not. There is no “becoming,” inasmuch as there is no transitional stage. Non-writers do write. Writers do not all write all the time. Not all poets are writers. Not every writer is a poet. I would say to this person “you must be a writer because you are pontificating about writing without actually writing your pontifications. sounds like you ought to write your thoughts.”
how do you become a good writer?
my lovely friend who is an amazing writer told me (i never asked her, she just doles out counsel at any point she deems fit but she’s always extremely cogent) “read every line out loud. if you have trouble reading it, so will your readers.”
how to become a good writer is a good question

how to become a writer is maybe not a very necessary question. just do it, or don’t. you can’t help it if you are or are not actually a writer

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

I am currently writing a handful of poems and two short stories to be sent out into the world. check my instagram for updates on readings, two of them in SF in August… bound to be lots of fun. My aphorisms from Fiercer Monsters were filmed last year in NYC. This year the film was accepted to the Peekskill NY film fest in the Hudson River Valley. The screening is at the end of July. UMMM my novella is still looking for representation or a publisher. Not sure if I can talk about it, but it is very loving and sad and beautiful and takes place 100 years in the future in a mining operation on Autonoe, a tiny Jovian moon. For now, please check out Fiercer Monsters, my book of short fictions on Nomadic Press in Oakland, CA and Critics of Mystery Marvel, my first full length book of poetry, published by 2Leaf Press, NYC

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Alan Parry

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.

Alan Parry

The first poem Alan had published.

 

Alan Parry

is a poet and playwright from Merseyside, England. He is an English Literature graduate and will train to teach high school English this coming academic year. Alan is a proud family man who has battled anxiety and depression for the whole of his adult life and finds writing to be a cathartic release. Alan enjoys gritty realism, open ends and work which is politically charged. He cites Jack Kerouac and Alan Bennett as inspiration. Alan has been published in Peach Velvet Magazine, The Literary Mark Review, Black Bough Poems and others.

Socials

Twitter: @AlanParry83

Instagram: alphapapa83

facebook.com/AlanParryWriter/

Copywriter

alparry.contently.com/

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I never set out to be a poet, not explicitly. My poetry is a response to life. The main contributing factor behind my urge to write is most likely the soundtrack to my early years. I was raised to believe that song lyrics are as important, if not more so, than the music they accompany. That early appreciation for language, for verse, has never diminished. As a teenager, lacking in musical ability, I consoled myself in my ability to write poems and songs and it was around this time that I developed an interest in drama. Particularly the work of Shakespeare and Willy Russell. Unfortunately, I did not possess the maturity at that time to follow my passion through education and my writing sort of fell by the wayside. Only yeas later, after a drunken conversation with an old pal, did I decide to return to education. And it was as I studied towards my degree that the muse returned. Now, I find writing to be liberating. I find that with a little provocation, my life experience spills out of me.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Poetry has always just been there. I seem to remember how I spent hours listening to the work of A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl and Roger McGough as a young boy when sleeping over at my grandparent’s. And I have fond memories of holidaying in North Wales with family and of my Nan creasing with laughter as she read Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes to me, specifically the moment when Little Red Riding Hood ‘…whips a pistol from her knickers’. So, for me, poetry was a communal thing. Like storytelling, it was something to be shared. Later, my Dad introduced me to the work of Bob Dylan and The Specials via a cassette tape in his gold Ford Capri. Each time we popped out to the shop he would emphasise the instrumental force of their words. However, I don’t recall ever hiding myself away in my bedroom to read poetry, unless we’re counting the lyrics in the sleeves of Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti and Broadway the Hard Way. which were a little bit naughty for a boy of my tender years. Interestingly, I had my first beer with my Dad when I was quite young, about 14. He whisked me off to the local arts centre to see John Cooper Clarke perform and this had a major impact on me. In fact, we went two years running and I was lucky enough to meet him the second time. I had never seen anybody ooze cool like that and I could not wait to share the experience with my teachers and anybody else who cared to listen. All of this reinforces this idea of sharing.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Quite honestly, I never truly interacted with the work of the older poets until university. Doubtlessly, I had heard of them. We covered some of their texts at school, but I hadn’t been particularly engaged. Of course, there is an age old debate which rages over the elite and the popular and much of the literary canon has endured because it has a sort of protected status. Although, I would say that by the time I hit high school in the nineties, things had shifted some. I recall reading more modern poets than we did the classics.. It was at this point that I was introduced to diasporic writers such as John Agard and it was this that resonated with me. I would argue that good quality poetry needs to speak us readers, to be immediate, to make us feel and possibly even alter our world views and/or actions. Poetry need not be difficult or challenging. My study of the older poets certainly intensified as I studied towards my degree and I subsequently developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the work of Shelley and Blake et al. However, I believe that those who lack a deeper understanding and experience of this more challenging material may feel alienated and/or overwhelmed by the archaic language, form and imagery. Therefore, I think it is the job of writers, educators and academics to change this; to see the value in more popular and accessible literature and revise the canon accordingly.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I get something down every day. I cannot stress the importance of forming this habit. As aforementioned, I had let this slip, but this is now my one rule. It need not be on paper either, though this is my preference. I also use an app on my phone (which often causes fellow writers to recoil in horror) and my laptop. Not everything I write is a fully formed poem, or line even. Sometimes all that comes is a phrase, or a series of unrelated words. Still, I record everything and let nothing go. I write lists and play word games regularly and revisit my old notebooks all the time. I carry a bunch of them about in my bag along with a couple of poetry collections everywhere I go. Most often while I am reading I have a notebook beside me and a pen behind my ear, ready, coiled. I work full time in an office and am a family man, so I make a creative use of my commute and lunch breaks. Most often, a scene will present itself to me and I try to work with it, detailing what I see in my mind’s eye. I liken it to the way a portrait artist will take photographs and draw initial sketches of their subject. Everything I write has some worth, if not in its initial form, then on revision. I believe that reading encourages us to concentrate our attention. This is but one of the wider benefits of being well read.

5. What motivates you to write?

I write about survival, memories and the minutiae of daily life. I am motivated to do so by the years I spent recovering from illness. For too long I was unable to live due to a debilitating mental health problem. But now I am done wasting time. I want to record my experiences for my children. I often write about thorny and cumbersome topics. But by documenting my thoughts and musings on them I have given us a family, the opportunity to go back and revisit them together when the children are older. They will get the chance then to know me. I must also say that Twitter is a fantastic tool for bringing writers together, people across the worldwide writing community. If you know where to look there is a thriving body of writers supporting each other, sharing, advising and enjoying each other’s work This in itself is inspiration to continue contributing.

