Lockdown Interviews: no21 Ness Owen interviewed by Joy Howard

Ness Owen (Mamiaith, Shortest Day, Longest Night, Dusk, An Outbreak of Peace, Noon, Time and Tide) interviewed by fellow poet Joy Howard, (Foraging, Dusk,Time and Tide)

Joy Howard

Joy:     As someone who has never been rooted in any particular location, I am especially interested in how the opposite of that – in your case Wales and Ynys Môn – makes your poetry particular and different. What would you like to say about that?

Ness:   I never really thought consciously about how much I write about place until more of my work was published and people started commenting. I’ve always felt deeply rooted to Ynys Môn and to Cymru- to the landscape, history, language and stories. I grew up living with one set of grandparents in the North but also frequently visiting my other grandparents in Swansea in the South. They were all great storytellers and they (together with my primary school and Sunday school teachers) instilled me with a great sense of my roots and of stories bursting to be told.
School holidays were often spent making the long, (up to 7-hour journey because of travel sickness) across the length of the country. I was fascinated by the changing landscapes and the place names, often knowing their order off by heart. On these journeys, I learnt so much of a history that wasn’t taught in schools from the meaning of names, folklore to story behind graffiti on walls.
As you can imagine, living on a small wind-blown island, the sea can’t help but show up in my writing too. I’ve never lived more than a couple of minutes from the shore. I was brought up in a village with the Irish Sea in front of me and the Inland Sea behind me and I now live on my husband’s family farm where the spring tides come into the fields not far from the house.
Also, growing up in a bilingual community has had a great influence on my writing and I’ve always been fascinated by words and languages in general. In school, I also studied German, French and Latin. One of my neighbours was German so we often played German games in her garden and at Christmas we sang ‘Silent Night’ in Welsh, English and German. I love the different sounds of languages and the weaving between more than one language.

Joy:     I am a lifelong fan of R S Thomas – has he been an influence in your writing? Anyone else in particular?

Ness:   I’m a great fan too and his poetry collections are always at hand to return to. Although I was aware of him for his activism when I was growing up, I was very much a later comer to his poetry. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realised that he was brought up a few miles from me and I’d attended the same secondary school as him. Even though I studied literature up to a degree, we didn’t study any Welsh writers writing in English, so I do feel cheated that he wasn’t celebrated at that time. Thankfully that has changed.
I read a lot of poetry, so I probably have been influenced by many and I enjoy a great variety of styles. Names that spring to mind today would be Mary Oliver, Menna Elfyn, Seamus Heaney, Tony Harrison but that list leaves many others out!

Joy:     Do you feel that gender/sexuality/age also have a bearing on what you write?

Ness:   I sure they must. I was very aware when I began studying literature that we weren’t studying many women writers or poets. In the first few years of secondary school, we were given a poetry anthology to read called ‘Reach Out’ (which I confess, I still have). It has 100 poems in it, and at the time I counted that there were only 3 poems by women. This stayed with me, so I suppose I always felt a sense of how easy it is not to be heard.

Joy:     And following on from that, do you also write ‘outside your skin’ so to speak?

Ness:   I hope that some of my work gives voices to others too. I attended a workshop many years ago where we asked to rewrite a piece that we had written from other person’s point of view, either from another gender, age group, opposing side etc. I use this exercise on my work sometimes to try and see if another angle adds a new dimension and, in an effort to make sure I’m not being too blinkered.

Joy:     I see that you have also written a number of plays – which is your preferred medium?

Ness:   I enjoy writing both and often a play will start as or turn into poem or a vice versa. As I get older, I seem to be writing more poetry, but I do have ideas on the back burner that will hopefully turn into plays.
I like the anonymity of writing plays in the sense that you can hand it over and can sit with the audience (even if you heart is racing). On the other hand, poetry is something that I can work on while I’m doing other things whereas plays tie me to the desk.

Joy:     How was it working with a translator?

Ness:   I was lucky to have met Sian Northey in a playwriting workshop the year before my collection was published and she encouraged me to write more in Welsh. Afterwards, I also attended a workshop of Sian’s and learnt so much about sitting with the meaning of the poem before starting to translate.
When Cherry asked if I would translate a few of the poems into Welsh I asked Sian if she would proof-read and make any suggestions and thankfully, she agreed. From my side it was a free and easy conversation and we emailed back and forth. She was very gracious at pointing out any grammatical errors or ‘camdrieglo’ (incorrect mutations) and it was a joy to see the finished poems.

Joy:     I’m devastated that all Grey Hen Press readings have been cancelled for the foreseeable. Do you enjoy performing your work?

Ness:   It must be such a difficult time as readings are such a lifeline and disappointing that events are being understandably cancelled.
Although I still get nervous, I do enjoy performing. I think it’s a catalyst to improve your craft and to find out when things don’t work. I also love meeting and listening to other writers. I enjoy going to open mics and I’m a member of a few local groups that organise events. I’ve got so much out of these chances to perform.

Joy:     What projects are you currently working on?

Ness:   As part of the multi creative exhibition ‘Unus Multorom’ in Plas Bodfa on Ynys Môn, I’ve been working on a set of micro poems in Welsh and English about 3 female saints Gwenfaen, Ffraid and Dwynwen who were all ‘brought by the sea’. It’s been fascinating to research them and, to realise how much their stories hold true to what we need more of today: kindness, a soothing of the mind and unconditional love. I’ve been working in collaboration with the artist Rita Ann Jones who has produced an amazing sculpture out of recycled plastic which is based on the chains and ropes holding ships in the quay. The poems will be displayed within the sculpture together with salvaged pieces found on the beaches where the saints were said to had arrived at. Due to the lockdown, the exhibition has had to change medium to digital and it will eventually all be found at https://www.plasbodfa.com/unus-multorum-2020 .
I hope to put together a pamphlet of micro poems, a form I’ve been enjoying working with after the call outs from the Black Bough community on Twitter.
I’m also very excited to be reading for a journal later this year.

Joy:     Please add anything you want to say that I have left out – and I must order a copy of Mamiaith from Cherry forthwith!

Ness:   Thank you for selecting such thought provoking questions.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown Interviews: no20 Anne Macaulay interviewed by Ness Owen

Anne family tales

Anne Macaulay

Anne Macaulay (Vindication, The Other Side of Sleep) interviewed by fellow Poet, Ness Owen (Shortest Day, Longest Night, Dusk,  An Outbreak of Peace,  Noon, Time and Tide, Mamiaith)

Ness_Owen (4)

Ness:  I very much enjoyed reading all your poems in the Vindication anthology. They have a ‘travelled’ feel to them. Are you an avid traveller? Where is ‘home’ for you?

Anne:           That’s very kind of you. I love travelling. It is not just the pleasure and relaxation part of it though of course that is important. It is part of my passion for learning and enjoying difference – food, architecture and other cultural aspects that add to my joy at broadening my experience. My flamenco poems are an example of this. I love the colours, the drama, the music in all its forms – guitar, voice, percussion, particularly the power of the clapping and how these rhythms are manifest in the dance. It is a very different culture from my original home in rural north Scotland, but the power and passion of music and dance have always drawn me in. My current home is in the east of London and has been since the 70s. I love the mixture of peoples and cultures making every day like a travel experience.

Ness:  Identification in Vindication is a hauntingly powerful poem. What was the inspiration for it?

Anne:           The opening lines refer to my ‘Greek foot’. My long middle toes were often the subject of teasing by my sisters and embarrassment for me as a teenager. It was a revelation to see my feet in some old statues in museums and it became a bit of a joke. I must have been thinking of this subconsciously while I washed myself as the first lines popped into my head one day as I stepped out of the shower. I probably watch and read too many crime stories as somehow it suddenly seemed easy to imagine myself lying on a mortuary slab with a clinical discussion going on about my dead body. As I did this, it didn’t feel maudlin, rather it felt interesting to compare the factual details of a body with the human being who once occupied that space. It gave me a vehicle to self-reflect.

Ness:  Are there common themes in your poems that you return to?

