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Interview: Bill Bradford talks about No Rising of the Sheep

Bill Bradford grew up in Kawhia and now lives in Wellsford. He began his working life as a shepherd, first on sheep stations in Aotearoa, then in the UK. He later worked in a variety of jobs including communications, as a community activist, and as a trade union organiser. His poems have been published in journals and anthologies in New Zealand, Ireland, and England. Bill talks to NZ Booklovers about his first collection of poetry.

Tell us a little about No Rising of the Sheep.

As a young man, I worked as a shepherd on isolated sheep stations. This shaped a particular way of understanding and experiencing life which provides the foundation for poems about animals, landscapes, and people. Other poems in the collection are about the shepherd’s place in history and religion. The looming dangers of climate change are the theme of several of the poems.

What inspired you to write this collection of poetry?

I always enjoyed writing but at some stage, I became confused as to exactly what poetry is and lost confidence in my writing. A few years ago I started writing again thinking I would try writing either short stories or perhaps a novel. When I wrote it was often what I thought was probably poetry that emerged. I wasn’t sure what to do with it so sent poems off to a couple of international competitions and submitted poems to local literary journals. The first four poems I sent off were shortlisted and printed in anthologies, or published in journals, so I thought I would try to do a collection. After I had been writing for a week or so I realised I was writing a circle of poems that were either about my life or reflections on bigger themes seen through the eyes of a shepherd.

What research was involved?

I did very little research other than the odd google check of my memory of places and events.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

At the time I did most of the writing I had recently retired and moved to the far north. I have since returned to work in Auckland, but at the time I set my computer up in the garden shed where I kept my tools. I began cutting and selling firewood, mainly for exercise. Each morning I would cut wood for half an hour or so then write for about an hour. It is no accident that a couple of the poems feature firewood.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

A soundtrack to accompany the book would include ‘Union Song’ by Tom Morello and ‘The Internationale sung by Billy Bragg. Midnight Oil’s ‘Blue Sky Mining’ could also feature. Nonreligious music about shepherds is a bit hard to find but anything a bit country would also do the job.

What did you enjoy the most about writing these poems?

The most enjoyable parts of writing this book were when words or phrases I was searching for revealed themselves at odd times, in that half-awake state in the middle of the night, while splitting a piece of wood, or on an early morning walk on the beach.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I got The Poetry of Pablo Neruda as a Christmas present this year. It sits beside my bed and most nights I dabble, reading a poem or two starting at the first page that opens, then thinking about it until I fall asleep. I am also reading ‘The Dawn of Everything’ by David Graeber and David Wengrow and it is an absolute revelation.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I need to be relaxed to write. Lines of new poetry frequently come bubbling into my consciousness and I am playing with a few themes, but I am not sure when I will get the time to apply myself to writing seriously again.

Mary Egan Publishing


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