Colin Will

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Colin Will is a Scottish poet and publisher. He founded Calder Wood Press in the 1990s and currently edits the poetry webzine The Open Mouse. He has also served as chair on the boards of the Scottish Poetry Library and the StAnza poetry festival.

As a poet he has published a number of pamphlets and collections over the years, most recently The Propriety of Weeding (2012) and The Book of Ways (2014) by Red Squirrel Press.

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Hi Colin. I hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Your most recent collection The Book of Ways is a series of haibun based around your travels. Can you tell us a bit about how the project came into being and what it was that attracted you to the haibun form?

I’ve written in a variety of Japanese short verse forms for many years – haiku, tanka, renga, sedoka, somonka and others – but the haibun form is very different. It’s a combination of poetic prose with haiku, made famous by Basho in his Narrow Roads of the Deep North, and I’d had several published in magazines. But I had the idea to write a whole book of haibun, based on my experiences and travels, so I applied for a Hawthornden Fellowship to write it. I was accepted and I settled in to the residence, got ‘in the zone’, and wrote 112 haibun in four weeks. That became The Book of Ways and Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press liked it and agreed to publish it.

 

 

As well as being a practising poet, you are a publisher with Calder Wood Press. I find it interesting that you use different fonts and layouts in your publications to best suit the style of the individual writer’s work. To what extent do you think such attention to detail serves how the poem is enjoyed and experienced when it is being read by somebody for the first time?

I very much go along with my friend Gerry Cambridge on this. I’m fascinated by typography, and I feel that the right choice of font, and the right style of page design, enhances the look of the words on the page, and can increase a reader’s enjoyment of the words. Just as every poet is different, I try to find a ‘look’ which complements each poet’s publication.

 

 

You have been heavily involved in the StAnza festival over the years which seems to go from strength to strength. For the uninitiated, how would describe the festival and do you think there is anything that sets it apart from other poetry festivals?  

It’s a large, international festival, but it feels very intimate to those who attend. There’s no separation between participants and audiences – you can mix and mingle with world-class poets in the Byre Theatre and in the streets of St Andrews. The range and variety of events is amazing, and the performances are outstanding. It’s always different. Ezra Pound said, ‘Make It New!’ and I think StAnza does that, and does it well.

 

 

Can you give us a flavour of what to expect from the Poetry Walk event you’ll be hosting at this year’s festival?

In the course of my professional career as a librarian, I was involved in the design and building of several new libraries and library extensions, working closely with architects, planners and builders, so this year’s theme – City Lines – is right up my street. I’m looking at, into and through windows, as architectural features, metaphors and inspirations for poets.

 

 

What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any other dates in the diary you are looking forward to or specific writing goals you have set yourself?

I’m working on this year’s CoastWord Festival, which takes place in my home town of Dunbar this May, with a lively mix of local and national writers and musicians.

I’m also putting together a new collection, which Red Squirrel Press will be publishing next year, when I’ll be 75. That seems an appropriate time.

 

 

Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?

This previously unpublished poem’s title is ‘Wabi-sabi’, which is a combination of moods often found in Japanese art, music and poetry. It embodies concepts of transience and imperfection, feelings I often get when contemplating nature. The poem also incorporates my love of hillwalking and my geological background. It’s a real mountain, and a real experience.

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Wabi-sabi

Near the summit, a field
of weathered boulders
slopes up to the crest.
This is a calm place.
I could rest here,
observing how the last ice
placed the stones
without pattern
on polished bedrock.

How many hills have I climbed?
The number doesn’t matter;
they are all absorbed,
each one different
and all the same.
The way I am now
made from all the small steps
and the things seen
in these austere places.
I could rest here.

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Helen Ivory

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Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist.  Her most recent poetry collection is the semi-autobiographical Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe 2013).  She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is tutor and Course Director for the new UEA/Writers Centre Norwich creative writing programme.

She is married to the poet Martin Figura and they live in Norwich where they run the live-literature organization Café Writers.

Fool’s World – A Tarot is out now from Gatehouse Press.  She is working currently on a book of collage poems for Knives Forks and Spoons Press and a new collection entitled The Anatomical Venus for Bloodaxe Books.

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Hi Helen. I hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Firstly, congratulations on the recent launch of Fool’s World, your tarot card collaboration with Tom de Freston. It’s great to see projects where poems appear somewhere other than in the covers of a book. Can you tell us a bit more about it?‬

Thank you very much!  I’ve always been interested in the archetypal aspects of the Tarot and I began writing from them when I was casting about for something to focus on after Waiting for Bluebeard came out.   That book was so personal, so writing about the mythopoeic seemed a perfect cure!