Anne:           Like a lot of people the themes of childhood and family and who I am often recur. I had a very old-fashioned, strict, but loving, upbringing as the fifth of seven children. My father was a Church of Scotland minister from the Outer Hebrides and my mother was a teacher and also hailed from the Highlands. Fathers and Daughters in Vindication brings in my father and my husband when we reconciled over not having a religious wedding by having a blessing in my parents’ living room. I have written, too, about my children and as a new grandmother I suspect I may soon expand these family poems to include my beautiful new granddaughter. However, as is shown in Vindication, I also go beyond my immediate world. For example, the theme of feminism is close to my heart as well as concerns for treatment of all groups who are oppressed for example, the poems Vindication, Here Lived and A Man Once Said to Me. However I rarely write overtly political poetry and sometimes my poetry stems from a sudden random thought – this has happened several times after stepping out of the shower. The poem, I Went to the Market and I Bought, which appears in the Arachne Press anthology, The Other Side of Sleep, was one such.

Ness:  You have had a long career in education. Would you say this has had an impact on your writing?

Anne:           I loved my years in education – working to give young people the best of chances to become their best as human beings contributing to society was always my goal. I suppose that made me very aware of human nature dealing with it, shaping it, in all its forms, in the classroom, the corridor and the playground. So perhaps I gained insights that find their way out in poetry. I actually didn’t really do much creative writing, poetry or prose, until the end of my career. Work occupied so much of my time that I didn’t have time for much else. However, I am so grateful that I started poetry classes as a diversion from not working and found that after all these years of considering myself very uncreative, that I get great satisfaction from writing, particularly poetry.

Ness:   What’s the most read poetry book on your shelves?

Anne:           I came to poetry late and so when I was young and, as a teacher of English for some of my career, I would have read mainly the school canon. Writers such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfrid Owen, Robert Burns, Sylvia Plath would have been some of the ones I read most and enjoyed. Sometimes it was just individual poems stuck in my mind like Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning or Frances Cornford’s Childhood rather than collections. Since going to classes at City Lit and The Poetry School it has been fantastic being introduced to contemporary poetry. I have enjoyed so many new works in the last few years it is hard to choose. I have also had the added enjoyment of reading pamphlets and books written by people I now consider friends as well as poets I admire. All the poets I have had as tutors are great poets whose work I enjoy and have been generous in sharing their appreciation of other peoples’ poetry: Clare Pollard, Roddy Lumsden, Chris McCabe, Matthew Caley, Sophie Herxheimer, Sasha Dugdale and Mark Waldron – but if you’re going to pin me down on this, I would have to say that Roddy Lumsden’s So Glad I’m Me is probably the most read, recently. This is for a number of reasons. I love Roddy’s poetry and it would probably take me too long to define why. Like most of his students, Roddy’s class and his writing had a huge influence on me, and I used to say to him that I could feel him looking over my shoulder – telling me I needed to do a lot of rethinking and redrafting! This particular collection, sadly his last before his death in January, has many poems written to or inspired by different people he knew and one of those (Small Calamities) was written for me after I’d had a bit of a crisis. This of course makes it more personal for me but also, I love all the poems in it.

Ness:  What’s the best and worst advice about writing poetry that you’ve been given?

Anne:           Writing is so personal that different things apply to different people and their varied writing styles. I think being advised to read work aloud has been very helpful and re-reading with an ear not just to sound and rhythm but to flabbiness! So cutting is often very helpful. However I think it is important to hold onto one’s own belief in work. I remember once I brought a poem back to an early workshop where I had tried to take on board everything my classmates had said. One of the class said to me at the end quietly, ‘You can sometimes over-workshop a poem’. I was really grateful for that, and now only take on board advice that fits totally with my own thinking.

Ness:  Following on from that, if you could give your younger self advice what would it be?

Anne:           That is quite difficult as I never considered myself a poet until in recent years. I certainly wish I had considered myself as having a creative side when I was younger, and that I had started writing in my youth. Perhaps I would say to myself – there is work and there is family but set aside something for yourself whatever it is to do even if it is only now and then.
Ness:  What are your future writing plans?

Anne:           I am not great at planning and looking forward. I think my writing plans would be helped if I did more reading of other poets’ work. I have had poetry published in anthologies but would love to have a pamphlet or collection out of my work as an individual poet. I think this interview has made me think I perhaps need to be more organised and disciplined as a poet if I am ever to come close to achieving that goal. Maybe that should also be a bit of advice to my younger self too.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Poetry goes Eeeeee

ALL our poetry books are now available as eBooks!

