THE MUMBLE : Hi Nicky, so where you from & where ya at, geographically speaking
NICKY : I am from Dalkeith, just outside Edinburgh & now live in the city.
THE MUMBLE : Edinburgh is quite a poetic city to look at it – is it as poetic to live there
NICKY : Well, it’s a great place for poetry these days, loads going on, much more than when I started. But anywhere would be poetic at the moment I reckon, cause, for me, poetry comes from what’s going on in the country and the world, and there’s lots of shit going on at a local and global level right now.
THE MUMBLE : When did you realise you were a poet
NICKY : When folk started to publish my work I guess, such as Jim Ferguson away back in 1997!
THE MUMBLE : What poets inspired you then & who inspires you now
NICKY : Believe it or not, but I was inspired to write poetry in the vernacular after reading Irvine Welsh – which is the point, I think, when I began to write stuff that was no longer teenage juvenilia. Not long after that I found the work of Tom Leonard, which was, and still is, a great source of inspiration and encouragement. I’m also inspired by Peter Manson, Pavel Büchler, concrete poetry, William Carlos Williams, EE Cummings, the artist Louise Hopkins and Charles Reznikoff. More recently I’d say Sean Bonney and Jo L Walton, who’s now on poetry strike, which is a shame. The state of the world inspires me more than anything now.
THE MUMBLE: One of my favorite pieces of yours was the book which contained short accounts of prisoners ritualistic days. Can you tell us about that project
NICKY : I was working as Writer (not) in Residence at Saughton and the book, routine, was inspired by the structure of the prison day. There are ten times when prisoners are mobilised, cells opened (7.30 am), the route (8.30 am) when the prisoners are moved to their worksheds, and so on. I created a template of these times and asked 15 prisoners to respond in any way they liked to what these times meant. I then removed the times, so it would just be 10 statements about their day, with each one isolated on the verso page of the book, just as the prisoners are isolated to a cell. I also used their names and numbers to make it more bureaucratic, or official looking, to reflect the rigid way that prisons work and how it treats prisoners. And it’s hand finished: I have to remove two names and numbers, as I didn’t get permission from two prisoners to use that info before they were released. I usually burn those two corners.
THE MUMBLE :You are just about to release, ABBODIES. Can you tell us about the inspiration
NICKY : As a poet and subject of the UK, horrified at the swing to ugly nationalism that was manifest in the country, both before and after the Brexit, I felt it was imperative to respond somehow. In my ruminations I thought of ABBA, perhaps because of their many associations with Europe, Waterloo, Eurovision, etc., and it dawned on me that many ABBA lyrics could be used to describe what had happened: ‘blue since the day we parted’ – unending Tory rule; ‘when you’re gone, how can I even try to go on,’ and so on. I worked on the poem on and off from June to December, adding new ABBA lyrics that seemed pertinent, and, of course, during that time Trump won the US election. The (il)logical extension to the shock of Brexit, it reinforced some of the things I had been thinking about as I listened to ABBA songs, over and over again, driving my partner demented in the process. I began to read other things into their lyrics, that some of the songs alluded to aliens, and it made me muse about who was running the world. Trump’s election surprise reflected these thoughts back to me in the poem’s themes of power and string-pulling and, indeed, leg-pulling, for I wasn’t being entirely serious was I? In some ways it’s easier to believe that the world is secretly run by aliens, than to accept the reality that the majority of people in the world are right-wing nutjobs. It’s a bit David Icke, I know, though I prefer to think of it more as Rowdy Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live. The alien theory is (probably, hopefully) nonsense, but given how crazy events were in 2016, it makes you wonder exactly what the fuck is going on and where we’re going to end up. ABBODIES is also partly a homage to Corpses by Chilean poet Nestor Perlongher, written during the dictatorship it features the refrain ‘there are corpses.’ Which, when I read it, made me think of the information you get on the tube when someone’s killed themselves: ‘there is a body on the line.’ This was a perfect line to my mind about the state of the country and this period of unnecessarily enforced austerity – many bodies are on the line – which is now magnified by the Brexit. Also, it’s more personal than my usual work – with some actual words out of my own head! – tied together by my kids, parents, partner and lifelong love of the bird of prey: buzzard!
THE MUMBLE : Can you explain your own personal approach to the writing process
NICKY : My work is typically political, targeting capitalism, politicians, marketing, business, bureaucracy etc. To do this I use various processes or treatments, such as erasing found text – junk mail or Burns’ poems for example – with Tipp-Ex, or extracting lines from political manifestos, to subvert the language of late-capitalism and its politics. I aim for it to be experimental, challenging, funny and accessible. If I make myself laugh when I’m making stuff, I generally feel it’s working and that audiences will usually laugh as well.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Nicky Melville
NICKY : I’m in the end stages of my AHRC funded PhD. I’ve created a 365 page multi-form poem, The Imperative Commands, composed entirely from the language of instruction that guides society on a daily basis. Using material harvested over a calendar year, it’s a snapshot of how we’re controlled and manipulated by language. It’s been fun, but I’ll need to find some kind of gainful employment after that. I’ll also try to find a brave publisher to take on The Imperative Commands…
A review of ABBODIES
Dr. Jim Ferguson
Nicky (Nick E.) Melville has long been a wonderfully experimental voice in poetry in Scotland. His work explores political and personal concerns artfully and accessibly with wry, ironic humour. ‘Abbodies’ looks at the author’s childhood of the late 1970s and early 80s through the dual lenses of pop megaband Abba and D. C. Thomson’s Oor Wullie. Melville’s title combines the word ‘Abba’ with the end of the Oor Wullie by-line: ‘Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A’body’s Wullie!’ That last part, ‘A’body’s Wullie!’ was always likely to invite sniggers, shock, perplexity, surprise and comment from many a Scottish child.
This is an autobiographical narrative poem which reflects upon itself, Scottish, British and European identity and what it means to be a human being living in the world now. Each page is like the miniaturised chapter of a novel only with far fewer words and highly adept technical and poetical skill. The narrative moves forward until we meet Melville as a father himself, reflecting on what his father meant to him, and what might be the way ahead for his own children in order to lead happy and fulfilling lives at a time of great political uncertainty.
and Trump is
master of the scene
can’t resist the strange attraction
from that giant dynamo
look into his angel eyes
and you’re hypnotised
don’t look too
deep in to
one day you’ll find
out he wears a disguise
a’body’s on the line
What’s really interesting here is Melville’s uncovering of how deeply the pop-culture of childhood ingrains itself in the memory and the effect it has on the emotional make up of adults. This would be a standard kind of pop-psychology except that it intersects with national and international political questions such as Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the so-called ‘migrant crisis’, producing a poetry that could not be more relevant or up to date. ‘Abbodies’ is a major contemporary poem: it is brave, honest, intelligent, darkly humorous writing and a really great read. It is also neatly packaged like a seven inch single with a picture sleeve. Definitely worth buying.
Sad Press Poetry
£6 (Including Postage)