There’s a Poem for That: Colleen Coco Collins + Sorry About the Fire

Today we’re reading “Hem” – a poem for pensive days – from Colleen Coco Collins’s collection Sorry About the Fire (Biblioasis), and delight in her interview, which is like a beautiful series of poems itself.

There's a poem for... pensive days. The cover of Sorry About the Fire by Colleen Coco Collins and an inset photo of the poet.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Colleen Coco Collins

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Sorry About the Fire and how it came to be?

The cover of Sorry About the Fire by Colleen Coco Collins.

Colleen Coco Collins: I wanted to write poems/to bulletin/to send dispatches..
I was living this life: scribing this path (rural, maybe overworked, tethered heavily to another.. birds swooning inside; the gyre widening without)—and wanted to check it against others’/send out flares/set it (s)lightly aflame…
[I was already setting everything a little bit aflame—a kind of laissez-faire pervasi-smolder..]
So I made a (sacred) fire and took notes.
I saw in my mind’s eye Prometheus, tearing down the mountain, hand shielding flame from buffeting winds; ungovernable, consequence-blind (—or heedless!). Determined to shine a light; to brighten the corners, as Ella F.
I saw fire-tenders bent over their charges; coaxing, bellowing.
I saw shadow sentiences, hidden intelligences, penumbral chambers. 
I saw winking desire.

I felt compelled to make some reports.

I heat myself and my house with, amongst other sources, wood.
Once a year (—later in the season than it ought to be, as is my wont/wallet)—a few cords of wood are hauled cantankerously up my driveway and unceremoniously unlade (–ceremony comes later).
[A wood] fire requires felling. Requires that an upright, pulsing being be laid down, and, in a way, described: now incised; now parted out; now dessicated; now re-assembled as pile.
Arboretum become lignum.
Being become recount.
Become stacked dendrochronologies awaiting (re)discovery. Reading these densities (and their metaphorical sisters) is how I encounter poem fodder..
These woodpiles, (actual and other, tyrannical and comforting at once) are left to weather, and later borne into abri/shuffled into the house.
The detritus is raked up too.
Is sometimes the cradle of it all.
Is always what sparks.

I was hunkered in rural rooms, before a pointed source of heat. 
Scribbling, my mind roving all I could take culturally in that was outside of myself: bog bodies, parietal and Trojan horses, pyramids; biers, decommissioned roller coasters, miigis shells. Sieving and distilling, shaping and articulating. Dragnetting, but tenderly, and letting it all traverse the poetic mesh..
More proximously, I was meeting the gaze of that which was nosing the window: flickers, fox, sharks, selkie, crow; modern song, the rhizomatic, heritages of loneliness (maybe by design—nefarious and benign); banking systems, bad wheel bearings, erosion (of the soil and of the heart)..
All these and more. 
Tindered, flinted, kindled, ignited.
Bygone energy unwinding as new fuel.
Sometimes reluctantly, sometimes fiercely.

I wanted to write poems,
so I made a (semi-sacred/semi-chill-allaying) fire, and took notes.

“Strike another match, go start anew”, chants Dylan.

I catched my flint; I scribed some lines!

but also, an apology. 
Sorry, not sorry.
Mea Culpa,
mea mumble,
mea stutter,
mea strike..

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?

Colleen Coco Collins: Maybe gesture talk? *raises shoulders, open hands.

The informational gift of gestural communication—the nuance of a chin jut, of a raised brow arcing over a heavily-lidded eye; of a hand clasped just so.  Of the swoon of a swirling wrist; of the quiet parse of an index set vertical across closed lips.I am taken with what is gleaned through careful somatic observation—and all that is left on the cutting room floor of communication when there are no gestural magpie moves/no taking in of what the body is also saying/no corporeal understanding of what le corps might be subverting, belying, betraying.  Or countering, or emphasizing..

If communication is spectral, unfurling across frequencies, then the body occupies a bandwidth capable of continuous meta-commentary. The grammar of the limbs!  The marginalia of the pinions! I think of how caesura and negative spaces in poems are in fact such densities.  As are shrugs; as are clenched jaws.

I think of proprioceptic scribing.

It strikes me that perhaps growth rings exist also within punctuation choices in poems.  That within the poetic woods, there are many ways of reading, and of gentling and directing and of gathering meaning.

I think of dactyls, of pieds, of the peripatetic.  Of what footfall patterns insinuate.

I think of a hand, and of its heft and suggest..

I seek to have these gesticulae dance and drag and dodder through my poems, with an informing bent. 

I do my best to translate the talk of these em/bodiments..

I’m trying to scribe the narrative walk..

[And also, re: gesture!: anthropomorphizing, and animism.  The somnambulent nod of the oil derrick, the inquisi-cock of the jay’s head, the frantic banality of inflatable dancing tube figures.. how these do convey so much!]

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry? 

Colleen Coco Collins: A serious love of words. 

Reading as near-affliction.