4. What is your work ethic?

I always have a number of plates spinning. I believe that I am making up for lost time and find it difficult to say no to any project. I spent a decade unable to work and every minute of it stung. I am determined to be as productive as I possibly can from here on in. If I am finding creative writing difficult, which of course all writers do on occasion, I turn to writing content for Planet Slop. Slop is a pop culture website based in Liverpool where there is a real hub of creative talent and a plethora of live events to attend. I try to cover as much as I possibly can for them and particularly enjoy how they have embraced the marginalised from the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities. Alternatively I pick up my guitar, or a good book. Given that I am trying my hand at writing drama for stage and screen I even see the value in binge watching television series and films. I want to develop through experience and it helps to keep your finger on the pulse in this way.

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

Many of the artists I encountered as a young man served to highlight to me that it need not matter what your background is, it is still possible to be good and successful. I find that I most enjoy the work of the creatives who challenged the idea that a small minority, who it was argued, better understood art and got to tell us what was worthy. So, much of my favourite art comes from the middle to late twentieth century. Those minds experimented with form and structure, with language and themes, sounds and ideas. Previously there had been a deference to the established order of things. The cultural critics and creative artists of the period began to experiment and the work that was produced around this time had a profound impact upon me both directly and indirectly. I’m thinking about the beat poetry movement, Jackson Pollock, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Monty Python, George Carlin, Alan Bennett, Charles Bukowski and more. I like art that is politically charged but is firmly rooted in the real.

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

I have been fortunate enough to share the pages of several journals and reviews with so many talented writers, both established and/or like me just finding their way. These publications are brimming with real quality and I have been allowed to forge relationships with some of these people. I think people should be looking towards Mari Elis Dunning if they are looking for exciting contemporary poetry. Her collection Salacia (from Parthian Books) is exceptional full of sadness and strength. I have also enjoyed working with some fine editors and poets and feel a real connection with and affinity for what the team at Black Bough Poems in particular are doing. Their editor, Matthew M C Smith is doing some very fine work there alongside his guest readers driven by a shared love of imagism. Another name is that of old school friend who is really pulling up trees on the scene at the minute, Paul Robert Mullen has put out three top quality books in very quick succession as well as finding himself published in journals in every corner of the world. I’m sure there is more to come from him too. What I like about Paul is his honesty and blurring of the fantastic/real.

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

I have found writing in this way to be cathartic, it has allowed me to delve into my past and achieve a level of closure. Some of my work has given extended life to people I have come into contact with. Because of this, much of my work is intensely personal. I hope that the intimate nature of my work allows readers to feel a connection with some of the issues I deal with, i.e. loss, depression, love and hope. I feel that it is important for marginalised voices to be given a platform and I support this cause and advocate opportunities for disabled writers. I know that my work is informed by personal experience and that of others who have dealt with similar issues. Maybe my writing can reach people and encourage them start a dialogue or find release through their own expression. Writing is not the only thing I want to do with my life though. I am returning to study this year to train to teach. I want to pass on my passion for language and teach young minds about its instrumental force.

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

I think there is only one route to becoming a writer. You have to be prepared to take risks. You have to seek out opportunities as they will not come looking for you. It is important that you devour literature too, being widely read is only going improve you. You also have to be in the game. You have to be writing. So form habits, explore opportunities, network, read, do not fear rejection, share your work and evaluate your work and listen to feedback. If you want to be a writer and don’t do these things your chances of success are pretty much non-existent. I write regularly, submit regularly and am rejected regularly. My persistence and perseverance are my strongest attributes.

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

Right now I am working on two major projects, primarily I am revising my first complete poetry manuscript and exploring opportunities for its publication. And although this is the end goal I am working towards, I see the value in submitting to literary journals, magazines, e-zines the world over. While it is pleasing to see my work in print, I am aware of the broader benefits of digital publication so this is an avenue I am trying to get the most out of at the moment. I have had moderate success in the last six months or so, having seen my work published semi-regularly since I picked up the ball and ran with it last autumn, there is more to come on this front. The second project which continues to run in the background is a play that I have written. It began life as a four hundred word monologue about four years ago, but in the last few months it has been under consideration for performance by a Liverpool based production company. I am still waiting to see if this will come to fruition. It certainly is an exciting time. This text is complete as a short monologue, but I continue to work on developing it into a full length play. I want to see just how much I can achieve prior to returning to study when time is sure to be even more limited.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Helen Ruggieri

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.

Camping

Helen Ruggieri

has been writing and publishing her work for thirty years. She has a book of short prose pieces (haibun) from Foothills Publishing called The Character for Woman, about living in Japan and three books of poetry in print: from Kitsune Books, Butterflies Under a Japanese Moon; Aldrich Publishing/Kelsay Books, The Kingdom Where Everybody Sings Off Key; The Kingdom Where No One Keeps Time, Mayapple Press.

Other books are Glimmer Girls about growing up female in the 50s; Concrete Madonna about the pink collar experience; and Rock City Hill Exercises about hiking in the Alleghenies.

Her poetry has appeared recently in the following anthologies:

.Poems of Francis and Clare: St. Anthony Messenger Press

.Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, Penn State UP

.20 Years of Uncommon Nature Writing, Wood Thrush Books

.Rough Places Plain: Poems of the Mountains, Salt Marsh Press

.Beloved on the Earth: Poems of Grief and Gratitude, Holy Cow! Press

.From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright, Lost Hills Books

.The Widow’s Handbook, Kent State University Press

.The Sexuality Poems, Foothills Publishing

.Bird Song, Foothills Publishing

.St. Peter’s B- List, St. Anthony’s Messenger

.Nasty Women Poets, Lost Horse Press

Ruggieri taught in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford, PA. She spent several months in Japan at Yokohama College of Commerce and was awarded a Sasakawa Fellowship to study Japanese culture. She has worked as a visiting poet in area schools and taught a workshop at the African American Center for Cultural Development.

