Arts Q&A: Colin Hassard on Sylvia Plath, singing the 'national anthem' and making Tim Wheeler nervous

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, poet and spoken word artist Colin Hassard?

Colin Hassard is the current writer in residence at north Belfast's Duncairn Arts Centre
Colin Hassard is the current writer in residence at north Belfast's Duncairn Arts Centre

1. When did you think about a career as a poet and spoken word artist and what were your first steps into it?

I’ve been writing poems since I was a teenager, albeit secretly, and I didn’t take it seriously until I was around 26 or 27. When I first moved from Banbridge to Belfast, I lived around the corner from Bookfinders Café on University Road. In early 2008 I attended one of Bookfinders’ open mic poetry nights and was enthralled by the poets and by the excitement and romance of it all. I was also delighted to find that there were other people like me and that I didn’t have to keep my writing a secret any longer.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Many years ago I was a music journalist and had unique access to a lot of gigs. Watching The Killers from the side of the stage at Tennants Vital was definitely a highlight, as was freeloading at an Ash gig in the Limelight in the late 2000s. There’s a photograph somewhere in a drawer of a drunken me backstage with a very nervous looking Tim Wheeler. And then not just for the music, but the entire experience of seeing Kasabian headline a festival in Spain in 2012 was awesome.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band? ?At my own wedding in Finland (my wife is Finnish), myself and some musical friends ended up commandeering the wedding band’s instruments to play Teenage Kicks – which I introduced as our national anthem. But if I could pick a fantasy band I’d go for Queen – of course I mean the classic line-up with Freddie Mercury. What a party that would be.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

If there is electricity on this island, I’d rather bring a radio instead of a record player as I don’t think there is one record I could listen to on repeat. The best thing to do might be to bring a compilation album, in which I’d choose Now That’s What I Call Music 1996 – the greatest musical year of my lifetime.

5. And the book you’d take??I’d either bring a blank notebook to write a collection of desert island poems in the hope that they’d be found by some future explorer, or How to Stay Alive by Bear Grylls.

6. Top three films?

I’ve loved the story, acting and music of Casablanca since I first watched it in film class. Being a Media Studies graduate, I’ve watched a lot of classic and art-house films, which is why for my next two picks I’m going for two timeless classics: Airplane! and Back to the Future.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

Bill & Ted Face the Music, which I should’ve saved for Christmas as it’s a massive turkey.

8. Favourite authors?

Brendan Cleary is an Irish poet who doesn’t get enough credit. He’s like an Irish Charles Bukowski, who is another of my favourite writers. I’ll also mention Sylvia Plath, but that’s a tough question as I could’ve picked one of the Beat poets who I love, John Steinbeck, Sinead Morrissey, Irvine Welsh... I could go on.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

Football, but my team is Manchester United, so I wouldn’t say I’m particularly enjoying it at the moment.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

California as I’d love to see San Francisco, LA and Hollywood. Although from what I’ve heard, they’re not the glitzy magical places I have in my head.

11. Pet hates?

How long have you got? Liverpool Football Club. The use of ‘your’ when it should be ‘you’re’. People who literally don’t know what literally means. Drivers who don’t indicate. Mrs. Brown’s Boys.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Mexican – nothing too spicy though.

Dessert? Anything chocolatey.

Drink? Being from Banbridge, I’m contractually obliged to say Buckfast.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

Most of my closest friends are people that I’ve known since childhood. I feel very lucky to have so many friendships that have lasted that length of time. One of the main reasons is that they know all my secrets so I’m better keeping them on side.

14. Is there a God?

There’s a song called Me vs. God on the album Age of the Microwave Dinner by my band, Dirty Words, that deals with my thoughts on that very question. The song and album are available on all the main streaming platforms for your listening pleasure.

:: Colin Hassard is writer in residence with the Duncairn Arts Centre in north Belfast. He hosts the weekly Duncairn Podcast, available on streaming platforms. His debut poetry collection is being released in 2021 through Doire Press. Facebook.com/colinhassardpoetry