As it turns out Tom has always been interested in the Tarot so when I posted something on my website about my new Tarot poems he contacted me to ask whether I’d like to collaborate on an ekphrastic project.  Our process was largely me writing from the cards and Tom making work from my poems and his own interpretation of the cards.

We are very much interested in what might happen next in our Tarot’s journey now the packs are finding their way into peoples’ homes.  And to quote Tom, from the introduction to Fool’s World – ‘A good poem, painting or Tarot card reading is not about projecting something onto the reader, but about holding up a set of mirrors which allow them to find stories of self in the echoed shadows.’

 

 

I get the impression visual art is close to your heart as well as poetry. You produce your own artwork and you have a dedicated Words & Images section on ‬Ink, Sweat and Tears‪. To what extent do you think the two disciplines are the same and are there things you can express in poetry that can’t be done in visual art and vice versa?    ‬

Yes, I went to Art School and started writing poems after my Foundation as part of my Cultural Studies Degree.  George Szirtes was my poetry tutor, and he also began as a visual artist.  I think there are a lot of poets who began as, or who also practice as visual artists – Paul Farley, Charles Simic, Jen Hadfield – I could go on!

I wanted to be a theatre designer at one stage, and I think there is a similarity with the way I write or think of poems.  I think of them of as little environments in which things can happen which are separate to, although analogous with the ‘real world.’  I didn’t make any visual work for over ten years for various reasons including not having enough space to work – you don’t need masses of space or materials to make huge things happen with words.

When I did gain a small studio after we moved house, I began arranging objects around in boxes to create assemblages, and also to make collages which include words cut up from various sources.  I am now painting and collaging words into the paintings.  I have a book of these collage poems coming from Knives Forks and Spoons Press in a few months and will be launching the book and exhibiting the work at Anteros in Norwich.

I don’t think I could have found my voice as a visual artist if I didn’t learn to write poems first.  I think metaphor and puns are a large part of my visual practice – I wasn’t taught this on my Foundation, but I was taught about the elements of design and colour theory.  I think the work I am making now is an amalgam of everything I have gathered together in my head so far.

 

 

‪‪You work with creative writing on an academic level‬ too and have a background of teaching workshops in addition to being involved with WCN/UEA. There has been criticism in some quarters in the past that these environments end up producing poets who write in a similar manner and churn out ‘workshopped’ poems. From an insider’s perspective, what is your own take on such criticism? ‬

When people come to me to help them with their writing I feel a responsibility in helping them find their own voice.  I have largely taught adults for the past 17 years and I think that the criticisms are usually leveled at the MA programmes and younger students.  I couldn’t think of anything worse than encouraging everyone to write like everybody else!

 

 

Your husband Martin Figura is a poet as well which must make for a well-read household! Do you ever find yourself bouncing ideas off each other and offering feedback on the poems you write? To what extent (if any) do you influence each other’s work?‬

The best thing about living with another poet is that it makes writing poems an everyday type of thing, rather than something that separates you.  We can happily go off to poetry festivals together and generally chat about what we are each working on with empathetic ears.  We always read the first drafts of each others’ poems though I am pretty sure I’ve not been influenced by Martin’s work – he’s a bit more down to earth than I am.

 

 

What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry?

I’ve just started working on a new collection of poems for Bloodaxe which is called The Anatomical Venus.  This will be a sequence of poems dealing with the treatment and mistreatment of women with mental health issues since the birth of the term ‘hysteria’.  ‘Hysteria’ or the ‘wandering womb’ was a term first coined by Hippocrates. I see this book as a natural relative to Waiting for Bluebeard, which was about living in an abusive relationship.

 

 

Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to ‬Poetry Spotlight‪?

It is from the new Anatomical Venus poems.  I am writing a sequence of Wunderkammers – (literally ‘wonder chambers’) those Victorian cabinets of curiosity.  Inside my wunderkammers we see women in various states of distress.

 

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Wunderkammer with Furniture and Broken Bones

She is learning about gravitation from the inside;
her body a simple arc of muscle and bone;
each fall a glaring event in space and time.

And when she thinks she has said all there is to say
to the table, the wardrobe, the floor,
there will be further, swift, uncalled-for skirmishes.

The bruises on her face possess a geometry at first
and as blood seeps into tissues, oh she is art!

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Martin Figura

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Martin Figura is a poet and photographer based in Norwich. He has published a number of pamphlets and collections over the years including the criticically acclaimed Whistle which, together with its live show, was short-listed for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and won the 2013 Saboteur Best Spoken Word Show Award.

