Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Philip Gross

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.

Philip Gross

has published some twenty collections of poetry, most recently A Bright Acoustic (Bloodaxe, 2017). The Water Table won the T.S.Eliot Prize 2009, and Love Songs of Carbon the Roland Mathias Award (Wales Book of The Year) 2016. He is a keen collaborator, e.g. with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold In The River (Seren, 2015), with Australian poet-artist Jenny Pollak on Shadowplay (Flarestack, 2018) and with scientists from the National Museum of Wales on a science-based poetry collection for young people, Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry Books, 2018). A Part of the Main – a collaboration between Philip Gross and Lesley Saunders on themes of migration, exile, loss of love or home or language – comes from Mulfran, shortly.   http://www.philipgross.co.uk

The Interview

1. When did you start writing poetry?

Rather surreptitiously, concealing it not so much from other people as myself… I was 13 or 14, a writer of stories from the age of 9 or 10, and I was following the natural kind of self-apprenticeship where you read. read, fill yourself up with it, then have to write your own story in that style or genre. Trying on the clothes of writers you admire, to see if they fit. In my case (this was the early 1960s) I was reading spy stories, gravitating up the literary scale from Ian Fleming through John Le Carre on to Graham Greene. In mid-Greene-pastiche I found myself writing about a diplomat who was a spy and, yes, a poet. ‘Found myself’ is right, because I had a go at writing a poem of his… and I never came back to the novel. But the poetry went on.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’d say my father… except that it was a private thing for him. A wartime refugee from Estonia, still mastering the English language, he kept a commonplace book, copying poems by hand when he found one that touched him. It was private, but not secret; the Estonian way is to keep the things that matter to you in a safe place, and close to your heart. Now and then, though, he would share one, but mainly it was the sight of his handwriting – like reading made visible, a glimpse of him becoming the poems – and knowing what that gradually more dog-eared notebook meant to him.

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

‘Dominating’? That’s not how I felt it. I was stumbling into a new landscape, and they were the landmarks visible. I wasn’t particularly guided to them, or put in awe of them, by school, but there was a fairly well stocked library, where I found The Waste Land for myself. It’s a very of-the-current-moment attitude that says we should read writers who look and sound like, and are the same age as, ourselves. That’s what I was trying to get away from!  I was adolescent, with no strong sense of a self to express yet. I wanted to encounter whatever was out there, in the wide world, and be part of it.

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

Like inhabitants of a town that was once home, which I’m glad I left – still grateful to them, but I can see them more objectively. That goes through phases, too ; when as a young adult I started to know more about TS Eliot – that cold-fish haughtiness, his later mournful piety, some of his social attitudes – I hastily shed my admiration; a bit later again, I could see some of the vulnerability it came from, and grew less inclined to judge people of another era until I could imagine who I would have been had I lived then and breathed that air.  Writers who seemed more of my own moment, in the 60s, are more likely to have dated. Penguin’s Liverpool Scene anthology went everywhere with me for a while, as did Children of Albion, that monument to the late 60s ‘underground’, but left no trace on my writing. Lasting influences tended to come later, and to ripen slowly, too. I’m not inclined to trust the ways the poetry world’s attention shifts, and reputations with it, but I do take magazines; I am alert for quality work emerging online. I read the contemporary in the expectation that a few of the seeds that plant themselves in me will ripen slowly – that years hence I’ll notice that work which was a closed door to me for years has suddenly swung open, and I’ll think Yes-s-s…. That’s how it’s happened so far.  I trust it.  That’s why I don’t often write reviews: my instinct is, as Chinese leader Zhou Enlai said about the French Revolution (apocrypha alert; this story may be less true than it ought to be): ‘It’s too soon to say.’

5.What is your daily writing routine?

Routine? Oh, I wish. Or no, be honest: maybe I don’t, or I could do it now, presumably, having kicked free of the university teaching that’s shaped much of the last twenty years. Small notebooks travel with me everywhere, and some of the best times to catch forming possibilities is on the train, in transit, in the spaces between something else. True, I have the luxury of knowing that there will be time to pick the threads up later, usually. I might even be reproducing quite deliberately the pressure of a busy day-job life, because I need the friction. Poems are tough weeds; they like the cracks in pavements, maybe better than a well-dug-over bed.

6. What is your work ethic?

People have tended to tell me that I get things done – twenty-odd books of poetry have come from somewhere – though it’s sometimes hard to spot it on the surface. I still feel the need to explain to my wife, who is a fiercely disciplined and steady worker, that my restlessness, getting up and doing odd jobs, making coffee, staring out of windows, are part of the job. I don’t need to explain it to her, actually. I may need to explain it to myself. Having said which, I like commissions. A provocation or a limitation often brings out good and unexpected things that I wouldn’t have found on my own. Collaboration , which I love, works the same way. It gives an actual, answerable form to the sense that something is sitting in front of you with a question or a provocation, saying ‘Well?’  When that process gathers momentum, as it did quite recently with A Part of the Main, a poem-conversation between Lesley Saunders and myself stung into being by the world events of 2016, the back and forth can be daily, by exchange of e-mails almost. And sometimes a sequence of my own can have the same effect; each section is like a question or one facet of a complex situation, out of balance on its own, that demands a response. (I suspect that all creative work is in some sense collaboration – sometimes with the dead, the absent or imaginary. But that’s another story.) I’m not a musician, but I can see how a composer might need to work through all the variations, all the contradictions, maybe with a tool like the sonata form, before the thing feels ‘done’.

7. What motivates you to write?

Basically, it’s how I think. Or rather, it’s the place where thinking and feeling come together – physical senses and appetite, and curiosity, some knowledge, some freedom to make leaps of free association… It’s where I come together, whatever that ‘I’ is – and that’s a mystery I find intriguing too. It’s also where it feels most likely that something will take on a life of its own and grow in its own way, irrespective of what I intend. I’m not talking only about physically writing, but all the times I’m thinking in a writing posture, as it were. I might be walking, or listening to music, or in my Quaker meeting, or just on a train. What they share is a balance of inwardness and openness, quietness and yet connection, that feels rare, becoming rarer, in this world.

7.1 So balance is what motivates you to write?
Yes… but by ‘balance’ I don’t mean compromise, not a bland and blurry neutral state. Think of Keats’ ‘negative capability’… which he means in a positive way: the ability to hold apparent opposites together in dynamic tension. That’s true in good collaborations, and maybe good relationships too: you don’t become the same. Where’s the fun in sameness? Where’s the energy? I like the quaint old term (for the earliest computers) ‘difference engine’. I suspect that’s what creative thinking is.

8.You keep mentioning collaboration. Is that an important principle to you?