Current prose publications include:

.Home Is Where You Keep Your Stuff in How I learned to Cook, Putnam/Tarcher

.Fragmentary Writing (journal entries) from Impassio Press

.One for the Road: Stories for Teens Whose Families Suffer from the Disease of     Alcoholism, Split Oak Press

.The Ghost in the Machine (about Lewis Grassic Gibbon) in Ars Medica

.Divine Winds in The Journal of Ontological Studies

Japanese verse forms (haibun, haiku, senryu) have appeared in many American and international publications in Turkey, Belgium, England, Ireland, Russia, Slovakia and in Japan where her haiku have been published in Japanese/English newspapers and have won several international awards. She studied with William Stafford at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and with John Balaban at Penn State where she received an MFA.   Ruggieri, a Master Gardener, has a black sash in Tai Chi.

rabbit tracks/across the snowy field -/the long commute

The Interview

1. Who introduced you to poetry?

Mostly it was the old Prose and Poetry text books they used in grade school.

1.1 What writers caught your interest in the old prose and poetry text books?

Wow.  This goes back into grammar school.  I remember those poets from New England – Longfellow, Emerson, Thoreau, and later the WWI poets – McCrea’s In Flander’s Fields, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen.  The way they captured their moments.

I had an opportunity to study in Japan for a semester and was fascinated by how the “moment” became so important in Japanese poetry (in the haiku and haibun) and became the image” of Pound and the early imagists.   It was there all along but no one had named it

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

As a literature major I was exposed to many and in the 50s when I was in college there were few female poets.  That left me with the search – and an anthology – No More Masks.  Here I found the new writers I was looking for.

2.1. What writers did you find in No More Masks that you were looking for?

This was an early feminist anthology with many unheard voices.  I don’t have a copy anymore but I was thrilled by their “nerve.:  They broke out.  They said what they really thought. Genieve Taggard,  Marge Piercy, Anne Sexton, Alicia Ostriker, etc.Wow.  what a grouping.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I write in the morning for two or three hours

4. What motivates you to write?

I was always looking for something to do, something I was good at and poetry came easily and I could practice and get better and better.  You learn about yourself as well as how to write.

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

Their influence hangs on. I am working on a series of poems that have a line from a famous poem in them.

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

I like many of the younger writers but no one in particular.

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

I do other things but writing satisfies. I do qi gung and tai chi, I’m a master gardener, and I read a great deal.

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

I would tell them to write, maybe start with a journal and fill them up, one after another.

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

I’m working a book of poems about birds, and trying to complete a mystery novel.  I am also working on a book of haibun about nature.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sarwa Azeez

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.

Remote

Sarwa Azeez

completed an MA in English Literature at Leicester University in 2012. Growing up in wartime Iraq, the flickering light of kerosene lantern did not reduce her passion for reading. She lives in Soran, a city located in Iraqi Kurdistan. She taught creative writing and translation at Soran University. Her main interests are reading and writing, especially poetry writing. Sarwa has worked with an activist community doing humanitarian work with women. Her writing looks for the beauty in a war torn world. It also seeks to define identity and confront issues of equal gender representation and violence in male dominant communities.

To follow her interests, she is now working on two projects; both of them are aimed at finding women voices through their narratives and works of literature. She is also a Fulbrighter, doing her second masters in Creative Writing at Nebraska-Lincoln University in the US. She dreams that one day women can speak for themselves and pass that understanding across nations.

Home

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Two of my aunts are poets. They read and write in Kurdish. They used to read their poems to their friends and relatives out loud. I was around 8, I did not exactly know what these poems were about, but I knew they included themes of freedom, war and gender discrimination. I remember how excited I became each time I went to their homes and picked poetry books from their library shelves. They had two half-walls of bookshelves.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Apart from the influence of my aunts there were other factors that forced me to write poems. When I was doing my first masters in English Studies at Leicester University in 2012, I took a poetry workshop class and wrote some poems. It was a new experience for me. I was introduced to he work many great poets such as Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughs, Sylvia Plath, T.S Elliot and many more. It was also my first time sharing my poems with others and hearing from their feedback.
After that I became a lecturer in Soran University in Iraqi Kurdistan. I met poet and fiction writer Dr.Muli Amaye who was the Head of English Department in 2014. When I showed her some of my poems she encouraged me to write more. We decided to write a poem every week and share it with each other.

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

Because I was raised in Kurdistan, then spent two years in the UK and now I live in the US, to answer this question I have to think about these different environments. There are many amazing Kurdish poets who write in Kurdish or English such as Sherko Bekas, Abdulla Pashew, Choman Hardi, Nazand Bagikhani, to name a few. I think that many Kurdish young poets read their collections and get influenced by them, which is a positive phenomenon. However, as far as my writing experience is concerned, these poets have distanced themselves from other aspiring young writers who are interested in this genre of writing. Whereas in most European and American societies this is a different experience. It is much easier for someone who is in America or Europe to meet these writers in reading events or simply join their courses. Further, there are hundreds of encouraging opportunities such as competitive projects, creative writing courses and reading performances for these young writers.

I was teaching a Creative Writing course in Soran University in Kurdistan region, I was surprised to see that we have so many young students who are really passionate about writing, but they did not get any support or encouragement whatsoever from educational institutions, NGOs, and other writing centres.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I think I don’t have daily routine. But different things inspire me or push me to write. For example, I read an article, may be it is about contemporary issues such as migration, war or violence, I want to cry, when I know no one cares or listens, I grab my notebook and write a poem about it.

5. What motivates you to write?

It depends. Reading others work really inspires me. Sometimes a film or a piece of art motivates me. Also when I listen to others stories on social media or face to face I nod and think OMG this is my next poem.

6. What is your work ethic?
Having my own space for a while and listening to my own voice.

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

I started with reading fiction at a very young age. The first novel I read was Les Miserable in Kurdish, when I was only 9. I did not know that it was political, but parts about poverty and punishment tore my heart. Re-reading works of Hugo, Camus, Hemingway and Woolf gave me new perspectives on life from childhood up to adulthood.

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

I started late with contemporary writers. Works of Alice Walker, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood,  Elif Shafaq, Warsan Shire, Mai Der Vang speak a lot to me. Throughout all their stories and poems one finds a remarkable spirit of universality.

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

Like any type of art writing poetry has a therapeutic power. You feel this power better when you live in a society where freedom of expression is restricted due to cultural, religious and political reasons.

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

After Gulf War we did not have electricity for many years. Because of sanctions we have endured severe financial difficulties. Books gave me strength, hope and light. I hope I can have similar impact on my readers.

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

I am working on my thesis which will focus on freedom of expression: the impacts of self-censorship on writing.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sam J Grudgings

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.

