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.
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.
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
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.