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)
THE MUMBLE : Hi Rosie, so you’re coming back to Edinburgh, what do you think of the city?
ROSIE : It’s a beautiful place. It’s really interesting to come up outside of August and see how peaceful it is at non-Fringe time. I noticed that when I was up for the science festival before.
THE MUMBLE : You have performed in an incredible amount of places over the years – you must love to travel
ROSIE : It’s part of the comedian’s life. I travel on the train so that I can work and write. The journey up to Edinburgh is an inspiring one as there’s that beautiful coastal section. It’s safest for the world if I don’t get behind the wheel of a car.
THE MUMBLE : You also have a literary turn, & last year you were the only UK writer selected for the 2016 LAMBDA writers’ retreat at the University of Southern California. Can you tell us about the experience
ROSIE : In 2016, I got myself a literary agent and a publisher. My nonfiction debut Is Monogamy Dead is out in July with Accent Press. It’s loosely based on the research I did for my 2013 Edinburgh show which I performed at Assembly Hall. I did a survey asking ‘what counts as cheating?’ The answers were intriguing and set me on a path of writing and thinking more deeply about love, friendship, sex and all of that tangly emotional stuff. I was delighted to get accepted on the writers retreat. I took what I thought was the opening of the book. It turned out to be the opening of the middle bit instead. I wrote the new prologue in my head whilst swimming up and down in the pool at University of Southern California – quite possibly the best pool in the world.
THE MUMBLE : What does Rosie Wilby like to do when she’s not being, well, creative
ROSIE : There’s not much time. But the normal things… I recently binge-watched Stranger Things with my girlfriend. I do love TV and films. I was always a big Homeland fan but I’m really undecided about this latest series.
THE MUMBLE : So you’re about to bring THE CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING to the Edinburgh International Science Festival – how did that come about.
ROSIE : I love the festival. I was part of a panel discussion on monogamy in 2015. So when they did a callout for 2017, I thought ‘I’m in’. This is a special performance with the added bonus of a post-show discussion with my friend Qazi Rahman of Kings College, London. Can you tell us about the show It’s the final part of my trilogy of shows about relationships. So it made sense to look at endings. Rather than do a funny lecture format, I wanted to deliberately create an artistic piece of storytelling theatre that was subtly informed by all the things I’d read about the psychology of love. In it, I interweave sections of nostalgic memoir with breakup emails, comedy, Richard Hawley music and the visits of three ghosts from our romantic past, present and future. A nonlinear structure means that the section about the start of the relationship is bittersweet. We already know it ended.
THE MUMBLE : What inspired you to create such an interesting, quite cutting edge piece
ROSIE : I‘m glad it’s still timely in 2017. I wrote it in early 2016 but couldn’t do Edinburgh last year because I was in LA at the writers retreat. It was inspired by re-reading the breakup email I received in early January 2011. It stayed at the bottom of my inbox and I decided, five years on, to revisit it. As I say in the show, I felt better about it once I’d corrected her spelling and punctuation. And changed the font.
THE MUMBLE : You’ll be bringing it back to Edinburgh Fringe this August, what are the details
ROSIE : It’ll be in The Loft at The Counting House daily at 18.30 from the 3rd – 27th. I’m also hosting The Breakup Monologues in the same venue at 12.15 for the first week. It’s a chat show where I’ll be asking other acts about their breakup stories.
Mark Chapman is a bit of a geezer. An intelligent, well-dressed impartial sports journalist, whose soft spoken tones have entered the ear of millions of football fans across Britain, & more recently across the Pond examining the NFL. When he’s not doing all of these things, he’s actually a full-blown & passionate family man, who has instilled in his children his own thrilling engagement with sport, which has recently manifested itself as ‘The Love of the Game.‘ So, in the middle of his hectic schedule, he took time on a Thursday to come & speak about his book to Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, up in the airy & spacious Annan room of the Mitchell Library.
Chapman read two sections from his book, both about cricket, the first from the introduction when his son, Ben, was eight, & the second later in the book when Ben was representing Cheshire at county level (U-14s). A perfect & poignant way to get the gist & guts of the book, it shows Chapman’s undeniable ability with words, interlaced with a genuine sentiment we can all bond with. I also enjoyed the Douglas Adamsesque digressions – as when he gave a detailed account of cricket equipment – but I did at times I find Chapman’s writing a little to florid, a little too miniscule, to superfluously pretty in its description; I mean do we really need to know the entire meteorological happenings surrounding each ball in a six-ball over. However, when it comes to humanity, Chapman has an excellent eye, & it is for these moments I believe the incredibly honesty & authenticity of his book shall be remembered.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
The Scottish Poetry Library is delighted to welcome on to its Board the poet Nuala Watt.
Nuala Watt was born and lives in Glasgow. She is recognised as one of Scotland’s leading young poets. Watt studied for a PhD on the role of partial sight in poetic composition at the University of Glasgow. In 2009-10 she was a member of the Clydebuilt mentoring scheme run by St Mungo’s Mirrorball, where she was mentored by Liz Lochhead. Her poems have appeared in Magma and Gutter, as well as on BBC Radio. Her work is included in the new anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.
The SPL Board is engaged in an ongoing effort to diversify the backgrounds of its members. With the addition of Nuala Watt and the novelist Jenni Fagan, it is improving the representation of young women. We welcome the contribution of these writers and poets to give voice and influence to our future strategic direction.
Asif Khan, Director of the SPL, says, ‘The Scottish Poetry Library welcomes the addition to its Board of the voice and influence of a poet as well-regarded as Nuala Watt. Like Jenni Fagan who joined the board in February, Nuala will bring another fresh, young female perspective to our present and future cultural offer.’
Annette Bruton, chair of the SPL, says, ‘I am delighted to welcome Nuala Watt to the Board of the Scottish Poetry Library. Her own work is vibrant, dynamic, and exciting and she brings her academic experience and talent as a further asset to the library. Nuala will be a welcome new talent to the board.’
Watt says, ‘I’m delighted to join the Board of the SPL, and grateful to have been asked. I look forward to contributing to the SPL’s work, particularly as I am a poet myself.’
George W Colkitto
72 pp. £5.00
If you are a lover of nature you will love this book. If you are a lover of poetry you will love this book. George W Colkitto’s beautifully observed lyrics cover a year in the life of Castle Semple Loch at Lochwinnoch. The location is one of Scotland’s few remaining wetlands and is also home to an RSPB visitor’s centre and bird sanctuary. It is a place of retreat, contemplation and recreation, all of which and more are captured superbly in the poetry.
The poems run from November 2015 through to October 2016. There is, inevitably, an awful lot of rain in these poems, although wind, snow, ice, mist, fog and sunshine also have their roles to play. The wetness of the location is perfectly described in two short lyrics from April –
uncorked clouds pour
another generous measure
the loch drinks on
haar smothers hill and tree
courts the somnolent loch
rain puckering with wet kisses
The changing of seasons, the human activity, birdlife, the light and shade, all are captured in words; as are sunsets, sunrises, mornings, evenings, afternoons and the depths of night. A neat trick here is that the poetic voice both observes the landscape while at the same time placing itself within the landscape: this renders the experience for the reader highly vivid, almost like being inside the poet’s head.
In its content this work may seem to be a million miles away from Kerouak’s ‘On the Road’ but it is by no means too distant from the beat writer’s ‘Big Sur’ or the work begun by The Black Mountain poets in the 1950s: the latter being very concerned with the role of humanity in the natural world and giving rise to a wider movement of ecological poets in more recent times. The work of Gerry Loose or the late Ian Hamilton Finlay relates to this ecological view as does much of what Colkitto does in this collection. In ‘Rottweiller’, a humorous piece of observation in itself, some of the complexity of the relationship between humans and nature is given voice –
warning cries from the geese
a rottweiller approaches
walking a woman
birds retreat to the water
moving through white strewn grass
feathers like a dusting of summer snow
two swans refuse to abandon their nesting place
sit by the water’s edge in studied nonchalance
broken by the dog’s unwavering eye
they shuffle reluctantly into the loch
prospect of kill gone
the dog heads back to its car
owner in tow
Overall, a wonderful depiction of a beautiful place, written with care and attention.
Reviewer :Dr Jim Ferguson
I made my pilgrimage up through the countryside to St.Andrew’s for the 20th anniversary of the StAnza poetry festival. Its quietness and charm lends itself perfectly to days dedicated to poetry, and there’s a special thrill to slipping through an archway, down a cobbled lane to the beautiful, warm and very modern Byre Theatre. The warmth continued inside, with an almost family-like informality among the audience; everyone mildly teasing and joking with one another. The last reading of the festival, with such prize-laden heavyweights as Vahni Capildeo and Elaine Feinstein should have been a sell out like the others had been over the past four days, but it was late on a Sunday evening after all. Others’ pilgrimages were longer than Edinburgh.
It made sense for the two women to be reading at the same event. Both poets are published by Carcanet, both winners of prestigious prizes, both trailblazers, both writing from a place of complicated and multilayered identity; fighting back against any marginalisation or categorisation by firmly and triumphantly taking the centre in life as well as in their work. Capildeo’s readings took us back and forth across oceans, to reflect the Caribbean experience; creating a web of experience from Trinidad, India and the UK. Feinstein, of Russian Jewish descent, and twice the age of Capildeo at 86, read us poems spanning the world, decades of social change, and the trajectory of love and loss over a long, rich life. Feinstein, anchored us with her intimate yet more familiar observations of marriage, family, ageing and loss. Comforting, after Capildeo had taken the ground from underneath us by quietly severing any sentimental attachments to preconceived notions or worn out power structures with her precise and powerful poems of politics, identity, migration and love.
Capildeo, the Trinidadian-British winner of the 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry, won for her exquisite fifth collection on matters of migration and identity, ‘Measures of Expatriation’. She read from this of course, but mixed it up with poems from a 2013 collection, ‘Utter’. She kept the audience close; by throwing out some dry meta-comedy beloved of people blessed with great intellect and a sense of mischief, gently teasing the audience while encouraging them to stay with her, lifting the listeners with laughter before dropping the next brick of a poem. A huge range of subject matter: from Molasses, about slavery, a spellbinding reading of Possum, about ‘personal’ identity, Laptop Blue Screen Realization bringing recognition, laughter and claps, and ending with Felt Pen, a ‘commentary on the commentary’ of a fellow artist’s creative process. A very Caribbean tradition in fact; lightening up the heaviness of life and a painful history with a joke or two. Capildeo uses similar searing precision in the choosing and placing of words as fellow Caribbean poet and Forward Prize winner Kei Miller. Capildeo delicately guides us through with the power and responsibility of acknowledging layers upon layers of history when writing for oneself, and whoever else should understand it, but also the liberty of inhabiting a creative space free from the burdens of history.
Unfortunately for Feinstein, as mesmering and wonderful as it was having a full hour with Capildeo, the interval cut into her time slot significantly. A winner of too many prizes to mention, we were enjoying the friendly sharing of the snapshots of her life; the explanatory stories sandwiched between poems rather like the ones you’d share over tea with a close friend; her bittersweet marriage and subsequent widowhood. Poems about her marriage and widowhood were particularly poignant, especially as she recited her elegy to her late husband by heart. Slightly flustered as she realised how little time she had left, she made sure to finish with an elegy each to both parents, leaving us with touching snap-shot portraits; of her father, ‘to the end you were uncowed’ and mother, with Mirror Talk, as she has forged her way to ‘be the life she never lived’.
Both poets met with great applause and warmth. Knowing how exuberant even middle-class, intellectual Caribbean audiences can be, I wondered if the lack of call and response from the crowd had bothered Vahni Capildeo. “I thought they were a responsive audience,” she said, as she graciously signed my copy of ‘Measures of Expatriation’. “A Trinidad audience might have given me a lot more backchat.” Both of us half the age of Feinstein, I hope I’m around to hear what she has to say in another forty years’ time.
Reviewer: Lisa Michel Williams
Like some dandified arriviste in the throes of burgeoning womanhood, StAnza retains a sprightly ebullience every year. I think this is down to the policy of not asking poets back to perform or lecture until years had passed. This helps keep the festival al fresco fresh, & tho’ the faces may seem familiar, one is always guaranteed a certain newness to the bill. So a second slice of StAnza for me this time round would be rather like sampling one of the splendid Taster Menus at the Castle Terrace in Edinburgh, where plate after delectable plate is served up full of aesthetic glory & supreme tastes. Rather like a very good poem.
