Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Iris Colomb

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Iris Colomb Spill Still

From Iris Colomb’s performance ‘Spill’, filmed by Eta Dahlia

Iris Colomb

is an artist, poet, curator, editor, and translator based in London. Throughout her practice she strives to create relationships between form and content, applying a design approach to poetic projects.

Her pamphlet I’m Shocked came out with Bad Betty Press in 2018; her chapbook ‘just promise you won’t write’ was published by Gang Press in 2019; and her co-translation (with Elliot Koubis) of The Stories and Adventures of the Baron d’Ormesan, a series of short stories by Apollinaire, came out in 2017. Iris’ poems have also appeared in magazines including 3:AM, Erotoplasty, Tentacular, Zarf, Splinter, and Datableed, and in a number of UK anthologies.

Iris has been resident artist and poet at the Centre For Recent Drawing, she is now the Co-Editor of HVTN Press, and a founding member of the interdisciplinary collective ‘No Such Thing’. Her visual work has been showcased in the collective exhibition ‘We Fiddle While Rome Burns’ (Donetsk, 2014), featured in several exhibitions in the UK, and was sold at auction in Versailles in 2015. Her artist books have also been exhibited and collected by the National Poetry Library and Chelsea College of Arts’ Special Collection.

Iris has given individual, collaborative and interactive performances at a range of events in the UK, Austria and France. These performances have involved artist books, collaboration, experimental translation, metal tubes, hand-held shredders, red bins, shouting over hairdryers, spitting in books, and turning audiences into poetry machines.

Her website is https://iriscolomb.com/

Instagram at @iriscolomb.

The Interview

1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?

I started performing and writing poetry regularly in October 2014. Before this I had started writing what I thought would become a play, a disparate set of texts to be spoken out loud which I hoped to combine when they started to cohere. In June 2014 I met Zorro Maplestone in my hometown, Paris. We were both going to see the same play and when it began twenty minutes late, we started chatting. The next day I was already back in London, but when I came back to Paris he was the first person I wanted to see. I called to see what he was up to and it turned out he was going to a weekly spoken word open mic event. I had never heard of spoken word before but was happy to join. During the next two months I spent in Paris, Zorro and I attended that same event every week and I gradually plucked up the courage to read out some of my writing. When I eventually returned to London, I continued attending open mic nights and started performing every week, leading me to write new pieces regularly.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The book ‘Word Score Utterance Choreography’, which was edited by Bob Cobbing and Laurence Upton in 1998 was a major discovery for me — it really influenced my way of thinking about poetry. It was recommended to me by Laurence Upton at a Writers Forum workshop, back when I was still studying graphic design at Camberwell College of Arts. The book’s contributors, by offering generous insights into their visual and performative practices, introduced me to the kind of poetry I am now interested in reading, hearing, and making. It was an incredibly frustrating book to read as a graphic design student as its layout was completely inconsistent, with constantly changing typefaces and no page numbers — of course I eventually found out that this was all part of the Writers Forum aesthetic. Nevertheless, as I delved into it, it completely fascinated me. I think it was exactly the kind of book I needed to meet at the time in order to start grasping the shear range of approaches to visual and sounded text which could coexist, beyond the rather more restrictive and linear graphic design approach I was being taught to adopt.

3. How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I think one of the most exciting aspects of London’s poetry scene is its intergenerational fluidity. In my experience, poets seem to connect because they share core interests, values and tastes, regardless of their age or level of experience. When I first started attending readings this really struck me. While I was most often younger and less experienced than everyone else in the room, I always felt welcome. When I was just starting to write and had very little knowledge of poetry, I felt comfortable enough to be upfront about it and ended up learning a lot from my conversations with older poets. I still find it so wonderful to be able to talk to poets who were already active in the 70s, and to see them perform their work now. I have found my interactions with poets of all ages very enriching and have always felt accepted, regardless of my own age.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

My processes always vary according to the projects I am currently working on and their different stages. These processes often involve activities which are very far removed from writing itself. Indeed, my ‘writing’ processes have involved walking in the same circle for an hour, listening to four conversations at the same time, asking questions to people on the street, going through old text messages, taking sight-specific notes or transcribing YouTube videos about science and craft. Some of my projects engage with material constraints, so things like measuring the circumference of different brands of ping-pong balls, shredding texts of different type sizes or finding out what amount of paper can fit into an aluminium tube often become crucial stages of writing projects too.

5. What motivates you to write?

Generally, what motivates me to write is the challenge of trying something new or something that looks like it’s not going to work — the stubborn impulse to find ways to make it work anyway. My writing projects often start with a visual, structural or formal element and other parts of the project are then built to fit. For example, my project ‘Spill’, which involves 280 ping-pong balls started with a desire to create spherical stanzas. This led me to imagine the kinds of stanzas which would best fit a sphere, the possibilities this form could open up and the ways in which the spherical form could become vital. Sometimes conceptualising a new piece feels a bit like solving a subjective equation, using a kind of intuitive logic. With every project my goal is to produce possible textual experiences for audience members and/or readers. I generally have an idea of the kind of experience I want to create and I then have to find ways to get there. Once those choices are made, I’m ready to do the writing.

6. What is your work ethic?

Although my projects are often the result of relatively strict systems and structures, my goal is to use these constraints as a way of producing a kind of inner coherence, which can be felt by an audience without them knowing where it comes from, allowing them to make their own connections and to experience the work on their own terms. I prefer not to introduce my work when I perform, but if people ask me for an explanation afterwards I’m usually happy to discuss the ideas and processes behind it. Again, I aim to create experiences through language . This experiential emphasis is very important to me, so I try to put together conditions which enable audiences to curate their own experience of the piece, without the imperative to understand.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I started to come across Jackson Mac Low’s work several years ago. I kept noticing his poems in anthologies, but it took me a while to realise I was always connecting with the same poet’s work. So, when it came to writing my master’s thesis, Mac Low was the obvious choice in terms of focus. The more I immersed myself in his work, the more fascinated I was with his incredible flexibility and breadth of approaches, often combining several contrasting forms of process. I found the discovery of his practice incredibly freeing. It allowed me to become more comfortable with the unstable boundaries between intentional and non-intentional ways of working. Beyond this, exploring the extensive variety of works Mac Low produced over more than fifty years led me to realise the incredible range of approaches one can be led to adopt throughout one’s time as a writer. These realisations have given me both the confidence to take my experiments further than I expected to and to put less pressure on individual projects.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I admire work which engages with the performative potential of poetry, opening up interdisciplinary spaces; writers we only call writers because we have to call them something. I want language to be contemplative, surprising and exasperating.

9. Why do you write?

I love words and I want to find out what they can do.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would tell them to write. There are a lot of preconceptions about what being a ‘writer’, a ‘poet’ or an ‘artist’ should mean… If you just focus on making work you don’t have to think about them and you’re already there.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

At the moment, I’m working on a range of collaborative projects, several of which involve artists who work in different disciplines. One I’m really excited about is a collaboration with the artist Nik Nightingale, mixing shibari and poetry. It involves writing a text responding to my experience of shibari while building a shibari performance that will allow me to continue reading the text while being tied and suspended. Nik and I have worked together for years but we have never mixed these two disciplines until now, so while we are already comfortable working together, this project is particularly exciting for us. So far, I have found it both very physically challenging and creatively stimulating.

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