Clearly, yes. Way back in the mid 1980s, I wrote a letter to the Poetry Society newsletter inviting people to join in a chain-linking of poems responding to the nuclear anxiety of the time. I was touched and spurred on by the range of responses that came. That sequence, A Game of Consequences, never reached book form, partly because the old Cold War came to an unexpected end. ‘Damn,’ thought a tiny part of me. ‘What a waste of good poetry!’ Only a tiny part of me, I should add. The whole sequence did appear, years later, in Envoi magazine (issue 111) but had other consequences for me. It put me in contact with poet Sylvia Kantaris, and what ensued almost by accident, on what seemed like a whim, was the book-length collaboration The Air Mines of Mistila (Bloodaxe 1988, a PBS Choice). That was my first experience of the speed and energy that can breed in the air between two people, till the thing seems to be writing itself, owed by neither of you; it just bursts with its own life, and your small poetic egos are left running to catch up.
In hindsight, the Game of Consequences was also what first put me in touch with Lesley Saunders – also a gifted collaborator e.g. with Jane Draycott on Christina The Astonishing (Two Rivers, 1998) – with whom thirty years later I’d fall equally unexpectedly into a collaboration that is about to be published by Mulfran, A Part of the Main.  In between there have been close collaborations with visual artists, most notably and continuingly Valerie Coffin Price – on A Fold In The River (Seren, 2015) and other projects still under way now.

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

In spite of what I’ve been saying, I don’t generally think in ‘projects’. Mostly I trust the force of gravity – the internal kind, that draws the particles of poems that I’m writing anyway, unthinkingly, into the orbit of some concern or apprehension I might not have a name for yet. All of my collections in the last ten years have looked consciously themed, but they weren’t. The elements fall into the force field; they relate to each other – attract or repel. Some things I write don’t coalesce but stay in the offing – outliers, I might discover years on, of another concern yet to come. The sequences at the heart of my most recent Bloodaxe collection, A Bright Acoustic (2017), existed for some while as notebook jottings that I scarcely recognised as poems… till I noticed that they had begun to do that thing of talking to each other. Then I started listening in.
Collaborations are a little different – with a palpable agreement, at least to experiment, there at the start. There’s a very engaging, and long overdue, exchange which is partly cross-translation going on between myself and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones. (Valerie Coffin Price’s visual work is there too, as a kind of medium in which we meet.) I’ve lived in South Wales for nearly fifteen years now, in bilingual public space, absorbing random amounts of Welsh while not consciously learning it. Cyril is the first writer-friend who’s opened a door for me – who’s trusted me, in fact — to come in and see the inner workings of Welsh poetry, alongside him. For both of us, there’s the eternal question of what can or cannot be translated from the tight organic forms of poetry. The consequences can be unexpected, which is always a sign of life and possibility. The writing I’ve been doing in response has been finding itself back in Cornwall, where I was born, or on Dartmoor, near where I grew up, rather than in Wales.

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

I’d say (rather annoyingly) ‘It depends what you mean by being a writer.’ More of that a bit later.
Practically, there’s a world of difference between writing forms. If you want to become a playwright, you’ve got to involve yourself with live theatre, or the film world, or whatever your medium is. If you’re a writer of creative nonfiction, you are consumed with research – if a travel writer, you travel. Writing novels, at least in my experience, involves whole rafts of time, the freedom to go to bed with the book in your mind and wake up to it next morning — not to break the working trance. Few of the things I’ve been saying about my poetry life would apply.
That doesn’t mean that poetry is dilettante business. It just has the chance to be lighter on its feet. You still have to engage with the field, the medium, or you are working in a vacuum, with little to go on but yourself, and for most of us that’s pretty predictable stuff. Poets have the two edged advantage of knowing in advance this will not be your main day job, that pays the bills. There may be a few exceptions, but most of those involve another job, as a performer or a public personality, alongside actual writing.
One course is to work in a field that relates to the writing. I have done this directly, as a teacher and enabler of creative writing. Other writers would caution against this, fearing that the writing-teaching, however satisfying, however thought-provoking, might leach away the creative energy you ought to be saving for your own work. They would say Do anything, however menial or dull… but keep it distinct. Getting that balance right for you is something you have to discern for yourself.
Back to the question of ‘what is the question?’ The one I’ve been answering is ‘How do I become a working writer?’ I’ve been assuming this means something broader than ‘someone who lives entirely by their writing’ – rather, ‘someone who puts their writing at the centre of their life; other work and choices all relate to it’. In all of them, poetry not excepted, some measure of self promotion is going to be part of the job. Novelists and anyone in more commercial fields learns that half of the job is ruled by publicity – and paradoxically, the more successful you are, the more it demands, so you need to become very skilled at boundaries and protecting space and time to write. Nowadays poetry publishers considering a first collection have been known to ask for evidence of the writer’s social media profile – their ability to do part of the job of marketing for themself. Poets tend either to cringe at the thought of this… or love it just a bit too much. Beware.
On another level, the answer to ‘how do I become…’ is blunter; if you need to become, you aren’t, and unless some life event compels you to it, probably won’t be. That might be lucky. A lot of people write. Some write very well indeed, when they choose, in an otherwise healthy, balanced and financially successful life. Writers, on the other hand, are lumbered with it; writing is integral to how they think, feel and negotiate their place in life. It may be an unfortunate quirk, a mind-mutation, even a pathology. And yet, cultures seem to need someone to do it (even when they think and say they don’t). For better or for worse, it could be you.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sam Meekings

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 Meekings

is a British poet and novelist. He is the author of Under Fishbone Clouds and The Book of Crows. has spent the last ten years travelling and working in China and the Middle East. He currently balances his time between writing, teaching, raising two children as a single father, and drinking copious amounts of tea. His website is http://www.sammeekings.com and he tweets via @SMeekings

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

As a child, the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll  got stuck in my brain. There was something about them that was hard to shake, and I’d repeat lines again and again and again. It was only a short step to wondering: could I have a go myself? What really inspired me was the idea that language is pliable, and that you can play and experiment with it like you might with a chemistry set, to see what kind of strange and weird creations you might concoct.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mum. I can remember a battered anthology of poems for children lying round the house when I was a child, filled with weird and surreal illustrations. Later at school, I had a couple of English teachers who were passionate about poetry, and nudged me towards different forms and styles.

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

I wasn’t really aware at all. I remember getting to go on a writing trip at a primary school, and listening to a talk given by Ted Hughes. To my young mind he seemed like a mountain of a man, craggy and worn but also full of some strange elemental power. It was only later that I realised who he was and how important he was. I’ve never really found older poets too dominating, and I’ve tended to pay more attention to those that help out younger poets, writers like Roddy Lumsden, who has done so much to support and encourage up-and-coming poets.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m a single parent, so much of my writing gets done in strange hours: either before the kids wake up, or in the sleepy hinterland between their bedtime and mine. So while I jot down ideas throughout the day whenever they might come to me, through necessity I’ve developed a pattern of writing at night, when I can get a cup of tea and some quiet and sit by myself in silence for a while.

5. What motivates you to write?

That niggling feeling that there’s something more to say. Writing for me is a way of feeling fully alice.

6. What is your work ethic?

I force myself to do a little every day, no matter what. Even if I feel like I’m writing something truly terrible, I keep going and tell myself that they’ll be plenty of time to delete, rewrite, revise, and improve in the future.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I’m still influenced by Lewis Carroll, especially the playfulness and strangeness of making words and images do something new. Ted Hughes I also often return to, the rawness of much of his writing about nature in particular.

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

Alice Oswald is probably the poet I admire most. Her subjects always come alive in a strange new way, and each of her books goes in a new and different direction. That variety and freshness is really impressive. I also really admire her ethics and the fact that as a public writer she’s not afraid to take principled stands, even when it might cost her awards.

9. Why do you write?

Because I have to. Because I get twitchy and difficult if I don’t. Because it helps me challenge myself and interrogate my thoughts. And because I hope other people might share some of those thoughts.

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

I would say that you write and write and write. I think I’m still becoming a writer, and I’m not sure many people ever really feel that ‘Now I’m a real writer’. That’s important to remember: its always an act of becoming. You never stop. Also, I think what is really vital is joining, finding or creating a group or community of writers. That community will hopefully keep you going, and contacts are always useful. Go to as many readings and open mics as you can. Read poetry magazines, blogs, journals, so that you find ones that fit with your work when you’re ready to submit. And of course read and read and read current work.

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

I’ve got a book coming out on 24th October called ‘The Afterlives of Dr Gachet’ about the subject of one of Van Gogh’s last paintings. I’m currently drafting a collection called ‘The Vanishing Light’ about endings, as well as working on a memoir I’m working on about my younger brother’s sudden and unexpected death.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Matthew Barnard

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.



Matt Barnard

is a poet and writer. He has won and been placed in competitions including The Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize, the Bridport Prize, the Ink Tears short story competition and the Bristol Short Story Prize. His first full collection, Anatomy of a Whale, was published by The Onslaught Press and he is currently editing an anthology of poems to mark 70 years of the NHS, which will also be published by The Onslaught Press. Matt edits the blog British Life in Poetry, which aims to promote poetry in Britain by posting a weekly poem by a contemporary author writing in English.


The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

It was the excitement of feeling a poem work, that it was doing something at an intellectual and emotional (and perhaps spiritual) level that you rarely find anywhere else.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

An English teacher at school who was very passionate about poetry and literature and also very supportive and respectful of students introduced me to poetry. Looking back I now realise that those two things – literature and respect for others – have become enmeshed together for me and feed into each other.

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

I was aware of older poets, but not in a dominating sense. My answer to the ‘anxiety of influence’ question, is that I’m only anxious about being influenced by bad poetry; I want to be influenced by good poetry, it’s one of the joys of reading it.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I do try to write everyday, though I often have period when I am focusing on prose or poetry. I work full time and have a family, so writing often gets squeezed out, which is hard because I find it does need momentum. But I always come back to it.

5. What motivates you to write?

I can find writing hard and frustrating, and quite often wonder why I do it. But when I write something that works, the sense of achievement is greater than anything else I do (family stuff excepted).

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m quite lazy and impatient person so I like to write quickly. If something isn’t working, my approach tends to be to tear it up and start again from scratch rather than try and incrementally improve it. When things do work, they tend to come quickly, but I may have been trying to write that thing unsuccessfully for years.

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

I still have many of the books that influenced me when I was young. I think that one of the marks of really great writing is that it stays with you, and I can chart my life in books.

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

I admire many contemporary writers, though more precisely I admire many contemporary poems and books. One of the pleasures of editing the British Life in Poetry blog (www.britishlifeinpoetry.co.uk), is that I get to share some of the poems I love. Basically, my only criteria for the blog is that I have to really like the poems; I don’t ever post a poem because I think I should.

9. Why do you write?

It’s part of my DNA; it’s what I most want to succeed at. There isn’t a reason in a normal sense of the word, I’m not trying to achieve anything beyond the writing, it just feels important.

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

By making it become part of your life. By being as clear as possible about what you are trying to achieve artistically and being as honest as possible about whether you have achieved that and not letting go until you have.

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

I’m in the last stages of editing an anthology of poems to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS, which will be published by The Onslaught Press (and which has taken a lot more time than I thought it would). I’ve also started working on my second collection poetry (which will be a bit more structured than the first) and I’m in the early stages of a novel set in Sarajevo during the siege.


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Grant Tarbard

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.


Grant Tarbard

I’m the former editor of The Screech Owl, co-founder of Resurgant Press, a reviewer, and an editorial assistant for Three Drops From A Cauldron.
I’m the author of As I Was Pulled Under the Earth (Lapwing Publications), the chapbook Yellow Wolf (Writing Knights Press), Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World (Platypus Press) and Rosary of Ghosts (Indigo Dreams Publishing).

The Interview

    1. When and why did you start to write poetry?

    That’s like “when did I start drinking water”, it’s not an answerable question in the full extent because I don’t even know myself. However, I’ll acquiescence; I heard Michael Rosen read when I was little, I think he was on Jackanory, and I thought “what is this alien called a poet”. I didn’t, but I was fascinated, along with Transformers and He-Man I doodled and wrote funny stories. Roger McGough was on TV at the time to, all this must have sunk in. But I really felt a deep affinity with poetry when I had a sleepless night back in the mid-90s. It was about 4am and a programme was on about Allen Ginsberg and I was blown away by the way he thought, then quickly came Whitman and Blake. I was a teen musician, wanted badly to be in a band, but illness robbed me of that, so my first poems were lyrics an£ they were God awful.

    I guess I started out of frustration.

    2. So the programme about Ginsburg introduced you to poetry in a way?

    Not introduced me, I already read some.

    But not as much as I do now. It just kind of galvanised me into “this can be cool.”

    I was an early teen at the time.

    2.1 What blew you away about Ginsberg?

    His kinetic pace of image, the power of country, not the Nixonian idea but the power lines connecting peoples’ hearts and ears.

    2.2 You mentioned Whitman and Blake.

    How did they influence you today?

    Blake always seems to me a gaffer with a fag hanging out of his mouth, you know, like the man behind the set designs on a movie?

    Whitman was America.

    2.3 Love that image. A gaffer who sees ghosts in trees and on the stairs. And Whitman?

    Whitman was hair hanging down, a mysterious figure haunting battlefields and writing these beautiful poems on liberty.

    And so much loss. So much…

    3. What is your daily writing routine?

    Routine is a bit of a rigid thing.

    Basically I get up, grab a coffee, check what Trump and the Conservatives’ have fucked up and then think, or read.

    I’m a lazy writer, I’ve got it in me to have a rigid routine but through pain etc I cannot.

    4. Political machinations motivate your poetry?

    Every little thing is political, so if it’s about my body, it’s about the NHS, only I don’t think of it that way. I think the world makes us get down on our knees every single morning and scream into our cornflakes “what’s my purpose?!” That’s political.

    I have some overt political poetry, only very little if I remember rightly.

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

    As well as they can I suppose. I mean, I’ve ingested them as I’ve ingested seaside air, I don’t write like them, maybe I have a little too much affection for Dylan Thomas but am mature enough to rein that in now. At least I hope so.