With the booktrade suffering, we wanted to make it as easy for you to get lovely things to read as possible, so we have worked very hard to get these in the vitual shops for you. Thanks to Inpress for organising conversions and uploading!

Find these gorgeous words as Kindles on Amazon

and ePub on Hive

In case you were wondering, all our fiction is already available as ebooks. We aren’t set up to sell them ourselves, yet. Working on it.

Anthologies The Other Side of Sleep, and Vindication: poems from six women poets

With Paper for Feet Jennifer A McGowan

A Gift of Rivers, and The Don’t Touch Garden, Kate Foley

Foraging , Joy Howard

Erratics, Cathy Bryant

In Retail, Jeremy Dixon

The Knotsman, Math Jones

Mamiaith, Ness Owen

Let out the Djinn, Jane Aldous

The Significance of a Dress, Emma Lee.

 

Virtual Launch, Time and Tide: Ness Owen reads Sea Lessons

Ness Owen reading from her home on the island of Ynys Môn, at the rapidly put together online launch of Time and Tide. We had a week’s notice that we had to move the launch on-line. Our authors pulled out all  the stops, learnt new skills and we launched on 21st March on our Facebook Page with Live recordings. We didn’t really have time to promote, so we barely sold any books… We’d love you to buy a copy of this EXCELLENT book, available in 2 editions!

Time and Tide Videos: Sea Lessons Greenwich & Holyhead

Uploading the videos from Solstice Shorts 2019, Time & Tide continues. Here is Sea Lessons by Ness Owen read byPatsy Prince and at Holyhead, read by the author.

We published Ness’ collection Maimiath last year.

Limited edition illustrated book of the festival material available now from our webshop or events only.

We are aiming to get BSL translations of some of the material, and this will also be on the website in about March, to coincide with the launch of the bookshop version of the book.

 

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ness Owen

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follow the link for Ness Owen talking to Wombwell Rainbow about writing, living near the sea and her debut collection, Mamiaith.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ness Owen

Mamiaith Book Launch videos part 4

Final videos of the launch of Mamiaith by Ness Owen, held at Canolfan Ucheldre in Holyhead.

Ness reads a pair of political poems in her second set – a bit of history, and a brilliant metaphor for the silencing of women, in Welsh and English.

and some of the musical interlude from Caine and ‘Caine’s dad’-

 

 

You can buy Mamiaith direct from our webshop or ask your local bookshop to stock it!

Caine and Aled Jones-Williams perform Titrwm Tatrwm, an ancient Ynys Môn folk song.

 

Mamiaith Book Launch videos part 3

Videos of the launch of Mamiaith by Ness Owen, held at Canolfan Ucheldre in Holyhead.

Ness reads a couple of more personal poems in her second set – her grandmother cooking, and her auntie’s feet!

 

You can buy Mamiaith direct from our webshop or ask your local bookshop to stock it!

Mamiaith Book Launch videos part 2

Videos of the launch of Mamiaith by Ness Owen, held at Canolfan Ucheldre in Holyhead.

This is where Ness’s friends got involved, reading some of the poems on Ness’s behalf…

Karen Ankers and Eabhan Ni Shuileabhain read #10 ways to say No (to Radioactive Mud)

 

Fiona Owen reads Laboon

 

Eabhan Ni Shuileabhain reads March

 

Anne Phillips reads One Name – Cymru

many thanks to all for getting involved.

You can buy Mamiaith direct from our webshop or ask your local bookshop to stock it!

Mamiaith Launch videos – Part 1

First of the videos from the launch of Mamiaith at Canolfan Ucheldre in Holyhead.

On the night the Eisteddfod packed up early because the weather was so bad, the hardy folk of Ynys Môn shrugged on their coats, and very possibly sou’westers and wellies, and came out to celebrate Ness Owen’s lovely book.

I don’t normally include my wittering on in the videos, but there were some important things to report in this introduction, so it’s included.

 

And here’s author Ness Owen reading her title poem, Mamiaith.