Interview for the Wombwell Rainbow

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

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.

 

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

grew up in Cambridge, England. She has had three books of poetry published. Glass, her debut pamphlet won the inaugural Paper Swans Pamphlet Competition and the 2017 Saboteur Award for Best Pamphlet. Sightings, her debut full collection, written during her MFA at ManMet, was awarded the Michael Schmidt Prize for Best Portfolio. A poem from Sightings was also highly commended in the Forward Prize and published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2018. Elisabeth’s second full collection, At or Below Sea Level, is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and a poem from the book won the 2018 Shooter Literary Magazine Poetry Prize.

Elisabeth was a recipient of the Arvon/Jerwood 2016/17 mentorshipthe Toast Poets 2017/18 mentorship and two Arts Council ‘Grants for the Arts’ Awards (2016 and 2018). She is a Member of the Society of Authors and the ALCS. She is also founder of the Ely Poetry Society Stanza Group.

Elisabeth is editor of The Fenland Reed. Initially approached to guest-edit Issue Six, Elisabeth is now a permanent editor of the magazine, alongside Jonathan Totman and Mary Livingstone Totman. Additionally, Elisabeth reviews poetry chapbooks and full collections; her reviews have appeared in The NorthSphinxInk, Sweat & Tears and Bare Fiction to name a few.

In 1998, Elisabeth studied English and Sociology at Anglia Ruskin University (formerly APU) for her BA. In 2001, she went on to complete an MA at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. She obtained her PhD from the Open University in 2010, where she studied under the supervision of Professor Dennis Walder. In 2013 she undertook a second MA – in Creative Writing with Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she graduated with distinction.

Elisabeth has lived and worked in Jakarta, Indonesia; Panama City, Florida; Fresno, California; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Maastricht, Netherlands, where she was a member of the Maastricht Writers’ Group.

Elisabeth counts Antjie Krog, Dorianne Laux, Corinne Clegg Hales and Les Murray among her poetic influences. She writes poetic memoir and narrative poetry, sometimes with a domestic theme. Yet, as Rebecca Goss suggests, ‘you will not find anything benign or cosy here. Sennitt Clough makes us look at things, not always comfortable things, using language that startles and excites.’

Publications include Glass (2016, Paper Swans Press), Sightings (2016, Pindrop Press) and At or Below Sea Level (2019, Paper Swans Press). Elisabeth has had poems published in The RialtoNew Welsh Review,MsLexiaPoemMagma, the Bloodaxe anthology, Hallelujah for 50ft Women, the Forward Prize AnthologyStandOther PoetryInk, Sweat & Tears and The Cannon’s Mouth (see Publications for a comprehensive list). She has won, been placed or shortlisted for a number of competitions (see Competitions).

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s book-in-progress is titled The Cold Store. Similar to her previous two collections, The Cold Store examines the pyschogeography of the Fens, but through the metaphoric lens of one of the largest cold store facilities in the nation, located in the flat landscape of the Fens. The Cold Store is dark, haunting and unapologetic in its exploration of power relations.

 

Her website is http://elisabethsennittclough.co.uk/

 

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

I’m inspired by the landscape in which I grew up: The Fens. Many people comment on its flatness, its monotony, but to me it’s a springboard for the imagination. There’s also an ecological side to my work. From the C17 when The Fens were first drained, agriculture has become the defining feature. This has brought with a great deal of ecological destruction, with visible subsidence. A phenomena that I’ve written about: ‘the Fen blow’ is a result of loosened topsoil and the ensuing wind erosion. Keeping the land drained artificially has resulted in the shrinkage and drying-out of peat. In my forthcoming book, I include poems dedicated to raising awareness of such eco-issues.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I’d finished my PhD and decided to take an Open University Creative Writing course (online) as a way of dealing with thesis burnout and was fortunate enough to be taught by Caron Freeborn.

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

I can’t say that I was aware of a dominating presence of older poets. I was living in California when I began to write poetry and the public library (next to my house) had two aisles dedicated to contemporary American poetry, so I immersed myself in there.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I try to write every day or at least do an activity related to writing every day. I get anxious if I can’t write (during school holidays, for example).

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration from newspaper articles lately. The Guardian has lots of interesting material; it is there that I saw the photo essay that inspired my rondeau redouble about reindeer herders (published in Mslexia). I also still gain a lot of my inspiration from the Fen landscape.

6. What is your work ethic?

I am quite tough on myself. If I set aside time to write, I don’t slack.

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

The first poetry book that I purchased was by Seamus Heaney and his interest in the land — and a certain landscape at that — told me that poetry affects me most when it is rooted in the specific. I also studied Les Murray as a twenty-year-old undergrad and his poems had a similar impact on me. I can still visualise the landscape in ‘Driving through Sawmill Towns.’

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

I admire greatly what Liz Berry has done for regional poetry. I can say without hesitation that if it wasn’t for Liz Berry, I wouldn’t be as comfortable writing about my region.

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

Similar to many others, I write to make sense of the world, but I also feel that it has a healing dimension too.

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

I don’t think you become a writer; you’re either a writer or you’re not. As with most things, success comes through hard work and long hours. If the passion isn’t there, it will soon be evident. I think I always sensed that I was a writer because of the way in which I saw the world.

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

I am writing my third collection (fourth book) titled The Cold Store.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough