Inky Interview Special: Wayne Holloway-Smith: with Claire Faulkner

(Photo credit: Mark Sherratt)

Wayne Holloway-Smith teaches at the University of Hertfordshire. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first book-length collection, Alarum, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2017. In 2018 Wayne won the National Poetry Competition for ‘the posh mums are boxing in the square’.

Wayne, thankyou for agreeing to speak to Ink Pantry. First of all, I’d like to say thankyou for the daily emails you have been sending out during lockdown. They’ve been a real help to me, not only introducing me to other poets, but also giving me ideas for different approaches towards my own writing. What inspired you to do these? Have you been surprised by the reaction?

Hiya. No problem, it’s nice to talk.

I’m glad to hear the daily emails are helping in some way, and that they’re introducing you to interesting work. Erm, I think what inspired them was that I was seeing lots of people commenting in various ways about a loss of connection during this time, and boredom – and various anxieties manifesting in all types of ways. I have wanted to challenge myself to be more thoughtful and generous for a long while. And I guess I see this as one way of testing that.

I’m aware that I have a certain level of readership, and thought if people enjoyed the work, then maybe I should give them things to keep them occupied. I was worried that this might seem like a self-indulgent exercise too, though. I put out a gentle offer on Twitter – expecting perhaps between 5-50 takers, and was shocked to find I’m now emailing over 250 people on a daily basis. The feedback has been really amazing, actually. People have been very enthusiastic, and it’s so nice to see people posting work online that didn’t exist until a couple of hours ago. Some very good and interesting things.

Has poetry always been a part of your life?

I grew up in a house with no books at all and failed all of my GCSEs. My careers advisor ‘advised’ me to work in a factory or in the voluntary sector. I didn’t actually know that poetry existed, at that point, in a contemporary sense. When I started writing, I thought I was the UK’s first contemporary poet. Lol.

How would you describe your work?

How I think about my own work changes all the time, and is always influenced by the last thing I wrote and what I’m reading, what I’ve seen on TV, the song I’ve most recently listened to. I’m much more interested to hear how other people see it. Someone said the other day that I bleed onto the page, then mop it up. The stains that are left is the poem. I won’t tell you who. Haha. I think he/ she/ they were taking the piss.

When I read your work I find it open and personal. If I was reviewing, I’d describe your style as direct but also vulnerable, and as a reader I sense an honesty in your poems which I can connect to. Do you set out to share such vulnerability or does this naturally develop during your writing process? (I’m thinking of ‘the posh mums are boxing in the square’ which I find deeply emotional.)

I think I only want to write vulnerably, and honestly. I have no time for irony, or distancing or whatever. Other people have said it better than me, but basically conventional English is limiting, and poetry is a means through which we might find another vocabulary for our emotional experiences.

The idea and notion of identity also features in your work. The poem ‘Some Waynes’ made me question if you can ever really be one ‘identity’, or whether we are mix of every assumption or every ideal placed upon us. How do you feel the theme of identity fits within your work?

I don’t think identity is fixed. It’s an ongoing negotiation, and contingient upon your socio-economic circumstances, your friends, your background, and also, partly, pure chance. So each time I write, I’m working out, or trying to work out a bit of how I see the world and myself in relation to it at the point that I’m writing.

Can you share any details of what you’re working on currently?

Love Minus Love is coming out in July, from Bloodaxe Books. I’m excited about that. I think it might be the best thing I ever make. I’m also writing new things, feeling my way into how I might write next.

Are there any poets you are enjoying reading at the moment?

I love Natalie Shapero, Anthony Anaxagorou, CAConrad, Rachael Allen, Helen Charman, Holly Pester, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Raymond Antrobus, Terrance Hayes, Ross Gay, Paige Lewis, Rebecca Tamas, Selima Hill, Morgan Parker, Richard Siken, Jericho Brown, Jenny George. Also new writers to look out for: Arji Manuelpillai, Emma Jeremy, Katie O’Pray.

A lot of our readers are new and aspiring writers. Do you have any advice for them?

I think that the biggest thing is that there is no objective good poem, and no set way of doing things. Read the writers you love and try to learn as much from them as you can. Talk to others. And write what makes you feel energised.

Do you have a poem you can share with us?

Here’s one from my forthcoming collection.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Stay safe and well everyone.

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