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

    I have moments of ”after Stephen Spencer” etc, but I tend not to do that, which is a shame because I’d like to. George Szirtes has a book in which he lampoons and honours thirty poets, whet inspired him was his first time at the gym and he wondered how other poets would see it. Imagine Larkin!

    6.1 Imagine Eliot! Why do you write?

    He did!

    There are Loads with a capital L. Well, the aforementioned George, Melissa Lee Houghton, Bethany W. Pope, Helen Ivory, Andrew Philip, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Martin Figura, it’s like excepting an award. Can’t you play me off?

    Everyone should really read Helen Ivory though. Try and find her Tarot set. Ooh, Rishi Dastidar! Luke Kennard as well, before we move on. That’s enough thugs for anyone’s rogues’ gallery.

    6.2 What do you admire about these rogues?

    The names I’ve mentioned?
    Their ability with a simple turn of phrase to make you feel “ah, I know that feeling.”

    6.3 Commonality?

    That’s the hardest part. That’s why the best love songs work

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

    I would say “you are already” but that’s just being nice. I think it takes a determination, a gut that can take a tsunami of rejections just for that one perfect acceptance. It’s not a film.
    All of us always say, whenever we’re asked this inevitable question ; read. Don’t stop reading, read on your breaks at work, read on the bus, anywhere, and for God sake please read modern poetry, it’ll safe you a world of hurt in the long run.

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

    Okay. I have a pamphlet coming out with Three Drops Press called ‘This is the Carousel Your Mother Warned You About’, that should be out at the end of the year, a Co-Incidental booklet with Black Light Engine Room, that should be out next month, a Ouija themed poetry anthology I’m editing with that grand lass Helen Ivory, Gatehouse Press are interested, and a project that’s dear to so many of our hearts; Be Not Afraid: an anthology in appreciation of Seamus Heaney, I’ve edited that with Bethany Pope and Angela Topping, whom I forgot to mention. That’s out now from Lapwing, we’re having a reading in April at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden on what would have been his 80th birthday. We’re planning launches, no one place is set yet.

    Bethany and I were talking the night he died and had to pour our grief into something. That might sound cynical but it really was that.





Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Cath Campbell

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.


Cath’s work appears in The Angry Manifesto.

Cath Campbell

was a professional report writer with the National Probation Service for 30 years. After retirement in 2011, freed from the shackles of formulaic conformity, she took a Master’s in creative writing,  passing with distinction. ‘It was lovely to make stuff up and write in less formal language’, she said, sipping her full sticky-up-spoon Yorkshire tea. She took to writing poems in 2015 during a family bereavement, and found she enjoyed the craft. She has had published poems in a number of on-line and paper magazines.

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

Oh. I started to write poetry when my mother was dying. It was really  cathartic to get the emotions out. That was in 2015. My poetry still comes from somewhere deep, and now most of it is political in the sense of how the unfairness of an uncaring world affects ordinary people. I get so angry, so sad, and a lot of work is done in a rage. You’d think I’d hate it, but I don’t. Maybe, for me, this sense of injustice and the beating heat of the poem go together perfectly.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Ha! My dad. Beautiful, stubborn Irishman with a great love of Yeats, of  Tennyson, Milton, Shakespeare. My first memory of poetry was William Allingham’s the fairies, and then the opening scene of Macbeth with my dad prancing about the room with a wig, a mop, and my gran’s shawl, his cackling witchy voice extremely effective. He recited so many fabulous poems and plays in our living room. The ballad of Jean Desprez, dangerous Dan McGrew and the lady that’s known as Lou. How Horatio held the bridge, the battle of Nasby, in Xanadu, the ancient mariner, Dylan Thomas’ under milk wood.

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

That was really all I knew. School concentrated on classic stuff. Keats, Wordsworth, Spenser, Hopkins, Milton. We managed to get to Stevie Smith, and war poetry, including one by Edith Sitwell which, for some unaccountable reason,  stayed with me for a long time. I never bought or read modern poets until fairly recently.

4.  What is your daily writing routine?

Personally, writing poetry must have an element of freedom. If it becomes a task, I’m done with it. Mind, once I’ve written a first draft, I will work for hours, sometimes days and months, tweaking, changing it. I don’t write long hand either,  I type it on my kindle.

5.  What motivates you to write?

Injustice. Atrocity. Rage. Sorrow.

6.  What is your work ethic?

I’m lucky in that I have a lot of leisure time after having retired. I have no set      times for writing. Usually something on telly, or witnessed, sets off a poem. There is so much going on in the world, mind boggling stuff too. Material is an ocean.

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

That is a really difficult question. I read voraciously all the time. I will read anything without fear or favour. The one lesson I’ve taken from all writing is that imagination can create a universe, but reality is also a construct in the mind of the reader. I take information from every part of life. At the moment I’m into Korean and Chinese TV series. Am loving the cinematography. It’s new history to me as well.

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

So many. If I had to choose –

Fiction; I think Cormac McCarthy is brilliant. All the
Pretty Horses, first chapter, is my favourite piece of writing. So wonderful it’s enough to make me give up because no one can match its perfection. I like Margaret Atwood. Genre wise, I’m a great fan of fantasy and science fiction.

Drama; Without a doubt Martin MacDonagh is my favourite playwright. The Beauty Queen of Lenane is a superb play.

Poetry; I’d choose Simon Armitage, Pascale Petit, Roger McGough, and Matthew Sweeney. Slightly less contemporary, Anna Akhmatova who was writing in Russia during the time of Stalin.  Closer to home, I’m a fan of Catherine Ayes’ poetry and Antony Owen’s.


9. Why do you write?

Er… short answer. Dunno. I just do.

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

Read. Read everything, the good, the bad, the banal. That’s how you learn the     difference. As to actual writing. Do it as often as possible. Stick it on line in closed groups. See what others think, and never be afraid of criticism. Once you’ve got a bit of experience send your work off to a publisher. Don’t give up. Accept rejection. Listen to feedback, but also have the courage to keep to what you think is right – it’s a fine line. Don’t stick it in a drawer. That’s all.

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

Nada at the moment as I have lots of life getting in the way, though I have a number of poems first drafted which need revisiting. This year coming, 2019,  I am planning to put together a pamphlet and send it off somewhere. I’m also planning to have a go at competition. Other than that I am trying to improve my work, and doing open mic and gigs to gauge response, and because I enjoy them.
For the last three years my aim has been to simplify  syntax for clarity. I figure you have to strip back to basics and then build. So maybe next year my range and style of poetry might expand. Even if you can’t see the road, the road still remains, eh?. Lol.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ian Badcoe

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.


An illustration to his poem “A Love Song for Geeks”… found on his web site.

Ian Badcoe

Ian Badcoe has been a scientist and engineer. His poetry explores themes of humanism, geekhood, gender, mental health, science, art, technology and literary genres such as SciFi and Crime.

The Interview

1.When did you start writing poetry?

