Colin Dardis is a poet, editor and freelance arts facilitator from Northern Ireland. He co-runs Poetry NI, and is editor for Lagan Online. One of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2016, a collection with Eyewear, the x of y, is forthcoming in 2018. A past recipient of the Artist Career Enhancement Scheme from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Colin is a past winner of the Glebe House Harmony Trust and Fun Palaces #WriteScience Poetry Competitions (both 2015) and the Edit Red Writers’ Choice Award for Poetry. His work has been widely published throughout Ireland, UK and USA.
Colin’s event Taking the Mic, which is in association with The Irish Writers Centre and Poetry NI, is on Friday 3rd November in Smock Alley Theatre.
Q. Colin, we are so happy to have you on the Dublin Book Festival programme this year. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming event Takin the Mic?
Takin the Mic is the regular open mic night run by Irish Writers Centre, open to all poets, storytellers, singer-songwriters, etc. Earlier in the year, IWC did a special ‘Northern Takeover’ up in Belfast, at the Crescent Arts Centre, where we run our own open mic night, Purely Poetry. So the festival event is really a super-combination of forces North and South, bringing together a taste of both scenes for one exceptional night. You can call it a cross-border initiative I guess, and it’s great that IWC is looking at Northern Irish poets and bringing them into the strong literary spectrum that exists in Dublin.
Q. You have a collection with Eyewear, ‘the x and y’ due for release next year. Can you reveal anything about these works to us?
Well, I’m at the nervous stage of trying to finalise the manuscript, weeding out any potentially weak poems, and making sure it’s as good a representation of myself and my writing as possible. Any poet who has been in a similar position will tell you that it is an agonising process! The poems are mostly culled from the past seven years: an important theme for me is mental health and wellbeing, how we view ourselves in the world and try to make sense of things. It’s a collection that looks to step outside of myself and touch upon the unspoken experiences that people go through.
Last year has seen major rites of passage for me: my father passed away in April, and I got married in June. So I expect these will creep into the book somewhere. Otherwise, you just have to trust yourself and put the work out there and hope for the best. The idea of ‘hope’ is a common thread, very subtle in some poems, but vital. With my depression, hope is what keeps me moving, the sense that somehow, life stays together.
Q. You have an extensive experience in facilitating the Arts. How does your own background in writing inform how you help other practitioners/writers?
Oddly, I think it’s my experience being a manager that informs it more. In management, you learn that there’s no way to manage everyone in your team with the same approach. Every individual has different ambitions, motivations and ways of learning. It’s the same with poetry.
The best poets have learnt not to be afraid of being individual, to speak the secrets no one else knows, and to do it in a way that is distinctive to them. That’s what a facilitator should be aiming to bring out in people. You can tell them all about the mechanics of writing – the difference between metaphor and simile, assonance and consonance, how to construct a sonnet or a villanelle – but without teaching them to say something of worth to them, something that might surprise and inform them, it’s pointless. Otherwise, you just end up with everyone sounding the same, writing the same boring poems.
Q. For those of us who want to explore more poetry, can you name one piece of work that has inspired you or that you would recommend?
Ah, one piece is so restrictive! I suppose reflecting on my previous answer, I would have to go for Paul Durcan’s long poem, Christmas Day. Durcan cuts to the chase, tells you exactly how he’s feeling no matter if it’s embarrassing to him or not, and doesn’t dumb down for the reader. Christmas Day is bleak, is joyful, is detailed and dark and doom-ridden but still hopeful. Good poetry resonates with people, but it requires work from the reader to, to go inside themselves and dare to ask ‘is this me, what part of myself is the poet speaking to here?’ I think the reason why Rupi Kaur is so popular right now is because she has found a way to tap into that directly, to allow readers to see themselves in her poems. When I read poetry, I want to read the mind of the poet, not just well-executed verse. Durcan’s mind is open to us, which makes him such an effective writer.