It was the weekend & so the wife was free, & off we pottered on the Saturday night, a thick haar covering both East Lothian & Eastern Fife. Inbetween, of course lay the clearer Forth Bridges, but it wasn’t a long drive at all, arriving just in time for the slam in the main auditorium of the modernistic Byre’s Theatre. Ten poets had two minutes each to impress the judges, all ushered into place & eventual silence by the brilliant Paula Varjack, a young, internationalist poet who set the scene & dictated both pace & rules with the elegance of Virginia Wolfe at some High Tea soiree. ‘This is how it works, & we’re gonna have fun doing it,’ was her mantra, & we were all hooked from the off. The winner was Kevin McLean, one of Edinburgh’s famous ‘Loud Poets,’ who’d saved his best piece for the final, blowing the opposition with his speed of thought, his philosophical realities & intrinsically musical wordplay. A close second was Jill Abrams , who chose something with more pathos for her final piece, at which end an ‘O My God,’ from the audience reflected how deeply she moved us.
It was midnight by now, & me & the wife parked our car up a few miles down the coast by the sea. We’d taken the seats out of the back & stuffed the car with duvets, & it was comfy enough for a pleasant night’s sleep by the sea. On waking, we parked up at the local leisure centre for a jacuzzi, swim & sauna, & when we found ourselves upstairs at the Byre’s Theatre at 10AM drinking coffee & nibbling on some fruity pastries for the morning’s breakfast lectures, our B&B in St Andrews had cost us £7 each. The sixteen-year-old Rimbaud would have been proud. There then followed a delightfully informal, but highly informative talk from four translators on the nuances of their chosen aspect of poetrology.
Asterixesque Jean Portante & the well-preened Zoe Skoulding are bosom-buddies. Jean is from Luxemburg, whose native language is Italian, & whose chosen linguamedia is French. He explained how he was importing the smooth-flowing Italian river-phoneticism into his French verses, with Zoe explaining how her English presentation of his poems were trilingual, having to accommodate Italian rhythms & French vocabulary into the register her own native tongue. Equally fascinating was Aurelia Lassaque, a speaker of the rare Occitan tongue, who spontaneously creates her own poetry in both French & the language of her mother, writing a single poem in tandem between the two languages, letting them flow into & bounce off one another.
Finally, we had the most erudite Jacques Darras, who could have talked for hours, & indeed wanted to, but instead gave us an anecdotal sweep through his time with Ezra Pound’s Cantos, finishing with a moving pilgrimage to Pound’s secretary, Basil Bunting, living in a shed near a pub, a couple of months before he passed away. “Translation, basically,” said Jacques, “is an act of love… you have to love, you have to be in love, with a poem you happen to chance upon,” a statement which perfectly captured the essence of the hour.
It was now potter time; a meaty cappuccino at Costa Coffee, photo-ops with the wife in the time-capsule streets, before buying a translation of all of the Gawain Poet’s works (if indeed he did write them all). Then it was back to the Byre’s for a pie a pint & Mr Steve Pottinger, a gentle though political soul, who glided through his lunchtime recital with a perfect rectitude to his muse. The West Midland accent never sounded so good, as the breeze of Parnassus blew through his poems, all of which ended with an epithetical flourish & an almost Elizabethan bow. Yes, Mr Pottinger was good, very good. Both before & after his performance, I’d noticed the morning’s translator posse were sat in the Byre’s, pontificating & all that, & I am sure that on our exit from Mr Pottinger’s pearly sphere, Jaques was telling the same story I heard him begin when we first went upstairs for our pies.
Our final port of call was in the cellar-like confines of the intimate Undercroft at St John’s House, where two ‘Border Crossings’ poets would read through their work. The first was Tess Taylor, a Fulbright scholar & direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Reading with poise, posture, & the occasional touch of humour, she delivered excellent renditions from her folklore-laden, landscape-littered work, especially the long poem which had her exploring her ancestors house, peering into his copy of Virgil, & displaying an oboe-pitched sentiment which tweaked & twanged with effortless grace on the listening sensibilities. Finally, we had Michelle Cahill, a young Australian of Indian heritage in love with Scotland, who eked out the vibrancy of the land in her recently acclaimed book, The Herring Lass. I especially liked her sonnet to the heroine Black Agnes, defender of Dunbar Castle a long time ago, & a place we headed in the direction of at the climax of her deliciously engaging readings.
StAnza… fino alla prossima volta
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen