Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews
Katy Wareham Morris
is a lecturer in Media & Culture and Creative Writing at the University of Worcester, UK. She has a particular interest in gender and queer studies, identity politics and digital humanities. She is currently working on her critical / creative hybrid PhD research in literary gaming, play and post-queer politics. Part of this involves developing methods of collaborative digital writing practice. She often gives papers and workshops at prestigious academic and writing conferences including NAWE, as well as performing her poetry at local and national literary festivals and spoken word events.
Katy’s debut poetry collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon was published by Bristol-based, experimental publisher Hesterglock in May 2018. The collection is a collage of womxn’s voices. Katy’s poetry duet with Ruth Stacey entitled, Inheritance was published by Mother’s Milk Books. The pamphlet was launched at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2017 and won a Saboteur Award in 2018 for the Best Collaborative Work. Katy’s most recent publication, Making Tracks was published in September by V. Press and interrogates the connections between local and social history, memoir and family.
‘Making Tracks’ has been endorsed by Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan. You can read other reviews and order the pamphlet directly from the V. Press website: https://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/from-very-first-page-of-this-pamphlet.html?m=1
You can connect with Katy on Facebook or Twitter: @Katy_wm. Her website is: katywarehammorris.com.
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I first started writing poetry as a child from about age 7. I even started entering adult competitions from this age and had a poem published in an anthology. My parents were so proud that they told the local news and I was in the paper.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My father gave me my first collection of poetry, Wordsworth’s Collected Poems. My father had no formal qualifications and started working at the car factor in Longbridge as an apprentice aged 15. In his late teens / early twenties he decided he wanted to be a writer and went on a few courses although promotions kept him working at the factory. He worked there for 36 years until it closed in 2005. My latest pamphlet covers this personal history, whilst also working with the social history associated with the factory community and integrating our shared love of poetry. It is because of my father that I am who I am.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I became more aware of different types of poetry through my education, at school and studying English Literature both at A Level and for my undergraduate degree. I do respect formal poetry and the poetry of the canon; I feel as writers we need to understand our history, those tropes and traditions that underpin definitions of ‘poetry’ so that we can work with them and be brave enough to bend those ‘rules’, to challenge them and to experiment with them.
My Masters introduced me to many more women writers and writers of colour. I fell in love with the writing of the female Beat poets and their work allowed me to believe that it was ok to use experimental and hybrid techniques, and that this was poetry. I find the work of Diane di Prima inspiring.
I don’t think experimental hybrid writing has hit the ‘mainstream’ yet but it is gaining much more respect and prolife because there are now indie presses willing to publish and promote this work.
As a writer from a working-class background, I am acutely aware of those writers who have been to the ‘right’ kind of Unis, studied the ‘right’ kind of creative writing courses and have mentors and through them develop relationships with big presses. These writers seem to have ‘profile’ right from their first publication – winning awards, being interviewed by the national press etc. It is sometimes demoralising to think of this as it can make the poetry world seem very competitive and closed off.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
It is very hard to maintain a daily writing routine with full time work commitments and a young family.
I often have a lot of ideas percolating in my head. I will write notes; I will write things down in prose. When I come to type this onto my laptop, I can then begin to think about a poetic line and the shape on the page. I like to write listening to music – music that I feel matches the style / tone / mood of the poem; I find this really helps to inspire me.
I found lockdown very difficult – managing work and home-schooling two small children. However, I also realised that I have to write, I need to write to feel like me – to be who I am. Forcing myself to find time for writing really helped to survive the stress, pressure and anxiety of this time.
5. What subjects motivate you to write?
I am motivated most to write about my own identities and experiences. It is important for me to challenge perceptions and stereotypes associated with being female, disabled and working class. In the last 18 months I have been diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease which is a debilitating, incurable bowel disease; it is also a registered disability. I have struggled to come to terms with the unpredictable and vulnerability of my physical body particularly as I am a very able and capable person, and also a control freak. I hate that my body lets me down and makes it impossible to things when I want to do them sometimes. I lot of my writing recently has been about coming to terms with this.
I was committed to becoming an academic alongside writing since I completed my undergrad degree, because of financial circumstance I had to get a full-time job and complete post-grad study part-time. It took me 12 years to secure the full-time permanent contract of my dreams at the University of Worcester. However, I struggle with imposter syndrome daily and am still figuring out what it means to be a ‘working class academic’. This is also a key theme of my writing at the moment. Working class experience and identity is a key theme of my latest pamphlet.
I am also inspired by social and political issues: I was a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party and being a feminist is an integral part of who I am. I continue to support their campaigns and activities and find that this and my research in gender studies and identity politics often infiltrates my writing. This was especially the case for my collection, Cutting the Green Ribbon with Hesterglock Press. Being committed and inspired by social, cultural, political issues, a lot of my very recent work is inspired by the precarious condition of our natural world and all that jeopardises it – the climate crisis, nuclear armament, the proliferation of smart technologies. I am exploring these issues in the creative writing element of my PhD research.
6. What is your work ethic?
I am self-confessed workaholic! I work 40-50 hours per week in my day job at the University of Worcester as a lecturer in Media and Culture. I teach and have research goals. I make time for my own writing around these commitments, an average minimum 10 hours a week. I would like to have more time for writing and reading!
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?
I think I write about nature and the natural world because of my very early love for the Romantics which also includes Blake who also write about controversial social / political / cultural issues. This may also be why I am interested in human capabilities, identity and potential.
8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I am a big fan of so many poets, it is hard to say! I enjoy the work of Andrew McMillan because of the way he uses space on the page to create rhythm and pace, but also because he writes frankly about his own experiences and identity.
Most recently I have really enjoyed the writing of Sean Hewitt, as I love his use of nature imagery and metaphor and its connection to the body. I find the poems in Tongues of Fire like mesmerising incantations; I got lost in the magic of the poem.
I love John McCullough’s Reckless Paper Birds. Again I like his use of form and the way he uses form to develop a sense of his own distinct voice. I also appreciate his allusions to traditional high culture juxtaposed with contemporary popular culture – I find this brave and refreshing. He is highly skilled at making something unusual or mundane, even gross sometimes, appear beautiful and magical.
When looking for inspiration for writing about nature and animals, I always turn to the work of Pascale Petit. Her most recent collection, Tiger Girl is so emotionally stirring, bringing the connection between humanity and the natural world alive, forcing us to examine that connection and relationship.
I am of course a huge fan of female writers: Helen Ivory, Helen Mort and Liz Berry. All inspiring writers when thinking about the writing of our own experiences as women in contemporary society – our childhoods, our relationships, our bodies, our roles. I also loved the recent collections from Ella Frears and Rachel Long.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I think writing is a cathartic experience for me, but I also find it exciting to play with language and imagery to create something different out of the familiar; something that perhaps lures people in but then cause them to (re)think or question. I think a good poem is one which covers an experience or setting you know yourself, that you recognise and can. make recognisable to the reader, yet the way it’s described or interrogated reveals something wholly new, surprising – that is the magic of poetry. Just when you think you know what you’re getting, something else entirely reveals itself.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You read and then you write…and write… and read and write…. When you feel like you have something ‘finished’, get someone else to read your writing; use their feedback to write some more; do some more reading. Look at the writing prompts set by the poets you admire. Join a writing group, go to workshops. When you’ve built up handful of edited poems, start sending them out to magazines, journals or ezines. It is important to make sure you have read those magazines, journals or websites first, so you know if your style ‘fits’ there. Being a writer also means you have to learn to quieten the self-doubt… and just get on with writing! If I’m having a ‘negative’ day, I distract myself by reading poetry and then I go back to writing later. Building a community of fellow writers who you trust and admire is important too – you can ask them for feedback and learn from their work too.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I have just had a pamphlet with V Press published, Making Tracks so I am busy promoting that. It is an experimental hybrid of my dad’s car factory memoirs, found elements and my own thoughts and feelings on childhood, family and duty.
During lockdown, I completed another pamphlet of poetry which explores the fragilities and vulnerabilities of humanity in light of the climate crisis, but also in light of the gross subjugation of marginalised identities in our society – women, working class, disabled – subjugations that most people perceived as ‘over’, battles that had already been fought and won. I was also heavily influenced by how I responded to Lockdown and that extraordinary context, especially as someone in the shielding category.
I also began a novel during lockdown – something I never thought I’d write! In fact, I need to make time to get back to writing that! It’s influenced greatly by modernist writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf – it is a story of people and relationships.
I am also working on the creative writing part of my PhD research which involves writing and building a digital literary game dispersed across many internet networks and platforms.
12. How did you decide on the arrangement of the poems?
As this was a collection of poems about specific moments in my dad’s and our family history, I wanted to capture a sense of memory: memories do not reveal themselves to us in chronological order, so I wanted to try and recreate that in the arrangement of the poems and their placement. I wanted the reader to feel like they were going backwards and forwards in time, as dad and I were during those early interviews. In terms of spatial arrangements, I experimented withh different formats and layouts including tables and diagrams because this is how some of their generation promo material I used as found source material was presented so wanted to mirror that. Also working in a factory, documents would often be written as manuals and instruction guides / programmes are often written in diagrammatic format where the reader moved between portrait and landscape, hence why I tried to recreate this in the pamphlet.
13. How important is the visual look of the poem on the page for you?
The visual look is very important because I feel space on the page is just as important to the poem as the words and punctuation. I am inspired by writers who use the space on the page to create a sense of rhythm and pace and I am trying to do this in my own work – using space to give the poem shape, which may help to enhance a certain mood and / or to mirror the way I speak naturally.
14. “You say you could never live in automatic, but you had already written your programme” (Pressure) “the people who are made of trees” (Landscaping) In one poem folk are described as if becoming machine=like, in the other they are described as trees.
There is a purposeful use of contrast in the pamphlet between the man-made / manufactured and nature, this is because the poems examine the theme of nature versus nurture – are you born / programmed a certain way, or do you grow and adapt to your surroundings, can you change your programme? I thought this was interesting: was dad born to work in factory? If so, why the love of poetry? Did he work in a factory just because his dad and brother did? Was I born to be a writer, or did I love poetry and writing because I felt it was integral to developing a relationship with dad? What other traits or characteristics did I inherit from Dad? And how have the affected my perceptions of my own marriage and family? These are questions I don’t have the answer to, but that I hope the poems explore – do we manufacture who we are? Or are we already manufactured – born that way, a product of nature? This contrast between manufacturing and nature also allowed me the opportunity to explore the allusions to Wordsworth – instead of wandering in the natural world, characters in the pamphlet are wandering through a factory. It then raises questions about the potential beauty of a factory environment.
15. What made you decide to use different typographical devices like bold, strike-through, faded words?
Again this was a way of recreating memory and it fallible nature. I also wanted to give a sense of voices and how the stories were relayed to me, and how these compared to the voices / experiences of others. These devices can also be an effective way of communicating different emotions – horror, sadness as compared to excitement and passion.
16. Once they have read the pamphlet what do you want the reader to leave with?
I would like readers to firstly appreciate how big an impact that factory had on the lives of so many families and generations of families, the community of Longbridge – to appreciate its nearly 100 year history that has almost been completely physically erased. I hope the collection goes some way to memorialising the factory and the many many workers and their families who were so proud to be connected to it. I couldn’t build a museum, but I could write poems! I want people to start paying attention to working class experience because it is ‘culture’ and those experiences are valid and should be shared and heard. I also want readers to question the concept of ‘duty’ – what is it? Who do we have a duty to and why? How does this effect our identity and relationships? I also want people to think about the concept of nature and nurture and of ‘family – we have our biological family and then a ‘family’ we choose. I think in their form and layout and also because of the use of working class idiolect, this pamphlet also challenges what ‘poetry’ is and can / should be / look like. I was honoured to get such fantastic endorsements from Helen Ivory and Andrew McMillan because I struggled at time to believe this was indeed ‘poetry’ and these endorsements really validated what I’d created and what I was trying to achieve.