PAUL BROOKES (The Wombwell Rainbow) is a prolific writer with quite a number of chapbooks to his name. He’s a Yorkshireman, always writes well and often writes in dialect. Charming! Paul’s decided to run an ongoing series on poets, Wombwell Rainbow Interviews. I was honored to be among the first few Paul interviewed. Connect with Paul if you’d like to be considered for an interview. Visit his site and enjoy the interviews, get introduced to some poets who may be new to you, and learn a few things.
THANK YOU, Paul, for your interest and the honor of this interview.
What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I began playing with poetry in elementary school. It was magical: the way a story could be told or a point made with such economy.
“One merit of poetry few persons will deny: It says more and in fewer words than prose.” Voltaire
I’m still fascinated with the way economy gives poetry a unique power. Witness Robert Lax, the hermit poet of Patmos, whose work has bone, muscle and sinew and yet became more and more minimalist as time passed coming finally to single words running down the page.
The only thing that comes close to such power is a good documentary photograph.
Who introduced you to poetry?
My Aunt Yvonne and Uncle Larry gave me The Little Golden Book of Poetry, which was published in 1947. I kept it for years. Sometimes my aunt would read it to me. Absolute delight! (I can still hear her voice.) As I grew older I became aware that famous writers wrote the poems: Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare and others. The poems were playful, relevant and stayed with me. There was one by Walter de la Mare, The Cupboard, in which a fat little grandmother rations out Banbury Cakes and lollipops.
Of course my own small plump grandmother – called Sidto by us – wouldn’t have known Banbury Cake. Our “cake” would be baklava and our “lollipops” would be semsemiyeh (sesame candy) but, like the grandma in the poem, my grandmother was indeed the keeper of the cupboard and she was in charge of dishing up sweet and savory. So the poem was a joy and my first hint that poetry crosses borders.
How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
What I was initially aware of was the dominating presence of what seemed to me mostly Anglo-Saxon male writers, which made it appear that being a poet wasn’t viable for a scrawny brownish hyphenated girl. Eventually, the shelves of the Brooklyn Public Library revealed a wealth of female poets: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Theresa de Avila, Mary Wadsworth Brewster, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Lousia May Alcott, Amy Lowell, H.D., Djuna Barnes, Louise Brogan, Gwendolyn Brookes, Joy Davidman, Diane Di Prima, Louise Glock and others. I read about the 10 muses, the Tamil women poets, and women poets of other cultures. Hope!
My first poem was published when I was seventeen. As an adult, I would come to put poetry aside for years and write newspaper columns, feature articles, and other “practical” material that would bring in a paycheck. I came back to poetry and short stories as central efforts, something more than scribbles in my notebooks, when I retired from doing work for others in 2008.
What motivates you to write?
It feels good. Peaceful. In its essence, it’s meditation.
How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
First and foremost, I am grateful to Pearl Buck, my spiritual mother. She didn’t influence me stylistically, though I enjoyed her writing and was completely taken with her storytelling. I was influenced by the way she wrote about Chinese peasants with understanding and respect and because of her lived ethic, her sense of responsibility and commitment to those – especially children – in need. Pearl Buck was blacklisted for saying that the world would one day pay for the subjugation of the “colored” races. That wasn’t a threat. It was a warning about the losses and the inevitable fallout from moral turpitude.
Steinbeck was also an influence as was Betty Smith. They wrote about common things and common (not meant pejoratively) often poor people, the genuine people of our Earth. This remains my own value for writing and reading. Along that line, two fave poets are Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams. I appreciate the way Williams captured the demotic.
Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Probably the same writers that engage your readers, often those writers coming out from small presses, on best selling lists, and some found on lists of required reading in schools. One thing I focus on through my sites though is the work of lesser known writers and poets who are worth reading. So let me give a few of them a shout-out:
- Paul Brookes is one!
- My smart savvy talented daughter-in-law, Karen Fayeth.
- Many of the women in Second Light Network of Women Poets who may be fairly well know in the U.K. but not as much in the U.S.
- Michael Dickel whose chapbook War Surrounds Us is a fave of mine.
- Naomi Baltuck who puts together photographs with brief narratives to create stories that are charming and pointed.
- Former journalist, Joe Hesch, poet and writer, who brings us tales about America’s roots.
- Silva Zanoyan Merjanian who donates the sales from her books to Armenian refugees.
- John Anstie, Corina Ravenscraft and Priscilla Galasso, who are so sharp and informed and whose ideals are so real my heart weeps.
- Michael Watson, who brings grace and perspective to everyday issues.
- James Cowles, an acute wit.
- Charles W. Martin, among other things, the king of folksy wisdom.
- Juli Juxtaposed is probably the most brilliant essayist in our circle. She takes my breath away.
- Russ Green has a sense of conscience that won’t stop.
- Bozhidar Pangelove is lyrically loveable.
- Julia Gherghei, Sharon Frye, Reuben Woolley, Liliana Negoi (actually quite notable in Romania), Debais Mukhopadhyay are conscious writers who share deep concerns for the human condition and for the beauties of nature.
- Sonja Benskin Mesher for the way she combines words and art.
What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
It takes hard work, dedication, and lots of alone time, so first ask yourself “Do I want to be a writer or do I want to have written?” If the later, find something else to do. If the former, then …
Read. Read. Read.
Write. Write. Write.