Madame Drain by Hiromi Suzuki

IceFloe Press

Madame Drain

In the forest, a young man in a salopette with a ginkgo leaf emblem is cleaning the fallen leaves. The forest is not private land. The man works here commissioned by Tokyo. He is speaking to sandpipers inarticulately and giving bread crumbs from the gap of the trees growing untouched. There is a pond made of groundwater. Agricultural tools are cluttered in a plastic greenhouse beside a disused field. The man walks cautiously like balancing on a balance beam along a muddy rut. Streams here and there are covered with concrete lids. The forest is full of tranquil secret steam.

90 years ago, the hospital moved to this land when there were almost no houses around. The various plants grown in the meantime now provide rich greenery, shade, seasonal flowers, and fertile land. There are people who met raccoons and rabbits. Also abundant in reptiles and amphibians such…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Simon Corble

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.


Simon Corble

Played Hamlet aged 16 at Lymm Grammar School, Cheshire and never looked back.
Trained as an actor at Manchester Poly but started to create my own work even then. Founded Midsommer Actors’ Co. in 1990 specifically to create promenade theatre in the most atmospheric natural locations; but with the emphasis on the actor’s performance. Won awards and a massive following in the North of England. Started writing for this unique form of theatre. In addition, I was writing and directing for, amongst others, the likes of The Library Theatre Co. Harrogate Theatre, The London Bubble,Lancaster Duke’s Playhouse, North Country Theatre.
2001: Took two years out to work on the extraordinary Greek Island of Ikaria as a guide and manager for a small tour company. Started Found Theatre with first production in 2005.  Powerful stories, simple means. Concentrating principally on writing at present, with some directing and performance work.

The Interview

1. How did your start in writing poetry lead to the publication of White Light White Peak?

I had been writing poetry, on and off, all my life, but always judged it not worthy of sharing.  I think I was correct in this, as, looking back on my earlier work, I don’t see very much I like.  I suppose you could say that I had not found my own voice.  Interestingly I was more than happy to write verse for my plays; The Hound of the Baskervilles, for example, begins entirely in ballad form, as a rustic melodrama for the first fifteen pages.  In writing for the stage, you are of course using someone else’s voice, that of your character..  Several things then seemed to come together for me, just over a decade ago, a major factor being the move up to the White Peak plateau from Manchester.  It is a bit of a cliché for a writer, moving somewhere remote to concentrate on work, but for me it became a reality in a rather interesting way.  For a start we are not remote, but in the middle of a lively village community, where I, for example, edit the local magazine. Secondly, I started writing poems again, this time in earnest.  Moving to the village where we now live felt like a home coming for me, as I had grown up in a very similar place, to the age of thirteen, on the edge of the Cotswolds and I think that also had much to do with this new inspiration. Reconnecting with my “inner child?”  As the poems came along pretty freely, I began to notice common themes and of course, settings.  While there is actually a huge variety of forms in the collection and subjects as diverse as cleaning my boots in the remains of a snowman, to the suicide of a once close friend, the landscape of the White Peak is always there, at least as background. It started to feel like it was heading towards a coherent whole very early on.  In parallel I had been working on my photography and I formed my vision for a publication that would balance the two disciplines.  It has been five years’ work pulling it all together, launching a live performance piece and, finally, finding a sympathetic publisher.  I was really fortunate to more-or-less stumble across Isabelle and her Fly on the Wall Press, if you can “stumble across” online.  A chance encounter via Linkedin, (yes, folks,  it really can be useful) quickly led to an agreement, just when I was beginning to think that no one would touch such a hybrid animal.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I would have to credit the delightfully named and generally delightful man, Mr. Trinkle, our bee-keeping primary school teacher.  In a classroom smelling of honey and beeswax (the smell of which automatically transports me back to the age of nine, even now) he would read poetry to us on a daily basis and in a fairly random fashion.  The one piece which I remember really grabbing me I later found out was by Shakespeare – the song which ends Love’s Labours Lost, concluding “Then nightly sings the staring owl,/Tu-who;/Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note, / While greasy Joan doth keel the pot“.  The words seemed like rich magic and yet described people carrying out domestic chores, with extreme difficulty in harsh winter weather.  I had no thought that they were written hundreds of years ago. Above all, they created vivid pictures in my head and made me feel I wanted to do the same with my words.  I think he must have read the poems brilliantly too.  If Mr.Trinkle created a first spark, it would have to be the poet Wilfred Owen who showed me what powerful poetry could do; that it might even change things. To use an unfortunate phrase, I was blown away on discovering Owen’s work, again at school and again with the guidance of a really good teacher, who was one of the first to spot some promise in my own writing and encourage me forwards.

2.1. Who introduced you to photography?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, school again. There was a photography club, which I joined aged sixteen, with an Ilford 35mm camera which must have been a hand-me-down from one of my elder brothers. Back in those days, way before digital, if you processed your own prints it meant working in black-and-white, so that was when I started to understand how fundamental light and basic composition were. We were all learning from each other, I guess, but it was also the golden era for monochrome photography in the Guardian newspaper, which my parents read. Denis Thorpe and Don Mcphee were like the photographic equivalents of Wilfred Owen for me; their work was not only beautiful but served a clear purpose. When the Guardian actually sent Denis to photography the site-specific theatre I was creating in the 1990’s, it felt like a massive honour. Watching him work was revelation; so unassuming, so unobtrusive, like a day-tripper casually taking a few snapshots. I asked for a copy of one photo (which was so good the Guardian reprinted it as their New Year’s Day centre spread in the G2 supplement) and he generously sent me a whole package of large prints from that session.

3. How do the writers and photographers you read or admired when you were young influence you today?

It is like an unconscious bank of language and ways of using language. You can throw the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into that mix, also, along with lyrics from the Beatles, Bowie and Mark E. Smith of The Fall. All of this and much more seeped into my brain from a very young age and right through my teens. Above all, what the voices from back then teach is to innovate, without thought of how it might be received, to create what pleases myself. And what pleases me nearly always has a ring of magic – something that ultimately cannot be defined or understood by any theory, the highly elusive. With photography it is more simple: It’s all about the essence of a moment, but, again, to steer well clear of the obvious.

