Meet a member: Vanwy Arif

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

What does the process of editing a poetry pamphlet have in common with Strictly Come Dancing? Read on to find out, and to delve into Vanwy’s writing life.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I was born in Scotland and given a Welsh name. I gave my son an Irish name. Therefore, I do feel very Celtic. I currently live in England, and hence I feel British too. I have DNA originating from France, making me European and my married surname is Arabic. I think I fully qualify as a global citizen. I have just completed my postgraduate course in teaching creative writing at the University of Cambridge, and so am enjoying not authoring any dissertations for once. When not writing poetry, I am editing or delivering writing workshops on behalf of WEA, Word Mates or as a freelancer.

Where did your love of words come from?

I wonder if my word infatuation is in my Celtic blood. Certainly, from my mother, also a poet. When I was a child, and we were waiting in the rain for a bus which had decided not to arrive, my mother would stop the cold from pinching me by telling me stories.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I had no idea what 26 was. A friend was already a member and she recommended it, and so I paid my subscription and that was it. This was during lockdown and is one of the many good consequences of that surreal experience.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

When I read the wonderful work completed by other writers on the site, I was over-awed and didn’t work on any of the projects. But then, a project came up that I thought I had experience of, and after that I have always taken part in projects that resonate with me – and there are plenty that have done that. Last year I created a flip book as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, and so I am always learning new skills with 26.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

Mornings when the village looks mellow and misty, and the family are still in bed, are great times for me to write. The birds keep me company as the sky gradually lightens.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my poetry pamphlet. Writing twenty poems and deciding how to place them together, is quite a challenge. Poems get voted off my list, just like Strictly. Maybe that’s a good title? Strictly Poetry!

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

In 2020 I was placed in the Resilience Poetry competition with my poem, ‘Setting Up Statues.’ I got to perform my work, via Zoom, alongside Imtiaz Dharkher, Inua Ellams and Ian McMillan. Daljit Nagra introduced my poem and said that he felt it was ‘profound.’ That was an immensely proud moment as these are my poetry heroes.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I use ekphrasis a lot. It leads me to write poems that possibly I wouldn’t have thought about, as paintings and art come from other worlds, other lives and other experiences.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

Well be meeting a new 26 member each month. If youd like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Dont be shy.

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