 (–I was banned from books for a brief period at a young age in an attempt to nurture my waning social development, hahah! …)

It was all sparky before me indeed, this poetry scarf cresting the hummocks of my life :

My father reciting poetry from memory—the echo of his early rote learning.. But also the sing-songing re-arrangements of his Irish linguistic play..

The books of poems around the house—my Mom’s old copies of Langston Hughes, Marge Piercey, Leonard Cohen (–whose songs, covered by Jennifer Warnes when I was 11, also blew my mind)..

Tomes of Irish poetry—Yeats, Kavanagh, Joyce, Boland—reclining in dilapidated shelves about me.

The copy of the newspaper announcing Heaney’s Nobel prize win taped to the bathroom wall, with “Congratulations Seamus” marker-ed across the top in green.. 

My Mom, my English elementary teacher for a while (!), making available to me reams of books, in French and English.  Her giddy delight in plot.

Hmm.. the vibe of the Dead Poets’ Society movie, broadcast when I was 11..

In high school, fervid turns with Sylvia Plath and Gwendolyn Brooks in the 800s section of the city library during spares

 /when I skipped..


ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

Colleen Coco Collins: A Year In Song by Mary Margaret O’Hara [for its remarkable gesture sounds/translation/haptic-sonics].

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue by Bob Dylan [strike another match—go start anew].

Aretha Franklin singing (and playing!) Bridge Over Troubled Water..

Kate Bush’s biophonic birdsong passages..

ALU: Can you discuss the significance of language and word choice in your collection. How did you land on which words to use?

Colleen Coco Collins: I’m an amasser—a bit logophilic, and so constantly noting words.  Stockpiling, gathering—moving my mind’s ear over their etymologies, baggage of meanings, sonic sweetness or discord.

I keep lists of words—digital lists and handwritten notebooks.. My love is true! Imma songwriter too—linguistic musicality resonates at length with me.  And the satisfaction of the hunt and peck!  Through books, texts, tweets, glib toss-offs, ancient tomes—all these are happy forage.  I rejoice in the role of word conjurer/reviver/resurrector/reflator/revenant-summoner! 

I take a bird’s-eye view of time too—am temporally fluid– and so move my language over and through; cinematically, historically.  Dredging and divining, as, I hope, the poems in Sorry About The Fire do.

I’m in love with the third presence two good words dyad-ed can call forth.. 
I consider myself a hobbyist polyglot [Sylvia Plath said “Roget’s Trollope”!] Really, I love to wend desire paths through language.  To seesaw between codes/worlds/kinds of lingua: the chant, the rhythmic communication of animals…

I love to dowse lexicons and nomenclatures (–I think of the poem Meta-Horror-Noia, where I call attention to how the de-finned shark has come to be called ‘Log’. I relish botanical terms such as ‘haustoria’, used in the poem of the same name).

I utter English most, tho speak and read French, and seek to reanimate within the languages of my relatives and ancestors—Anishinaabemowin; Irish Gaelic..

I’m a Latin dilettante.
I love the nonce and the cledon!
I love collective nouns (—a charge of lumber!  An ostentation of peacocks!  A cog of robots!), and am taken with indioglossia..

I love thoughts too that don’t quite have words but do bear weights and smudges in the mind where the word could be—(or how some languages speak to it, and others haven’t arrived yet). 

I ponder the mechanics of saying the thing: how to speak of a filled vacuum, really? Of Rachel Whiteread’s castings of the space under children’s desks.. As extraordinary absences? As dense nakednesses??

The words might be the chop detritus—what lies scattered after the logs are split. 

This sparks the poems for me. 

The content of the poems is ever-running—I just step into that. 

The words draw it up and beyond myself. 

Words!!: sui generis and ubiquitous; idiosyncratic and echolalic: antelucan, anomie, cant, gloaming, ignus fatuus..  ooh!

There’s a poem for pensive days…
“Hem” from Sorry About the Fire

what has been foretold?

this line will draw
around this skirt

the horse is a wardrobe
full of killers
and only you know

the eagle will always
want the liver

you couldn’t free get tried

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A photo of the poet Colleen Coco Collins. A red-tinted photograph, the poet stands by a shoreline, looking over her shoulder.

Colleen Coco Collins [she/they] is an interdisciplinary artist of Irish, French, and Odawa descent, working in songwriting, performance, poetry and visual arts. She’s worked as a gallery director, in forestry, fossil preparation, and renovation; as an autism support worker, teacher, and women’s shelter counsellor. Her writing, music, and art practice centers on temporality, presumptions of sentience, subversion, rhythm, gesture, geographies, biophonies, frequencies, the ouroboric, the peripatetic, love and the polyglottic. Hailing from Antler River/Deshkan Ziibiing/London, Ontario, Coco has studied at universities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New Zealand, and Ireland. She lives litorally in rural Port Greville, Mi’kma’ki/Nova Scotia amidst crows, coyotes, grackles, bees, humpback, lichen and fox.

* * *

Thanks to Colleen Coco Collins for answering our questions, and to Biblioasis for the text of “Hem” from Sorry About the Fire, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.