Sometime around ’97 or ’98, I think…It was New Year and we were a little drunk…
We had a couple of friends staying and in the pause leading up to midnight we had the idea of documenting the coming year in the form of a Haiku, each, every day…

1.1 Why Haiku?

I think the idea was that it wasn’t much of an effort every day.
Three of us stuck with it, but Rosemary and I found our poems getting longer and longer and more complex…  And so we took ourselves off to online forums to get some critique and advice, and voila…

1.2 How did you know about haiku as a poetic form?

Hmm, not sure… Rosemary was already somewhat into reading poetry occasionally…

1.3 So her interest sparked yours?

I have the idea I already knew something of the theory of haiku, possibly because I had had a previous brush with creative writing, and I think some of the books around that were agnostic between prose and poetry…  It was more we sparked each other, but she had more prior interest…

1.4. How did this previous brush happen?

That was way back when I wondering about getting into writing SF seriously. I joined an online workshop (this was back int he days when things were more email than www.) And did an online course that they ran…

It’s something I feel pretty sure I could do, but it would involve stopping _everything_ else… and I find it hard to obsess to that degree for long enough. So poetry, being shorter, fits me much better…

1.5 Did the course include SF poetry?

No, it was very much aimed at fiction.  There was some critique of short stories and novellas… Writing exercises, that sort of thing… I think I wrote a novella…

Oh yes, it was called “A glimpse through Schrodinger’s Catflap” if I recall correctly…

1.6 What did the online forums give you?

Critique, the chance to critique others (which is very valuable for learning), reassurance that I wasn’t terrible, some discussion of theory…

Semi-regular exercises…

Motivation to keep writing…

(An addiction to ellipsis…)

Oh, and some friends that I still have!

2. What historical poets do you enjoy?

Hmm… I’m not so hot on historical, I tent to immerse myself in the poets I know writing poems *now*… but I go back to T.S.Eliot sometimes…

For contemporary poets, there’s people I know online, who I met on forums, and people I know from Gorilla Poetry (a monthly open mic I am a regular at…)  I review collections and pamphlets for Rosemary’s Antiphon magazine, and that involves reading it more deeply than if I was just “reading” it…  Recently I’ve been reviewing friends’ books on my blog, which likewise involves deeper reading…

2.1 Can you throw any names out so if folk are interested they can look out for them?


Amy Kinsman is our host at Gorilla, their book “&” impressed me a lot…

Pete Green is a Sheffield Poet who wrote “Sheffield Almanac”…

I didn’t review it yet (I’m going in reverse chronological order) but I am going to do Rosemary’s “Drawing a Diagram” (I couldn’t before now because obviously I was too close to it…)

2.2 What impressed you about Amy?

Firstly some of the poems are an insight into a very different sort of person. Amy is genderfluid and bisexual and polyamorous and I am none of those…  Then again Amy’s approach to poetry is different enough to mine that there is a “freshness” I can attempt to borrow a bit to use in my own work…

2.3 Freshness?

Yes, sometimes we get too tied up in doing things the way we always do them. Just because it is our habit…  Amy has, in particular, a couple of big prose pieces that “just say stuff”…  Sometimes directness and simplicity just gets the job done…
3. How do you achieve directness and simplicity in your own work?

Through lots of editing.  Often first draughts are more complex than they need to be.  I sometimes spend quite a long time…

4. What is your daily writing routine?

OK, so this touches on what I was talking about. I am not sure i was being clear but I was talking about the difference between elapsed time and spent time. For example I have had 10 years elapsed time while writing a poem, but that doesn’t mean I *spent* 10 years working on it…

I have no routine, what I have is the ability to drop into doing a bit of editing or writing very quickly do as little or as much as is appropriate
and then drop out again.

I use a little private blog.  Filled with part-finished poems and I can drop in or out or search for something to work on very quickly…

4.1 How does it compare with performing at Gorilla?

There’s no relation, really. I’ve never improvised, so performance doesn’t involve composition. I think (after 2+ years) I am just getting to the point where I have options about how to perform, but I have never been an actor…

(I was at Diversity Fest on the 30th September, so that was a new performance challenge…)

4.2 Is speed paramount?

You mean when reading, or writing?

4.3 Speed as in both reading and writing? Are particular poems more suited to performance than others? When writing less time to do it is preferred.

I try to bridge the page/performance boundary. Some poems just happen with no real target for how they will be delivered. Others I set out to write a “performance” piece or else default to “page”…

4.4 Do you recite your poems from memory?

No, I know people who do that and it is very impressive…

People who do slams have to learn their poems… but I am not sure where I stand on slams.
Generally I am always performing something new, I rarely repeat myself, so it isn’t memorized.

5. What is your work ethic?

I don’t have a work ethic, but then it isn’t work, is it? Which may mean I play more devotedly than would somebody “working” at it…

5.1 How do you “set out” to write performance or page?

Performance is “punchier” delivers its message more explicitly and repeats phrases more.

Page is all about “show don’t tell” and control of viewpoint…

5.2 I should have asked what’s your “play” ethic?

Maybe… last week I think I did nothing and that didn’t worry me at all. I haven’t been “blocked” recently, which I put down to always being able to do something a bit different…

5.3 Along with Amy and Pete whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I’m not a great admirer. I have reviewed ten or so pamphlets for Antiphon and I only review things I really like, but I don’t tend to idolize (not the right word) people, I just respond favourably to what they wrote.

I’m quite keen on Jess Mookherjee…

And I think, now that I am distant enough to appreciate it a little less personally, I’m going to love getting reacquainted with Rosemary’s work.

5.4 Tell me more.

So Jess comes from having complex heritage and a complicated life. She expresses stuff in a pretty indirect way but weaving in details from places she’s lived and cultural components from her Welsh and Bengali backgrounds.
Rosemary is, I think, completely polymathic.  (is that a word?)

Her co-editor Noel Williams introduced her at her launch listing all the areas that her poems touched upon and it went “astrophysics, psychology, maths, history…” for a whole paragraph.

6. Why do you write?

I don’t know.

To express myself, I guess.

Except I am the antithesis of a “confessional” poet.  I never write about me.

However I am completely aware that I will be emerging as a sort of mosaic from the sum of all the pieces.  I am non-political. I am an aggressively political non-political in that I believe all politics is deeply broken, so broken that any kind of “let’s throw out the XXX and elect a YYY government” movement can never do any actual good. It is almost impossible to express such opinions directly in the current climate, so one idea is that my ideas arise from my work without being directly stated by it…

7. Which out of Rosemary’s and Jess’s collections would you recommend?

Recommend… well I have to go with the one I am married to (which is Rosemary :-))
8. “Mosaic”, as in always writing as narrator or taking points of view from voices in your head?

Neither of those, more that I write pieces that form fragments of my overall philosophy. For example I am always pro-science, humanist, progressive, and I try to be supportive to my LBGTQ friends, and I genuinely believe we are lead by idiots (to be precise I believe they are “functionally idiots” which is effectively the same), I do not believe in “belief” (by which I mean all belief, not just religious) and I obviously speak from the point of view of a very educated and technologically privileged position…

My most important core understanding of the world is that nothing is wholly good, nor wholly bad, which when you think about it makes 100% of the news nonsense…

…so I have stopped consuming news, as much as possible.