4. What is your daily writing and photographic routine?

You have to be kidding? I am pretty chaotic. Fine if I have a deadline that has been set for me – like the prose, short intro pieces in White Light White Peak, I sat down at 10am for a week and simply worked a normal day – but otherwise it happens when it happens. Poetry needs real space. Nothing is getting written at the moment, as there is so much to do to prepare for the tour of “the live experience” that runs alongside the book’s publication and all of my photography sessions in the past month or so have been to do with filling gaps in the live show. I have had to wait for a particular, still, warm evening, for example, with the honesty and apple blossom in bloom; conditions whereby I could literally take pictures by candlelight in my garden. The poem in question is called This Still Evening. Most of the time photography is nearly always even more spontaneous than poetry for me, which is why I go around with at least my compact strapped to my belt. Whenever I do set out with a particular purpose, to tackle a defined subject, something intervenes and the session becomes about that. Another thing is that the least time I spend in front of a computer screen the better. So my manipulations I keep to a minimum; the very best shots are always perfectly captured with the camera, just as in the old days of film. Same with poetry: Sessions come on when I am inspired (I have no idea how this happens) and I work in pencil, usually in a special book, which must on no account have lined pages. For some really strange reason, travelling by train is really productive for me. I have seriously thought about getting a day-rover ticket and simply going back and forth on the Buxton to Manchester service all day long.

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

When I think about it, it is the performers I admire most among today’s poets.  A predictable answer in some ways, from a playwright, theatre director and erstwhile actor, but actually the work of the likes of John Hegley, Zephaniah, Lemn Sissay, or Kate Tempest is quite a distance from my output.  Or is it?  The sounds of words is so important to me; it simply isn’t a poem until it is spoken aloud – and that has been a constant, right back to “greasy Joan doth keel the pot” in Mr. Trinkle’s primary class.   I know I am not happy with anything I write until, as I put it, I “wrestle it to the ground” out on one of my daily walks.  Anyone I meet must think I am a few iambs short of a sonnet.    With the photography, the internet has changed everything utterly.  The people I admire now are not “names” but are those I come across in obscure corners of the world, quietly doing their own idiosyncratic thing and sharing it on Flickr, where I have been a member since 2005, way before I saw any need to involve myself with any other forum.

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

Find your own voice, trust in your own instincts.  So easy to say, much less easy to accomplish.  I have been lucky in coming from the world of live theatre, because there everything is tested in public, brutally and quickly.  It is where I learned to trust instinct over anything else.  When I directed “A Midsommer Night’s Dreame” a kind of vision came to me for the final, magical moments, involving the whole cast suddenly discovering their “inner dream-fairy” advancing on Oberon to light sparklers in a group wigwam, then wandering off to hand them over to the random people in the audience.  Part of my mind was going, “Why?  What is that saying?  Justify it!”  I did not.  I let it happen and it was simply right.  There is a poem in White Light White Peak, which is not only all about that, but was itself created in a similar fashion and it is arguably the best, or worst, poem in the collection.  That’s the other thing; you have to be daring, take what may seem like almighty risks.  Break rules, take a walk on the wild side, to quote the man who coined the phrase behind the title of my book.  There are a few other pieces of advice I would give about photography, in addition of the above.  They are quite specific, but a bit more than “tips”.  Whenever you take a shot, (or crop a shot, which can be just as important) ask yourself, “What is the photo about?”  It is simple enough as a question and kind of obvious, but I find myself repeating it again and again and it really helps focus, sometimes literally.  The other is to remember what “photography” actually means – “light-drawing”.  Light is your medium, you have nothing else and it is certainly not about “kit”.  Don’t get distracted or intimidated by “kit”, just find what you enjoy using.  Relish light in all its forms.  None of this is really answering the question, “How do you become a writer and/or photographer?”  That is far more involved; but you have to practice first and totally love what you do, or you are lost.   These days, of course, there are courses and they may be a help, but make sure they are courses which take you out of your depth, until  “you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom” as Bowie famously said.

7. Tell me about writing projects you are currently involved in:

I have co-written The Red Room, a play set in an old mental asylum, spanning across different time periods; it is part-ghostly, without giving too much away.  It will be produced next year, directed by my co-writer, Alice Bartlett, who is directing me in WLWP.  and will actually visit such places, on the first leg of a short tour  I am also co-writing a comedy set in Lapland, with a Finnish comedian.  Very different territory but a lot of fun and I got a trip to Lapland out of it as research, which was amazing and magical. I am also inching towards a new poetry collection which will range across memories to do with water. That’s quite a deep one. I have three poems for it so far – my very earliest memory, one from teenage years and a very recent happening.  It needs space, so will not get any further until the Autumn I imagine.


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kitty Donnelly

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.

Kitty Donnelly

Kitty Donnelly

was born in Oxford to Irish parents.

She has lived in Oxford, Cumbria, London, Swansea, Chichester and currently lives in West Yorkshire.

In 2005/6, she had her first poems published by Acumen, The Forward Press and in the Samaritan’s Anthology as well as being short and long-listed for several poetry competitions.

In 2007, she took a long-break from writing and submitting poems following the birth of her daughter.

In 2016, her poem Migration was commended in the Southport Writers’ Circle Poetry Competition and she was long-listed for the Canterbury University Poet of the Year for her poem Night At Whitestone Farm. Her poems West Pier and An Immigrant, Dover were short-listed in the Hungry Hill Wild Atlantic Words 2016 Poetry Competition and have appeared in the recent anthology. She has been published in Mslexia and Message in A Bottle in 2016.

