Colm Scully is a Cork poet whose first Collection ‘What News, Centurions?’ was launched by New Binary Pressin December 2014. His poems have been published in periodicals such as Cyphers, Burning Bush 2, Abridged, The Stony Thursday Book, The Poetry Bus and Wordlegs. He won the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2014 and was selected for Poetry Ireland Introductory Series 2014. He has been shortlisted/ commended in a number of other competitions such as The Gregory O’Donoghue Prize 2014. He has represented Cork in Coventry as part of the Twin City Cultural Exchange and collaborates on Film Poems, one of which was shortlisted in the Indie Cork Film Festival Poetry Film competition 2014.
1. Can you tell us a little about your book and the mark you feel it’s trying to make on the poetry landscape? Why did you write it? Do you feel it achieved what you set out to do? The Poetry landscape is a broad one, as I’ve discovered in the last few years. I think I wrote the book for me, because I feel I have something to say, and this is a vehicle to say it in. If people like it and read it then for me it is a success. It’s another step in my journey as a poet. It’s not really an attempt to make a mark or to a add to a genre. Once you start thinking like that you start moulding your poems to fill a gap, to appeal to a certain audience. I don’t think you can write a poem aiming for success. It will end up being untrue.
If you don’t have a book you don’t have a calling card. You have individual poems in magazines or online, scattered without linkage. You read at an open mic or as a guest, but people can’t go back and follow up your work. Since the book was published lots of people have told me they like this poem, or that poem, nearly always different ones. It’s a real boost when someone says that to you. You know they don’t have to, therefore I’ve already achieved what I would have wanted with my book.
2. Do you feel that your poems are a reflection of your own life, or does your poetry create a separate identity? And how do you go about deciding what bits to reflect or which bits to create?
They take many guises. From historical foils and extended metaphors to donning the attire of futuristic personas, but they all, at one level or another are talking about me, or what I think of the world. Therefore I think I’m in all of them. But sometimes I speak as myself, and often I feel those poems are the ones that appeal to people. Like my poem In a May Garden, which is about a ghostly meeting with my deceased father. It won the Cuirt New Writing Prize. Sometimes people don’t want to have to unwrap too much to get at the heart of something, they want to see the message and feel it immediately.
3. Did you simply fall into being a poet, or was it a less natural process?
It’s something I have always done since childhood. Its been my hobby, if you like. Something I always enjoyed doing, and something I have spent time on nearly every week of my life since I was twenty. I joined my first writers’ group, Northside Writers, in Cork in 1989. I have never stopped writing since, but I was working away from home for many years, often on shift, as an engineer. I always wrote, and read, but it was often in isolation. I think that getting published, meeting poets, and developing as a poet is a lot easier since the internet arrived. About 6 years ago, I joined O’bheal Open mic in Cork, Since then I have grasped the nettle, started working harder at it and finally had the success of a book publication late last year.
4. Do you write everyday? I see you’re an engineer too – how do you balance all this and still have time?
Currently I’m a stay at home dad. with three children, 8, 11,and 14. I work on my writing from 9.30 each morning till 1.30. Then house work gets a blast for an hour before the kids have to be collected. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I’ve had since taking a break from Chemical Engineering about 2 years ago. It may not always be writing poetry; It could be preparing poems for sending away, it could be editing, it could be creating Poetry Films, it could be reading. It’s all gearing towards one aim, becoming a better poet.
5. Where would you hope to take your poetry next? What are you interested in exploring with it?
I love the use of visual images to enhance poetic language. This can work brilliantly in a Poem Film. I have made a few with my writer friend, Conor McManus. We are currently working on a spoken word performance piece to celebrate the 1916 rising. It includes; Film Poem, original poetry and prose from us, and writings from the time. Its really interesting working on it. We already have five performances arranged, starting later on this year in various venues around Munster. Beyond that, I am already working on my second book.
6. Who would you mark as your influences and why?
I’ll have to be honest and say my influences are very wide, and not always the bastion personalities of contemporary poetry. They come from anywhere that words are spun together in a way that is intriguing and beautiful. The names could be writers of folk songs, romantic poets, novelists or Rock singers; Billy Bragg, Shakespeare, Paul Simon, Joyce, Gorki, The Bible, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, Joni Mitchell, and Robert Browning.
7. Have you met any of your poetry heroes and how was it?
I met Joyce once in a nightmare on the backstreets of Paris. He kept on telling me, leave off re-reading Dubliners or he would smash my pretty face in. No, I’ve never met any of my poetry heroes.
8. What poem in the collection came easiest to you and why?
I find some poems get written very quickly. They are almost complete in your subconscious. Like ‘Culture Night’. It’s in the voice of a character that I knew many years ago. His view on things stayed with me, and I was able to repeat his words verbatim in about 20 minutes. I find sometimes it’s these poems that people like the best. You go back and edit and tighten them up later.
10. Do you feel the way you write ends up informing the way you see the world?
Maybe it’s a response to how I see the world or maybe it’s part of a discussion with myself about the world. I’m not sure because it’s ongoing. The two things seem to morph into one. I’ve written so many poems that will never be published, they wouldn’t stand up on the page, but they are great for remembering the past. and recording my thoughts. They’re like my diaries, really.
11. What poetry can you just not stand and why?
I like poetry with some concrete realism behind it; people, things. Ethereal, naturalistic and introspective ramblings in the first person tend to bore me. I think it’s all been done to death. These kind of poems can turn up in any style, form or age. It’s the theme and tone that get me. I zone out when I hear them.
12. What’s the worst reading you’ve ever done? And why? The worst was outside the city library in Cork during The Constant Reader Festival. There was a number of us reading to a large crowd. I Thought I had my poem off by heart , but half way through my phone rang. I totally lost concentration, and stumbled and fumbled through the rest of the reading. After, a few people came up to me, slapped me on the back, and shook my hand. I knew it was pity.
13. If you could invite a load of poets to dinner that are dead and give out to them about things they did to poetry – who would they be? I’d have Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes and Michael Hartnett on one side. I like them. I love poets who write in their own idiolect. I’d have Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and W.B.Yeats on the other. I’d give out to them for being predictable. They bore me a little.
14. Have you written poems about a person, that you would never want that person to see? Can we have some details? Currently I have, and I’m not sure what to do with them. Although before my book was published I was worried what my family might think of some of the more personal poems, ones about relatives. The poem I mentioned about my late father for instance. But in the end it was all fine, there was no issue. I think in reality people like to hear about themselves, or close friends being mentioned in poems. It’s a little treat, someone is thinking about you.