Sam Grudgings Variations On Home

Sam J Grudgings

(According to his website) is a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse, nominated for the Outspoken Poetry Prize 2019 and winner of Slams across the country. He yells stories about recovery, loss, 50ft monsters, cities made of teeth and haunted people because it’s  cheaper than therapy and is less physically taxing than porno.

Renowned for his off-kilter, frenetic delivery and intense stage dynamic, Sam grew up in the punk scene and it shows. Injecting gallows humour into fiercely wrought metaphors, Sam subverts the narratives of addiction, bringing a wry touch to devastating subjects whilst still allowing himself the space to be painfully candid and devastatingly vulnerable. 

Sam runs workshops on performance and writing as well as campaigning for the recognition of lived experience in professional and academic circles. He endeavours to bring poetry to everyone, by collaboration efforts with musicians, dancers and artists as well as local communities. He is the outreach Coordinator for Milk Poetry in Bristol.

His website: https://www.samjgrudgings.co.uk/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyZ0-fhnaMleL08EkAyUT8g

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

depression & suicide prevention.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

When I was very young I remember having Alan Alhbergs books along with the Usborne book of Nonsense rhymes and a few Roald Dahl books, which I would have had read to me or tried to muddle my way through when I started reading properly, at around this age I also remember my granddads on both sides (who had both been teachers) reciting snippets of war poems or famous Victorian poets and it all sounding very cryptic but extremely knowledgeable. However my interest  in poetry dropped off significantly till I was about 16 or 17.

I seem to remember a spoken word artist appear on a late night variety TV show of some sort which I guess was the catalyst or sparked some curiosity on my part because I somehow became aware of Def Poetry Jam at this age. I remember using my grandparents awful internet connection to watch their videos on an early iteration of youtube and being blown away by Saul Williams “Coded Language” It stuck with me in a way that I don’t think anyone has since. I would have picked up Common, Lauryn Hill and Mos Def at the same time but it was Saul Williams who really enmeshed themselves in my conscious, though at that stage I never put two and two together that it would be something I could do, it just made me aware of the artform.

It wasn’t until years later when an ex bought Listener to my attention that I realised there was some way of using the punk songs I had been writing without having to learn an instrument., That sounds a bit dismissive but genuinely I took all the angsty lyrics I had written and repurposed them as “a capella punk Songs” and called it poetry. I spent the next 6 years working on my songs till they became more poems and growing my moustache (thinking this was integral to punk poetry)

I went to every open mic I could, every slam I could, every event I could and hungrily absorbed all the different forms of spoken word and performance poetry and whatever anyone was calling it, before turning back to page work, surprisingly later on. I think in some ways everyone I saw in those first few years introduced me to their poetry so there are hundreds of people to point out to, but the Bristol Poetry scene and Saul Williams and Dan Smith (Listener) were the main three.

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

It’s an interesting question and I’m not sure if I know the right answer. My exposure to poetry was through performance so I was very lucky in that my exposure to older poets was largely of those who were still regulars in the open mic scene and as such never seemed intimidating or dominating, just accepting of you whatever level you were at. Jeremy Toombs who ran the Arts House Open mic was a giant of an American beat poet who, though he never remembered anyone, welcomed them like he knew exactly who they were. Similarly the rest of the people who would frequent these nights, whatever level they were at were largely welcoming and free with their advice.

It was only later on when I started doing poetry more professionally that I became aware of the politics and influence of certain writers and performers, but I still don’t consider them dominating as such, they largely earned their place (even if through the means of a flawed system of meritocracy) and since they are so separate from what I’m doing, whilst I can be influenced by the work, or I can often get frustrated that a middle aged white man has been thrust into a position of influence by others, realistically on a day to day basis it has little effect on how I operate or how I or any of my contemporaries create our work. In fact some of my contemporaries on the scene at the moment will likely eventually join their esteemed ranks, and then the mystique is broken even further and it will just be Mal sat on the council of Poets and we’ll still go for a drink at the pub and bitch about things (though she might have to wear ceremonial Poet Council Robes)

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I will always write on the move, even if just a line, an overheard conversation as a bouncing off point or a song lyric to write in response to, like a weird magpie or caddisfly larva I’ll accumulate scraps and ideas and occasionally overall concepts throughout the course of the day. When I get home I compile these scraps to make a dry stone wall of words written in a secure and permanent place and occasionally make a near final draft but will then leave it. I’ll come back to it a few weeks later to think about what the work is saying then chisel out a working draft, often performing that a few times to get a feel for where it works or doesn’t then leave it again. I’ll often get another pair of eyes on it from writers I admire and respect to get a different view of it then return to it.

If I have something burning to write a hole in my pocket with a specific idea or for a commission I will set aside time each day to plan it out and write out with full mind maps, thinking of structure, point of view, how the poem needs to sound, what the narrative needs to sound like to an audience member, is it a conversation, a recollection and so on. I’ll do some freewrites etc before Frankenstiening scraps and parts from my notes onto it and finding best fit. Then leave it to prove for a couple of days (depends on timescale) and come back to it with fresh eyes as I can manage.

5. What motivates you to write?

The process of writing is both cathartic and enjoyable, it allows me to take whatever I am thinking about and put it at one remove which means I can compartmentalize it and think of it differently which is helpful. Also I get a strange sense of satisfaction from solving which line goes were working out how to best phrase something, it’s often a puzzle piece and there’s an immense sense of gratitude which is now part of what I crave/

6. What is your work ethic?

Until recently I very much had an attitude of it needs to be done at any cost, which can be quite detrimental as a performer, either from the point of view of THIS POEM NEEDS TO BE WRITTEN AND WRITTEN NOW or “I need to as many gigs as I can” and with the say yes attitude expected of poets pre-emerging stage I would agree to do a host of things I didn’t have the time or mental capacity to do.

Now I am ensuring that the projects I commit to are ones I can give my full time and effort to and that the poems that I write are ones that have enough time to come into their own maturity rather than forcing it because the time is often not right now though it may seem so. I still think I err on the side of taking too much on often in a more practical and/or producing capacity than creative one which again is not great but I think it’s necessary to make a few sacrifices so you can show willing, and then allow the future to account for your deficit of time that you spent helping others.

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

I was more interested in stories than poetry when I was a child so I think its only very recently I have been able to shake the notion making each piece its wholly contained narrative, and focus on the minutiae of something. Terry Pratchett was probably my biggest influence as a child and still find elements of him in my writing, a wry tongue in cheek look at things occasionally through a fantastical lens, which is what most of my metaphors do. There’s also Roald Dahl’s sense of glee in morbidity and gloom which I revel in, my poetry is darky and doomy but that doesn’t mean it can’t be catchy or have fun with it.

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

Joelle Taylor still, she is one of the most fantastic writers and with a work ethic that I admire and would love to emulate. Her work was one of the rare times a poem has made immediate sense to me, her performance, her stage presence and her general being is a thing of bloody minded awe and a lot of her stuff makes me weep no matter how many times I see it or read it.

Ocean Vuong, for much different reasons, I don’t understand their work, try as I might it eludes me a little, I can analyse it be in shock of the beauty of it and see individual line breaks, sense the metaphor, see how enjambment works here but not here and their use of X Y and Z but not be able to work it out. I think the fact that in itself it works as a piece of art that I actively am aware that I don’t fully understand but can appreciate is a talent in itself, I have quite an analytic mind in that regard and the challenge of their work is something that really appeals.

On a more local level (if only for the time being) Pascal Vine is a poet who I collaborate with mainly because I admire their work so much and want to get my head round how to write like them and Meg Baxter whose work I will never be able to emulate but will enjoy till I die because it is beautiful.

In terms of performers both Saili Katebe and Birdspeed are always bringing something new to the table and constantly working to better their game, it’s an inspiration to watch and one day I’ll be able to say “I knew them, before they were famous”

I’m also in constant bemused shock that the other members of the Milk team count me as one of them, we all have such wildly different styles and they are such phenomenally talented writers to work alongside it gives me a great sense of pride to see them work their arses off to make a) their own work shine and b) spaces for other people’s work to shine and grow.

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

Writing is simply the process of formalizing communication in black and white, I have a need to communicate, and poetry lets me dress that up as an art rather than just protesting the current state of everything by bothering people with anguished inarticulate wails and gnashing of teeth and/or setting fire to things.

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

Spend as long as  you can failing and learn how to turn self destruction into an artform, take away the self destruction,and boom you’re a writer.

All joking aside,I don’t think a writer is something you become, you just are one simply by doing. Being a good writer or a published writer is another matter…you may have to ask me that in a few years (and even then I may keep those secrets to myself)

Rules for being a poet, specifically a spoken word one are simple, 1. Be nice. 2. Be prepared to be wrong. 3. Read and watch everything you can to really learn your craft

As a promoter and punter of poetry shows, kindness is the one thing that I want every person to demonstrate, you are part of a community and you will find people are more inclined to help if you’re a reasonable person, it costs nothing and it’s a useful tool throughout your life. You need to learn to be wrong and make mistakes cos otherwise you can’t grow, being wrong is not shameful, it’s just a lesson in how not to do it next time round.

The last one is something that took me so long to learn, I was scared of watching or reading too many poets in case I sounded like them or inadvertently stole something from them but  if you listen and watch ALL of them, then you can combine everything stolen into something new and wonderful…and hey, maybe learn how to write an original piece yourself.

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

Currently I’m all about collaborations, I’ve worked with dancers three times over the past year and have more stuff tentatively planned. I’m working with other poets to mix our styles and create something outside of the Venn diagrams of both our comfort zones.

I’m also working with musicians quite closely, I recorded an album with a Bristol based electronic post rock outfit, Spaces Between last year which is currently looking for a record label to call home. Myself and Pascal did some live collaborations with Sean Addicott for his album launch earlier this year and I’ve got hopes of us working with him again cos a) he’s a good mate and b) I really want to work with his screamo band Punch On!  I’m in the middle of transatlantic writing with Zander Sharp a folk musician who abandoned me to go to New York, but I’m mainly just throwing poems his way for him to reappropriate into songs and see what comes of it.

The Milk Team are moving home after three years to a new bigger venue, so we have some really exciting projects coming up and weird innovative ways of delivering poetry to the masses, who even though they may not know it, are crying out for poetry.

Outside of that I’m just constantly working on finding out who I am by writing endlessly about it and trying to find some validation by getting it published in journals and magazines and yelling into people’s faces at gigs.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Thomas McColl

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.

Thomas McColl

Thomas McColl

lives in London, but was brought up in Birmingham. He’s had poems published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, The Journal, London Grip, The High Window and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and in anthologies by Eyewear, Hearing Eye, The Onslaught Press and Shoestring Press. His first full collection, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, was published in 2016 by Listen Softly London Press, and he is one of four poets showcased in the latest edition of Co-incidental, published by The Black Light Engine Room Press.

His website is : https://thomasmccoll.wordpress.com/

and his  twitter is : @ThomasMcColl2

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

The only poetry we had in the house when I was a child in the 1970s were Poetic Gems and More Poetic Gems by William McGonagall, on account of my dad being Scottish. There was the Bible too, on account of my dad and mum being very religious Roman Catholics. I did try reading the Bible, but found it hard going, and tried reading William McGonagall, and found that even harder going, and it wasn’t until I saw Roger McGough presenting a Children’s TV programme about poetry that I realised poetry could be fun, clever, witty, accessible and about my life – and it was that which sparked my initial interest in writing poetry.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Well, after having my eyes opened by the aforementioned Roger McGough, I began to experiment with writing poetry, though mainly I still wrote prose, finding that form of writing less challenging and restricting. But then, when I was in secondary school, I had an English teacher, Kevin Shields, who was able to impart his passion for poetry in such a way that it really inspired me to write poetry above all else, and he even took time out after lessons to help me edit a poem of mine to enter it into a Young Person’s poetry competition, and though it didn’t win, it was a good education, and a year or so later, I finally got a poem published, in the West Midlands Arts magazine, People to People, getting paid the (at the time) princely sum of £10, and from then on I was hooked.

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

I guess, as I started to investigate poetry more, mainly by looking through books at my local library, I became aware of the so-called ‘canon’. It was mainly white male poets, and though I did enjoy the poetry of Ted Hughes, Adrian Mitchell and Philip Larkin, for instance, I found myself gravitating to female poets more, such as Sylvia Plath and, especially, Stevie Smith, whose eccentricity and apartness from any particular movement or accepted style of writing appealed to me greatly, and was definitely a big influence on me at the time.

4. What motivates you to write?

A need, basically – which partly stems from me never having managed to be the most articulate person verbally, and being always, to some degree, socially awkward (even if I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be), so writing has always been an outlet, a way of not just saying what I need to say, but saying it in the way that I want it said. It satisfies my need to successfully communicate, I guess. Talking, to me, is always a first draft, so I’m never entirely satisfied with it. And writing achieves a kind of permanence – which can be a bad thing as well as good, and that fear is what motivates me to always try to write better (or ‘fail better’, as perfectly put by Samuel Beckett).

5. What is your daily writing routine / work ethic?

I have a day job and I’m my partner’s carer, so it’s all about finding time to write whenever I can – but, sometimes, being short of time is good in that it concentrates the mind and you ironically end up getting more done than if you had more time. That said, I’m always trying to find time and space to write, because if I don’t, then after a while I get depressed and grouchy. And it’s always possible to make time, even if it means cutting everything else out, such as TV, radio, social media and – dare I say it – reading books.

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

I guess that anything and everything that was an influence during my formative years will always be a part of me – in my blood, so to speak – even if it may be the case I no longer ever refer to them (and answering this question is starting to make me think it might be a good idea to reacquaint myself with some of the writers I read back then but haven’t really read since, as I’ll no doubt gain something new by looking at their work afresh with older, more experienced, eyes).

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

There are so many of today’s writers I admire – and none of them are well known. I’m amazed at all the talent that’s out there on the poetry scene. There’s so much excellent poetry being written and performed, which in one sense is great, as it makes for a vibrant scene, but it’s also a little depressing too, as most of these poets will never make it in any sense or even be remembered beyond their presence on the scene. And I don’t know whether that actually matters one jot in the great scheme of things, but it does seem kind of sad.

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

You become a writer simply by writing. But if someone asks, “How do you become a successful writer?” – well, I don’t consider myself as having achieved that yet, so wouldn’t feel qualified, in any way, to advise on that. Moreover, every successful writer’s definition of successful is different. I imagine E. L. James’s definition of success would be different from P. D. James’s, and both, in turn, would be different from Henry James’s.

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

The Black Light Engine Room Press has just published Co-Incidental 4, which I’m showcased in, with three other poets – all completely new poems – and it really is a beautifully produced volume, priced £6 (+p&p), and available either from the publisher or direct from me. My first full collection of poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, published by Listen Softly London Press, is still available, priced £8 (+p&p) – again, either from the publisher or direct from me. I have a book of short stories out on submission, and a full collection worth of new poems ready to submit, and a novel that’s nearing completion.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rebecca Varley-Winter

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.

Heroines

Becky Varley-Winter

grew up on the Isle of Wight, lives in London, and teaches English Literature and Creative Writing for various universities. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Heroines: On the Blue Peninsula, (http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/heroines.html?m=1)is published by V. Press (May 2019); her poems have also appeared in Sidekick Books’ No, Robot, No anthology, FINISHED CREATURES, Lighthouse Literary Journal and Poems in Which, among others, and won the T. R. Henn and Brewer Hall prizes. Her academic book, Reading Fragments and Fragmentation in Modernist Literature, was published by Sussex Academic Press in 2018.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I always wrote, but poetry took hold when I was a teenager, for several reasons:

I was in a band, so was originally trying to write song lyrics. I’m still influenced by lyricists, especially PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom, and see poetry and song as closely connected.

One of my brothers was stillborn when I was thirteen, and poetry was a way of handling grief, as well as translating/transforming all of those immeasurable teenage moods. I grew up on the Isle of Wight, surrounded by a lot of natural beauty, and remember feeling almost drunk on the landscape, floored by beauty, love and longing – and sadness and death, too – writing constantly.

The first poets I connected with were Linda Pastan, T. S. Eliot, and Sylvia Plath. In Plath’s work, I loved the frostbitten horror of ‘Poppies in October’ and the thrill of dread reading ‘The panther’s tread is on the stairs, coming up and up the stairs.’ I also remember reading Eliot’s poems aloud to myself, loving his sense of music, rhythm, and mystery. On many things we’d disagree, but he had a strong influence. Linda Pastan was accessible without being simplistic, with a knack for capturing tangible sensations. I loved her poems ‘Carnival Evening’, ‘The Happiest Day’, and ‘Letter’. I also came across Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s work in the library; I found his island poems beguiling. At school I read Wilfred Owen’s war poetry (‘Futility’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’), Shakespeare and Webster (Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, The Duchess of Malfi), among others.

However, what allowed me to start writing was probably the discovery that other people my own age were writing poems. I was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year competition and was aware of Helen Mort’s work from very early on.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My parents introduced me to Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl, and we had an anthology called The Island of the Children which I remember well. I also found my mum’s copy of Stevie Smith on the shelves and read ‘Not Waving but Drowning’. I studied Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ at school when I was seven; I felt confused by its sadness, but it must have made a strong impression on me, as I remember it so clearly. We collectively memorised Keats’ ‘To Autumn’ at my primary school – another poem heady with mortality, which I didn’t fully understand. However, I had no sustained sense of wanting to write poetry until my teenage years, and nobody particularly pushed me towards it.

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

If by this you mean THE DEAD / THE CANON, I was a keen reader and picked up poetry alongside everything else. However, I was almost totally unaware of female poets before the nineteenth century (though I’d heard of Sappho, if only through Nick Cave lyrics), and later felt some frustration at the fact that, for example, Emilia Bassano and Anne Finch had been there all along. We just didn’t read them. I knew that female poets existed, but didn’t have any sense of a long history of women’s voices.

If you mean older poetic mentors, they could be really encouraging – Roddy Lumsden invited me to participate in poetry events after I met him at a reading and sent him some of my work. He was really helpful in making me feel part of the poetry world. However, I was only able to write more fearlessly when I stopped seeking external validation. At some point, I stopped entering huge competitions (imagining that a win would ‘give me permission’ to write somehow) and started submitting work for publication instead. At the same time, my writing loosened up, as if that desire for approval was in itself destructive. I still take feedback from trusted readers and am not immune to criticism (it hurts!), but basically accepted my own authority.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

During term-time, I’m fully absorbed in teaching (and research towards teaching), so if I do write, it often involves scrawling something down on a train. Outside of term, I have more time to refine and edit, but still have other work to do. I try to spend one day on my writing each week, usually on Sundays.

5. What motivates you to write?

Restlessness, energy, reading something great and wanting to respond to it, the natural world, and other people, always. Poetry can feel solitary, but it’s really communal.

6. What is your work ethic?

I need to feel useful and have a sense of guilt if I’m not working. However, writing is a compulsion, not a duty. It eventually allowed me to teach creative writing, which does help me to earn a living, but I do it because some insane instinct drives me to. That said, writing of course takes focus and work, isn’t always fun, and I do want readers to get something from it, so I suppose my work ethic factors into it at some stage. However, sitting down to draft a poem always feels more like an act of disobedience or troubled pleasure.

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

There might still be visible influence from Eliot, Plath, Pastan, etc, but I’ve gathered lots of other interests since then, so I’m not sure. Emily Dickinson is a big influence, and I studied Mallarmé and Mina Loy for my PhD, so they must have sunk in on some level; I love Apollinaire too, Audre Lorde, Whitman. Sometimes you find an odd affinity with a writer you’ve never read at all; I was told I was influenced by Elizabeth Bishop before I’d ever read her, and when I finally read Lola Ridge, she felt similarly familiar.

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

If we’re including writers of fiction, I’d add Elena Ferrante, but most of the writers I admire are poets. Recently: Fiona Benson, Liz Berry, Tishani Doshi, Scherezade Siobhan, Rebecca Tamás, Seán Hewitt, Arthur Allen, Rakhshan Rizwan, Sumita Chakraborty, Denise Riley, Emma Hammond, Ollie Evans, Marianne Morris, Nisha Ramayya, Fran Lock, Sarah Howe, Helen Mort, Rebecca Perry, Amy Key, Emily Berry, Will Harris, Mona Arshi, Ruby Robinson, Shivanee Ramlochan, Mark Waldron, John McCullough, Rachael Allen, Sophie Collins, Hera Lindsay Bird, Patricia Lockwood, this could go on… Some have been personally kind as well as being great writers, such as Sarah Leavesley at V. Press, Alex MacDonald, Abigail Parry, Tim Wells, Kirsten Irving, Jon Stone, Claire Trévien.

I’m drawn to poets who sound unabashedly like themselves, by which I mean that they might have influences, but they’re not just trying to emulate or write to an accepted trend. I tend to like work that has a kind of daring, though it might be a subtle daring. I’m not a big fan of poems that feel either completely sensible or calculatedly cool… something instinctive needs to happen.

To narrow this down – I most admire Fiona Benson, because Vertigo & Ghost speaks so fiercely and powerfully; Sumita Chakraborty, because ‘Dear, Beloved’ is one of the most extraordinary and ambitious poems that I’ve read in recent years; Denise Riley, because she’s got a flawless poetic instinct – no-one sounds like her; and Liz Berry, because every one of her poems I’ve encountered lately has been so good. I’d also say Ollie Evans (admittedly this one’s personal), whose work is as alive and inventive as he is. Finally, I really admire funny female poets like Hera Lindsay Bird and Patricia Lockwood, because they’re fearless and irreverent, and that makes me less afraid.

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

Because I’m ruled by my heart more than my head.

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

Write (and rewrite). READ as widely as possible. If you want to be published, learn to tolerate rejection; keep sending your writing out to publishers whose work you enjoy. Be interested in people. Be interested in everything. Set limits around your time online. Remember that other writers are your community, not your competition. Work at it, stay open, enjoy it.

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

My debut pamphlet Heroines: On the Blue Peninsula came out with V. Press in May (2019), and is a collection of female-centred, fantastical and tender poems. You can read a sample poem and buy it here http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/heroines.html?m=1

I’m also working hopefully towards a full collection, trying to narrow down about 100 poems to 40-50. I know it will centre around themes of danger and anxiety, and some thrills too.

I also have a few short stories in progress, but if I try to publish them it might be under a pseudonym – so don’t look out for those, I guess!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sharon Coleman

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.

Sharon Coleman

Sharon Coleman’s a fifth-generation Northern Californian. She writes for Poetry Flash, co-curates the reading series Lyrics & Dirges, co-directs the Berkeley Poetry Festival. She’s the author of a chapbook Half Circle and a book of micro-fiction, Paris Blinks. Her recent publications appear in Your Impossible Voice, White Stag, Ambush Review.

She’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart and once for a micro award for blink fiction.

She’s taught composition, poetry writing, creative writing, and college success at Berkeley City College for 15 years and directs their art and literary journal, Milvia Street.

She was a finalist for the Luso-American Fellowship for the Disquiet Literary Conference in Lisbon.

https://bccvoice.net/2016/12/07/sharon-coleman/

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I simply gravitated to it.  As a young person, I loved the rhythms and sounds, compactness and surprise. My older siblings and I used to make up all kinds of things to describe our world and make fun of it in the way that many children do until language is more about conforming than inventing. I read a lot of novels as a teen but ultimately found writing fiction a bit boring and predictable, though I’ve more recently picked it up again. There are interesting experiments in fiction to explore and I don’t think that every story has already been told. But I still gravitate to poetry and then creative nonfiction (a popular second love for poets.)

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was first introduced through children’s books, most of which are written poetically. One such book was Spooky Rhymes and Riddles published by Scholastic. My older sister used to read that book to me with a different voice for the various poems and characters before I went to sleep.  In high school, I was introduced to e.e. cummings and Edgar Allen Poe by my freshman English instructor, who had us memorize a poem and present it in front of the class. I began writing poetry throughout high school on my own.

Poetry also entered my dreams: during an afternoon nap, I dreamed of reading a long poem I had written and woke up remembering only the last line, “When my shadows get up and go good-bye.” It was clear that my poetic task would be to re-create the entire poem in my waking life.

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

Older poets have never had a “dominating” presence for me. Most of the older poets I know and have known have been very encouraging, suggesting books to read and places to send work and other advice. I’ve learned a lot about our local Bay Area poetry history through them. I have become very aware of the dominating arrogance of some poets in academia, of some in-crowd poets outside academia, of careerists, of the poetry industry, of prizes and awards. But I’ve become more acutely aware of how poets who have had an upward battle against sexism and racism and the old guard in the 60s and 70s can replicate similar barriers against the next generation. Our poetry scenes are still marked, even structured, by tokenism and compartmentalisation. I just read a book of poetry by a young white male (nominated for an award and published by Princeton Press) that contains a poem condoning base sexual harassment of women—and those that nominated it either simply didn’t notice or didn’t care. Or maybe because they nominated an otherwise diverse collection of books and authors, they felt this was ok. Fifty years later, it’s still an upward battle.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I had a daily writing routine. I’ve tried to develop one, but I have too much other work teaching.  Mine is a weekly writing routine in which ideas marinate over the week, and Friday or Saturday evenings, I either write a new poem or do a deep revision for my Sunday workshop. I carry a small notebook for ideas that come to me at any time of day.

5. What motivates you to write?

The desire to put into tangible form the insolite of experience. This is a term used by surrealists to express the manifestation of the mystery of the subconscious and of the collective unconscious in daily life. It means being poetically attentive to one’s surroundings at all times, which because I work, I cannot always do, but I try to. I write for coming generations to know what it means to live in this place and time, filtered through my historical perspective. I write to complete projects, to have a book or other publication, to physically hand over to another to experience.

6. What is your work ethic?

I try to not replicate the subtle linguistic constructions of racism, sexism, ethno-centrism, ableism, etc. that linger in our language even when we take a stance against them. This requires never-ending interrogation, learning, deep listening. As George Oppen said, words are never wholly transparent, and this is the heartlessness of words.

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

I began reading George Orwell when I was about thirteen, beginning with 1984. My writing engages the political on different fronts. From James Baldwin and Carson McCullers, I look for the psychological depths that form and are formed by social hierarchies. From Hunter S. Thompson, I learned to keep far away from highly entitled drug enthusiasts.

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

There are so many writers today whom I highly admire, most come from demographics that have not had much voice in the literary world.  They have a strong understanding of many elements that have made them who they are and have deep multicultural understanding of our communities. I admire writers who don’t stay in one aesthetic or genre, who explore form as much as meaning. In the 90s, there was a huge divide between experimental and more traditional poets. This was not about thinking but rather about waging war. Today on the West Coast, the divide has been crossed many times and is dissolving; on the East Coast, the divide is stronger. In the 90s, I just followed my own way and was not popular on either side, being too narrative for the experimental poets and too elliptical for the traditional ones. I admire the many other poets who have forged their own poetics through these two camps like Brian Teare, John Isles, Mk Chavez, James Cagney, and many others.

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

I write for mental clarity, to somehow put into words the almost inexpressible. I write to explore language(s) and their unexpected capacities.  I write for historical understanding. I write for the personal pride of seeing published pieces I’ve worked hard on and believe in. I also do other things that are very fulfilling.

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

Read. Write.  Learn craft, process, and technique. Really learn craft, process, and technique. Never stop exploring craft, process, and technique. Find or create literary communities. Give to those communities.

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

I am currently finishing a book-length poetic sequence set in the house in which I grew up, the drama within the family, the transformation of the landscape and people of the area. When I was about six, my family moved into a wreck of a house in an otherwise idyllic suburban neighbourhood in a city south of San Francisco. It had been the farmhands’ house when the area had been a dairy farm.  And another house had been added to it, forming a two-story house. One of my sisters said it had the “public uglies.” Yet it provided all four siblings with their own small room, and my parents fixed it up very well. Later, my father was told this was the dairy farm he had work at when he was eighteen. The place had changed so much that he didn’t recognize it.

The series is written in ten to eleven sections of four to seven poems. Each poem is nine lines, justified both right and left and with many caesura or spaces within the line. The narratives are multiple and fragmented and flow according to association, braiding in and out of each other. This series has been an exciting and painstaking exploration of form. I am very thankful to my writing group, the Green Heart Collective, for being the literary midwives of this project. Here is an early version of series’ beginning: http://www.yourimpossiblevoice.com/spinning-vinyl/

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Neil Laurenson

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.

 

Exclamation-Marx-COVER

Neil Laurenson
is a stand-up poet based in Worcester. He has regularly performed around the country, including at Wenlock Poetry Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival and Cheltenham Poetry Festival. His debut book Exclamation Marx! was published by Silhouette Press.

www.neillaurenson.com

@NeilLaurenson

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I started reading Philip Larkin in the university library and thought, ‘This is poetry I can understand!’ Shortly afterwards, I wrote dreadful, unintentional Larkin parodies in my grandparents’ house on the edge of Salisbury Plain while hearing bomber planes set off for Iraq.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

One of my primary school teachers, I think

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

I was well aware of ‘older poets’ at university, especially as I was studying English Literature. In terms of occupation of bookshelves, I couldn’t deny their dominance. I vividly remember reading Larkin in a bookshop in Cambridge, and he was probably surrounded by Eliot, Tennyson, Auden, etc.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I write a lot of emails at work! I don’t have a poetry writing routine. I can’t schedule poetry; it happens at random times.

5. What motivates you to write?

Making people laugh and letting off steam about politics. Fun and anger.

6. What is your work ethic?

Never give up. That’s it.

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

In my 20s, which I now think is ‘young’, the poetry I read then made me realise that poetry can be about anything and doesn’t need to be obscure to be classed as poetry.

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

Brian Bilston – the pun master. His poem ‘Refugees’ is poetry at its most powerful and should be studied in schools. Elvis McGonagall is hilarious yet deadly serious. John Osborne is the sort of writer you want to keep as a secret with your friends. Amy McAllister is also hilarious and very rude. Steve Pottinger and Byron Vincent are brilliant performers and lovely people. I’ve only just found about Suhaiyma Manzoor-Khan (and ordered her book, which is out in September). She is the most exciting poet I have heard in a long time.

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

I like the phrasing of the question: it suggests that I write a lot, which unfortunately isn’t true! I do lots of things other than writing, but writing is what I most enjoy. I love writing poetry that makes people laugh, because what could be better than making a room full of people spontaneously happy?

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

The word ‘writer’ implies that one is constantly or regularly writing. If my identity is based on what I do most frequently, it would be more accurate to called me a dishwasher! As Miroslav Holub wrote in his poem ‘Conversation with a poet’ (1982): ‘If you’ve written poems it means you *were* a poet. But now? / I’ll write a poem again one day.’ Anyway, to answer your question properly: you become a writer by writing and write because you want to write.

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

I have a collection of poems that is sadly unpublished and resting inside a memory stick. It’s been over three years since my book ‘Exclamation Marx!’ was published, so, referring to my previous answer, this makes me feel like I *was* a poet. Another project is a solo show called ‘To be Blair’, which is about me dressing up as Tony Blair (in protest not in tribute). I really should finish writing it and perform it.