8.1 Your non political political ideas not foregrounded?

Nothing really foregrounded. I am possibly less allegorical/¬symbolic than some poets…

When I write a poem about dragons, it is actually about dragons, not dragons as a metaphor for Manchester in the 1800s…

8.2 Protopian?

In the sense of improvement by small steps?

8.3 Yes, as in any future society will never be either a Utopia or a Dystopia but a mixture of the two.

I think that is slightly different? I mean any society is a mixture of utopian and dystopian (even if it is 100% : 0%).  I take Protopia as looking at where you are and setting out to make improvements, even if that can’t take you all the way to Utopia…

I would claim that we have no institutions capable of delivering Protopian progress, because such progress would hinge upon an ability to measure “progress” which neither the political establishment, nor the media has the discipline to do.

8.4 I understand. The “small steps”.

It’s as much an engineering problem as a political one.

I used to be very optimistic, but since as a country we have completely wasted the last three years, it has become hard to keep smiling…

However the longer term picture remains theoretically rosy, it is just against the current backdrop it is very hard to see.

8.4 Austerity of the soul?

I do not know about austerity… the arguments that it is all completely misconstructed seem weighty but there is nothing resembling proof, I mean we do not know how bad things would be if we had gone the other way…

I’m talking about Br*xit (which I will not write for fear of some sort of Lovecraftian summoning…)

So… possibly… I write poetry because I am angry. But I wasn’t (so) angry back when I began.

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

Write. Get critique from those who already succeeded at writing. Give critique to anybody who will take it (you learn as much, if not more, from giving critique, because you have to work out _why_ you are saying it). Write some more. Get more critique. Write. Do not assume there is any $$$ to be made…

(If you are sufficiently dispassionate, look at what mistakes all the other beginners make and consciously do not make them — you can only skip about 2 steps this way)

10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
– I’m doing a poem for Grant Tabbard’s “Oiija” collection, just because it is fun really

– the project which I said I would get back to is an online, interactive version of my poem “Z Boot” (like a U-boat only in time not water) which I am doing with my online friend Jenn Zed (she’s done some artwork). I said to her “let’s do something quick and easy” and that was over two years ago now

– near the top of my ongoing writing pile I have:
— “Six characters in search of a portal”
— “Believe nothing”
— and I am workshopping one called “Sexbot rebellion” which it occurs to me may owe something to your work…

Main link: https://¬www.ianbadcoe.uk/

Another link people might find interesting is my SoundCloud: https://-soundcloud.com/¬ian-badcoe

another thing I usually link to is Gorilla Poetry itself: https://¬www.facebook.com/-gorillaopenmic/

– And the biggest thing, so big that I can’t see it any more and forgot to mention it is my four year, on-going collaboration on an album with Hallam London: https://hallamlondon.com/ – we were recently had Dave Sanderson (65daysofstatic, Reverend and The Makers) producing it.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Moinak Dutta

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.


Moinak Dutta

Published fiction writer, poet, teacher,
Born on 5th September, 1977, he has been writing poems and stories from school days. Presently engaged as a teacher of English. Many of his poems and stories are published in national and international anthologies and magazines and also dailies including ‘The Statesman’ ( kolkata edition), ‘ World Peace Poetry  anthology ‘ ( United Nations),  ‘Setu’ (published from Pittsburgh, USA,)Riding and Writing ( as a featured poet twice, published from Ohio, USA), ‘ The Indian Periodical’ ‘ Pangolin Review’, ‘ Tuck Magazine’ ‘ Duane’s Poetree’, ‘ Tell me your story’ ( literary and travel magazine), ‘ Nature Writing ‘ magazine ( U.K.), ‘ Oddball magazine’ ‘Soft Cartel’ magazine, ‘ Diff Truths’ magazine,   ‘ The Literary Fairy Tales’ ‘ Defiant Dreams’ ( a collection of stories on women empowerment published by Readomania, New Delhi ), ‘Dynami Zois’ ( a selection of short stories comprised of works of authors from India and abroad), etc;
Written reviews of books and fictions, among which notable ones are : on  ‘ The   Upanisads ‘ ( translated by Valerie J. Roebuck) which can be found at http://www.blogapenguinindiaclassic.blogspot.com and the review of ‘ The Ballad of Bapu’ ( written by Santosh Bakaya). Written some essays and articles on education and literature and other topics which had been published in both e- books/e – journals ( like Cafe Dissensus)  and as  printed books/ papers ( like one on ‘ Amalgamation of social media and literature: pros and cons, published by Viswa Bharati Research Centre and Sahitya Anand), ‘ Erothanatos’ ( academic and literary journal), etc;
His first full length english( genre: literary/romance  ) fiction ‘Online@Offline’’  had been published in 2014,  by Lifi Publications.His second fiction(genre:  literary/quest) titled ‘ In search of la radice’ was published in 2017 by Xpress Publications. Also worked as an editor of a poetry collection titled ‘ Whispering Poeisis’ , which had over one hundred poems from sixty poets from different parts of India and abroad, published in 2018 by Poeisis. Loves to do photography apart from listening to music and watching films and traveling.

email :moinakdutta@yahoo.co.in


The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I have grown up in a literary and cultural world so to say. My dad had been a gifted poet and artist. He had been one of the founder editors of a bengali magazine ‘ Krishanu’. He and his friends often would gather at our house and have long sessions of literary ‘ adda’  as it is called in our bengali  common parlance which means informal discussions and debates and interactions ranging from poetry to essays and fictions. One person in particular Dr. Dinesh Chandra Singha, a writer by himself and a researcher on bengali folk culture and folk songs would oft come to our house and he, apart from being a great litterateur had an amysing sense of wit which kept me glued to that ‘ adda’  session though at that tender age I had little idea of what they discussed for their discussions had been eclectic. Later on reading books of poetry , of Tagore ( most of his songs and poems from Kheya , Sonar Tori, Balaka and that highly experimental yet simple poetic prose ‘Shesher Kobita’  , Wordsworth ( his Tintern Abbey, Prelude and Lucy poems being my all time favourite apart from his long essay ‘ Preface to the Lyrical Ballads’ ) , Robert Browning ( his dramatic monologues), Purnendu Patri ( his book of poetry with his own illustrations), William Blake ( Songs of Innocence and Experience) , W.B. Yeats ( most of his poems, those magical ones and his wonderous preface to Tagore’s ‘ Song Offerings’ ) , T. S. Eliot ( Mariner, Wasteland, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock ), Jibanananda Das ( most of his poems) , Joy Goswami ( ‘ Pagli tomar songey ‘  etc;) , Arun Mitra, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alen Ginsberg, Sunil Ganguly, Maya Angelou, Bishnu De and works of many other poets shaped my views and visions with regard to poetry.
However, if am I to choose the most favourite of all poets I have read I would name Tagore and Wordsworth.
2.  Who introduced you to poetry?

