The Bardo

I’ve started reading George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln at the Bardo, and it’s impressing me enormously. It concerns the afterlife of Lincoln’s son Willy, who died aged 11. Saunders imagines the afterlife as some form of the Tibetan Bardo Thodol, often incorrectly translated as the Book of the Dead.

So it got me thinking about my own trip to Tibet in 2007, and the poems which came out of it, later published in The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café (Red Squirrel Press, 2010). Here’s the Bardo Thodol poem from that book

Last Rites

We have four ways
to dispose of the dead,
she tells me.

Sky burial is still number one,
even since the Liberation.
The body is stripped. All flesh
is filleted from the bones
by the rogyapas, the body-breakers.

Then bones are broken with hammers,
sledged to splinters and mixed with tsampa.
Only after the rock platform is cleared of that
is the next course served.

Call it guts, internal organs, offal,
heart, lungs, liver, brain,
the slippery bits, glistening gobbets,
mad bellows that used to suck thin air,
all the pumps and pipes, intestines,
shrivelled sex parts, tumours,
empty blood vessels, the silent tongue.

Last the muscle, meat, the griffon’s favourite,
but these days a good hungry vulture
is hard to find. A potent medicine
used to relieve lameness in livestock,
gout in us, has poisoned the birds.

The fourth way is burial,
but ground deep enough to dig
is too valuable for corpses.
Only the minorities, I’m told
(with a significant glance),
choose this method.

Cremation is the third, but costly
in a land too high
for much wood to grow,
and as yet there are few
Western crematoria.

Water burial is an easy second.
It’s a long way from these headwaters
to the estuaries and oceans
where the rivers end. Mekong,
Brahmaputra, Yangtze, all rise here
under different names,
carry their disintegrating cargos
south and east. That’s why, she says,
we don’t eat fish – maybe they’re
our ancestors?

Maybe they are. What is a body
when no longer alive?
No sepulchre, we would have it;
but a lump, a thing of no further use.
What was us has left the building
to swim with the fishes
or soar with the circling birds.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Colin Will
24/12/2007

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While I’ve been away…

Uath Lochan 2

Uath Lochan, Glen Feshie, Cairngorms.

It seems an age, so much has happened in between, but I just don’t seem to have had the time to sit down and write anything bloggable. So this is by way of a catch-up.

‘Maya’ came out on my birthday, celebrating with a launch in the Scottish Poetry Library. I played tenor sax solo before and after reading the poems, to match the cover image. Lots of friends came, including several I wasn’t expecting to see. It was a lovely day.

Since then I’ve read from it at Dunbar Craft Studio, Vibrant Musselburgh, and the Callander Poetry Weekend, as well as doing an Edinburgh reading for Christine De Luca at the Edinburgh City Museum in the Royal Mile.

I took in a little bit of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but I gave the Book Festival a miss this year – I went to a lot there last year.

Jane got her second cataract operation, and it went very well. We also had a disastrous experience with double glazing, and they’re coming back today to fix the messes they made last time. So I’m deskbound at the moment. Monday morning would normally be one of my gym sessions, but I’ll go tomorrow instead.

We got back from a short break at Feshiebridge, in the Cairngorms. It’s our only real break this year, mainly because of the uncertainties over Jane’s operation date. We may try to have a city break later. I could fancy Durham, but anywhere really.

On the writing side, I’m editing a lot of my short stories, in preparation for putting together a book for next year. And I’ve been reading fiction submissions for Postbox Press.

Altogether, keeping busy, so nothing really changes.

 

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Sequencing the collection

When I was publishing poetry collections under the Calder Wood Press imprint I always took a great deal of care placing poems in a sequence I thought made sense. It was one of the things I enjoyed most about publishing. I also tried to do it with my own poetry books.

Now there’s the new one:

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I can honestly say I took more care and expended more thought over the sequence of poems here than in any other collection I’ve written. Why? I think that having a structure, even an implied structure rather than an explicit one, makes a collection easier to read. There are many themes in this, my ninth and largest poetry book, and I’ve tried to ensure that the themes are linked, possibly through ideas, more often through words in one poem reflected in the next, even if the themes are different. I don’t suppose many readers, other than possibly some critics, will notice the connections, but I know they’re there.

I hope that readers will enjoy the poems as much as I did writing them, because I strongly believe that poetry is an act of communication between people. My late friend Brian Osborne, in his address to the Scottish Library Association awarding me Honorary Membership said that I was all about communication. It was true then. It is true now.

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Also by Colin Will

First there was Thirteen Ways of Looking At the Highlands (Diehard, 1996)

thirt

Then came Seven Senses (Diehard, 2000)

sevens

Mementoliths (Calder Wood Press, 2005)

Mem_cov_orig

Later replaced by the revised Mementoliths 2 as a Kindle edition (2011).

mem_e

Sushi & Chips (Diehard, 2006)

sushi

The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café (Red Squirrel Press, 2010)

madyak_400

Recycled Cards (Kindle, 2011)

recycled_e

The Propriety of Weeding (Red Squirrel Press, 2012)

weed400

The Year’s Six Seasons (Calder Wood Press, 2013)

6seasons

The Book of Ways (Red Squirrel Press, 2014)

ways

Getting On (Postbox Press, 2016) (short stories)

getting_on_200

The Night I Danced With Maya (Red Squirrel Press, 2017)

Maya_cov

 

 

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The new book

Now that we’re into July I can begin letting people know about my new book, coming from Red Squirrel Press on the 22nd of the month. I’ve checked the proofs, and it’s now being printed, so here’s a preview of the cover:

Maya_cov

Huge thanks to Gerry Cambridge for designing the book and the cover, and to Sheila Wakefield for publishing it. The cover reflects the mood of the title poem beautifully, and it also alludes to my other life as a musician. I’ll bring my tenor sax to the launch (details to be advised later), and my black fedora, but I think I’ll give the white bow tie a miss.

The poems were mostly written between 2012 and 2016.

It’s my tenth book, and my ninth book of poems, and it feels pretty amazing to have reached these particular milestones in my writing career.

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The back cover

The back cover blurb of a book usually describes the author, sometimes in embarrassingly excruciating detail, sometimes with quotes from the great and the good, or from reviews.

Writing a blurb is one of those essential jobs that most authors leave until the last minute. So it is with me. I’ve written a lot of them over the years, and it’s often hard to come up with something fresh that you hope will interest a reader, while providing the essential information which might move them in the direction of actually buying your book.

My tenth publication (Oooh! Get him!) is coming out on 22nd July, so I’ve I’ve been doing the necessary again. It’s a full-length collection of poetry, under the title The Night I Danced With Maya, and it’s being published by Red Squirrel Press. Arrangements for the launch are in hand, and more information will be coming later. So in the meantime, here’s what will be on the back cover, subject to editing and revision:

Colin Will began writing, mainly poetry, in 1961, but then wrote nothing between 1965 and 1985. In the interim he became a scientific librarian, adding a science degree and a doctorate in information science to his library qualifications. His first published poem was in 1989, and his first book – Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Highlands, and more – was published by Diehard in 1996. Between 1998 and 2016 he ran Calder Wood Press, publishing 61 titles, mainly poetry pamphlets. His first Red Squirrel Press poetry collection was The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café, published in 2010, followed by The Propriety of Weeding in 2012 and the haibun collection, The Book of Ways, in 2014. He also writes short stories, and his debut short story pamphlet for Postbox Press is Getting On, published in 2016. He has written song lyrics, and his first short play was performed in 2017. He’s also a musician, playing saxophones and clarinets.

He has chaired the Boards of the Scottish Poetry Library and the StAnza Poetry Festival, and he is currently one of the team behind the CoastWord Festival, which takes place annually in his home town of Dunbar, in East Lothian. He was Makar to the Federation of Writers (Scotland) in 2011 and President of the Scottish Library Association in 2000.

These new poems were almost all written between 2012 and 2016. Their subjects are as varied as Colin’s interests – music, art, science, politics, landscape, nature and human nature. Its publication date coincides with his 75th birthday, and he has no intention of slowing down.

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Will this do?

 

 

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Stepping down

Last weekend I stepped down from my second 3-year term chairing the Boast of Trustees of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. My involvement with StAnza goes back to 2003, and I first joined the Board the year after that. So I have had a long and very personal relationship with the Festival, and I have hugely enjoyed working with successive Directors Brian Johnstone and Eleanor Livingstone, and with Trustees past and present.

But for the past couple of years I’ve gradually been cutting down on my commitments, especially those involving committees. I’ll be 75 in July, and it feels like a good time to concentrate on my own writing.

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