Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 108: Colin Will

Great to have Colin Will in the Backroom today, a fine example of the poet-librarian.

He's in good company: Jorge Luis Borges worked as a municipal librarian at the Miguel Cane Branch Library in Buenos Aires and of course Philip Larkin, who also switched from the municipal library system to the academic, worked in Queens University Belfast and Hull. 

"How little our careers express what lies in us, and yet how much time they take up" said Larkin. I often felt the same, hiding for several decades in the staff toilet in Dumfries Academy and this might explain why Colin came late to poetry, or returned to it late after a distinguished working life. He worked with West Lothian Libraries before taking a science degree and moving to the British Geological Survey Edinburgh Library in 1973 and thereafter to the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh in 1988. He received a PhD and served two terms on the Scottish Library and Information Council, and in 2000 was President of the Scottish Library Association. His skills stood him in good stead to play a formative role in the establishment of two essential institutions, StAnza and the Scottish Poetry Library, both of which he served for a time as Convener or Chair.

His first poetry book was the great 'Thirteen Ways of Looking At the Highlands' published by Diehard. He has since published eight others, the latest, from Red Squirrel Press, being
'The Night I Danced With Maya'. Having had a press of his own, Calder Wood, which published the first collections of many poets he is now Editor at Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press, and is himself preparing a new collection of short stories to be published in 2021. He's also an active member of the STEM poets group, which aims to promote the inclusion of real science in poetry. He also plays the saxophone and is a great gardener. He's obviously never heard Michael Longley's words- "As you get older, you get the hang of things, and just when you're getting the hang of things, its time to die." Colin continue to be a dynamo with a great poetic legacy behind him and a fistful of projects still in hand. 

Here he is reading 'Starting a New Normal':

Colin's Website here:


His SPL Profile and three more poems here:

His Blog here:

Starting a new normal

I saw my family at the weekend.
Not all of them of course, the ones
who live in Dunfermline.
The other half live in Germany,
across too many regulations,
jurisdictions and conditions,
and with Brexit looming
like a bad dark cloud.

I see them on the screens
of my computer or my phone,
we correspond by email,
but it’s what we’re used to.
They’ve lived there for years,
and my son’s now a German citizen,
so they’re staying there, dividing time
between Germany and France.

No, this was the Fifers, come to see us
for the first time in thirteen weeks,
and that was something we’d missed.
Did we distance? Did we hell.
They came in the door, the wee dug
first to greet us; they offered hugs
and we hugged, like it was the first hug,
or like we’d never been apart.

An invitation

Do you remember that first glass
of Vouvray? That tingle? A little bit of bite?
My garden’s like that today, everything
opening up. It smells of growth,
as warmth releases little puffs
of energy from every stretching stem.

We’ll walk along the narrow path
so you can feel the forms of leaf
and twig on either side. And then
the lawn, how your steps compress it.
It does no harm; it springs back
after we’ve gone.

Listen to the wind pushing through
the birch trees, moaning in the wires,
notice how the sun’s heat
switches on and off – cloud shutters.
Then we’ll sit, sheltered, and talk,
my cat in your lap or mine,
and we’ll try to make sense
of our separate worlds.

(Reprinted from 'Clear Poetry')


  1. Lovely poem from a lovely guy.

  2. Colin, you'll never be normal ; always an eccentric exception.