In 2016 he is due to publish a new pamphlet called Shed with Gatehouse Press and another full-length collection called Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine with Cinammon Press.

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Hi Martin. Hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. It seems like it’s all go for you in 2016 with your upcoming pamphlet and new poetry collection due to be published shortly. Can you tell us a bit about both?

Shed came out of a commission from film-maker Dominic Clemence. I wanted to do an illustrated  pamphlet from what I wrote, clean of the film – which will only use extracts. A similar thing happened with Arthur, my previous pamphlet, which also arose from another film driven commission. Young artist Natty Peterkin is creating some really beautiful and odd illustrations as we speak – making it something completely other than the film. It’s been a great commission for me and produced writing very different to my normal stuff.

Dr Zeeman is a mathematician who built a little machine as a physical manifestation of catastrophe theory, in order to explain it. It’s just one of a number of machine related poems in the book, which act alongside more human poems as metaphors – mostly about belonging.

 

 

I get the impression you enjoy the live performance aspect of poetry from your involvement with Cafe Writers and the touring of past shows. Am I right in saying you plan to tour Dr Zeeman and, if so, what can people expect? 

A spoken word show is also in production but it takes the poem, along with others, in a completely different direction. It isn’t a book of the show. I really like the idea of taking some of the same source material and making something else from it. The book is much more broad ranging than the show, which has a clear narrative line and is about the loss and finding of love and coming through those catastrophes.

We’re building our own Catastrophe Machine and I have the same visual team, Andre Barreau and Karen Hall, that worked on Whistle. I see it very much as Part 2 of a trilogy. It will be more theatrical than Whistle, with a soundscape as well as the machine and visuals.

 

 

Your wife Helen Ivory is a fine poet as well. Do you ever find yourself bouncing ideas off each other and offering feedback on the poems you write? And do you think you’ll ever collaborate on a writing project together?

We’re both very different writers but Helen has definitely had an impact on my writing, making it more imaginative. She’s a very keen editor too. I get more out of the arrangement than she does, but I do most of the cooking.

 

 

I understand you’re a fan of photography too and seem to have a nifty sideline in taking pictures of other poets, my personal favourite being ‘A Poet’s Work Is Never Done’ featuring Luke Wright. Care to share the story behind that particular gem?

Well I’ve done a few of Luke’s shows – and he came to me with the idea. I have a builder friend, and so that was it really. The builder showing his cleavage in the picture goes by the nickname f*ck f*ck as that is the word he uses most…

 

 

You’ll already have your hands full with promoting your new titles and show, but are there any other projects in the pipeline for the rest of this year?

I am having my first photo exhibition since 2007 in November and will be making some new work for that – which is exciting.

 

 

Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?

‘Difference Engine No 2’ is one of two difference engine poems in the new book. The Difference Engine was invented by mathematician Charles Babbage (1791-1871) to prove his equations and is the forerunner of our computers.

This poem was a late edition and arose out of writing the show. I needed something to demonstrate the impact of having a Down’s Syndrome child on the rest of the family. And this fell out of the research – I started by putting an equation into Wikipedia and went from hyperlink to hyperlink nicking stuff as I went.

So it’s pretty much a found poem, without much work from me. I just managed to get it into the book before it went off to the printers. This’ll be its first public outing.

 

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Difference Engine No 2

In a family
there are relationships at play,
a measurable space between values.

What is a norm?

The orbital limits of members may differ widely
making comparisons unstable.

This is often the case
when the dynamics of it
are chaotic.

By studying the trajectory of one member
difficulties arise.

Some may wander erratically,
become lost
or vulnerable

like a free spinning wheel
coupled to a small motor
by a spring.

The behaviour of one
affects the behaviour of others,

biology and magic
have a role to play.

It may well separate
into two parts:
one that converges towards the orbit,
another that diverges
from the orbit.

An equation is an equality;
an interdependency
is not necessarily true or known.

The parameters of the system
may not be identified precisely
or terms may be missing.

Some are too complicated
to be understood.

A circle map may be used to study
the behaviour of a beating heart,
the position and value of a body.

Families are like:
the flow of water in a pipe,
the swing of a pendulum,
the number of fish, each springtime
in a lake.

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Hello (poetry) world!

And so it begins. This is the first (of hopefully many to follow) posts on a brand spanking new poetry website.

Much like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, I have gone with the ‘Build it and they will come’ mantra and put up the site before I’ve actually secured any content…

Here’s hoping things go to plan!