EMC Question Words with... Colin Dardis, author of "All This Light In Which To See The Dead"
A new prose collection from the award-winning and widely published Northern Irish poet, Colin Dardis. Written at the height of the worldwide pandemic, All This Light In Which To See The Dead is part journal, part memoir, part essay collection. As much a diary of thoughts and reflections as day-to-day events, the collection sees the author trying to make sense of ‘the new normal’, experiencing the isolation of lockdown through the prism of depression and Asperger’s. Faced with so many dying from coronavirus, and the fear of death everywhere, the author is forced to confront this own relationship with death, as well as the passing of his father four years previous. Mixed in with reaction to the developing news and daily death counts, Dardis reflects on childhood reminiscences, family, mortality and the apparent joys of middle age.
WHO is Colin Dardis?
Colin Dardis is a neurodivergent poet, editor and sound artist from Northern Ireland. His work, largely influenced by his experiences with depression and Asperger's, has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA, and shortlisted for the Erbacce Prize, Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, and Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Award, amongst others. Previous collections include Endless Flower (Rancid Idols Productions, 2021) The Dogs of Humanity (Fly on the Wall Press, 2019, shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet, Saboteur Awards 2020), the x of y (Eyewear, 2018), Post-Truth Blues (Locofo Chaps, 2017) and Dōji: A Blunder (Lapwing, 2013). His latest album, a long-form ambient piece, is Back To Work (1tracktape, 2021).
WHAT do you write?
I am known mostly for poetry, although my latest book is strictly prose: a hybrid of memoir, journal and essay. Prose has been something rarely visited in the past, outside of the occasional short story. I know that I can’t write fiction, I’m not greatly interested in invention; I want to report on life as it’s lived. I’m all for hyper-realism, as exhausting as it can be. I’ve struggle with identity a genre for the new book. On Amazon, it’s listed under something like ‘Memoirs from People Living with Disabilities’. But that’s only one side of this textual polygon. I think in a way we have talked about pre- and post-9/11 literature, we will see the same coming out of the pandemic years. This book is of its time, it is in the thick of what we’ve had to live through recently, what so many, to many, have not lived through and survived. I don’t believe necessarily that it’s a writer’s duty to report on current times – you must go wherever you feel compelled to visit - but I would say this book is proudly guilty of that.
WHY did you write All This Light In Which To See The Dead: Pandemic Journal Entries 2020-21?
When I starting writing my journal entries, I didn't know what it was going to become a book. I had barely written anything during the early part of the pandemic, due to catching Covid in March 2020, and having lingering effects on my health. It came to the stage where I needed to flex my literary muscle and get writing again. I had been reading a lot of Henry Rollins' books at this time, and really enjoyed his style: journal entries, entry headings seemingly unrelated to the main next, real honest and unabashed work. So I took him as my influence, and started from there, seeing just what came out; no grand plan, no thought that I might even show it to someone else. Will all the downtime that lockdown enforced, and the daily bludgeoning that the headlines brought, I also needed some way to process my reaction to the state of world. Part of the book is my rage at the pandemic; part of it is time with my thoughts and memories, analysing and reflecting on events that might otherwise have been dismissed. Is that a kind of therapy?
HOW did the idea for All This Light In Which To See The Dead come about?
As the journal entries mounted up, I was amassing thousands of words, an amount that could be considered book-length. I had to decide if was going to make a book out of it, whether I felt comfortable exposed everything I had written: my vulnerability, my anger, my judgments, my grief. Some entries I really debated over whether to include or not.
Eventually I realised it had to be all or nothing. In the foreword, I state that nothing is held back; rightly or wrongly, I present the entries as I experienced them, as a fallible being that makes mistakes and has regrets. And once you make a decision like that, it’s liberating. You aren’t burden with selection or editorial quandaries (beyond proofreading and tidying up, of course). I realise that given the content and nature of the work, I will be judged on my words, not just as a writer, but as a person. Perhaps all art contains that jeopardy. With time and distance, I won’t agree with everything written, but I said what I wanted to say at the time, and I believe there is merit is trying to capture that present mood or reaction.
WHEN did you write All This Light In Which To See The Dead?
As you’ve probably figured out given the title, the book was written across 2020 and 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic. I didn’t stat right away. Halfway into 2020, I had only written a few poems. I was using lockdown to focus on my health and other areas of my life; I had actually begun to feel that ‘poet’ was too much of my identity, that I needed to explore and develop other avenues. That’s how I got into sound art. And I guess this must have been behind the decision to turn to prose. I mention in the book the struggle of journal writing, how you feel you must say something, but due to the world being shut down, without any events to go to or social life, what is there to report on? Often I would be written at night, maybe between 8-10pm, and the first hour would be just me sitting at my desk, wondering what my subject matter would be for that day. Eventually you realise the thing that has been on your mind all day and just go for it. The book forced that out of me.
WHERE can readers find your book?
The book is released under my own imprint, Rancid Idols Productions. Due to the immediacy of the content, I didn’t want to wait around for another year going through the traditional publishing routes, and end up with something that might feel a bit outdated. So here it is, now. It’s a digital beast for a digital age (for better or worse), so you can download it from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09SVBC9RV. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can also access the book through there.
Disclaimer: Every EMC interview series seeks to promote the artist and their featured writing and is in no way an endorsement of any of said artist's services, opinions or other work outside of this feature.