Colin Dardis Prescribes Speech Therapy

Ryan Dunne meets the editor of Belfast's new poetry magazine

Poetry, according to populist wordsmith Daisy Goodwin, is as dead as Morris-dancing. Last year a dismal one percent of all book purchases were for verse and even then most anthologies sold featured the sort of greeting-card drivel of which Ms Goodwin herself is so guilty.

But the blood of Gaelic poetry and planter ballads still flows through the heart of Northern Ireland, and the lineage from Yeats to Heaney continues unbroken into today’s artistic generation. Belfast is abloom with writers, poets, balladeers, musicians, artists, and admittedly the odd loafer hiding under the umbrella of bohemia. The city is soon to have a new poetry magazine, Speech Therapy, which will offer a platform to both established and untried poets. The editor of this new thrice-yearly publication is twenty-six year old poet, artist, musician, and certainly no loafer, Colin Dardis.

If Daisy Goodwin is the Nigella Lawson of poetry, then Colin Dardis could well be the art-form’s new Jamie Oliver. An affable young man from Co Tyrone, Dardis is currently leading the vanguard in the cultural war to save our nation’s poetry.

‘There are so many other different mediums of entertainment these days with the internet, games consoles, i-pods, that book sales are always going to be affected,’ Dardis reflects. ‘Unfortunately poetry is going to be on the sidelines of most people’s cultural interests. But poetry will always be with us, in one form or another.’

Poetry has always been with Dardis, albeit occasionally in the form of punk-music. From an early age he entertained his classmates with limericks and although his youthful involvement in an Omagh punk band may seem at odds with his passion for Blake and Yeats, it was the experience of writing songs for the band that honed his poetry skills. The exhilaration of live-audience feedback also shaped his love of performance poetry.

‘It’s cheating the audience and not doing justice to the poem if you just stand up on a stage and give a flat rendition. In my own reading I try to include drama, stand-up comedy, theatre, music. There has to be some visual aspect to engage the audience,’ Dardis declares.

Since settling in Belfast, Dardis has indulged his Bardic urges with involvement in a number of projects, from co-ordinating the monthly performance nights of Poetic Splendor to his work as a Poet In Motion for the New Belfast Community Arts Initiative. His membership of the Belfast Poets has carried him on the minstrel trail through such venues as the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Between The Lines and Northern Visions Television. Somewhere in that hectic schedule he found time to pick up the quill and produce work for publications like Poetry Now Ireland, Triumph House, Anchor Books and Piffle.

And now Dardis is set to take the final leap into the hazardous world of publishing with his new poetry magazine Speech Therapy, which deserves to shift a few copies for the nattiness of the title alone.

The magazine has no set agenda and the flavour of work is for the poets themselves to decide, but Dardis is insistent on the sort of thing he doesn’t want – namely the mouldy old potato of The Troubles, for too long the main ingredient in the stewing pot of Northern Irish art and culture.

‘This is something that goes against Irish poetry,’ Dardis laments. ‘As a writer from the north of Ireland of course you ask yourself  "do I have a duty to report on The Troubles?" Many people have addressed the issue and brought it to a wider audience, or used poetry for political reasons. But I talk about the events that affect me, that stir an emotion and what I think will strike a chord with our people. Ultimately a poet has a responsibility to address all issues.’

And what better an issue than love, or better still sex, and the pain and sorrow associated therein? Like any poet worth their ink Dardis has poked and plied the subject in his own work: his poem Christmas Day hints at a young man’s grief at that most eponymous time of the year, the frustrated male hand that ‘tells echoes of previous nights: whiskey, papers, the sweet cocktail of ice and lime down my throat, down my back; and always, the threat of tears.’

‘When I was compiling the poems for the first issue some 80% dealt with woe or grief,’ Dardis smiles. ‘It’s easier to be inspired by grief but you want snapshots of happiness scattered around as well.’

The first issue of Speech Therapy, ETA late February, looks set to provide an open stage for a gallery of local talent comprising new and seasoned scribes. Alongside contributions from the likes of James Meredith, runner-up in the Brian Moore Short Story Award, sits the debut of the precocious Graeme Roberts, a seventeen-year old who Dardis is volubly championing as a possible future laureate.

‘As soon as I read his work I knew I wanted to publish this guy, it’s amazing stuff. The first issue showcases a wide mix of poets: we have people who are working on publishing projects of their own, award-winners, performance poets and people who have never been read before.’

‘It doesn’t matter your level of experience, whether or not you’ve been published before, Speech Therapy wants to receive your work. When I first asked for submissions I was worried the work wouldn’t be up to scratch but the standard has been amazing. It was hard to shortlist the first issue,’ he admits.

‘I want to thank everyone who’s put in the effort, and as long as those people are still out there we’ll keep publishing Speech Therapy.’

So whether you’re a veteran or a virgin of verse, submit your work to the Speech Therapy website, see external link below, and help save poetry from becoming the thinking man’s Morris-dancing.