My dad late Malin B. Dutta and some of my teachers.
3.  How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I am very much influenced by Tagore and Wordsworth and I do not know whether they could be called ‘ older poets’ for their works appear to me universal and eternal, having lyrical cadence and conspicuous love of nature. Tagore had been very modern I think for his songs touch all facets of human emotions, not only nature and romantic school of poetry. His treatment might be rhythmic but his poetry deals with subtleties of human existence, its agonies and ecstasies, its spiritual positionings, its religiosity and also its irrreligious presence. Moreover, he had, inspite of being a man, had brought out the minds of women which , appears to me the most fascinating part of his writings. Perhaps he had been the most gifted poet of all times.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I follow no strict routine. However early morning is my preferred time of writing for it is the most blessed and fresh hours of the day.
If any thing stirs my mind, I do take up pen and paper and write down the thought or idea which I later on explore.
5. What motivates you to write?

Anything that touches me. It could be nature, paintings,  ( I love paintings and drawings and wrote a fiction titled ‘ In search of La Radice…’ published in 2017 which had a female protagonist who had been a painter. ) any event that has occured, a particular poem or some of its lines, even a song or a portion of a movie which enthralled me, a photograph.
I believe in esemplasticism. My poems are eclectic too.
6. What is your work ethic?

I try to find out some hours out of my daily life completely devoted to writing be it prose or poetry. As I write stories and fictions too, which usually take more time than writing poetry, I try to write poetry only when I am not occupied with prose works.
Having said that, I should also say that there are occasions when poetry comes in the middle of writing stories. Then I put my mind into poetry completely.
7.  How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I still read stories of Ruskin Bond and poems of Sukumar Roy who influenced me very much in my childhood.  I should not say that I follow their writings but they keep me grounded to simplicities of life.
8.  Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Of today’s poets I have a strong reverence towards some bengali poets like Sankha Ghosh, Joy Goswami etc. As I am connected with some english poetry magazines, I am lucky to have some friends who are awesome poets. Their works I read and mine they.
9. Why do you write?

I write because I love writing and I believe writing is a beautiful vocation.
10.  What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I became a writer for I love writing and by writing I can easily entertain myself and also the world around me.
11. Tell me about any writing projects you are involved in at the moment.

Presently I am working on a fiction , genre : literary – romance which is my favourite.
It has a perspective which is very much Tagorean and yet it is modernistic for it has characters set in this century, this age. Apart from that I am also working on a book of poetry.



Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sam Smith

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 Smith

Editor of The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’), publisher of Original Plus books, I was born Blackpool 1946 and am now living in Blaengarw, South Wales. While I am still a freelance writer my last day job was as an amusement arcade cashier. But I have also been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator…….. working at anything, in fact, which paid the rent, enabled me to raise my three daughters and which didn’t got too much in the way of my writing. I now have several poetry collections (the latest being Speculations & Changes: KFS) and novels to my name (the 2 latest novels being Marraton: IDP and The Friendship of Dagda & Tinker Howth: united p.c. (see website http://thesamsmith.webs.com/

and for The Journal http://sites.google.com/site/samsmiththejournal/ )

The Interview
1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

It was so long ago, and it all seemed to happen at once. A girlfriend gave me Henry Miller’s Smile at the Foot of a Ladder, and it decided me to become a writer, to try to produce, in my then worthless life ,something as worthwhile as that novel. But when I imagined myself as writer it was as a novelist, not a poet. Albeit that my very first attempt as a ‘writer’ was a poem, about an abortion. I was 22. And over the following 23 years of trying to get my novels published in moments of crisis I often sought to express side issues in poems. But not poems that I ever tried to get published.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Libraries, I think. But I was a voracious reader from an early age, absorbed a lot through cultural osmosis. A post-WW2 baby there was so much change happening about me as I grew, Blighty-type doggerel and tin pan alley pop music was slipping rapidly into the past. Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ginsberg’s Howl, were all showing me how different just song lyrics could be; and I was knocked sideways by the poetry of Thom Gunn. That spoke to me.
But as I say I was concentrating on writing novels and trying to get them published. I was given enough encouragement by leaping various publishers’ hurdles, and by agents briefly taking me on, to keep on writing and trying. Even though my biggest fault so far as publishers were concerned was that they didn’t think my novels ‘commercial.’ Until, after the latest disappointment, when all had seemed so promising, I decided I had to have something of mine in print and poems seemed the easier option. So I dashed off a 5 page poem featuring my work then as a psychiatric nursing assistant.
My friend and neighbour at that time was the painter Derek Southall. I gave him a copy of the poem. He was old friends with the poet and translator Michael Hamburger, and Derek sent him a copy of the poem. Michael commended the poem but said that it contained at least 10 shorter poems. I broke the 5 page poem into shorter poems, submitted batches to various magazines and was soon getting an acceptance a month. I wrote more poems. Within a couple of years I had my first collection. That sold well, and then the novels started getting into print. And I haven’t stopped since.
A side effect of having so much to do with publishers, and curious about how it was done, led me – under the guidance of the late Derrick Woolf of Odyssey Press – to also starting my own magazine and small press. Principally to help others into print, and to put forward my own taste in poetry and to put back some of what the small press had given me, principally confidence.

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

They belonged back in school. Except for Thomas Hardy, he was still, and still is, relevant. But beyond school there was Rimbaud, Auden, Eliot waiting and to have me wondering what next? And then of course there was Ezra Pound. But it was all kinds of writing that I was, and still am, interested in, novel ways of looking at any subject by any author in any genre. Just take Stephen Dobyns, thriller writer and poet, or Martin Stannard, critic and poet, Sylvia Plath, playwright and poet.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Up at 6:30, desk at 7:00. Answer emails, fill orders for The Journal and Original Plus; then see where I am in my writing schedule. Which can be my blog – http://www.thesamsmith.simplesite.com   – or my latest novel, or ideas for a poem, or to catch up on Submissions to The Journal or edits for a new Original Plus chapbook. The schedule can of course go out the window if there’s something outstanding or urgently required.
That will take me up to midday when I pause for lunch. If the weather is fine and dry I might go for a walk, do some gardening; or more likely get stuck into household chores, family obligations. If it’s raining, and there’s no chores, family things to do, I’ll probably return to my desk, or take up a book, newspaper. Evening’s usually telly: at my age I’m too knackered for ought else.

5. What motivates you to write?

In the beginning it was to explain myself, to tell of the world that I knew, in my way. The way other people used words didn’t match what I was experiencing. And I’m still struggling to find that metier.
Now though writing has become my character. It’s who I am, what I do

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m task-oriented. The work needs to be done, I do it. So I set myself tasks, see them through to completion. Fortunately I’ve never been driven by the desire for either fame or fortune. Fame could have sold more books, and fortune would have been helpful, but really satisfaction lies mostly in getting the job done.

