An Interview with JL Williams

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To wake, to describe music, she thinks
“This is so moving it feels as if
something is coming loose in me.”

To wake from the ship she drags
from canal to canal over wet cement,
fag in her mouth, her husband and lover dead.

To wake from her stood at the late cart,
a dark man selling candy or a pill with syrup inside.
Some woman of the night leans by and says,
“Darling, if you knew what happened
when I took that last,” as she swallows the sweet, sweet…

To wake in the glass canal light of an empty street,
worn grain of the wood of the deck on my cheek;
the doors of an empty city float by
as if in a dream, her life caught
between my mind’s eye and the careless lip of reality.


This poem was first published in Issue 11, which can be read in our archive.

Books by JL Williams include Condition of Fire, Locust and Marlin, House of the Tragic Poet, and After Economy. She is interested in expanding dialogues through writing across languages, perspectives and cultures and in multimodal and cross-form work, visual art, dance, opera and theatre.

Published widely in journals, her poetry has been translated into numerous languages. She has read at international literature festivals and venues in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, Cyprus, Canada, Hungary, Romania, Montenegro and the US. She wrote the libretto for a new opera, Snow, was Writer-in-Residence for the British Art Show 8 in Edinburgh and plays in the poetry and music band Hail of Bright Stones. In 2019, she was awarded a bursary to develop a new opera with composer Samantha Fernando at the Royal Opera House. Williams curates writing events and creates workshops and professional development activities for poets. www.jlwilliamspoetry.co.uk


FGTS: JL, in a Q&A back in issue 23 of FGTS you said that the book you wished you’d written was The Metamorphoses by Ovid. In your collection Condition of Fire, you responded to those stories. What draws you to myths and old tales, and how do they interact with our contemporary world?

JL: Life is so fleeting. Beginnings and endings rush past. Human beings are natural storytellers. We have language, we have narrative, we have drawings on cave walls, we have time, we have fire. I had a baby seven months ago, and I can feel the story in her already even before the words take hold. Listening to the tales of the ancients… it is an honour to be able to hear some echo from their minds and beating hearts. It reminds me that we are all connected, that this experience of being human is a shared one. Even when it feels as if life is flashing by, or especially when it is, I draw comfort from the depth of experience of humanity. We repeat ourselves. It is nature, it is what we are. As a species on the verge of collapse, there is much we could learn from the myths and legends of our ancestors.  

You often work with other writers, musicians, theatre-makers, sound and visual artists. Why is collaboration important to you, and how do other disciplines and artforms influence your writing?

Collaboration is an exercise in communication, which is what all art (I include writing in that box) is aching toward. When I was younger, I often felt isolated from other people – I wanted to be able to read minds. At some point I realised that reading is a kind of clairvoyance, as is listening to music or looking at a painting. We are not so alone and making with others not only opens doors between locked rooms, but it also allows me to do so much more than I could on my own. Art forms such as theatre and opera demand collaboration. You cannot do it on your own. Working in those areas has been very joyful and educational for me. Our culture puts so much, perhaps too much, importance on the value and power of the individual. It is good to write on my own, to feel the privacy and independence of that, and then to expand into collectivity and conversation.  

I am also very interested in mutation and shape shifting, poetry becoming a painting or vice versa. Something beyond ekphrasis, a kind of tapping into and translation of the maker’s energy. If you listen hard enough you can pull it from one form into another. I like the idea of writing a libretto, sculpting a figure, editing a film and knowing that if I am doing it, I am still writing a poem. It can go the other way as well — the energy of film, sculpture, music into poem. 

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

I have been reading baby books! Especially enjoying Phillipa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) – everyone should read that one, and Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions by James McKenna. 

Two new poetry favourites are Morgan Parker and Yona Harvey

A dear friend introduced me to the work of Ariana Reines and I am keenly awaiting my copy of A Sand Book. Another dear friend just advised me to read Lote by Shola von Reinhold.

Tess Taylor’s Rift Zone and Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange arrived from the US last week, and Shara McCallum has a new book due soon that I’m eagerly awaiting. 

I am a big fan of too many local poets to name but I write with a group called 12 and they are super amazing. I had the privilege of mentoring four poets for the Clydebuilt programme last year and they are each very special – David Linklater, Frank McHugh, Roy Patience and Hannah Summers.

I get excited when I hear words that seem to be coming from the origin, a place deep inside the writer.

FGTS published your poem ‘Image’ in issue 11, do you remember what led into the making of this poem?

Gosh it was a long, long time ago… I do not remember exactly but I am sure the ship dragging came from a documentary I watched about Vikings in Russia pulling boats overland between rivers. It is a dream poem and I suspect it did come at least in part from a dream. I sometimes use dreams as a starting point, then try to make them into something else. 

Finally, is there something from your time at the University of Glasgow that you hold onto and continues to inform your writing practice today?

Michael Schmidt encouraged us to get the ‘I’ out of our poetry. I avoided that ‘I’ for ages but I have been letting it back in, which feels like a reclamation. It is good to be aware of the ‘I’ though… 

Most importantly I think it’s the people I met there, the wonderful writers and the sense of community, those folks and others I have met since who buoy me and inspire me to write from the origin and sing with the collective. 


‘As a species on the verge of collapse, there is much we could learn from the myths and legends of our ancestors.’ – JL Williams

Liquorice Woman

by Angie Spoto

I am a liquorice woman 
a fennel creature 
a saffron thing that doesn’t care 
for your opinions or your thoughts on the matter 
or your advice to me because I’m not asking 
I’m just here reading 
and that doesn’t mean I want to talk 
it doesn’t mean I want you in my ear 
or your fingernail running rogue 
across the grains here 
at the table in this low-lit 
pub where 
let me repeat myself 
I’m just reading 
reading by myself here 
and running a grain of fennel 
around my teeth 
crushing it between molars 
and flicking it across my 
two incisors and telling you again 
look I’m just reading. 

Did you know 
I’m a liquorice woman? 
I’m a pepper thing 
I’m a girl with cardamom 
stuck between her teeth 
and let me say this one more time: 
leave. 


Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet. Writers who inspire her include Angela Carter, Leonora Carrington, and Ursula Le Guin. Her most recent endeavours include a lyrical essay about her Italian family, a collection of horror surrealist fairy tales, and a fantasy novel about grief. She is working toward a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and volunteers with the Glasgow-based social enterprise Uncovered Artistry, which supports the creativity of domestic and sexual abuse survivors. She is Artist in Residence at HIV Scotland. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Crooked Holster, From Glasgow to Saturn, and Toad Suck Review. angiespoto.com


This poem was first published in Issue 38, the rest of which can be read in our archive.

Writing Advice from Siam Hatzaw

Siam’s poem ‘October Skies’ was published in Issue 44, which can be read here. In this video Siam gives some great tips to help get you writing when you’re feeling stuck. How can Twitter bots, Google translate, and Ancient Hebrew come in handy? Watch the video to find out…


Siam Hatzaw is a recent graduate of English Literature and Theology. She enjoys working in both prose and poetic forms, and has been published in Life On A Dead Tree, Loud Women Magazine, and The Shiloh Project, among others. She is the content coordinator for Glasgow University Magazine, features editor for The Glasgow Guardian, and prose and poetry editor for Persephone’s Daughters, an arts and literature journal dedicated to empowering survivors of trauma and abuse.


“Loosen up the restrictions a little bit”


An Interview with Ryan Vance

Crackerjack

I need love like a microwave
to turn me inside out
as popcorn in slow-motion:
cracked kernel curves unfolding
for easy sustenance
entertainment
good health

I don’t care if I burn
some people like charcoal

but I want expansion
and yield
an application of heat
in close quarters
lest I, hard and shiny,
not yet tender and exploded
crack a smile

when at long last
with an open hand
curled at the tips
to stop my spill

we ping

and I’ll know I’m ready

still waiting for my salt
still waiting for my sweet
hot butter


This poem was first published in Issue 37, which can be read in our archive.

Ryan Vance is a writer, editor, designer and general literary busybody, with a penchant for speculative fiction and queer representation, based in Glasgow, Scotland. Occasionally dabbles with photography and gaming, and continually pines for the perfect dancefloor.


FGTS: Ryan you recently published a digital pamphlet of poetry and short fiction called Minor Mishaps and you are working on your first full collection, One Man’s Trash. Where does writing start for you? What moves you to write?

Ryan: For me, writing begins at the end – knowing that when you send something creative out into the world, you’re setting up a moment of connection. We all hold these vast private universes inside ourselves, and for the most part our star-maps align, and that’s great, it’s reassuring. But every so often we discover constellations completely unknown, and exploring those uncharted territories can be intimidating and lonely. If you come out the other side with a story to tell, there’s a chance someone listening might say, hey, actually, I’ve been there too – and then this anomaly you thought nobody would ever be able to explain becomes a shared resonance. Being able to create that instant of discovery is really special.

Which is a fancy long-winded way of saying: I crave validation!

You are also an editor, working on Gutter, We Were Always Here, and The Queen’s Head. All of these projects have been rooted in Glasgow, and Scotland more widely, is there anything you think characterises contemporary Scottish or Glaswegian writing?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, because even though Scotland is where I began taking writing seriously, and all my projects have grown from the Scottish writing community, and I’ve lived my entire adult life in Glasgow… I’m not Scottish. I’m Northern Irish. Even though I would accept Scottish nationality in a split second, I know I don’t share the deep cultural roots which would afford me the validity to say anything conclusive on what characterises Scottish writing, contemporary or otherwise. 

What this status does allow me, however, is a small degree of perspective on how open Scottish culture is to outsiders – and it’s a mixed bag. There’s this pervasive idea that Scotland aspires to be a progressive utopia, and compared to other parts of the UK it’s easy to assume that’s been achieved, but I don’t personally believe we’re even close to celebrating any degree of inclusivity. And as a cis, white, able-bodied, university-educated man, I know I only see the most surface-level effect of exclusion; cleverer people than I, from much more diverse backgrounds, will have more in-depth perspectives on the nuances of cultural exclusion in Scotland. And among communities who do experience discrimination, a conviction persists that change for the better isn’t just possible, but imminent, and worth fighting for. To quote Refuweegee, we’re all fae somewhere. That optimistic, unquenchable solidarity with the wider world feels uniquely Scottish. But the higher you climb through cultural institutions, the more often that openness butts heads with a more conservative idea of Scotland, the more gatekeepers you encounter. And Scotland’s a small country. There aren’t that many gates to keep. But there’s plenty of gatekeepers.

So if there’s one thing that feels particularly remarkable about contemporary Scottish writing, it’s a willingness to recognise the complexity of identity, but it’s a willingness often undercut by the structures that writing exists within, or in spite of. I will say this, though: I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming. There are so many Scottish writers, native or adopted, who previously found it difficult to be heard because of who they were, or where they came from, and personally, I can’t fucking wait for them to storm the gates and take over the castle. It’s long overdue.

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

Lately, if you want me to get excited about writing, it has to be done and over with quickly. I love a short, dense book. And I’ve surprised myself by getting very into Joseph Hansen. I’ve never been fond of crime as a genre; for my tastes, it’s too reliant on unflinching realism, brittle understandings of law, and copious dead girls. Which I realise is an unfair generalisation, and one which Hansen disproves with his Dave Brandstetter Mysteries. They follow the exploits of a wealthy, masculine, straight-passing, gay private detective, from the tail end of the 60s through to the beginning of the 90s, with a homophobic father and, eventually, a younger femme black boyfriend, investigating death claims in and around Los Angeles, with the express purpose of withholding money from the recently bereaved, because murder means his company’s insurance policy doesn’t have to pay out. Dave Brandstetter’s a character who can effortlessly navigate nearly every strata of society, during a time when civil rights are going through major upheaval, and he’s unerringly sympathetic to that upheaval, but in order to do his job, by default he has to be the most-hated person in any room. It’s a brilliant example of what crime does best: the interrogation of privilege, power, and the limits of each when faced with the demands of humanism.

Your writing is often involved with queerness and the speculative, how do these two things interact with each other?

How don’t they interact with each other! 

Speculative fiction is about allowing ideas to exist in their own right, whether or not they can be explained by commonly accepted wisdom or understanding, and exploring what happens when you accept those ideas on their own terms, letting them lead you where they want to go, not where you think they should, and trusting that those ideas are able to wholly comprehend themselves and their own internal systems of logic, and then embracing whatever consequences and discoveries that ensue with an open mind.

Queerness is exactly the same, only replace ‘ideas’ with ‘people’.

FGTS published your two poems ‘Show Offs’ and ‘Crackerjack’ in issue 37, do you remember what led into the making of these pieces?

Full disclosure? They’re not that deep. The idea behind ‘Show Offs’ is entirely on the page, which almost disqualifies it as poetry. For ‘Crackerjack’, I watched a super-slow-motion video of a popcorn kernel popping on YouTube and was mesmerised by the beautiful fluid motion of this transformation that, in real-time, is quite violent, and at the time it reflected what I thought love should feel like. For all my high-falutin’ ideas of what drives artists to create, and the multifaceted personal, social and political changes that can come from art, a lot of the art I actually enjoy making lacks finesse. Sometimes you just need to go cartwheel in the grass.

Finally, is there something from your time at the University of Glasgow that you hold onto and continues to inform your writing practice today?

Technical fluency in the Adobe Suite. I didn’t write much fiction during my university days, but I did hold an editorial position on the student newspaper for three years, and because we didn’t have a dedicated designer, every editor was responsible for the layout of their section. It’s a different way of approaching communication, of looking at the world, and of prioritising information. I don’t think even I’m aware of how thoroughly that experience informed my creative process, apart from perhaps being less precious about individual words and more focused on the overall impact of a piece. Years of trying to force florid copy into a finite amount of column space means my editing style can be quite blunt!


‘I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming.’ – Ryan Vance

Call for Submissions

We are now accepting submissions for our next issue! Send us your poetry, prose, and hybrid forms by July 10th, 2020, and your art and photography by July 17th, 2020. There is no theme!

Please check our submission guidelines. Submissions will be considered from University of Glasgow students, alumni, staff, and academics.

All submissions and any queries emailed to fromglasgowtosaturn@glasgow.ac.uk

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Call For Submissions

We are now accepting submissions for our next issue! 

Send your poetry, prose, hybrid forms and weird text-y creations to us. Deadline for general submissions is January 15th!

We are also looking to feature more visual art of all kinds, with a later deadline of January 22nd. 

Please check submission guidelines. Submissions will be considered from University of Glasgow students, alumni, staff, and academics.

All submissions and any queries emailed to fromglasgowtosaturn@glasgow.ac.uk

 

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Call For Editors

We are now accepting applications for a new editorial team! For more information on how to apply see the flyer below. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us on Facebook, Twitter, or email us at fromglasgowtosaturn@glasgow.ac.uk

call for editors

Issue 43 Launch Night

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Join us for the launch of Issue 43 of From Glasgow To Saturn!

Come along to Dram on October 15th – hear contributors read their work and have the chance to pick up your own copy of the newest edition hot off the presses.

The event is free and starts at 8pm, everyone welcome.

RSVP to our Facebook event to let us know you’ll be there and spread the word.

See you soon for a fabulous evening of new writing!

Submissions Open!

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From Glasgow to Saturn is now accepting submissions for Issue 43, which will be published this autumn.

We’re looking for new, exciting work across a variety of genres and media, and on any theme or topic. Prose, poetry, essays, hybrid forms, as well as art and photography. Everything is welcome.

The deadline for submissions is July 10th 2019. Submissions will be considered from all University of Glasgow students, alumni, staff, and academics. All submissions and any queries should be sent to us via email at fromglasgowtosaturn@glasgow.ac.uk.

Please follow submission guidelines, which can be found here.