Meet Colin Dardis, judge of the poetry category

COLIN DARDIS is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. Colin is a poet, editor, arts coordinator and creative writing tutor based in Belfast. He was one of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2016. His poetry collection, the x of y, came out in May this year. Known for his devotion to supporting Northern Irish poets, Colin co-runs Poetry NI and launched the Make Yourself Heard open mic nights in Belfast. His poetry has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and the USA. Check out Colin’s website here. Twitter: @purelypoetry

What writing/poetry projects are you working on at the moment?

My debut full-length poetry collection, the x of y, has just been released by Eyewear Publishing, so I’ve been pretty busy promoting that and setting up readings. It still feels pretty amazing to have the book out, so I’ve been caught up in the excitement and bewilderment of that! I’ve been in Enniskillen recently at The Thing Itself, and read alongside Mel McMahon and Joan Newmann at the Belfast Book Festival in June. My wife and I also run Poetry NI, a multimedia literary platform; each year, we host a poetry slam event at the Festival, which is a well contested, lively night. On top of that, there’s the next issue of our online FourXFour Poetry Journal coming out soon, which showcases poets from Northern Ireland. We’re also running a family haiku workshop at Seamus Heaney Homeplace in August.

What inspired you to join the judging panel?

My wife works for the Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland, and my late father was in the early stages of dementia before he passed away last year. My employer, Verbal Arts Centre in Derry, also does a lot of outreach work with older people’s groups, hosting shared reading sessions to encourage people to share their stories and experiences, as well as running intergenerational events. I’ve seen the struggle that older people can go through with loneliness and isolation, and I’ve experienced that myself during a time of severe depression. So when I read about the great work that Link Age does, I basically jumped at the chance. I believe in what the charity stands for, and the difference it is making in people’s lives; to help contribute to that in some small way is an honour.

What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

The one piece of advice I always say is read. Read as much other poetry as you can, and read widely. Read poets from other countries and other backgrounds, as well as your local writers; subject yourself to what your contemporaries are putting out there. Go and get yourself a library card. If your library doesn’t have many books in, badger them to order some. Have a look at what’s being produced in journals and online zines. Subscribe to a couple if you can afford it. Pay attention to how other writers use language and technique to convey their message, it’s a marvellous learning experience. I’ve met people who write poetry that don’t bother to read others, and I know people who are keen readers: the difference in their output is notable.

Which poets or writers inspire you most?

It’s probably the ones I know personally, or at least know on social media. When I see people share their stories about writing – perhaps they’ve got something published, or been placed in a competition – that is just as inspiring as reading something moving. I love seeing people grow and develop, and in our work with Poetry NI, we’ve been fortunate to see lots of poets gain experience, wisdom and confidence in their approach and output. As a writer, there isn’t an endpoint; you can always improve and progress. The journey of writing poetry isn’t linear; it’s up and down, good poems and bad poems, failed ideas and moments of inspiration, acceptances and rejections. That can be hard to traverse sometimes, especially as a new poet trying to make a name for themselves. To look to others and see how they are doing, to share that common experience, is enriching.

Which of your creative projects, past or present, are you most proud of?

I’m not really comfortable with the idea of ‘pride.’ I’d much rather that my poems are read and enjoyed without me having to be a voice piece for them. But this is what you have to do these days to get yourself ‘out there.’ My collection, the x of y, is an accomplishment, certainly. It feels strange to hand over a book and have it stand for you as a writer, to say “this is my worth here, judge me on this.” I’m happy with the poems in the book, but they obviously only represent a small part of my output. As a first full-length collection, after having a few pamphlets, it’s a worthy testament, however. I hope people read it and feel inspired to think about what life involves and how we live, and what we can control within that. Poetry is all about ideas, and how we get those ideas across to others. If people pick up on those ideas, then that’s a positive result.