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

We had very few ‘good’ books at home. ‘Coral Island’ by Ballantyne I must have read about a dozen times. It was when I was at sea I read most – Hemingway and Steinbeck in the ship’s library among the storytellers. What drew me to them was their willingness to try new ways of telling a story. Then when I left and lived in Chelsea, books that were pressed on me came from many directions. Eliot and Auden I suppose continue to influence, along with William Carlos Williams, and through those three to Japanese poetry. Which among other translated poetry has been a greater influence on my own writing than any in English. Something about the different rhythms, a certain clarity…

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

Over the last few years I’ve been amassing the works of Haruki Murakami, fascinated by his storytelling abilities, different again. Of poets another who, like Murakami, can seamlessly introduce the fantastic into the ordinary and make it make sense, is K V Skene. Both are beyond magic realism, make the ordinary extraordinary. But really there are just so many good writers about at the moment and it’s been my privilege to work , as editor and/or publisher, with many of them.

9. Why do you write?

Not to get rich. One of the hardest things to accept in my first few years of being a writer, of trying to find time to write, was having to have a day job. Now, with it being nigh on impossible to make a living out of writing, I see it as part of any writer’s/artist’s calling – the day job.
As I said before I write to try and get across my version of the world, which is still at odds with the mainstream version. I’m still trying to create the perfect work of art. I’ll know it when I see it. But I know now my limitations. I am no showman, am rubbish at publicity and performing. The private bit of writing is what I relish.

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

Get pen, paper, keyboard; and write. And when you’re pleased with what you have written, submit it to an appropriate publisher; and accept the likely rejection. Look again at the work, identify failings, and try again. And take care over which day job, or way of making a living, you go for: it will inevitably inform your writing.

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

I’ve got several poetry projects. One long term one is occasionally adding poems to a collection, Scenes from a Country Life, which has poems covering all the country places I have lived for any length of time. Another looks to be building up to a chapbook length collection of Mock Sonnets. Another in the making is one provisionally titled Futureless.
The novel I’m working on has the working title http://www.spousecheck.com. I’m still uncertain what that’s about.
I started a year of blogging called Beginnings and I’ve yet to bring that to a close. At least let myself off the hook of regular postings.
And then of course there’s the next issue of The Journal to put together. Reviews to do for that; and the latest Original Plus production.
I also have 2 novels, Trees: the Tree Prospectus and Once Were Windows Once Were Doors, sitting in publisher’s slush piles. Should either get accepted then I’ll be immersed in the edit of that. I love working with a good editor. Best learning curve I know

Beginnings. http://www.thesamsmith.simplesite.com

My front page – thesamsmith.simplesite.com
As a writer it is so easy to be seduced into the use, the re-use, the misuse of myth. It is such a convenient shorthand, be it of the savagery of Vikings or, here in the UK, the hardiness of Ooop-North menfolk.





Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: M. J. Oliver

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.

Images from Mary’s forthcoming debut to be published by Seren next year called


M. J. Oliver

was awarded 2nd prize by New Welsh Writing in 2017. Her poems have appeared in periodicals and anthologies in UK and US. Prizes won include those judged by Paul Muldoon and Ruth Padel. She edits a Poetry Newsletter promoting live poetry events in Cornwall, UK, and is chair of The Poetry Society’s Penzance Stanza Group. In January 2018 she was awarded a place on a year-long Mentoring Scheme run by the Cinnamon Press. Her debut book is to be published by Seren in September 2019.

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The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

A dark family event occurred that triggered a desire to find out who my Dad really was. He’d been dead for 25 years, but he’d always been a mystery to me. So I started to research his early life. Discovering that he’d been a Hobo in Canada during the 1930s, I took a trip across the country in his footsteps. Twelve years later, a long narrative poem emerged from my copious notes, which, rather astonishingly, Seren is going to publish, as a memoir, in September 2019. That’s how it all started.

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

I was aware of the giants, but they didn’t influence me; I did what I was told at school but it didn’t penetrate – Paradise Lost at 13? I preferred taking my dog for a walk.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

While I was writing my book I worked almost all day every day. As a result, I’m told my bum muscles atrophied rather. So I’ve changed my routine now; I work all morning and in the afternoon I go for a boxing workout or swim in the sea. Luckily I live 3 minutes from the sea and 4 minutes from a friendly gym. I usually work in the evenings again. But Friday nights are sacrosanct.

4. What motivates you to write?

It was an existential force that took over my life! I was driven to tell this amazing story. I couldn’t not. And in the process, I became doubly driven; not just to tell the story, but to tell it well. That meant learning the craft to the absolute best of my ability; and reading as I’ve never read before – not just literature, but books about literature as well. Obsessed I was.

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

I was always most interested in stories that dealt with conflict and loss. How people survived. And maybe thrived. It’s still those issues that fascinate me most.

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

Contemporary women poets do it for me. Plath and Akhmatova of course (they’re still alive for me). Penelope Shuttle. Katrina Naomi. Pascale Petit. Pam Zinnemann-Hope.  Nancy Mattson. Sharon Olds, Jenny Lewis. Eliza Kentbridge.  I’ve learned from them how to write fiercely about being alive. Twentieth century prose writers influence me too: where to start? Margaret Attwood, Sinclair Ross, Lydia Davies, David Stouck, John Steinbeck, John Williams, Richard Ford, William Maxwell, Nabokov , Steinbeck, Alice Munroe.  Where to stop?

9. Why do you write?

I find it thrilling, and essential for my sanity actually, to make something creative out of my experiences; to give carefully constructed form to some of the trickier aspects of life. My training was in the visual arts. I found it stimulating teaching Fine Art at degree level, but what I loved most was going into prisons; we’d start by scribbling to music, with charcoal onto large sheets of paper; then we’d look at the scribbles, turn them round and round and slowly develop them, using a rubber and more charcoal, into something amazing – always amazing.  See these examples, by people with no art training: they’d never drawn before.

Wow. When I retired from art teaching I switched to writing, and discovered how similar the two processes are. Fundamentally, you have to make the thing work. And that struggle, I really enjoy, I love getting my teeth into it.

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

I believe everyone’s life experience is interesting, but not everyone has the time or opportunity to reflect on it. First you have to feel driven, then you study the craft. You need to be prepared to spend a lot of time alone. You have learn to self-edit, ruthlessly. You need to listen to feedback. Groups like Penzance Stanza have been valuable sources of feedback for me. And I’d say, ‘look at all the fabulous examples there are; they’re even free from libraries’.

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

For fresh ideas and new work, I attend as many workshops and poetry festivals as I can. Cornwall is alive with them – and I promote them via an online newsletter of Poetry Events in Cornwall. As a visual artist, I did a lot of collaborative work. This example was made by my mother, my daughters and myself, a light box combining text and image. It’s called Consequences. Soon I’m hoping to start a collaborative writing project.


Meanwhile, I run a small reading group for people keen to get to grips with the likes of Anne Carson’s Float. And, on the advice of my editor, I’ve signed up to Twitter. I find it frustratingly difficult to comprehend, but in my darkest moments I tell myself, if Trump can do it, surely I can.