The Hungry Writer: An Interview with Lynne Rees
Lynne Rees started working with haiku forms in 2006, was haibun editor at Simply Haiku in 2008 and 2009, and co-editor, with Jo Pacsoo, of the British Haiku Society's Haibun Anthology, The Unseen Wind (2010). In 2011, she jointly edited, along with Nigel Jenkins and Ken Jones, another country, haiku poetry from Wales. Lynne has also published Learning How to Fall (poetry, 2005), The Oven House (novel, 2008), Messages (flash fiction collaboration with Sarah Salway, 2008), forgiving the rain (haibun, 2012) and Real Port Talbot (travel guide, local history & memoir, 2013).
JW: Let me ask first, with your permission, about your personal background. You come from Wales and I wonder what influence, if any, this circumstance had on your literary development and interests. The population of Wales is small when measured on the world's scale and Welsh history and culture are unique. Was a Welsh sensibility or identity formative for you or did you mature at a distance or with indifference to the same?
LR: I suppose on an international level Wales's most famous literary export is Dylan Thomas who was born a matter of miles away from the town where I was born and grew up. But I wasn't introduced to his work while I was at school in the 1960s and 1970s where the emphasis was on the traditional (English) literary canon of Shakespeare and a clutch of usual suspects like Dickens, Austen and Wordsworth. If he had been included on the syllabus it's possible I'd have been as indifferent to his work as I was to literature studies in general: probably a combination of uninspiring teaching and a personal dissatisfaction with school in general.
I didn't actually start to write until around 1988, 10 years after moving away from Wales, and at the time I was completely unaware of any Welsh literary influence on my work.
Between 1994 and 1996 I studied for a Master's degree at the University of Glamorgan in South Wales, working with the Welsh poet, Gillian Clarke, and this was the first time I became aware of "voice": what a poet writes about and how they express it. A lot of Gillian's work has its origins in Welsh landscape and life, but maybe that's to be expected from a writer who lives there. My own voice didn't seem anchored by my birthplace or my history and my early poems avoided, as far as I can remember, any explicit reference to Wales, or my family and personal history. Although "avoided" suggests a conscious rejection and that wasn't the case: I suppose I was more interested in the universal human emotional experience rather than one framed by geography or personal experience.
In more recent years I have written explicitly about Wales, about family and ancestors, about the history of the town where I grew up. In fact, that first began when I started to research and write haiku and haibun. Here were genres that encouraged me to be more plainly spoken and dilute the poetic fireworks that were in danger of becoming an unconscious habit in my poetry. I was overly fond of an extended metaphor! Moving to the South of France in 2007 led me to explore even further the events and ideas of my Welsh childhood in my hungry writer blog; perhaps a case of when I was a way from Wales I could write about Wales, to misquote Hemingway and his "Paris."
But apart from the rhythm of my language choices, that draw on the patterns of my everyday speech—the inflections and intonations, the musical peaks and dips that people tend to identify when they hear Welsh people speak—and these days, the often explicit Welsh subject matter I explore, as a writer I remain more interested in my audience's potential interest and appreciation than in preserving any personal national or cultural identity.