In 2017, she has been published in Acumen, The American Journal of Poetry, The Dawntreader, The Fenland Reed and Sentinel Literary Quarterly. Her pamphlet, No Tranquil Season, has recently been Highly Commended in the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize. She had two poems in the October 2017 issue of Quadrant. In 2018 she has had work accepted by the New Welsh Review, Domestic Cherry and has just been long-listed in or The Plough Prize. She is currently supporting the Big Lit Festival and has some poems in a window somewhere…

She regularly reviews poetry books for Mslexia. She also assists in editing the online journal The Beautiful Space – A Journal of Mind, Art and Poetry.

The Interview

  1. When and where were you inspired to write poetry?

I was brought up surrounded by books.  Both my mum and dad were avid readers and I recall watching them make home-made bookshelves using bricks and plywood. Books were stacked from floor to ceiling. I remember reading titles (for example Thus Spoke Tharathustra) and dwelling on what they might possible mean and what secrets were behind those covers. My mum and dad were both from working class backgrounds and were the first generations to enter higher education. In a way, this created the dream scenario. I had an extremely ‘down to earth’ childhood where finding a ten pence piece in the lining of the sofa was an event of high excitement (meaning sweets, or being able to go to Brownies), and at the same time I had the privilege of being surrounded by literature and shelves of escapism. In summary, the message was pretty much ‘we can live on lentil soup but we can’t survive without books.’ I still go by that, absolutely.
Both sides of my family are Irish. As a child, I was fascinated by Irish folk lore, and tales of ghosts, Banshees and the many superstitions my dad passed on to me. These captured my imagination and I often lay awake at night terrified by them, but I couldn’t let them be. What is frightening is fascinating and also material for writing. I remember my dad walking me to school talking about ‘Mad Shelley the poet’ and being intrigued by the idea that you could be ‘a poet’, and asking ‘am I mad, dad? Do you have to be mad to be a poet?’ I’m still not sure of the answer….

2. Who introduced you to poetry?
The first poems I read that inspired me were The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes and The Listeners by Walter de le Mare. Both of them have the mysterious, slightly supernatural quality that I still look for in poetry as an adult.  My dad wrote novels in the attic of an old rented house we lived in in Oxford for a time. I used to sit on the attic stairs and listen to the click of the typewriter, feeling something incredibly important was happening. This inspired me to write. I initially kept notebooks from around the age of six. I invented a (not very imaginatively named) band called ‘The Stars’ and wrote so-called lyrics for them, which I suppose were my first poems.

3. dominance
Only in the last three years have I become aware of a diverse range of poetry. I’ve subscribed to a variety of magazines and journals and have bought pamphlets and collections by a huge range of writers of different styles and ages.  Prior to this, I did feel that writing was dominated by ‘the Canon’, some of which I admire greatly.
I think the type of poems accepted by magazines are changing. There seems to be a shift back to ‘free verse’, some of which I find free and inspiring, and some which is too loose – formally – for me. I instinctively want to go through it and change verbs, delete connectives and put in a bit of punctuation. Maybe I need to become a bit ‘freer’ myself.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

For the last fifteen years I have worked in mental health services. This has predominantly dictated my daily routine, along with family commitments. I have an amazing daughter who is now twelve. Mental health support is not a role you can easily switch off from. It has also occupied a great deal of my thoughts while not at work at certain times.
In 2017, I attended  an  Arvon Course at Lumb Bank. A couple of the students on the course appeared shocked when I answered their questions about my home and work life. One woman said ‘how do you ever manage to write at all? Your life is too crowded.’ The answer, at that time, was that I wrote in bed until the early hours of the morning. I then got up at 7am, took my daughter to school, went to work and arrived home around 6.30pm, made tea, crammed in some writing and started again with the alarm. It was totally unsustainable. Shortly after the Arvon Course,  I had a sort-of ‘crash’. I wasn’t coping with conflicting demands. I was very depressed for several months and it really changed the way I view my work/life/writing balance. I realised I needed to make space for writing to survive. I began working part-time and have stuck to that ever since, managing on a tight budget.
Now, when I’m not working, my writing routine involves sleeping in late (sometimes very late!) and then writing on my laptop in bed as soon as I wake-up. Recently – as I’ve been finishing my collection –I’ve been trying to write about  seven hours a day. Sometimes, when the dishes are piled in the sink and the recycling has stacked up beside the door, I think ‘am I selfish’, or ‘am I indulging myself writing when I should be doing jobs?’ My overwhelming contempt for domestic chores always comes through and, mostly,  I am able to convince myself that writing in my pyjamas in bed – getting up to get pints of water from the bathroom tap and not even venturing downstairs – is more important than the dishes, or washing the cat’s bowl.
If I’m not at work the next day, I sometimes write until the early hours of the morning – or until I’m so tired I’m basically writing nonsense. By nature, I’m nocturnal. My dad was the same and so is my sister. It’s a definite preference anyway.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve become far more motivated to write in the last 18 months. I’m lucky in that I’m never short of ideas. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for time. I usually write my initial ideas for poems in a notebook and then type them up and develop them from there.

6. Who of today’s writers do you most admire, and why?
I’m very lucky to be doing an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are some amazing students on the course and their writing for the workshops has been inspiring me. I thought Fiona Benson’s recent collection Vertigo and Ghost was excellent and very original.  I’ve also enjoyed the originality and humour in Wayne Holloway Smith’s poems. Ilya Kaminsky is inspiring and gets right to the heart of the world’s problems. I admire him greatly for that ability.

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

My most significant influence by far, however, is the novelist Jean Rhys. Her ability to convey loss, fear, social exclusion and existentialism is underrated to the point of literary negligence (should this crime exist!) and I return to her novels time and again for inspiration. She doesn’t date at all and has what I would call a ‘clairvoyant’ quality in terms of her insight into humanity.

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I think the answer to ‘why I write’ is that living is simply not satisfactory in itself. It leaves too many unanswered questions. It is plagued by mundanity, but there is also mystery. It is the mystery of my brief time on the planet that I want to capture. Personally, I have no interest in wealth, status or even personal possessions (apart from gifts from people I love). It’s genuinely unsettling to inhabit a world fuelled by consumerism when all the things you want (to be with loved ones, to create) are not material. That’s not to say I can cope without wine, or the money to travel to see family, but generally I don’t really have those desires for ‘things’. I don’t value possessions.

9. How would you answer someone who asked “How do you become a writer?
In terms of how to become a writer, the key – I think – is imagination. Yes, formal skills can be taught, heroes can be imitated, but if there isn’t the imaginative drive to create, I don’t think these are sufficient in themselves. I don’t lack imagination, but for many years I lacked the formal skills to construct a good poem. If you have the ideas, this can be overcome by graft – redraft and redraft.

10. Tell me about writing projects you are involved in at the moment.
I am currently completing my first collection, The Impact of Limited Time, which is due to be published by Indigo Dreams later this year.  I am lucky enough to be doing an MA in Creative Writing at MMU which is giving me a great deal of constructive criticism. I won a Creative Futures Award in 2019, and they continue to support my writing. I have a poem due out in the Dear Dylan anthology, dedicated to poems inspired by Dylan Thomas (Indigo Dreams), published later this year. I am actually in a  ‘writing phase’ at the moment. Long may it last!

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

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.

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

was raised in New York City and lives in Manila. She currently attends the University of the Philippines MA Creative Writing program and teaches at the Technological Institute of the Philippines. In 2016, she was awarded the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation Awards for Poetry. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Indianapolis Review, Cordite Review, Asymptote Journal, Harana Poetry, New Asian Writing, and River River Journal, among others. She is one of the current poetry editors at Inklette Magazine. Her first book of poetry, The Sea That Beckoned, is available from Platypus Press.

Facebook Page: Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

Twitter handle: agfabunan

Instagram: dalagang_filipina

Portfolio Page:

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

When I was younger, I had a 3rd grade teacher named Mrs. Lippman, who has now passed on. She was amazing because I learned so much from her and the classroom library that she gave me access to. There, I started reading children’s books like the poems of Emily Dickinson, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, The Giver, Number the Stars, and others.

I can really say that it was Mrs. Lippman and Emily that got me into poetry. It was my first year in America as an immigrant from the Philippines. My window in my room then had a full view of the moon, and I remember nights staying up late to look at the moon and read Emily Dickinson’s many tidings about it. It was an idealistic and romantic time, looking back now.

It was my introduction to the world of literature. Early on, I was reading the classics for kids, and later moved to young adult fiction. I think we have much to thank the early educators as well as the children’s and young adult book writers for instilling passion for the written word to kids as young as I was then.

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

At first, poetry was really intimate to me. It was just between me and the page. Looking back at all the journals that I kept growing up, I realize knew I wanted to be a writer even early on. And yet, I wasn’t aware of what it would be like to belong to a community of writers. Of course, the presence of that community loomed large where I grew up, in New York, but I always thought they just wore lots of black and drank lots of coffee and that’s it. There’s so much more to poetry than its appearance to the public.

I moved back to the Philippines in my young adult life and that’s when my flirtation with poetry started to get serious. I was in my first year of graduate studies not knowing what I was to do. I took a fiction class first and most of my fiction came out like really long poems, looking back now.

It was only when I took my first two poetry classes at the University of the Philippines and the following semesters after that that I thought: ok, this is what I’m meant to do. In those classes, I read English poets like Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney alongside Philippine poets like Angela Manalang Gloria and Virginia Moreno. I started writing poems that I would scan for meter and rhyme, which is probably why I still write from time-to-time in traditional forms. I poured my heart out that semester and some of those poems found their way to “The Sea That Beckoned,” published by Platypus Press. I really fell in love then and to this day, I remember that feeling—it is what propels me forward.

I veered away from the question, but I think that I always thought that the older poets, with their mature experience of the craft inspired me rather than instilling fear in me. We are all part of a community of poets and I like to think we all belong and have our place in it. I’ve heard the term “serious poetry” often, which makes me wonder if it’s really serious poetry we are looking for or the more serious dedication that makes or breaks a poet that we want to see. All in all, I’m happy to belong to a community of writers here in the Philippines that, although it has its flaws, for the most part encourages rather than detracts the writing of poetry.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

My daily writing routine consists of me putting on my black outfit, drinking my first cup of black coffee and writing in my black notebook—just kidding.

This is what’s true: I usually read and write poetry at night now. Perhaps it is from the early childhood years of looking at the moon and reading poetry. I used to write in the daytime in cafés but it got too expensive. And a bit too stereotypical for my comfort. I got so used to the mantra “fake it until you make it” that I think to myself sometimes that I’m still trying to fake being a poet. Does one ever become a poet, or do you know just you are at some point? I’ll leave that open-ended for now.

4. What motivates you to write?

There is one thing about my daily routine that stays constant: I read a poem or a collection of poems by other writers before I write one of my own. It is a type of tradition that my early college years instilled in me: read, read, and read. A new page always seems fresh to me, even if I have read it countless of times before. There is always something new to learn from a poem. And many things to learn from other writers. Learning from these two sources—the poem and the author—has always and will always motivate me to write and contribute to the works of those who have come before me.

Tradition is important to me. Nothing in poetry is new. It is a long tradition like a tree with many, many branches. But only in plumbing the depths of the works that have been written before can you find your own slant of light. We have to find what we can contribute to the exchange of ideas between all these different types of poets. What are we adding to the conversation? Who are we replying to? Who are we speaking to? How can we say what we want to say? Ideas motivate me to write, not just to be heard, but to be part of some kind of conversation.

5. What is your work ethic?

I have been told by mentors that I write volumes. That’s just how my process is. I am fully aware that they’re rarely good poems when they’re first put down, but I write many in one go just to get that shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott calls it, over with. I go through so many new first drafts and many more revisions. I have a lot of respect for those who hold on to a draft for a long time, like Elizabeth Bishop. Alas, I’m more of a Robert Lowell when it comes to my writing process, I think.

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

Of course, I’d first say my previous mentors and influences, popular Philippine poets Isabela Banzon, Jose Neil Garcia, Paolo Manalo, and Conchitina Cruz. I love each of their work because they are my Philippine romantics. I’ve learned much from them as human beings and as poets. I won’t gush here.

Next, I’d have to say I have so much admiration for poets who have made social media their home. I don’t know the first thing about the language of the internet, but I know it is in the air of the future. They’re the ones that will be in our history books, soon.

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

I write because I want to converse. There are people I want to talk to, dead or alive, here or distant, found in the now or lost in a time and space. I want to be able to say to them what I would have said if the time was right. I am a Romantic, I think, with a big R, and I write to people whom I have loved in many different ways. The art of letter writing is dying, but I think the people who want to read poetry around the world read it as some kind of letter to the world. My poems are certainly my own “Letter to the World,” if I may invoke Dickinson again.

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

I think I can’t say this enough, but it really helps if you pick up a book and a notebook. Reading is writing and writing is reading. That’s really it. See if it’s for you and if you’re happy doing it, having that book in your hands, whatever it is, and wanting to respond to it. And if you’re happy doing that, do it again the next day. And the next and so on and so forth. One day, you’ll look at yourself in the mirror and think to yourself, “Am I a writer now?” And the answer from across the pond will confirm with a resounding “Yes!”

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

I have a poem, which is I think perhaps one of my better poems, called “Catastrophes of Home,” which will be out in The Indianapolis Review this April 2020. I’m really excited for the public to see that.

I have been writing a second manuscript after the release of The Sea That Beckoned that might see the light of day in the next few years or so, in line with the researching and writing about a theory of Philippine Romanticism that I’m espousing, about how romanticism is unique to my country. This should keep me writing for the coming years, as well as the deep longing which is an ever-present shadow behind me.

Many thanks to Paul Brookes for this interview.

Circumnavigating Heaven in Three Geographies – Khashayar Mohammadi

IceFloe Press

Grandma’s House

Grandma says Pomegranates are heavenly
that each holds a seed directly from Paradise
and she seeds painstakingly slow
Grandma’s no storyteller

one seed rolls onto the carpet
Blue paisley/ Red diamond
and I make a wish
crush it under my feet
and listen to the gentle static
of car tires on wet asphalt
a motorway behind every window


when B speaks of her drugs
I keep hearing the word “Heaven”
I sip “Heaven” from my pint of gin
and speak etymologies
say how in Farsi “Heaven”
is simply “Behesht”
akin to English “Best”
how “Heaven” is just us living our best lives
she cuts another line
and walks back into the crowd
her dime bag of coke
rolling onto wet asphalt

and I make a wish
crush it under my feet

Grandma’s House

Grandma’s redone her bathroom
the boredom of afternoon naps
and the chair I pulled…

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New poems in ‘InDaily’

Thom’s poems are always worth a gander

Thom Sullivan

Thom Sullivan Poet Poetry Wistow Bugle Ranges

I’m delighted to have three short poems appear together in the Poet’s Corner section of Adelaide’s InDaily. Back in 2007, my first published poems appeared in Poet’s Corner, when InDaily was still the weekly print newspaper The Independent Weekly. Thankfully, more than a decade on, InDaily continues to publish a weekly selection of poems under the curatorial hand of John Miles. The three poems can be read here.

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A simpler encounter with the poem

Excellent thoughts from Thom.

Thom Sullivan

Thom Sullivan  Poet Poetry NaPoWriMo 15

‘Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.’ Joseph Brodsky

My favourite readers of poetry are often those who don’t also write poetry, or not much. I come across them in conversation often enough. They’re people for whom poetry has carved out some wedge of significance in their lives. I enjoy hearing about the particularity of the poetry they enjoy. And, while there are plenty of idiosyncrasies in their tastes, there are often consistencies as well, drawn no doubt from school poetry anthologies or syllabuses. For example, the common predilection for the work of Donne, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot, Plath, and the like.

It’s not that I dislike readers of poetry who also write poetry. I am one of them. But I know that writing poetry necessarily changes and complicates the…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: James Carter

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.


James Carter

is an award-winning children’s poet, non-fiction writer and musician. An ambassador for National Poetry Day, he travels all over the UK and abroad with his melodica (that’s Steve) to give very lively, action-packed poetry/music performances and workshops. His latest verse non-fiction series for KS1 & 2 (Little Tiger Press) is translated into over 8 international languages.

James is a former lecturer in Creative Writing/Children’s Literature at Reading University – and in the last 18 years he has visited over 1300 Primary/Prep schools; what’s more he’s performed at various prestigious festivals including Cheltenham, Hay and Edinburgh. In one Primary school in Cheltenham, an OFSTED inspector gave him an ‘Outstanding!’

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

It’s a number of things. I’ve always really loved words – reading everything from comics/non-fiction as a child to novels as a teen/young adult, and now mainly non-fiction/poetry/plays. I’ve always been a bit imaginative I guess, and as soon as I bought my first electric guitar at 15, I just started writing lyrics to songs. Actually, I wrote my first lyric/poem thing, The Electrified Spiders, aged 8 or 9. I played in bands all through my 20s, writing and recording music. But as soon as I went to uni aged 29 I knew I wanted to write, to be a writer. I tried fiction at first, but it was the poetry/non-fiction that took off.

I’m a bit of an outsider (I’ve often been called ‘contrary’, and I certainly do question everything), always have been, and poetry fits in well with this sensibility, as poetry should show you the world from a different/fresh perspective. In a poem I have to be as original as possible – I feel that I’m implicitly saying ‘Hey look at that – but look at it like this…’. Also a poem has to say something, communicate something, even simply present you with a thought, an idea or a single image.

I like writing for children as it disciplines me. I can’t indulge myself too much, I have to ideally keep my young invisible reader interested. For me, children for me are the best age group to write for. I have no interest in writing for adults per se, but if adults ever like a poem I’ve written with children in mind, then that’s nice! This happened with a kind of eco poem I wrote for a school for World Book Day last year – Who Cares? – it went on the National Poetry Day website (I’m one of their ambassadors), and it was picked up by Radio 3 for their prose and poetry series. I never saw that coming! As a writer, you never know who will read your work, or how it will be received. I even had an email this morning from a woman asking if her 9 year old child could read my poem Love You More (it’s at my website – at her wedding. How lovely is that? As a poet I couldn’t ask for more.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

School – Macbeth / Canterbury Tales at O level, Philip Larkin at A level, then much later as a mature student, the lecturers at Reading Uni (on the B.Ed degree) were very passionate about poetry. It was the Craft of Writing course in particular that got me writing. In my twenties I went to a fair few John Hegley gigs. Great poet, great comic, and a wonderful person. He showed me you can write about literally a n y t h i n g…

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

Weird question! Actually, I’m now an older poet myself. And still I’d say the children’s poetry world is led by older poets – but thankfully we have lots of younger voices coming through. And crucially, I very much believe the poetry world is far more welcoming to new poets than it ever was. But I think that writing for children is not something that most people consider anyway until they have children / grandchildren or worked as a teacher or have been on the planet for a while…

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Don’t have one! I write anywhere, anytime. In a sense, I’m always writing. On trains, in cafés, on hilltops, in car parks. Depends what I’m writing though. If I’m writing a poem, I can even write/re-write aspects of it in my head, and then I’ll have to make a note of it on my phone or the envelope I keep in my pocket. (Worked for Paul McCartney when writing Hey Jude!) I often get obsessed with a poem as I’m writing it, and will run lines/phrases over and over in my head, chanting them, mouthing the words until they really flow – and every single syllable/word etc is just right. But if I’m writing a non-fiction verse book, say like Once Upon A Star / Once Upon An Atom, I need to either work on my laptop, or better still, on paper. I will take the manuscript with me wherever I go, making a great many tweaks/edits/changes.

5. What motivates you to write?

Two things – a) a love if not obession with words and the music of language, b) a fascination with the world – and a need to make sense of it, and I find writing a poem on a topic will help me to explore and express something on that subject / idea / memory. I’m always thinking about something or other, so a poem is a great place to put or distil my thoughts.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m a workaholic. I’m always writing, at least always thinking about writing. Perhaps tweaking a line, refining a title, developing an image, or mulling over an idea for a new non-fiction book.

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

As Morris Gleitzman so nicely expressed it, everything you read / think / observe / experience goes into the ‘mulch’ from which your writing grows. Specifically, I know that many rhyming things I write are to the rhythm of lines from Macbeth, or my favourite picture book Where The Wild Things Are (a massive influence on me) or even Tom Waits’ spoken word piece ‘What’s He Building In There?’ But I’m sure I’m influenced by lots of things I’ve read without even realising it.

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

As poets go, I really admire the Americans Billy Collins, Mary Oliver and Lilian Moore. As children’s writers go, I like Shaun Tan and Oliver Jeffers – and a great many others. But in the main, I try and read more widely, away from poetry so I can be inspired by other things – so it’s often plays and non-fiction.

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

I have done other things from teaching to lecturing to office work, but writing / working in schools as a work shopper and performer is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I so enjoy working with children and teachers and librarians. Performing – all that showing off is fine, it’s great fun, but for me it’s all about switching children on as writers. I love the finales we have at the end of a visit, where the children read their poems. I was actually very close to tears yesterday when we had a Year 6 finale in one of my very favourite schools, in Newbury. The poems were quite brilliant. I feel that what I do now – my writing / workshopping and performing – is a culmination of all I’ve ever experienced, plus my two degrees – my teaching degree and my Masters in Children’s Literature.

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

Write. Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. Read. DON’T expect to get the first/second/third thing you write to be published as chances are it won’t be. Only JK Rowling was published immediately, everyone else pretty much has to serve an apprenticeship of years of writing in the wildnerness. Don’t be too inspired by what you read as a child, look to see what is published right now. If you are writing for children, make it modern. Don’t trust your own children as readers/listeners – of course they’ll love it as they will want to please you. Even more writing, even more reading… Find out through trial and error, not only what you want to write, but what you are best at. I thought I’d be a novelist, but I’m actually a poet/non-fiction writer – and I’m more than happy with that!

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

A kind of best-of poetry book for 7-11s – Weird, Wild & Wonderful – to be published Jan 2021 by Otter-Barry Books and illustrated by the fantastic Neal Layton. I literally just finished the final new poem to go in the book. The book is a round up really of all the most popular poems I have written, published and performed over the last twenty years. But there’s a selection of brand new ones too. As with all my books I’m aiming for a real range of poems in terms of forms / tone / topics. What I want from one of my poetry collections is a book in which a child reader will not know what they are getting next. I want my collections to read more like anthologies, as if they were written by many different poets. WW&W is divided into three loosely-themed sections Weird (more upbeat humorous and daft poems) / Wild (nature/animal poems) / Wonderful (memory poems/quiet, reflective pieces) – but even within those there is a range.

When I began writing in the late 90s (1990s, not 189s, obvs..) there was too much emphasis on humorous poetry I thought, and I’ve tried to resist that in my books. I want a real range. And actually I find it’s often the quieter poems that really stick with children, and mean more to them. When I perform for 7-11s I’ll mainly do the more serious poems, but I’ll also do some improvised comic stuff in between, even some music – piano, melodica and guitar. I still write instrumental music to this day.

Apart from Once Upon An Atom (Caterpillar Books/Little Tiger Press) – a book on science in verse for 5-8s, I have another book in that same series (as yet untitled!) which is being illustrated right now and that is on the subject of palaeontology – going back in time, exploring various extinct creatures from the past – from woolly mammoths to trilobites to T.Rexes. I really love writing non-fiction. Researching a topic for months, and then finding an interesting angle to tell the story of that subject. I don’t want too many facts. Other books do facts, so instead I try and establish a narrative thread of some kind that takes a reader into or through a subject. Once Upon An Atom is slightly different in that it has three sections – Chemistry / Physics / Biology, and in very simple poetic language explains/explores each of these. It was probably the toughest book I’ve ever done – explaining science to an infant isn’t easy! The illustrations by the Brazilian artist Willian Santiago are just brilliant – very vivid, slightly retro sci-fi at times.

12. Why did you write Once Upon An Atom?

I’ve always been fascinated by science. Biology was my favourite subject at school – until I did a week of it at A level and decided it had effectively turned into chemistry and physics, which I wasn’t happy about it, so I dropped it! Instead, I got into English big time – Shakespeare, Larkin etc. And later at uni I studied English with education – but I’ve always had an interest in science, particularly natural history and anything space-related.

I’d already written six or so books in this series for Caterpillar Books, and each one, though non-fiction – and in verse – told a linear story – eg Once Upon A Star (the Big Bang/formation of our sun) / Once Upon A Raindrop (the story of water on this planet, including water cycles) / Once Upon A Rhythm (the story of music). This time I wanted to write about Science, but however I thought about it, there was no actual simple and direct story, just a very complex/interconnected  sequence of inventions/discoveries etc from the last 10,000 years, and that wouldn’t do for a younger children’s picture book. I’d read – rather tried to read – Bill Bryson’s (and I’m a massive fan of his usually) impenetrable The History Of Nearly Everything. I couldn’t read it. It was too dense. Too clogged with facts. I don’t gravitate (ho ho) to facts, as essential they are – for as a reader, I like some kind of coherent narrative. And I had that book at that back of my mind for the many months I was writing this one.

So for a structure for Once Upon An Atom I ended up with three basic parts, which were effectively chemistry, physics and biology. Initially I explained what they were without actually explicitly naming those disciplines as I thought it would be way over the heads/comprehension of 5-8s, the target audience of this series. It took ages to get it right – to find simple enough concepts for each scientific area without losing the real essence of what each is. I finally handed the manuscript in and the wonderful editors at Caterpillar said that they liked it, but that I HAD to include the terms physics, chemistry and biology. I tried to fight my case, but lost! I’ve learnt to trust editors 99% of the time, as they have the objectivity that I don’t, and crucially, they know the market. So a massive re-write followed and unfortunately, Pat and Isabel at Caterpillar were totally right – once again! – and I think/hope it became a better text for it. For the illustrator, they chose Willian Santiago from Brazil. (All the illustrators for the series are from around the world – Spain, Japan, Italy, Northern Ireland…) I was thrilled. His bold, bright exuberant style brought so much to the book.

I’ve since written a related book on inventions for the series, which I didn’t have space to cover in Once Upon An Atom. My editor Pat gave me the challenge of writing a book on materials (wood / glass / metals .. etc.) as her daughter, an Infant teacher, had told her that that is what she’d need for her class. And actually, that was an easier book to write as I simply wrote about the sequence of materials that homo sapiens have used over the millennia – and how each of these have helped us to build the modern world. I would never have thought to have written a book on inventions in that way –  ie through the prism of materials – but it gave it a fresh perspective.

When you write for younger children, you can never lose sight of your reader. I simply now try and write books that I would have wanted to read at that age. I had a few nature books – typical 60s fare – The Observers Book Of British Birds/Mammals etc.. – but nothing on generic science. The two things I try and consider when writing this series are – is the language inviting enough? Am I enthusing / entertaining my reader somehow? And is this interesting / relevant enough? How can I make it more enticing/fascinating? To this end, I often find I spend more time on the first few pages than any other in a book – to get the tone / feel / voice / music of the language just right. You have to grab your reader literally from the first syllable… and that’s a challenge I really enjoy!

I visit a lot of schools, and I see a lot of non-fiction books in school libraries and in topic displays in classrooms. Apart from books like the Horrible Science/Histories series, I do wonder to myself how many of these books are actually read. I know that many non-fiction books we dip in and out of anyway and wouldn’t dream of reading chronologically, but with every non-fiction book I do I love the idea that the reader might experience the book from beginning to end, and follow a linear thread. The books in this series are short, snappy and meant as a taster books for a subject. (If a reader wants to know more, there will be many other books that go into greater detail.) And this certainly affects the way I structure and shape what I am writing. It’s all about the story for me – though I do always have a factual acrostic at the back to include a few dates, a few figures and background information. Facts can get in the way of a good story, so where better to place them than at the back of a book?

And oddly, I’m probably one of the least knowledgeable people I know. In theory, I shouldn’t be writing non-fiction! As a person, I have my own limited interests, but as a writer I’m into E V E R Y T H I N G. It’s not WHAT you write about, but HOW you write about it. And what I do have in abundance is enthusiasm! I’m absolutely hopeless at retaining facts, and because of this I have to do a lot of research. But I guess it does mean I come to every subject as a non-fiction writer reasonably fresh, and I’m literally learning as I’m researching and then writing – and I try to then distil that initial fascination/passion for learning into the text of whatever book I am working on.

13. How did you collaborate with Willian Santiago?

Apart from my forthcoming poetry best of collection Weird Wild & Wonderful (Otter-Barry Books, Jan 2021) – for which I cheekily requested – and got! – the utterly fabulous Neal Layton – I never get to choose illustrators. Caterpillar books are brilliant at trawling the world for new talent and matching my text with an illustrator’s images. With every book they have found e x a c t l y the right person. And this must be the case as the second book in the series, Once Upon A Raindrop – the story of water – illustrated by the incredible Nomoco – is longlisted for the Kate Greenaway award! And I’m absolutely over the moon for Nomoco, Myrto (the book’s designer) and all the wonderful humans at Caterpillar Books. They really deserve it as their books are so fresh, vital and innovative. It’s a real honour to work with such a creative/dynamic team.

And I never have contact with an illustrator during the process. I may have a few very occasional responses, but in general, I trust the editors/designer/illustrator. Visuals are not my area. I’m primarily and solely concerned with the words inside. Plus, too many cooks…

14. Page or Stage?

Although I do strongly believe – as a white, 60 yr old middle class male – in the craft – I’m very much into page rather than stage poetry, but I equally love the fact that there are younger poets coming through, a variety of ages, a wide mix of races.

15. Accessibility?

I also enjoy stage – but that comes much, much later in the process. I’ll often write a poem and not actually ever read it for months/years. I write primarily for readers. Also, I try and make my work so simple and uncluttered and direct that it is as if it has just
flowed out…craft is trying to make it look easy. Which it certainly is NOT!!!!

16. How do you think being a musician helps your poetry?

Great question, Paul! Apologies if my answer comes over a bit pretentious.. it can get a bit la-di-dah when you’re talking about such things!

In a sense, a poet IS a musician. A poet orchestrates the music of a poem – using consonants, vowels, syllables, alliteration, assonances, rhyme/half-rhyme – line breaks/lengths – all this is linguistic music. And I do think to be a music-musician (guitarist/terrible keyboard player) for me is both a curse and a blessing. A blessing in that it helps me to feel my way along each line of a poem, to instinctively know what works/doesn’t work as I weave words/sounds, syllable by syllable. But it does mean that I sometimes procrastinate over even a phrase for many months. It means I tweak/edit/re-write obsessively. It means I find it very hard to read or even finish a rhythmical rhyming poem by another poet that doesn’t scan. A rhyming poem that doesn’t scan is akin to driving down a bumpy road. You keep trying to avoid the bumps, and you don’t quite know when/where they are coming. If a poem doesn’t scan, it isn’t finished.

If a poet ever says ‘Oh, it depends how you read it’, I don’t follow that. (But if it’s just performance stuff, spoken word that is not published on the page, just done in a live context, that’s very different). As a poet on the page you are giving your reader a poem that has implicit instructions on how it is to be read, and if they have to keep stopping to adapt/adjust because it doesn’t flow, then the poem isn’t fully doing its job. With my non-fiction verse series, I often imagine my readers as either busy parents/teachers/librarians reading aloud to a young child. If the text doesn’t scan, they have to work harder at delivering it to the child. And I don’t want that. I want it to be an easy, positive experience, so the words just readily sing and flow off the page. Also, if I have a 7-11 yr old reading one of my poems themselves, I don’t want them to struggle with a poem,I want them to enjoy it, to get it, to know what it’s about, and be moved/inspired/enlightened or whatever. Bumpy lines will not help this experience. Children more readily read fiction/novels, so I don’t want anything to deter them from reading one of my books. Instant readability is ESSENTIAL! But that doesn’t mean I want my poems to necessarily be superficial or lightweight all the time – which some indeed are, but I do want a great many poems to be re-read, and stimulate a bit of thought or reflection.

And overall, for this very reason I generally avoid reading rhyming verse nowadays and mainly read free verse, which I absolutely love. I try to start many of my poems as free verse, but invariably a rhyme, metrical pattern slips in. Some poems just demand to rhyme. Others will let me be more loosey-goosey and play with a free verse form, but even then I may play around – do free verse and make it into a midline acrostic as well. Depends on the subject/age group I’m writing for. With younger children, 98% of my stuff rhymes, for older readers, I’d say it’s about 60%. And in a sense, rhyming stuff is easier for me as I know how it should flow/sound, but free verse is not so obvious, is prose’s half-sibling, and has a quieter, subtler music. Writing rhyming verse is akin to a pop song in 4/4 in a major key. Free verse can be more like a very slow piano piece in waltz time in a minor key!

Whenever I read a poem (ie one by another poet) for the first time, I’ll be listening solely to the music, the soundscape.

I’ll trace the rhythm however blatant or subtle. I’ll listen to the vowels, the consonants, rhymes, alliterations, all of the tricks the poet is using. On second and third readings I’ll be processing the meaning, the message, the narrative or idea that the poem is expressing.

And that’s the same for writing for me. I’m initially concerned with the soundscape – but ultimately and clearly both are equally important. Above all poetry as far as I can see is language at its most musical and memorable – therefore the soundscape has to be well constructed. A poem built with craft is a poem built to last!

As daft as it sounds, when I’m working on a poem I will often carry it around in my head and I’ll be sounding the words out loud, all the while listening for opportunities to tighten the rhythm and the flow – but equally looking to see where I can include extra assonance alliteration and rhymes or half rhymes. All the while I’ll be ensuring that the poem says what it needs to say and I don’t care if it takes months because I want it to be the best it can be. I love words, so working with them like this is a real joy. I scrap far more poems than I keep. In one of my poetry collections I might write many hundreds of poems but keep only 40-50 or so. I want to minimise filler! In theory, I’d rather write just one single poem that I’m really happy with than thousands I have dashed off. This is why I won’t ever read a poem to an audience for many months even years as I want to ensure it’s totally finished. And even when I do eventually read it, I may well find extra tweaks I need to do!

And I’ve observed that children write in a very different way to adults. They’re far less self-critical and therefore they can write more quickly and freely. A child’s first draft will invariably be much better (relatively speaking) than an adult’s. Adults often write very slowly and cautiously knowing they can tidy it up later on. Not so children. Children I have discovered (having worked in over 1300 Primary schools!) write with verve and freshness and also very swiftly and will have no interest (unless without adult encouragement) in writing for any more than the 40 mins or however long that first version takes. Picasso said he wanted to paint like a child. I know what he meant. I certainly try to write is as openly as I possibly can in the first version. I tell teachers in INSET that you have an angel on one shoulder telling you ‘hey, you’re the best writer in world, go for it!’ but then later the devil on your other shoulder pipes up and says ‘Dream on, matey! What were you thinking of? What you’ve just written needs A LOT of work!’ And that analogy works for me!