Meet The Artist: Colin Dardis

Colin Dardis is a 40 year old man from County Tyrone. Colin is a man of many talents, a Poet, an Editor, an Arts Coordinator and a Creative Writing Facilitator. Colin has been writing poetry since primary school and started reading in front of live audiences back in Arcadia Coffeehouse in North Street Arcade in 2001. The arcade burnt down in an arson attack in 2004, leaving the live poetry scene without a spiritual home. Since that, Colin started organising open mic and slam nights and has been involved in the poetry scene one way or another ever since.

What genre / style do you create in?

My main form of writing is poetry, but I have dabbled in prose. There are two plays and two novellas gathering digital dust on my laptop. But poetry is definitely the dominant genre. I think because I host open mics and slams, people sometimes see me as a spoken word poet (and as they say in Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with that), but really I prefer to write and have people read my work.

What would you be best known for?

In the past few years, I’ve had a few commissions from the Arts Council and other organisations. I’ve been asked to write poems to commemorate 70 years of the NHS in Northern Ireland, and to honour Senator George Mitchell’s contribution to the peace process and Good Friday Agreement. I was also asked to write a poem for a Sky One programme about Northern Ireland, the brief was something that captured the forward looking spirit of the people, but also recognised the bloodshed, difficulties and the Troubles. That was a tricky lot to balance! So outside of the immediate Belfast poetry circle, that’s probably what I’m most known for.

What would you consider your biggest achievement?

Hopefully, helping to provide a platform for poets in Northern Ireland. Back when Geraldine O’Kane and myself started Poetry NI, it was felt that poets in the North outside of academic circles were largely ignored. There’s still an imbalance, but it’s improved lately. There is an amazing abundance of literary talent here, and if we’ve helped to foster that in any way, through publishing people, or giving them a stage to share their work on, or just a word of encouragement, then that’s achievement enough, I think.

What would you consider to be the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your industry?

That people who want to hurt you in order to protect or promote themselves exist in some quarters, but poetry exists everywhere.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Tackling my own mental health. There have been many days for example when I haven’t wanted to go out and co-host an event. Having my wife at my side as co-host is a big help, Eric Morecambe said he would dread facing an audience without Ernie at his side, and I feel much the same way. Depression strips you of your sense of self-value. Believing in the merit of yourself as an artist is tough, there is always a sense that you could do more.

Tell us a little about your personal life, are you married, kids, hobbies etc?

As mentioned, I am married to my partner-in-rhyme, Geraldine O’Kane. We’re very happy just the two of us, no kids thank you! Outside of poetry, I’m an avid reader, we are running out of shelf space on our bookcases right now. I’m also into creating abstract, ambient sounds. I love the writing of Samuel Beckett, what happens when you tease away the conventions of time, location, traditional plot, even character? So then what happens then you apply the same reduction to sound, taking away melody, tone, rhythm, etc? Listening to those kind of odd sounds relaxes me in a way, helping to shut out the external world for a bit.

Tell us about your most recent work?

At the moment, I’m working on another poetry collection. Originally this was solely about appearance, how people see themselves, the expectation of others, the pressure from social media and mass media to conform to certain standards. But with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I wanted to open that up and look at elements of racism and prejudice when it comes to appearance and judgement as well. I’m a privileged white male, so I’m reading and listening to a lot of BLM writers at the moment, trying to learn more.

What would you like us to tell people about?

My latest book was released in August 2019, The Dogs Of Humanity, from Manchester-based publisher, Fly On the Wall Press. It explores how people treat each other, using a motif of a dog of other animals to tap into our more base nature. The collection was shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet in this year’s Saboteur Awards, and some people seem to like it, so perhaps you will too dear reader!

If you had to describe your work to someone who has never heard of you what would you say?

My writing tends to explore a few fundamental questions, what do we make of this seemingly odd world? How do we relate to it and the people within? How do we define ourselves within this context? I’m concerned about the human condition, but that encapsulates a wide gamut of experiences, from “what the hell do I do with this depression” to the joy of peeling a boiled egg.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had in your business?

I mentioned above that with my mental health, sometimes I find it hard to pick myself up to co-host an event. But always, once we are a few poets into the night, I love co-hosting our Purely Poetry open mic nights at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast. It’s not only about getting the chance to hear and experience some great poetry, but it’s the community aspect as well. Having a bunch of people come together in one room to support poetry is fantastic. I like reacting to the work, doing my silly little links in-between readers, and just helping create a good mood. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m saying, but thankfully people seem to laugh in most of the right places!

What would your advice be to young people hoping to pursue the same industry?

Read. To have output, you need input, so read widely and indiscriminately and expose your mind to other writers. Write and know you will write badly, and not every poem is going to be brilliant. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Build your name up by getting published in journals and prominent websites, don’t go out expecting a book deal right away. Remember the three Ps: patience, practice and persistence.

Anything else you want to tell people about yourself or your work?

You can find out more about most of my projects through my website, colindardispoet There are poems, sounds, artwork and lots else, and some freebies to download as well.

Who do you look up to and why?

Brian Bailey, who is sadly no longer with us, was a poet that was fearless, he could stand up in front of strangers in any environment, do his poem, know it was great and didn’t give a damn if you loved it or hated it. He helped build up the live scene in Belfast when hardly any platform existed, and he should be remembered for it. Brian was always very supportive of anything I did. Each year we have a poetry slam in the Belfast Book Festival, and the winner gets the Brian Bailey Memorial Cup. It’s a nice way to remember him, and I miss the old bugger.

Watch some of Colin’s work here: